Since the inception of Bloody Knuckles in 2013, the popularity of house music in the Oxford region has grown exponentially. Since it’s first night, it has now become Oxford’s most reliable night out: attracting students from across colleges and social groups. It stands as definitive proof that consistently high-quality music combined with a savvy advertising campaign can generate results; yet also proves that house music, albeit in a more refined and futuristic form, still has the power to bring young people to the dance floor in vast numbers.
The genre itself began many thousands of miles away from Oxford, in the city of Chicago. The late 1970s and early 1980s had seen a relentless assault on black music from the White American establishment. In 1979, baseball fans at Comiskey Park stadium were invited to burn their disco records in a gigantic bonfire, with many of them baring signs with the words ‘Disco Sucks’. The protesters were mostly white rock music fans; disillusioned with the popularity of disco music on the radio.
Yet, this would not affect disco’s popularity among it’s devoted fan base. The now legendary club ‘The Warehouse’ was opened in Chicago in 1977 by one Frankie Knuckles – cited by many as the most influential house DJ of all time. Here, DJs would experiment with the tempo of disco records, or use special 12” records with longer percussive breaks to keep the crowds dancing through the early hours. Knuckles would mix into this everything from the speeches of Martin Luther King to synth-pop from Europe such as Telex or Depeche Mode. Unlike many similar clubs that had opened prior to The Warehouse, it had no segregation policy: it welcomed those of all sexualities and races with open arms. This is where ‘house’ gets it’s name; as the ‘music of Warehouse’.
Soon these DJs would begin producing their own music through the use of synthesizers and drum machines like the Roland TR-808; and record labels would soon catch on to this frenzy of popularity the genre was experiencing. The most important and revered of these labels was Trax Records on North Clark Street, which would some of house’s pivotal records, such as Marshall Jefferson’s anthemic “Move Your Body”, Phuture’s “Acid Tracks” (which began a genre of it’s own, ‘Acid House’) and what is now perhaps house’s most iconic song: Jamie Principle and Frankie Knuckles’ 1986 release ‘Your Love’.
The influence of the Chicago scene was immeasurable. Detroit would, in the late 1980s, give birth to house’s sister genre ‘techno’ -through DJs such as Juan Atkins and Derrick May, whose music channeled influences such as Kraftwerk and Japanese synth-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra. Techno, unlike house, promoted a brand of technological spirituality, and a cultural aesthetic known as Afrofuturism. Yet as techno developed, house music began to explode in the UK, as tracks such as Steve Hurley’s “Jack Your Body” would reach #1 in the charts. ‘Acid House’ were the words on everyone’s lips, and – fuelled by the drug Ecstasy- young Brits would flock en masse to clubs such as Shoom and Trip in London or the Thunderdome and the Hacienda in Manchester.
Despite a brief dip in popularity during the Noughties in the UK as garage and dubstep soundtracked the British club scene, house has made a dramatic reappearance, in the form of acts such as Disclosure and Gorgon City, or even extended ‘Deep House’ mixes on YouTube that regularly rack up millions of views. Frankie Knuckles sadly passed away in March last year, but his influence on the history of music will continue indefinitely; whether it be in Chicago or all the way across the Atlantic in a student night at the Bullingdon Club.
(Photo Credit: Garry Knight)