Being a form of musical “bricolage“, early house synthesized elements of multiple genres and styles from disco, Italo disco, synth pop, funk, soul, Latin, and jazz. While displaying several characteristics similar to disco music, it was more electronic, repetitive and minimalistic. House is strongly related to the harder and even more minimalistic techno music which evolved parallel to Chicago’s house in Detroit (see also Detroit techno).
The genre was pioneered by DJs and producers mainly from Chicago and New York such as Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, Ron Hardy, Jesse Saunders, Chip E., Steve “Silk” Hurley, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, Mr. Fingers, Marshall Jefferson, Phuture, and many others. It was originally associated with the Black American LGBT subculture but has since spread to the mainstream. It has become a global phenomena with numerous subgenres, such as acid house, deep house, garage house, hip house, ghetto house, progressive house, tech house, electro house, microhouse, and many more.
House has had and still has a huge impact on pop music in general and dance music in particular. It has been picked up by major pop artists like Madonna, Kylie Minogue or Janet Jackson, but also produced some mainstream hits on its own, such as “French Kiss” by Lil Louis (1989), “Show Me Love” by Robin S.(1992), or “Push the Feeling On” by Nightcrawlers (1992). Many house producers also did and do remixes for pop artists. As of today, house music remains popular on radio and in clubs while retaining a foothold on the underground scenes across the globe.
In its most typical form of “classic” Chicago house, the genre is characterized by repetitive 4/4 rhythms including bass drums, off-beat hi-hats, snare drums and/or claps at a tempo between 110 and 130 beats per minute (bpm), synthesizer riffs, deep basslines, and often, but not necessarily, sung, spoken or sampled vocals. The drum beats in house music are almost always provided by an electronic drum machine, often a Roland TR-808, TR-909, or a TR-707 rather than by a live drummer. One classic subgenre, acid house, is defined through the squelchy sounds created by the Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer.
The structure of house music songs — or “tracks”, as they are usually called within the scene — typically involves an intro, a chorus, various versesections, a midsection and an outro. Some songs do not have a verse, taking a vocal part from the chorus and repeating the same cycle. House music is often based on bass-heavy loops or basslinesproduced by a synthesizer and/or from samples of disco, soul or funk songs.
Influences & percursors
One of the main influences of house was disco. Various disco songs incorporated sounds produced with synthesizers and electronic drum machines, and some compositions were entirely electronic; examples include Italian composer Giorgio Moroder‘s late 1970s productions such as Donna Summer‘s hit single “I Feel Love” from 1977, Cerrone‘s “Supernature” (1977), Yellow Magic Orchestra‘s synth-disco-pop productions from Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978), Solid State Survivor (1979), and several early 1980s productions by the Hi-NRG groups Lime, Trans-X and Bobby O‘s Hi-NRG productions.
Also important for the develepment of house were audio mixing and editing techniques earlier explored by disco, garage music and post-disco DJs, record producers, and audio engineers such as Walter Gibbons, Tom Moulton, Jim Burgess, Larry Levan, M & M, and others. While most proto-house disc jockeys were primarily stuck to playing their conventional ensemble and playlist of dance records, Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy, two influential DJs of house music, were known for their unusual and non-mainstream playlists and mixing. Knuckles, often credited as “the Godfather of House” and resident DJ at the Warehouse from 1977 to 1982, worked primarily with early disco music with a hint of new and different music (whether it was post-punk or post-disco).
Hardy produced unconventional DIY mixtapes which he later played straight-on in the successor of the Warehouse, the Music Box (reopened and renamed in 1983 after Knuckles left). Marshall Jefferson, who would later appear with the 1986 house classic “Move Your Body (The House Music Anthem)” (originally released on Trax Records), describes how he got involved in house music after hearing Ron Hardy’s music in the Music Box:
Rachel Cain, better known as Screamin Rachael, co-founder of the highly influential house label Trax Records, was previously involved in the burgeoning punk scene. Cain cites industrial music (another genre pioneered in Chicago) and post-punk record store Wax Trax! Records (later a record label) as an important connection between the ever-changing underground sounds of Chicago.
The electronic instrumentation and minimal arrangement of Charanjit Singh‘s Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat (1982), an album of Indian ragas performed in a disco style, anticipated the sounds of acid house music, but it is not known to have had any influence on the genre prior to the album’s rediscovery in the 21st century.