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Frankie Knuckles' Influence On Modern Dance Culture: A Reggae Artist's Perspective

“The real talent of an Emcee is being able to deliver a message without getting in the way of the music—even a corporate one.” I smiled and shrugged it off when I said that nonsense, and everyone tacitly agreed. Truly, I was hiding my disappointment over the fact that I would be limited to just reading ad copy during Frankie Knuckles’ set at the ABSOLUT Lunch Break on October 24, 2013. That didn’t go unnoticed by him, though. “We’re going waaayy back today,” he offered up as sort of a consolation—not that he needed to. Sadly, that would be the first and last time I would ever work with Frankie. 

March 31, 2014: I received a message from DJ Warp (who got me the job) that Frankie Knuckles passed away. He was 59 years young.

In Chicago there is a street named after New York transplant Frankie Knuckles for the work he did to put CHI-City on the map. As the “Godfather Of House” he helped to create the structure for modern day dance music. It served to fill the void left when Disco supposedly died and continues to go strong today. House music was a primarily underground, black, gay phenomenon when it began, but Chicago radio stations WBMX and WNUR exposed it to the whole city. Vinyl releases took it overseas and by the time House broke through, it was indeed the universal party format.

Regardless of what people like to say about Reggae artists, I have always maintained that I don’t care a damn about what consenting adults do in their privacy. I have my own life to worry about, so I took the opportunity to rock a Frankie Knuckles DJ set as a small chance to foster peace and acceptance. One of the most effective ways to do this is through music. Putting all that aside though, I did my corporate voiceover part (15mins in|59mins out) and watched one of the best in the business kill the dance floor…at 1:00 in the afternoon.

EDM owes a debt of gratitude to the House music pioneers because the music industry, under increasing pressure from influential radio DJs, went 100% ROCK (A move Interscope is rumored to be re-visiting today, interestingly enough). The most outlandish publicity stunt related to all this was when Steve Dahl from WLUP staged his “Disco Demolition Night” in Chicago’s Comiskey Park (July, 1979). White Sox fans were offered the chance to gain entry into a double-header for the price of 1 Dollar if they brought a Disco record for Dahl to blow up. What ensued was a much larger than expected turnout, which developed into a full-on riot. It destroyed Comiskey Park, causing the Sox to forfeit the 2nd game, and almost overnight “Disco Sucks” became the international mantra of the mainstream. 

Frankie Knuckles along with his contemporaries, like Farley “Jackmaster Funk”, Steve “Silk” Hurley, Ron Hardy, Gene Hunt, Paul Johnson and many others, would fill the Dance music vacuum with their own lo-fidelity, stylized version of what Disco once was. It was percussion-based, using classic Disco break beats, tape loops and drum machines to keep people dancing throughout the night. House music was a departure from decadent, over-produced Disco records. It was something that came from the streets. It broke the rules the industry tried to establish and eventually helped give rise to modern EDM Culture. Frankie Knuckles’ influence on Dance music cannot be measured. He will be missed.

Written by MC Zulu.

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