House music

Template:Genrebox House music refers to a collection of styles of electronic dance music, the earliest forms beginning in the early- to mid- 1980s.

The common element of most house music is a 4/4 beat generated by a drum machine or other electronic means (such as a sampler), together with a solid (usually also electronically generated) bassline. Upon this foundation are added electronically generated sounds and samples of music such as jazz, blues and synth pop. House music has been sub-divided into a bewildering number of sub-categories, some of which are described below.



Not everyone understands House music; it's a spiritual thing; a body thing; a soul thing.
--as sampled by Eddie Amador listen to 22 s sample (488Kb)

Proto-history: from disco to house: late 1960s to early 1980s

Main article: Electronic music history

House music, techno, electro and hip hop musicians owe their existence to the pioneers of analogue and sample based keyboards like the Moog and Mellotron that enabled a wizardry of sounds to exist, available at the touch of a button or key.

Although most people perceive house music to have originated from Donna Summer's "I Feel Love", fully formed electronic music tracks actually came before house. Early American Sci-Fi films and the BBC Soundtrack to popular television series Doctor Who stirred a whole generation of techno music lovers like the space rock generation during the 1970s, influenced by the psychedelic music sound of the late 1960s and bands such as Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Amon Duul, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and the so-called Krautrock early electronic scene (Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze). Shunned by many as a "gimmick" or "children's music", it was a genre similar and parallel to the Kosmische Rock scene in Germany. Space rock is characterized by the use of spatial and floating backgrounds, mantra loops, electronic sequences, and futuristic effects over Rock structures. Some of the most representative artists were Steve Hillage's Gong and Hawkwind.

Kraftwerk's 1970 classic "Ruckzuck" mixed live instruments with electric that culminated in a monotonous epic of bass, wild drums and strange sound effects. Pink Floyd's 1971 album, Dark Side of the Moon, was highly influential on acid house with steady beats and Moog flurries. The mid-1970s saw a spattering of techno-inspired music usually through ambitious producers wishing to experiment with Moog and Mellotron type keys on more conventional rock bands such as the Steve Miller Band's 1975 track "Fly like an Eagle" which was later heavily sampled by Nightmares on Wax in 1990.

The late 1970s saw disco utilise the (by then) much developed electronic sound and a limited genre emerged, appealing mainly to gay and black audiences, it crossed over into mainstream American culture following the hit 1977 film Saturday Night Fever. As disco clubs filled there was a move to larger venues. "Paradise Garage" opened in New York in January 1978, featuring the DJ talents of Larry Levan (19541992). Studio 54, another New York disco club, was extremely popular. The clubs played the tunes of groups like The Supremes, Anita Ward, Donna Summer and Larry Levan's own hit "I Got My Mind Made Up". Drugs including LSD, poppers and quaaludes boosted the stamina of the clubbers. The disco boom was short-lived. There was a backlash from Middle America, epitomised in Chicago radio DJ Steve Dahl's "Disco Demolition Night" in 1979. Disco returned to the smaller clubs like the Warehouse in Chicago.

Opened in 1977 the Warehouse in Chicago was a key venue in the development of House music. The main DJ was Frankie Knuckles. The club staples were still the old disco tunes but the limited number of records meant that the DJ had to be a creative force, introducing more deck work to revitalise old tunes. The new mixing skills also had local airplay with the Hot Mix 5 at WBMX. The chief source of this kind of records in Chicago was the record-store "Imports Etc." where the term House was introduced as a shortening of Warehouse (as in these records are played at the Warehouse).

Despite the new skills the music was still essentially disco until the early 1980s when the first drum machines were introduced. Disco tracks could now be given an edge with the use of a mixer and drum machine. This was an added boost to the prestige of the individual DJs.

Chicago years: early 1980s - late 1980s

In 1983 the Music Box club opened in Chicago. Owned by Robert Williams, the driving force was a DJ, Ron Hardy. The chief characteristics of the club's sound were sheer massive volume and an increased pace to the tunes. The pace was apparently the result of Hardy's heroin use. The club also played a wider range of music than just disco. Groups such as Kraftwerk and Blondie were well received, as was a brief flirtation with punk, dances like "Punking-Out" or "Jacking" being very popular.

Two tunes are arguably the first House music, each arriving in early 1984. The tune that was chronologically first was Jamie Principle and Frankie Knuckles' "Your Love", a huge hit in the clubs, but only available on tape copies. The second, "On And On" by Jesse Saunders was later but on vinyl (Shapiro, 2000).

By 1985 house music dominated the clubs of Chicago, aided by the musical electronic revolution - the arrival of newer, cheaper and more compact music sequencers and drum machines (such as the legendary Roland TB-303 in late 1985) gave House music creators even wider possibilities in creating their own sound, indeed the creation of Acid House is directly related to the efforts of DJ Pierre on the new drum machines. Of equal importance was the rise in Chicago of the Trax record label, founded by Larry Sherman (the owner of the only vinyl pressing plant in Chicago). This was something of a double-edged sword. In its favour Trax was very fast to sign new artists and press their tunes, establishing a large catalogue of House tunes, but the label used recycled vinyl to speed the pressing process resulting in physically poor quality records. Also disappointing was that many artists signed contracts that were rather less favourable towards them than they hoped.

Trax became the dominant House label, releasing many classics including "No Way Back" by Adonis, Larry Heard's "Can You Feel It" and the first so-called House anthem in 1986, "Move Your Body" by Marshall Jefferson. This latter tune gave a massive boost to House music, extending recognition of the genre out of Chicago. Steve 'Silk' Hurley became the first house artist to reach number one in the UK in 1987 with "Jack Your Body". This and other tracks such as such as "Music is the Key" and "Love Can't Turn Around" helped moved house from its spiritual home to its commercial birthplace - the United Kingdom.

It should be noted that a subgenre of house music, "booty house" is thriving in many Chicago clubs today and "houseing" as a dance has evolved to be more dynamic than ever.

The British connection: late 1980s - early 1990s

In Britain the growth of house can be divided around the "Summer of Love" in 1988. House had a presence in Britain almost as early as it appeared in Chicago; however there was a strong divide between the House music as part of the gay scene and "straight" music. House grew in northern England, the Midlands and the South East. Founded in 1982 by Factory Records the Hacienda in Manchester became an extension of the "Northern Soul" genre and was one of the early, key English dance music clubs. Until 1986 the club was a financial disaster, the crowds only started to grow when the resident DJs (Pickering, Park and Da Silva) started to play house music. Many underground venues and DJ nights also took place across the U.K. like for instance the private parties hosted by an early Miss Moneypenny's contingent in Birmingham and many London venues. House was boosted in the UK by the tour in the same year of Knuckles, Jefferson, Fingers Inc. (Heard) and Adonis as the DJ International Tour. Amusingly, one of the early anthemic tunes, "Promised Land" by Joe Smooth, was covered and charted within a week by the Style Council. The first English House tune came out in 1986 - "Carino" by T-Coy. Europeans embraced house music, and began booking legendary American House DJs to play at the big clubs, such as Ministry of Sound, whose resident, DJ Harvey brought in Larry Levan.

The underground house scene in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and London were also provided with many underground Pirate Radio stations and DJ's alike which helped bolster an already contagious, but otherwise ignored by the mainstream, music genre. One of the earliest and most influential UK house and techno record labels was Network Records (otherwise known as cool cat records) who helped introduced Italian and U.S. dance music to Britain as well as promoting select UK dance music acts.

But house was also developing on Ibiza. A hippy stop-over and a site for the rich in the 1970s by the mid-1980s a distinct Balearic mix of house was discernible. Clubs like Amnesia where DJ Alfredo was playing a mix of rock, pop, disco and house fueled by Ecstasy, began to have an influence on the British scene. By late 1987 DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling were bringing the Ibiza sound to UK clubs like Shoom in Southwark (London), Heaven, Future and Purple Raines Spectrum in Birmingham. But the "Summer of Love" needed an added ingredient that would again come from America.

In America the music was being developed to create a more sophisticated sound, moving beyond just drum loops and short samples. New York saw this maturity evidenced in the slick production of disco house crossover tracks from artists such as Mateo & Matos. In Chicago, Marshall Jefferson had formed the house 'super group' Ten City (from intensity), demonstrating the developments in "That's the Way Love Is". In Detroit there were the beginnings of what would be called techno, with the emergence of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. Atkins had already scored in 1982 with Cybotron and in 1985 he released Model 500 "No UFOs" which became a big regional hit, followed by dozens of tracks on Transmat, Metroplex and Fragile. One of the most unusual was "Strings of Life" by Derrick May. The NME described it as "George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator". It was a darker, more intellectual strain of house that followed its own trajectory. "Techno-Scratch" was released by the Knights Of The Turntable in 1984 which had a similar techno sound to Cybotron and is possibly where the term techno originated, although this is generally credited to Atkins, who borrowed the term from the phrase "techno rebels" which appeared in writer Alvin Toffler's book Future Shock (see Sicko 1998).

The records were completely independent of the major record labels and the parties which the tracks were played at never played any commercial pop music.

The combination of house and techno came to Britain and gave House a phenomenal boost. A few clubs began to feature specialist House nights - the Hacienda had "Hot" on Wednesday from July 1988, 2,500 people could enjoy the British take on the Ibiza scene, the classic "Voodoo Ray" by A Guy Called Gerald (Gerald Simpson) was designed for the Hacienda and Madchester. Factory boss Tony Wilson also promoted acid house culture on his weekly TV show. The Midlands also embraced the late 80s House scene with many underground venues such as multi storey car parks and more legal dance stations such as the Digbeth Institute (now the 'Sanctuary' and home to Sundissential).

Social aspects of raves

Rather than be confined in the clubs ambitious promoters took the music to large temporary sites such as fields, handling up to 30,000 people in a single illegal event, called a rave. Promoters like Sunrise, Energy, Biology, Fantasia and World Dance held massive events in defiance of the police and music industry. Unlike many nightclubs they were open to all ages and people.

The press lead the general public to believe that the events were shaped solely by the consumption of ecstasy, but others pointed out the music was refreshing and intoxicating enough without consumption of drugs. The British tabloid press helped publicize the scene, generally portraying rave parties in a negative light, which tended to alarm institutions such as the government and the police. Many tunes became hits from these events such as "Everything Starts with a E" by the E-Zee Possee," which was created by a savvy music producer rather than a band, "The Trip" by S'Express and "NRG" by Adamski who became the first rave superstar.

The publicity and the knowledge that these events could make significant amounts of money led more professionally criminal groups to take an interest in raves. The police became more active in preventing or closing down raves. As the second "Summer of Love" arrived in 1989 the police became even more oppressive, culminating in a 1990 Act of Parliament. This was counter-productive, it both forced raves back underground and increased the criminal presence in organising raves. But the music continued, one of the longest lasting and influential groups grew out of the rave scene, named Orbital after the M25 motorway. Their British hit "Chime" was snapped up by Pete Tong's FFRR label. By the end of 1989 House was mainstream music in Britain, it charted regularly with "Ride on Time" from Black Box being at number one for six weeks.

Although some venues in Wales (such as Wentwood Forrest near Newport) were still successfully holding outdoor raves well into the early 1990s, the majority of outdoor raves from the Midlands, the North West and South East were gradually closed down by the police, this did not deter the events organisers and new indoor venues were once again sought. Large country venues that were used to entertain many hundreds of revellers and smaller (up until then) weaker commercial inner city nightclubs were exploited to fill the House scene gap. These events were fueled by illegal pirate radio stations, the mass production of flyers and word of mouth. Free raves and outdoor events continue to take place in the Forest of Dean.

The most significant revolution in house music took place in the very early 1990s with bedroom musicians like Unique 3, LFO, Nightmares on Wax, N-Joi, 4-Hero, Shut Up 'N' Dance, Ryhmatic and Altern8. These Rave musicians were counted by their hundreds due to the way sampling had become affordable to the masses (thanks to Akai), hundreds of other one off white label artists enjoyed instant fame like The Prodigy and Zero 7, this unusual version of house steered away from the monotonous Balearic beats that prevailed at the time and eventually jungle music, drum and bass and breakbeat eventuated by musicians who experimented with live breakbeats as opposed to the usual Roland 909 Drum Machine kick and snare.

Developments in the United States in late 1980s to early 1990s

Back in America the scene had still not progressed beyond a small number of clubs in Chicago and New York, Paradise Garage was still the top club, although they now had Todd Terry, his tune "Weekend" demonstrated a new House sound with hip-hop influences evident in the quicker sampling and the more rugged bass-line. While hip-hop had made it onto radio play-lists, the only other choices were Rock, Country & Western or R & B.

Influential gospel/R&B-influenced Alias released "Time Passes On" in 1993 (Strictly Rhythm), then later, "Follow Me" which received radio airplay as well as being extensively played in clubs. Another US hit which received radioplay was the ghettotech single "Time for the Perculator" by Cajmere. Although these are generally grouped in with classic house now, the early 1990s sound was different from the early 1980s Chicago house WBMX sound - due at least in part to digital audio improvements.

After the "Summer of Love": early 1990s to mid 1990s

In Britain, further experiments in the genre boosted its appeal (and gave the opportunity for new names to be made up).

House and rave clubs like Lakota, Miss Moneypenny's and the original C.R.E.A.M. began to emerge across Britain, hosting regular events for people who would otherwise have had no place to enjoy the mutating house and dance scene.

The idea of 'chilling out' was born in Britain with ambient house albums like the KLF's Chill Out. A new indie dance scene was being forged by bands like the Happy Mondays, The Shamen, Meat Beat Manifesto, Renegade Soundwave, EMF, The Grid and The Beloved. Two distinctive tracks from this era were the Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" (with a distinctive vocal sample from Rickie Lee Jones) and the Happy Mondays' "Wrote for Luck" ("WFL") which was transformed into a dance hit by Paul Oakenfold.

The Criminal Justice Bill of 1994 was a government attempt to ban large events featuring music with "repetitive beats". There were a number of abortive "Kill the Bill" demonstrations. Although the bill did become law in November 1994, it had little effect. The music continued to grow and change, as typified by the emergence of acts like Leftfield with "Release the Pressure", which introduced dub and reggae into the house sound. In more commercial areas a mix of R&B with stronger bass-lines gained favour.

The music was being moulded, not just by drugs, but also the mixed cultural and racial groups involved in the house music scene. Tunes like "The Bouncer" from Kicks Like a Mule used sped-up hip-hop break-beats. With SL2's "On A Ragga Trip" they gave the foundations to what would become drum and bass and jungle. Initially called breakbeat hardcore, it found popularity in London clubs like Rage as a "inner city" music. Labels like Moving Shadow and Reinforced became underground favorites. Showing an increased tempo around 160 bpm, tunes like "Terminator" from Goldie marked a distinct change from house with heavier, faster and more complex bass-lines: drum and bass. Goldie's early work culminated in the twenty-two minute epic "Inner City Life" a hit from his debut album Timeless.

UK Garage developed later, growing in the underground club scene from drum and bass ideas. Aimed more for dancing than listening, it produced distinctive tunes like "Double 99" from Ripgroove in 1997. Gaining popularity amongst clubbers in Ibiza, it was re-imported to the UK and in a softened form had chart success: soon it was being applied to mainstream acts like Daniel Bedingfield and Victoria Beckham.

4 Hero went in the opposite direction - from brutal breakbeats they adopted more soul and jazz influences, and even a full orchestral section in their quest for sophistication. Later, this led directly to the West London scene known as Brokenbeat.

Mid-1990s and beyond

Back in the US some artists were finding it difficult to gain recognition. Another import into Europe of not only a style but also the creator himself was Joey Beltram. From Brooklyn his "Energy Flash" had proved rather too much for American House enthusiasts and he need a move to find success. The American industry threw its weight behind DJs like Junior Vasquez, Armand van Helden or even Masters at Work who appeared to churn out endless remixes of mainstream pop music. Some argued that many of the formulaic remixes of Madonna, Kylie Minogue, U2, Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, Spiller, Mariah Carey, Puff Daddy, Elvis Presley, Vengaboys and other bands and pop divas did not deserve to be considered house records.

The rise of the UK "superclub"

During this time many individuals and particularly corporations realized that house music could be extremely lucrative and much of the 1990s saw the rise of sponsorship deals and other industry practices common in other genres.

To develop successful hit singles, some argued that the record industry developed "handbag house": throwaway pop songs with a retro disco beat. Underground house DJs were reluctant to play this style, so a new generation of DJs were created from record company staff, and new clubs like Miss Moneypenny's, Liverpool's Cream (as opposed to the original underground night, C.R.E.A.M.) and the Ministry of Sound were opened to provide a venue for more commercial sounds.

By 1996 Pete Tong had a major role in the playlist of BBC Radio 1, and every record he released seemed to be guaranteed airplay. Major record companies began to open "superclubs" promoting their own acts, forcing many independent clubs and labels out of business. These superclubs entered into sponsorship deals initially with fast food, soft drinks, and clothing companies and later with banks and insurance brokers. Flyers in clubs in Ibiza often sported many corporate logos.

Many UK clubs were playing much the same music as the commercial dance shows, as were many bars, supermarkets, and television advertisements. Dance music was perceived by many young people as being increasingly outmoded. Many older DJs seemed to be playing year after year, leading to the term "Dad house". House music became racially segregated, in contrast to its inclusive beginnings; some major UK clubs were reportedly refusing to book black DJs. MDMA became less popular than cocaine but created an entirely different atmosphere. Ketamine and GHB also appeared on the club scene during this time.

House music and the new century

As of 2003, a new generation of DJs and promoters, including James Zabiela and Mylo, were emerging, determined to kickstart a more underground scene and there were signs of a renaissance in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and other racially-mixed cities, as well as in Canada, Scandinavia, Scotland and Germany. For example, in 2004 the Montreal club Stereo celebrated its sixth year in operation. Stereo, opened in 1998, was modeled after the seminal New York City club Paradise Garage, focusing the experience on the quality of sound and lighting. The key to house music was re-invention. A willingness to steal or develop new styles and a low cost of entry encouraged innovation. The development of computers and the Internet play a critical role in this innovation. One need only to examine how house music has evolved over time to evaluate the effect computers and the Internet have had on house music and music in general.

Classic (genre-defining/-representing) house records

  • "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer (1977)
    Written by Giorgio Moroder, widely regarded as the beginning of modern house music -- the union of disco and electronic. Its bassline has been sampled on numerous electronic dance records.
  • "Blue Monday" by New Order (1983)
    Frequently considered the missing link between disco of the 1970s and house of the 1980s. Has been sampled, remixed and covered by electronic dance producers all over the world.
  • "Move Your Body (House Music Anthem)" by Marshall Jefferson
    The first self referential "house music" record. The referential portion of the lyrics go: "Gotta have House Music all night long... With that House Music cant be wrong..."
  • "Acid Tracks" by Phuture (1986)
    The first acid house song ever made. Made by DJ Pierre, Spanky J and Herbert in Chicago and gave birth to the whole acid house movement.
  • "Theme from S'Express" by S'Express (1988)
    An acid house classic. Obviously disco-influenced, combined with funky acid 303 baseline.


House music is uptempo music for dancing and has a comparatively narrow tempo range, generally falling between 118 beats per minute (bpm) and 135 bpm, with 127 bpm being about average since 1996.

Far and away the most important element of the house drumbeat is the (usually very strong, synthesized, and heavily equalized) kick drum pounding on every quarter note of the 4/4 bar, often having a "dropping" effect on the dancefloor. Commonly this is augmented by various kick fills and extended dropouts (aka breakdowns). Add to this basic kick pattern hihats on the eighth-note offbeats (though any number of sixteenth-note patterns are also very common) and a snare drum and/or clap on beats 2 and 4 of every bar, and you have the basic framework of the house drumbeat.

This pattern is derived from so-called "four-on-the-floor" dance drumbeats of the 1960s and especially the 1970's disco drummers. Due to the way house music was developed by DJs mixing records together, producers commonly layer sampled drum sounds to achieve a larger-than-life sound, filling out the audio spectrum and tailoring the mix for large club sound systems.

Techno and trance, the two primary dance music genres that branched off from house in the late 1980s and early 1990s respectively, can share this basic beat infrastructure, but usually eschew house's live-music-influenced feel and black or Latin music influences in favor of more synthetic sound sources and approach. Hence, all but strict purists would generally consider any track with this basic electronic drumbeat some sort of house music, as long as it is (or is paired with material which is) live-influenced, black, or Latin sounding.

Further reading

  • Sean Bidder Pump Up the Volume: A History of House Music, MacMillan, 2002, ISBN 0752219863
  • Sean Bidder The Rough Guide to House Music, Rough Guides, 1999, ISBN 1858284325
  • Bill Brewster Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey, Grove Press, 2000, ISBN 0802136885
  • Simon Reynolds Energy Flash: a Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, (UK title, Pan Macmillan, 1998, ISBN 0330350560), also released in US as Generation Ecstasy : Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (US title, Routledge, 1999, ISBN 0415923735)


  • Peter Shapiro (2000) Modulations: A History of Electronic Music: Throbbing Words on Sound, ISBN 189102406X.

See also

External links

  • ( Online Webradio directory including around 30 house radios.
  • Clickgroove ( Specialist House Music Record Store
  • Flat & Round ( Well respected Deep/tech house label based in Manchester, UK.
  • ( A community of 8000 members, features a message board, archived DJ mixes and a record shop
  • Deep House Page ( Huge Archive of Classic House & Disco Mixes and Large Community of old school house heads
  • Hard To Find Records ( Massive selection of new and rare music, and DJ equipment.
  • ( Great site for house music with audio samples and user comments.
  • ( An online magazine, community and social networking hub dedicated to the global house and electronic dance music scene
  • UGH Community ( Popular House Music Discussion Board
  • House of Diabolique ( Thousands of Real Audio house samples.
  • Booming B. - My Lifelong Dream ( a german DJs goes to the birthplace of house music (with english diarys)
  • Planetsoul Network -- a non-commercial Deep House internet radio station (

Electronic music | Genres
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