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It’s often difficult when trying to establish the founder or inventor of a particular genre of music. Take rock and roll for example, no one can really pinpoint an artist or band that created that type of music; instead it’s a sort of hazy evolution, a cocktail of sorts, involving musicians creating new sounds and doing things differently to their predecessors. However, if you ask any dance music aficionado, type into any Internet search engine ‘who invented house music?’ you will get one defining answer – Frankie Knuckles.
‘The godfather of house music’ and ‘the priest of the dance floor’ sadly died this week at the age of 59 due to a diabetes related illness, only a few days after playing London’s Ministry of Sound. Despite doctors orders, Knuckles continue to DJ all over the world after contracting Osteomyelitis and developing Type II diabetes in the mid 2000s.
His mark on popular music, however, is one that is difficult to compare due to its sheer magnitude. Crafting some of the finest songs of the late 80s and early 90s, with tracks like Your Love, Baby Wants to Ride and The Whistle Song. His euphoric blend of raw drum machines, synthesizers and vocals, created something the world had never seen before and helped to create the soundtrack of a generation. He had a sound that never went out of fashion, one that resonates even today with new artists and producers. He essentially created the framework for modern house music, and without him we probably wouldn’t even have such a thing as house music.
Knuckles began his career DJing in New York, but eventually moved to Chicago where his unique style was eventually conceived. Here he was the musical director at The Warehouse; the name of the club would eventually become shortened to form the name of the genre that defined it. He was famous for colliding a broad spectrum of genres when playing at the venue, combing disco with European electronic music as well as R’n’B. He eventually moved on to form his own club, the Power Plant, as house music starting finding its feet. The Chicago House movement was then born, leading to a massive explosion all over the world. His sound crossed the Atlantic to clubs all over Europe, creating a whole range of sub-genres as producers took their own spin on the original four-to-the-floor, bass-driven, synth-laden blueprint. From the sweaty clubs of London and Manchester to the White Isle of Ibiza, his music truly conquered the globe. Knuckles gave house soul; he turned electronic sound into an energy that had the power to captivate millions.
House music arguably hit the mass market at the end of the 80s when Knuckles released the house classic Your Love, a song that would find itself as the basis for Candi Staton’s hit You Got The Love as well as being remixed by a number of producers. He won a Grammy in 1997 for remixing the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson. He was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005, had a street named after him and had August 24th declared as Frankie Knuckles Day by Barack Obama, so certainly set his legacy in stone.
For a lot of modern dance music fans the name Frankie Knuckles may not even be familiar, but his sound will almost certainly be. Knuckles knew what made people dance, he knew how to construct a sound that connected the people and distilled a love into its listeners. He was able do what only a select number of people are able to do, and that is to communicate through the art of music.