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Thursday, October 3, 2013

DJ Sessions: The Story Behind Chicago House

(Frankie Knuckles Fan Page/Facebook)

(Frankie Knuckles Fan Page/Facebook)

The music genre known as “house” has deep roots in Chicago, where it is said to have evolved from the declining popularity of disco.

House music thrives today, as new technologies allow more producers to get into the game.

Charles’ Playlist

  • “Waiting on My Angel” written by Jamie Principle, produced by Frankie Knuckles
  • “Million Dollar Bill” by Whitney Houston, remixed by Frankie Knuckles
  • “Jazzy Groove” by Craig Loftis, also known as “Grand High Priest”
  • “The Cure and the Cause” by Fish Go Deep, featuring Tracey K, produced by Dennis Ferrer
  • “Color Track” by Adam Rios
  • “Hiya Kaya” by Kentphonik
  • “Lost Tribes of Ibadan” by Kerri Chandler





And it's time now for another installment of the HERE AND NOW DJ sessions.


HOBSON: That is "Color Track" by New York artist Adam Rios. Charles Matlock flagged it for us. He's a house DJ and teaches a class at Columbia College Chicago about how to DJ in clubs. He's with us from WBEZ. Charles, welcome.

CHARLES MATLOCK: Hi. How are you?

HOBSON: Doing well. So first of all, I just want to know, what is the latest? What are you playing right now in the clubs?

MATLOCK: Well, give me a second. Let me play something for you.


JAMIE PRINCIPLE: (Singing) When your body's next to me, I begin to sweat. When we touch, I lose control. Now you know what's next. Fantasizing all the time, love your body next to mine.

HOBSON: All right. So what is this?

MATLOCK: This is a song called "Your Love," and it is a remix version. And the song "Your Love" quite honestly was probably about the year zero in the history of house music. So it really was one of the major shots heard around the world. And they, you know, close to 30 years later, kind of took a re-look at it and said, let's, you know, let's release this with different remixes. And so that - what you just heard is a remixed version of the original.

HOBSON: Well, and it's interesting you take us back to the history because I want to get to the beginning of house music, which had something to do with disco. Tell us about that.

MATLOCK: Well, disco as a concept and as a genre of music was really big in probably the early mid-'70s. It kind of peaked at the end of the '70s and died, for all intents and purposes, largely due in part to a backlash in popular culture that was somewhat driven by a radio DJ in Chicago named Steve Dahl. He had a disco demolition rally in 1981 at Comiskey Park. It was a huge fiasco.


STEVE DAHL: Disco sucks. Disco sucks. Disco sucks. Disco sucks.

MATLOCK: And I can't say that it was absolutely because of that, but that was definitely something that happened in conjunction with this backlash. And before you knew it, major labels had withdrawn their support. Radio stations had withdrawn their support. Dance music, formerly called disco, was kind of driven underground, only supported, at that point, mostly by clubs.

And during this - that transition period there were songs that were coming out that were called mutant disco, euro disco. And from this stuff, a lot of Chicago deejays and would-be producers, you know, people who had just bought a beat machine or a keyboard, started saying I can do my own homemade version of this stuff. And that was how house music kind of was born and came to be.

HOBSON: Well, let's listen to a quintessential '70s house song out of Chicago that you've old us about. This is "Waiting on My Angel."


PRINCIPLE: Waiting on my angel. Waiting for the sky. My eyes are looking for passion. Will an angel arrive?

HOBSON: Now, the producer there is somebody that people who know house music may know. It's - the guy's name is Frankie Knuckles. He is still around. Tell us about how he figured into the start of house music.

MATLOCK: Well, Frankie had - was the main DJ, was the only DJ at a club called The Warehouse. And that club ended up lending its name to this genre of music. And to be fair, I should also mention Jamie Principle, the artist for the song you just played. And there was a guy who's also a part of the story named Chippy(ph), who came out with the song called "Its House." He used to work at a store called Imports. So as they're putting out records on the wall, you know, people were coming in, hey, I heard this song at The Warehouse. Where can I get it? It's up there on the wall. And after a while, they started labeling the stuff house music.

HOBSON: Well, let's listen to some of the other songs that you have brought to our attention. This is Chicago house music producer Craig Loftis, also known as Grand High Priest, and this is "Jazzy Groove."


HOBSON: So I would say jazzy, check; groove, check.


MATLOCK: Yeah. Craig has also been making music for a really long time and is a really talented producer and DJ. In fact, he used to open for Frankie at The Power Plant, which was the first club that Frankie owned outright as his own. And, yeah, Craig's been a consistent force in the business in Chicago for quite some time.

HOBSON: And this is another song we should listen to. This is "The Cure and the Cause" by Dennis Ferrer.


TRACEY K: (Singing) You give sweet, and how easily I, I fall deep. Your touch pours like honey on my skin, smooth it lingers. You, the cure and the cause of my blues, my only flaw.

HOBSON: Well, here we are, decades after house music really got its start. What has changed? And I want to ask you specifically about what has changed as a result of all the sounds that we now have on our computers and on our mobile devices that may be incorporated sometimes into some of these songs.

MATLOCK: Well, now that there is so much, there is a tremendous amount of diversity. I mean I get, I don't know, three, four emails a week of here's a new producer pack and here's some more drum loops. And so there's just more and more that's constantly coming out, and the advent of the laptop producer probably in, you know, 2007, it just kind of exploded. Stuff that is coming out of South Africa has kind of a distinct sound, a lot of stuff coming out of the U.K. But with more people in the game, there are more sounds and more voices to be heard.

HOBSON: Well, let's listen to one song out of South Africa. This is by a group of producers called Kentphonik. It's called "Hiya Kaya."


KHENSY: (Singing) I don't wanna know where you've been. I don't wanna know who you've been with. All I want is for you to come home. All I really want is for you to come home.

MATLOCK: You can tell that's a very, very electronic sound, although a lot of other South African songs do have kind of tribal rhythms. And it's simple and organic, but they're still really trying to incorporate this heavy electronic sound in this, you know, driving beat into this music that otherwise would, like I said, be more on the tribal side. And I like the fact that they are still trying to maintain the integrity of their sound, but at the same time make it something that if you like electronica, then you are included in this, and it's something that your ears are hopefully going to welcome.

And that's one thing that I really, really like about dance music, is it is inclusive. It's about love or you should keep pushing on and you can make it. There isn't any I'm the biggest or I'm the baddest and things that make some other genres of music guilty pleasures at times.

HOBSON: Charles, I'm sure there are some people listening to this going, what is this stuff? It's not really music. It's just repetitive, or it's mashing up of music that someone else made. I'm sure you've heard those criticisms of house music before. What do you say to those people? What is the appeal of this?

MATLOCK: Well, the appeal is multifaceted. And the main thing, I would say, is listen, you know? Listen to hear the nuance that is in there because, you're right, there is going to be some stuff that is just five minutes of the same beat. But the stuff that does have a natural progression and goes somewhere, and there's a solo that instruments are doing something different, that's what I would say to them. And I think that there is a lot more to this music than some people would otherwise, on first glance, realize.

HOBSON: Charles Matlock is a house DJ in Chicago, and he teaches about DJ-ing in clubs at Columbia College, Chicago. Charles Matlock, thanks for joining us.

MATLOCK: Thanks for having me.


HOBSON: And we're listening here to "Lost Tribes of Ibadan" by producer Kerri Chandler. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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