3.1.5. Frankie Knuckles

18 June 2021

One of the key figures in ‘House Music', called the “Godfather Father of House” (Matos, 2018), is Frankie Knuckle. Bronx born Knuckles was a close friend of Levan. They grew up together and were of similar age. As teenagers, they would regularly go downtown to Manhattan’s gay clubs and parties. Knuckles started Djing at the Time Square disco called Better Days before playing with Levan in 1976 at the anything-goes bacchanalia at the Continental Baths. Of the two, Levan was getting more opportunities to play in New York and was making a big impression on the scene. In the same period, Leven's and Knuckle's social worker Robert Williams wanted to take the New York nightclub-style to Chicago. He started DJing himself there but quickly realised promoting DJing was too much work. When he asked Levan if he would come back with him to awaken the “windy city from its slumber” (Bidder. S, 2001, p. 15), Levan did not take the offer, which freed up the opportunity for Knuckles to make a move to Chicago to DJ in Williams’s club that opened on March 1977. It was a 600-or-so capacity nightclub whose patrons dubbed it The Warehouse. Like so many of the great clubs of New York, it also had a great sound system, designed by Richard Long, a tight membership policy and an independently minded DJ. Furthermore, like Paradise Garage, going there became akin to a spiritual experience for many of its regulars (Bidder, 2001, p. 16). The Warehouse offered a New York modelled environment. However, as disco’s popularity started to wane, the records started drying up. By the early eighties, the major labels that had rushed to open disco divisions had shut them all down (Bidder, 2001, p. 19). DJs had to find other records. Knuckles also started to mix the faster-paced Euro-disco of Giorgio Moroder and a clutch of other Italian labels with the new electronic disco of San Francisco producer Patrick Cowley and the music emanating directly from New York dance floors on Labels such as West End and Prelude. With the popularity of The Warehouse spreading like wildfire, it was not long until other DJs started to follow suit. However, there was still a central place at The Warehouse for the lush, orchestrated sound of the Philadelphia International and Salsoul disco with a positive, uplifting message (Bidder, 2001, p. 20). Like other DJs had already done in New York, Knuckles would re-edit older disco tracks so he could blend them into his sets, Knuckles would also add beats and rhythms to his set from a primitive beatbox, his influence was such that subculturists and DJs alike began to refer to the music he played as “House” after the venue where he played. ‘House music’ producer Joe Smooth commented: 

The main reason that people called it House music was because a lot of the kids would hang out at ‘The Warehouse’, and you’d go to the ‘House’ you’d listen to ‘House Music’, you know, as a shortened version of the name.

(Bidder, 2001. p.21)

This reveals the word 'House' was a symbol of a subculture that related the word to a location, style of music and experience; the word grew from the environment in which The Warehouse was created. 

It is due to the environment growing up that strongly influenced the two friends Larry Laven and Frankie Knuckles: the places they went to 'party', the people they met and were inspired by, the people that gave them a sense of belonging in a world where the socio-cultural hegemony did not accept gay black men that led them to become significant figures in the history of ‘House music’.  It was people like Francis Grasso (the first person to blend records), DJ Nicky Siano entrancing dancers with his dramatic mixes and the environment at David Mancuso’s after-hours party at The Loft. These different influences drove them to create and play music independently, creating such free, liberating environments at Paradise Garage and The Warehouse. It was from these different colliding circumstances that the name ‘House music’ was born. However, it still was not ‘House music’ as we know it today, so what was the first ‘House’ track? 

3.1.6. Jesse Saunders