wed 31/05/2023

Frankie Knuckles, 1955-2014 | reviews, news & interviews

Frankie Knuckles, 1955-2014

Frankie Knuckles, 1955-2014

RIP the Godfather of House

The man universally known as The Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles

It's rare that you can trace a genre to one man. But house music is well documented: “house” originally simply meant the music played at the Warehouse club, by one Frankie Knuckles, who died yesterday in Chicago from diabetes-related complications.

Knuckles was a disciple of New York disco, who'd served his DJ apprenticeship in the city's spectacularly decadent gay bathhouses in the mid-Seventies as an understudy of Larry Levan (who would set up the Paradise Garage, which itself gave its name to another genre – garage).

Seeking a club where he could have complete creative freedom, he moved to Chicago in 1977, opened the Warehouse, and almost single-handedly created the scene that would put the city on the dance music map. Reworking the disco tracks of the day with a drum machine – often live, as he DJed – he created a sound that was imitated thousands of times over; and once the sound of house was adopted by European audiences, the fabric of global music was altered spectacularly and inexorably. Since then he has been club royalty, reducing hard men to tears with his voyages through all sides of house music, always shot through with a rich seam of pure soul.

In 2010 I spoke to UK house music kingpin Terry Farley – member of the influential Boys Own organisation, who brought mega-acts like Underworld and The Chemical Brothers to the world. He had nominated Knuckles as the greatest DJ of all time.

"Was Frankie the father of house music? Well, he ticks every box – black, gay, he was in the DJ booth with Larry Levan then he took that New York thing to Chicago... In the early days there was Ron Hardy playing harder, weirder, more European sounds, and Frankie playing records full of soul, and you can tell which of those first Chicago house tunes was influenced by which DJ.

"When we started Junior Boys own, real house DJs in London wouldn't buy our Black Science Orchestra release – 'Oh it's just them Balearic boys!' Then suddenly they started flying out of the shops, and we found it was because Frankie was playing it in the Sound Factory NYC. There's a gravitas in saying 'as played by Frankie Knuckles'!

"To this day he will play anything, not because it's cool but because he likes it; he has his style, he's never changed it, yet somehow his sets still sounds fresh. He's just a really nice, humble guy – he's very assured, he knows where he is in the scheme of things but he's just nice. And Frankie Knuckles is his real name – how cool is that?"

Hear Frankie Knuckles & Satoshi Tomiie's "Tears"

Hear Knuckle's remix of Loose Ends' "Hangin' on a String":

Hear Frankie Knuckles DJing on WBMX Chicago in 1986:

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