House music dominated the UK charts during summer 2014 and looks set to continue its prevalence this year. Despite its popularity in mainstream culture I'm suprised by the number of people who look bemused when I start to geek out about house. The question of what house is and isn't surfaces pretty quickly every time.
Where Did House Come From?
House music emerged from Chicago in the early 1980's, specifically The Warehouse Club which opened in 1977. This is where house music is believed to have earned its name, it was the music played at 'The House'. In 1984 Jesse Saunders' track On and On featured elements that would become staples of the style and is considered by many to be the first house record. Warehouse resident DJ Frankie Knuckles was a key player in the genesis of the genre and is referred to by many as the 'godfather of house'. This new disco-derived dance music quickly spread across America, Europe and to Australia.
Here's a couple of examples of prominent early house records to wrap your ears around:
Pump Up The Volume - M/A/A/R/S (1987)
House Nation - Housemaster Boyz (1988)
What Makes House, House?
Genre is always a tricky subject to discuss. But, early house music was characterised by a 4/4 beat. It was electronically produced utilising drum machines, off-beat hi hats, synthesised basslines and samples. House is often minimal and repetitive, overlapping rhythms are more important than the song itself in most cases.
Modern house in the 2010's maintains many core elements of early house particularly the prominent 'four on the floor' provided by the bass drum and a tempo around 120-130 beats per minute. However, house music now draws on a range of influences creating numerous sub-genres. For instance, the atmospheric 'deep house' of Duke Dumont, St. Germain and Secondcity. Or, the glitchy tones of 'minimal house' that makes use of static and sampled noise in place of standard drum sounds. Add to that the presence of the trance influenced synth-scapes that characterise 'progressive house' from producers such as Eric Prydz and it should become clear how varied modern house music has become.
This stylistic diversification means it is sometimes tricky to pin down precisely what house music is, but it has a definitive sound and feel that makes it recognisable when you know what to look for.
Won't Look Back - Duke Dumont (2014)
Liberate - Eric Prydz (2014)
So there you are, a brief peek into the world of house. There is so much more to explore and discover than I have covered here. What next for this mammoth musical genre? I can't wait!