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The house sound of Chicago was created by Frankie Knuckles

The late Frankie Knuckles has been created with creating house music in Chicago
The late Frankie Knuckles has been created with creating house music in Chicago

On the evening of July 12, 1979, thousands of Chicago radio DJ Steve Dahl's listeners, drunk on stadium beer and a belief in guitar rock supremacy, stormed the field at Comiskey Park to toss disco records onto a huge bonfire as part of "Disco Demolition Night."

While they may have thought they were destroying the genre for good, but another group of Chicagoans were likely listening to the man who defined disco's next incarnation. From 1977 to 1983 Frankie Knuckles, who died last week at 59, was the resident DJ at Chicago's Warehouse nightclub.

Knuckles played soulful disco records, but infused them with electronic beats, sound effects and samples for a distinctive sound that club regulars began calling "house" music.

In 1988 the German label BCM released a stunning, ambitious collection called The History of the House Sound of Chicago - twelve vinyl records each with its own theme.

The first two records in the set feature many of Knuckles' favorite underground dance classics he spun at the Warehouse - lost diva showcases like Shirley Lites' "Heat You Up (Melt You Down)", Cuban drummer Candido's electro-salsa version of "Jingo", and oddities like Telex's "Moskow Diskow", a crass knockoff of fellow Germans Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" (Knuckles had a thing for trains - he liked to turn out all the lights in the club in the middle of a set and blast a recording of an express train to get dancers' hearts racing).

From there it's a bounty of mid-80s house tracks that you can immerse yourself in for weeks. Vocals come in all varieties - rapped, florid gospel or opera inspired, come-ons in Spanish or French.

In 1989 BCM released an expanded edition of the set consisting of 150 tracks divided into fifteen hour-long CDs. The added material reflected how Chicago house music ended up taking over British pop music at the end of the Eighties - both in the form of sampled collages by production teams like Coldcut and Bomb the Bass and in acid house with its high-strung, insistent beeps and squeals provided by the Roland T303 synthesiser.

The house music that Frankie Knuckles nurtured comprised a body of popular music in the Eighties nearly as rich as hip-hop or indie rock or Afropop. Hopefully this set will someday get the reissue it deserves so more people can find this out without going bankrupt buying rare used copies.

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