Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Houseobit: Frankie Knuckles

It's hard to believe that Frankie Knuckles - who has died at the age of 59 - not only didn't need to create a stage name, but actually toned down his birth name of Frank Warren Knuckles Junior before finding fame.

It's perhaps more surprising than it should be that one of the best appreciations of Knuckles' life comes from The Economist's Propsero column:

If there was a year in which house music might be said to have climbed out of its subterranean bunker and into the mass market, it was 1989. That was when Mr Knuckles's “Your Love” filled every dancefloor. Today, it is better known in its later incarnation as Candi Staton’s evergreen hit “You’ve Got The Love”. But ravers of a certain generation will tell you that it still brings to mind a time when the sweat dripped off nighclub walls, the ecstasy tablets were pure and only those in the clan attended.

By the time of his death, Mr Knuckles, like the music he nurtured, had long since become part of the mainstream. In 2004 Barack Obama, another man who made his way to Chicago before taking on the world, declared August 24th "Frankie Knuckles Day" in the city. A year later he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. The Windy City named a street after him.
It's perhaps underestimating his value to read the collection of honours collected by The Independent:
Knuckles, who won a Grammy in 1998, had a street in Chicago named after him in 2004. In 2005, he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame.
It's dispiriting that the most interesting thing HuffPo can do is copy someone's tweet:
Fellow DJ David Morales has shared his condolences on Twitter, writing: “I am devastated to write that my dear friend Frankie Knuckles has passed away today. Can't write anymore than this at the moment. I'm sorry.”
It's the Los Angeles Times that explains what he did:
My favorite of [his remixes] is Knuckles' remix of Hercules and Love Affair's "Blind," a glorious 2008 post-disco New York jam that in the Chicago godfather's hands becomes something majestic. An eight-minute slow build that adds layers every 16 bars until this beast of a groove rises, the song features vocalist Antony Hegarty in perfect form. Knuckles understood this, and like much of his work, crafted his music as a pedestal for his singer, giving space to shine by surrounding voice with groove.

My favorite of them is Knuckles' remix of Hercules and Love Affair's "Blind," a glorious 2008 post-disco New York jam that in the Chicago godfather's hands becomes something majestic. An eight-minute slow build that adds layers every 16 bars until this beast of a groove rises, the song features vocalist Antony Hegarty in perfect form. Knuckles understood this, and like much of his work, crafted his music as a pedestal for his singer, giving space to shine by surrounding voice with groove.
It's appropriate to end on something from Knuckles' home town - A Chicago Reader piece which quotes Matt Warren talking about the man at work:
I went to the Power Plant one night because I had heard this guy Frankie Knuckles, who I didn't even know at the time, was a hot DJ. This was an after-hours place where they played the house stuff. We all went down there one night after our nightclub closed, and I remember just walking in and seeing this scene that I'd never witnessed before. He was playing these old disco tracks and he a had a 909 going live and he would blend that in, and just people were going nuts. And he was doing this thing where he'd just drop out all the bass in the system, and their system was so big that after a couple songs you wouldn't really notice it anymore. Then all of a sudden the crowd'd start screaming up to Frankie, saying "Bang the box, Frankie! Bang the box, Frankie!" And out of nowhere he'd just take the bass and go "Ka-boom! Ka-boom! Ka-boom!" and they'd just lose their frickin' minds.


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