Lifestyle, Music

House music is more than just the ‘rhythm of the night’

We’ve heard the “oonts oonts” jokes about dance music, but fewer people know the roots of that “oonts oonts” sound. The genre is about far more than just a bassline and upbeat vocals to jump along to at the club with a drink in hand.

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

House music originated in the dance scenes of Chicago and New York in the late early 1980s from the remnants of the disco craze of the 70s before. In Chicago, clubs like the Warehouse played a crucial role in developing the genre, with resident DJ Frankie Knuckles, also known as the “godfather of house,” spinning tunes to keep the dancefloor alive all night. 

It’s important to note that these clubs attracted mostly Black, Latino and queer attendees. According to Frederick Dunson, executive director of the Frankie Knuckles Foundation, they were safe spaces for queer and Black communities to freely dance and enjoy a night out. 

Knuckles helped bring house to life by blending disco, funk and German electronic pop. In order to keep the dance floor going, Knuckles experimented with an eclectic mix of beats and styles as disco’s popularity faded and fewer dance tracks were being released. 

The Warehouse club in Chicago was eventually shortened to The House — known by many to be how the genre got its name, but the club doubled its admission fee in late 1982 and grew more commercial, so Knuckles left and started The Power Plant. DJ Ron Hardy followed at the Warehouse, which he then renamed the Music Box.

Musicians consider the first real house record to be “On & On,” by Chicago native Jesse Saunders and collaborator Vince Lawrence. Saunders was influenced by Knuckles among others, absorbing him as an influence and spreading house music to the rest of the club-going population. 

Saunders expanded beyond the primarily Black and queer crowds and disco lovers and carved his own milestones. He set up the first house recording label, became the first house artist to enter the Billboard charts and the first house music artist to be signed to a major label.

House is known for being led by the beat — generally 128 BPM, although it can range between 115 and 130 BPM — with repetitive, catchy hooks.

Between its “sweet spot” tempo and its use of drops, house is scientifically known to trigger parts of the brain that cause happiness.

Some people don’t like music without a story or aren’t attracted to repetition — and that’s no problem — but not all songs require deep lyrics or fleshed-out storylines to be special and enjoyable. 

One of the most notable parts about house is how the beats, rhythms and melodies are universal. 

Many of my most treasured memories have come from the magic of house music. It has introduced me to other students and musicians in Boston and has helped me make friends with people from across the world. Even in foreign countries where I face language barriers with natives or other travelers, we can always bond over the way house music makes us feel. 

It has also reignited my passion for playing music. I was trained as a pianist, but lost my love for it as I got older. Since I’ve become a house fan, I’ve not only started mixing those beats, but have also returned to my musical roots once again. 

We tend to make a mockery of the way that everyone wants to be a DJ nowadays, but maybe it’s not such a bad thing. In my experience, house music welcomes everybody — that’s what the genre set out to do and still does today. 

Though the genre and its surrounding scenes have evolved in the decades since then, its roots in creating safe spaces for marginalized communities are still evident today. In my experience, you can be as little or as much involved as you want in house spaces. They are truly free of judgment.

The genre has come a long way since its beginnings in the warehouses of Chicago. In the 90s, there were a wave of dance hits from artists like Corona and Alice Deejay throughout America and Europe, and EDM artists like Calvin Harris and Avicii ruled the 2010s. House music has branched off into many subgenres but made its way into more people’s lives.

Today, artists like John Summit and FISHER are bringing attention to the beauty of house music across mainstream platforms. Even mega pop artists have incorporated house music into their records. Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” was a hit album for all sorts of music fans and pays tribute to the roots of the genre, particularly the Black and LGBTQ+ musicians that came before us.

House has evolved into a complex array of subgenres: intense house for techno fans, along with afro house and chillhouse for those seeking something more atmospheric — even jazz lovers can find a place in the genre. 

House has been — and hopefully will always represent — a beautiful mosaic of diversity and culture, one that can be incorporated into genres but with roots that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Though it has evolved and expanded greatly, house music is unequivocally about freedom of expression, bonding over sound and finding solace in it. House isn’t just about the music, but about the energy it can create in a room. The beauty of the rhythm produces pockets of joy and connection — something rare and necessary in this world.

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