The Warehouse (or the “House”) was a nightclub established in Chicago, Illinois in 1977 under the direction of Robert Williams. It is today most famous for being what many consider to be the birthplace “house music” under its first musical director, DJ Frankie Knuckles. Originally located at 206 South Jefferson Street in Chicago, the Warehouse was patronized by a black and Latino crowd that was largely gay. They came to dance to disco music played by the club’s resident DJ, Frankie Knuckles.

Frankie was originally from NY and he was friends with Larry Levan and they frequented “The Loft” parties given by David Mancuso for the NYC gay scene. Larry and Frankie attended the Loft parties regularly. It was not only a place of joy but also a place where they became acquainted for the first time with the techniques of House music. Mancuso taught them how to create “a scene”. He perfected an intimate setting built around the basics of sound, lighting, and music… Larry was initially asked to fill the role at the Warehouse but he refused to leave NY…and so the legacy of “House” music became Chicago’s through Frankie’s leadership. Levan passed on the role and continued to pave the way for Paradise Garage’s success and it’s place in history as the birthplace of the genre “Garage” in NYC.

Frankie once said, “When we first opened in 1977, I was playing a lot of the East Coast records, the Philly stuff, Salsoul. By ‘80/81, when that stuff was all over with, I started working a lot of the soul that was coming out. I had to reconstruct the records to work for my dancefloor, to keep the dancefloor happy, as there was no dance music coming out! I’d take the existing songs, change the tempo, layer different bits of percussion over them, to make them more conducive for the dancefloor.” Frankie made it clear the “music” was the focus and as the club sound grew in popularity the crowd became much more diverse.

The WarehouseIn the Warehouse, music was as varied as the clienteles – R&B based Black dance music and disco peppered with things as diverse as The Clash’s ‘Magnificent Seven’. For most people, these were the places that acted as breeding grounds for the music that eventually came to be named after the Warehouse club in Chicago shortened to “House”. As Disco’s popularity began to fade the underground was beginning to develop a new style that was deeper, and rawer, but still designed to make people dance.

Disco had already produced the first records to be aimed specifically at DJs with extended 12″ versions that included long percussion breaks for mixing purposes and the early eighties proved a vital turning point. Sinnamon’s ‘Thanks To You’, D-Train’s ‘You’re The One For Me’ and The Peech Boys’ ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’, a record that’s been continually sampled over the last decade, took things in a different direction with their sparse, synthesized sounds that introduced dub effects and drop-outs that had never been heard before.

But it wasn’t just American music laying the groundwork for house. European music, spanning English electronic pop, New Wave and Industrial sounds from groups like Depeche Mode and Soft Cell and the earlier, more disco based sounds of Giorgio Moroder, Klein & MBO as well as, Italo Disco that was being imported from Italy’s producers, were immensely popular in the underground dance scenes in urban areas like Detroit, New York and of course Chicago.

This broad spectrum of dance music was played at the Warehouse but the predominant styles were classic R&B and Disco. Knuckles experimented with a wide variety of musical styles, and eventually, he and other Chicago DJ began producing their own tracks. As with most genres, there are a variety of other views on the origins of House music. Many people list among the founders Leonard “Remix” Roy. Roy was a well-respected local DJ that claims he had invented the term “House music”. Other creators who layed the groundwork for House music were artists like Chip E. Another was Jesse Sanders who created “On and On” a track credited as one of the first house music tracks. Another artist that can’t be left out is Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, a DJ that took House music to the radio in Chicago and is known for producing “Love Can’t Turn Around”, one of the biggest selling “House” records of all time.

The House Music Sound Evolves With The Chicago Club Scene

After The Warehouse doubled its admission fee in late 1982, it grew more commercial and Knuckles decided to leave and start his own club, The Power Plant, and his devoted fans followed. In response, the Warehouse’s owners renamed it the Music Box and hired a new DJ named Ron Hardy.

“Opinions still differ as to what the first house record was, but it was certainly made by Jessie Saunders and it was on the Mitchball label – probably Z Factor’s ‘Fantasy’, but there was also another Z Factor tune which went by the name of ‘I Like To Do It In Fast Cars’. ‘Fantasy’ sounds extremely dated now but ten years ago it was like a sound from another planet, with echoes of Kraftwerk’s heavily synthesized string sounds, a Eurobeat bassline and a simple, insistent drum machine pattern. Suffice to say, the record remained obscure outside the close-knit urban Chicago scene… While Frankie Knuckles had laid the groundwork for house at the Warehouse, it was to be another DJ from the gay scene that was really to create the environment for the house explosion – Ron Hardy. Where Knuckles’ sound was still very much based in disco, Hardy was the DJ that went for the rawest, wildest rhythm tracks he could find and he made The Music Box the inspirational temple for pretty much every DJ and producer that was to come out of the Chicago scene. He was also the DJ to whom the producers took their very latest tracks so they could test the reaction on the dance floor. Larry Heard was one of those people.” Phil Cheeseman- DJ Magazine

A Frankie Knuckles Tribute

In 2004, the city of Chicago named the stretch of street where the old Warehouse once stood, on Jefferson Street between Jackson Boulevard and Madison Street, in northern Chicago after Knuckles. The Warehouse was actually on the near West Side of Chicago, just outside of downtown, referred to as “West Loop” That stretch of street, called “Frankie Knuckles Way”, was renamed when the city declared 25 August 2004 as Frankie Knuckles Day. The Illinois state senator who helped make it happen was Barack Obama.


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