Very few DJs and artists can take credit for establishing an entirely new genre of music, but during his time spent DJing at Chicago’s The Warehouse, Frankie Knuckles developed and refined a genre that has continued to evolve and absorb new influences from a diverse range of sources for over 40 years. In response to the disco backlash which saw a wave of "Disco Sucks!" demonstrations attempt to marginalise early dance music as a gay fad, Frankie’s mixes and original productions were beginning to experiment with a new kind of sound which explored beat-driven basslines, and weighty percussion samples, to create something which would overpower America’s homophobia whilst still staying true to the bars and bathhouses of downtown New York.
Joining The Warehouse in 1977, Frankie eventually became the club’s musical director. He set up The Power Plant some four years later (where he would play early demo versions of iconic house anthem Your Love), before also securing a four month residency at London's Delirium in 1987.
Over the next 10 years, Frankie returned to his New York hometown, where he produced and remixed songs for the likes of Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Mary J Blige. Now in his 58th year, the rightfully anointed ‘Godfather of House’ is continuing to perform in the US and Europe, and is set to headline at this weekend’s FOUND street party in Shoreditch. Ahead of his latest showcase, we caught up with the man himself to find out more about all night parties at Heaven, just who exactly owns house, and which six tracks in his record box are getting the most love right now.
Talk to us about one of the most memorable moments from your time spent DJing in the 80s/90s?
Knuckles: "I’ll always remember coming to London and playing at Heaven for the first time while all my family and friends were at the closing party for Paradise Garage. I arrived in England under the impression that I'd only stay two weeks but ended up staying for four months. It was a busy time for me as I was holding down a residency at Delirium, playing at Heaven on Thursdays, and also playing weekly at the Hacienda in Manchester.
"Every generation that comes along thinks they know where house music began – they try to lay claim to it, and say they were there when it started – it’s not really a change so much, more something that happens with each new group that discovers this type of music." – Frankie Knuckles
"After that my life was in transition – I returned to Chicago at the end of those four months, packed up everything I owned and headed back to NYC.
"By the time 1991 rolled around, I’d locked down a residency at Sound Factory after Junior Vasquez walked out, completed production on my first album for Virgin Records, and was playing regularly at The Roxy as well. Juggling three premiere clubs all at once, even in the city that never sleeps was pretty tough, but it was undoubtedly the best time of my career."
What do you think has been the most significant change in people's attitudes towards house music over the years?
Knuckles: "Every generation that comes along thinks they know where house music began – they try to lay claim to it, and say they were there when it started – it’s not really a change so much, more something that happens with each new group that discovers this type of music."
Are platforms such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp is good for house music?
Knuckles: "Absolutely. At least for me they have been. For the longest time when I'd travel the biggest question I'd always get is where to find my music and how can they obtain it. Soundcloud has been a big help. I post my current mix ideas there to keep everyone (wherever they are in the world) on the same page. Everyone knows what I'm doing musically and I know what other people are up to. It lets anyone who wants to follow house music keep up to date with what’s happening, and I don’t mean just the stuff that’s coming from me, it’s from other artists and colleagues as well. It’s also fantastic knowing that I can help emerging talent on their way to greater things, my mixes have become a launchpad for new artists and that’s really rewarding."
Frankie Knuckles's six favourite tracks of the moment:
- Frankie Knuckles – Your Love
- Jimmy Castor – The Return Of Leroy Pts. 1 and 2
- C+C Music Factory (Presenting Freedom Williams) – Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…..
- Adeva – Beautiful Love
- Emanuel Rahiem – Sweet Love
Donna Gardier – I'll Be There
Frankie Knuckles will play at FOUND's Shoreditch Street Party tomorrow (September 21st), taking place on Wilson Street between 1pm and 8pm. He will be joined by Kevin Saunderson, Voyeur and The Menendez Brothers.