3.1.6. Jesse Saunders

18 June 2021

Like many music-obsessed kids, Saunders began playing around with basic tape edits in his bedroom as a child. His stepbrother, Wayne Williams, was DJing at House parties around town, and Saunders soon caught the bug, making his debut in the summer of 1978. By 1982 Saunders was one of the residents at The Playground club, a 2000 or so capacity club, that he and his fellow resident Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk mixed up music from the B - 52’s, new wave, post-punk act like Billy Idol and Euro-electronic outfits such as Depeche Mode (Bidder, 2001, p. 26). The “straight” crowd at The Playground, which was a bit more middle to upper class, did not like the music initially taken from The Warehouse. “‘You’d see spikes and people with polo shirts and penny loafers’ remembers Saunders ‘It was just a variety’” (Bidder, 2001, p. 26) of people. In DIY ethic style, Saunders brought his drum machine one night as he possibly needed the edge to surpass Farley. He played the constant 4/4 kick of the second-hand Roland TR - 808 on its own or underpinned old soulful disco tracks. By playing a cappella version of ‘Love is the Message’ by Loleatta Holloway with the sound of the drum machine’s kick drum, Saunders created a new hybrid sound. When Saunders took the kick drum out and dropped it back in, the crowd would scream, and this would happen all night long (Bidder, 2001, p. 27). This playing style lay the ground for the musical structure and sound of what was to come, which set in motion Saunders' move toward the studio. In 1983 a young musically ambitious Vince Lawrence asked Saunders to accompany a rudimentary pop song he had made, ‘I Like To Do It In Fast Cars’. Lawrence’s musician father owned a record label that helped when the pair decided to further their musical endeavours and make a track together using a local singer and Saunders Roland TR - 808. The local singer was Screaming Rachel, who met Lawrence and Saunders at The Warehouse one night. Screaming Rachel liked more to sing hardcore punk and hung out with bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Ministry. The song they presented to her was called ‘Fantasy’. She was kind of hesitant. The style of music was not anything that was being played at The Warehouse as Knuckles was not yet playing ‘House music’ even though people called it ‘House music’. Therefore, after recording the track and listening to it, she thought it was no good and asked for them not to name her on the track (Bidder, 2001, p. 27). Even though this track would soon make a considerable impact via clubs and radio, it was still not the first ‘House’ track to emerge. It was, however, made using the same technology. 

The first ‘House’ track can be located to The Playground where Saunders one night played atop of his Rowland TR - 808 a particular bootlegged version of ‘On And On’ which was the flip-side of an actual mixed record that nobody played. Saunders’ bootleg stole its body directly from disco’s dead bones. Its bassline snatched from a dubby disco track called ‘Space Invaders’, the looped horns came from Lipps Inc ‘Funkytown’ and the track’s catchy vocal was taken directly from Donna Summer’s hit single, ‘Bad Girls’. Saunders and Lawrence were not professional musicians and did not know what they were making they took the parts of the tracks they liked and remixed them together. They wanted to make music that they could play at The Playground, as Lawrence says, “Basically, we were just trying to get laid” (Bidder, 2001, p. 28). ‘On And On’ played atop of Saunders Rowland TR - 808 was received with cheering enthusiasm at The Playground. So much so that when Saunders had his records stolen he decided to remake it, which proved to be a godsend to the future of ‘House music’. Through a stroke of bad luck, the first ‘House’ track emerged in desperation for music to play late in 1984. Saunders went to the studio and recorded ‘On And On’ using his Roland TR - 808 and a Roland TB - 303 synth. . Pressed at Jes Say Records, at Chicago’s only remaining plant owned by a middle-aged businessman called Larry Sherman (Bidder, 2001, p. 28). It is evident in the DIY ethic way how ‘On And On’ was made, which supports its subcultural origins.

‘House music’ was born on the dance floor. However, it would never have been pressed onto vinyl in Chicago if it had not been for the availability of outmoded, cheap and easy to navigate studio equipment. That allowed the non-musician to make music just as the distorted earthy sound of rock ’n’ roll was only possible because of the electric guitar and the accompanying amp effects. ‘House music’ was possible due to a range of synthesisers, drum machines and sequencers that became available from the 1980s (Bidder, 2001, p. 38). The kids of that generation learned how to beat out simple rhythms on a drum machine, which nobody knew how to use. They created new textural alien sounds that were not producible through a vibrating string or wind instrument; they were electronic and produced sounds electrically. The Roland TB - 303 sequencers became the instrument used to create angular sweeping bleeps and lead razor sounds that would later define the sound of ‘Acid house’, which was influenced by the sound of rock music (Bidder, 2001, p. 38). 

3.1.7. Marshall Jefferson