A Short History of Chicago House

Monday, 17 April 2017
With just a few months to go, we’re starting to get pretty excited about bringing our line-up of incredible artists to this year’s 51st State Festival at North London’s Trent Country Park.
Across the line-up on our stage, from house veterans Masters at Work to The Basement Boys - you’ll hear music influenced and inspired by the musical fabric of Chicago.

Any iconic house record of the last twenty to thirty years can be linked back to the Illinois metropolis of Chicago. It was, in the mid-eighties, America’s second largest city. Nevertheless, its recording industry was relatively stagnant and the clubs still heavily segregated. Disco was the predominant form of dance music, and dominated the airwaves, with club DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy mixing older disco records with newer Italo disco and electro funk tracks.

During this period, a now legendary club, ‘The Warehouse’, started attracting large crowds. While Chicago House was still to be defined and the first tracks were yet to be pressed, the club popularised all night long clubbing and DJ edits. It also helped launch the career of Frankie Knuckles, often cited as the “Godfather of house music”. Frankie Knuckles combined old disco classics with bass and drum machines and was so popular that the Warehouse, initially a members-only club for largely black gay men, began attracting straighter, whiter crowds, leading its owner, Robert Williams, to eschew membership.

House quote

But it wasn’t really until 1984 that the first original house production surfaced, produced by a guy named Jesse Saunders. Co-written with Vince Lawrence, "On and On" had been composed to replace a track from Saunders original collection, a bootleg remix of Mach’s disco hit "On and On". The remix had been Saunders' signature tune as a DJ, and one only played by him. Saunders and Lawrence added hypnotic lyrics and electronic instruments, utilizing a Roland TR-808 drum machine as electronic percussion as well as a Korg Poly-61 synthesizer and Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer.


The cultural movement that followed drove dance music forward, and led the way in fusing the newer electronic sounds with the soulful vocals that defined the era before. The genre naturally developed and fused into the sounds of the mainstream; tracks such as as Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s “Jack Your Body” and Inner City’s “Big Fun” were huge chart hits. Meanwhile, the genre continued to mutate - and sub-genres such as Acid House and Deep House continue to thrive in underground clubs, subtly informing the mainstream sounds being enjoyed en masse.


Although house music has continued to evolve and develop over the last few decades - the influence of early Chicago House cannot be underestimated. In recent years its classic sound has made a comeback, clearly heard in the sounds of artists such as Duke Dumont, Disclosure and Toddla T - to name just a few. Most recently, Mr Fingers’ seismic “Mystery of Love” was heavily sampled on Kanye West’s single from his 2016 album “The Life of Pablo” called “Fade”. The sound of Chicago continues to inspire artists today - both from within house music, but also more broadly across the musical spectrum. We can’t wait to celebrate the legacy of Chicago House on our stage at this year’s 51st State Festival.