When Chicago DJ Frankie Knuckles died last week, a novelty number by a Brylcreemed Aussie pop punk group had just reached number one. It displaced Duke Dumont & Jax Jones’s I Got U and ended a three week-run of house singles at the top of the charts. I suspect the following statement may piss off dance nerds, but it’s fair to say that Knuckles had as much claim as anyone to having ‘invented’ house music thirty odd years ago. Essentially, he took the kitsch out of disco and turned it into a synthesiser-heavy global brand. Was it worth the effort, though?
Frankie Knuckles and the other Chicago house pioneers made some genuinely great music. For one thing, they understood that the point of a remix was to turn a song into something you might want to dance to (the threat of the photos cropping up on Instagram was just a sci-fi dream). His early records were stripped back, imaginative and exciting. And although tracks like Baby Wants to Ride sound dated now, the sheen of naffness that comes with age is actually quite charming. In any case, he was producing stuff that avoided the usual clichés of the ageing DJ well into his fifties.
House has never actually been this popular, which is impressive given that I grew up associating it with FCUK adverts – its euphoric piano riffs and insistent beats made it instantly popular with yoof TV producers. But the term itself – which apparently comes from the Warehouse, a club Knuckles ran in the mid-80s – means a lot of things to a lot of people. Think of an adjective and the chances are it will work as a sub-generic prefix (though to my knowledge, no wag has yet thrown a lute into the mix for an instant ‘mock Tudor’ punchline.