The Meaning Of House

Posted: June 14, 2011 in DJ 101

“In the beginning there was Jack, and Jack had a groove, and from that groove came the groove of all grooves, and while one day viciously throwing down on his box, Jack boldly declared, Let there be house.” So booms “My House” by Rhythm Control.

For a long time the word ‘house” referred to a particular style of music so much as to an attitude. If a song was “house” it was music from a cool club, it was underground, it was something you’d never hear on the radio. In Chicago, the right club would be “house,” and if you went there, you’d be house and so would your friends.

Walking down Michigan Avenue, you would be able to tell who was house and who wasn’t by what they were wearing. It their tape player was rocking The Gap Band, they were definitely not house, but if it was playing Loleatta Holloway or (surprisingly enough) the Eurythmisc, they were, and you’d probably go over and to them.

One day soon, Chicago kids would invent a stark new kind of dance music, and because of where this came from, and because of where it was played, it would steal a name for itself. But for several years, house was a feeling, a rebellious musical taste, away of declaring yourself in the know. Certainly, the word house was used long before people started making what we would now call house music.

Chip E, an early producer, claims that the name came about from his methods of labeling records at the Imports Etc record store.
“People would come in and ask for the old sounds, the Salsoul that Frankie used to play at the Warehouse,” he explained, ‘so we’d put up signs that said ‘Warehouse music’ to get people’s attention to reissues and collectors items. It worked so well that we started putting it on all sorts of records and shortened the label to ‘House.’ And ‘House’ became the name for music that was happening, that was hot, whether it was old or new.”

Frankie Knuckles says the first time he knew of the term was in 1981. Driving south through the outskirts of his adopted city to visit his goddaughter, he noticed a sign in the window of a bar: “WE PLAY HOUSE MUSIC.” Bemused, he turned to his friend and asked, “Now what is that all about?” She looked at the sign and told him, ‘It means music like you play at the Warehouse.”

The name fit for all sorts of reasons. A “house record” could be one belonging to be a particular club, one which was exclusive to that DJ. It could be a song which simply “rocked the house.” A “house party” was more intimate and friendly than a club, and of course “house” conjured the idea of family, of belonging to something special. If you were part of it, house was your home. Later, as an army of young kids started producing electronic dance music in their bedrooms, it enjoyed another resonance: it was simply music you made at your house.

These meanings made it appropriate, but they were not where the word originated (some will try and tell you otherwise). The word “house” came from the Warehouse, referring to the music played there, the DJing manipulations which Frankie introduced, and the underground vibe the club engendered.

(This article is taken from the book “Last night a DJ saved my life. The history of the disk jockey” written by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton

I believe every DJ has to own this book, especially upcoming DJs.)


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