Tuesday, 21 February 2017

In the beginning there was Jack

Today's blog was intended to be just "another timeslip moment" - an opportunity to wallow in a bit of nostalgia from decades ago and to remember some of the events and trends that defined a particular moment in time. I settled upon this week in 1987, and then, on observing what was in the charts on that date I spotted something worthy of more detailed examination - thirty years ago we were in the midst of a musical sea-change. For there in the UK Top Ten of February '87 we witnessed the final throes of the type of "gay-gay-gay" uptempo electronic dance music typified by Man-to-Man meets Man Parrish, and, at the same time, the rise of a new soon-to-be-predominant "sound of the underground"...

In strictly historical or academic terms it is somewhat difficult to pin down exactly what defines the genre that is "House Music". From its oft-disputed (often mythical) origins sometime around the start of the 80s it embraced and absorbed many already existing types of music, and in time-honoured fashion it was batted back and forth across the Atlantic with various revamps that all, in their own way, enhanced and modified what was always a predominantly dance-based style into myriad incarnations.

As I recall, the decadence of (especially the late) Disco years - as epitomised by the celebrity-oriented hedonism of Studio 54 and, at the opposite end of the scale, a profusion of Disco versions of hits by "easy listening" artists such as Andy Williams and Ethel Merman - had supposedly led to a general feeling of ennui by the end of the 70s. Despite the fact that some of the biggest-selling Disco records of all time - such as those by Kool and the Gang, Michael Jackson/The Jacksons, Irene Cara, The Whispers, Stacy Lattisaw, Anita Ward, Diana Ross, Liquid Gold, Earth Wind & Fire, The Detroit Spinners and even Blondie and David Bowie - were actually produced after the notorious Redneck "Disco Sucks" rallies of summer '79 [which incidentally only ever occurred in America], the eternally recognisable format was fading under the weight of a "New Wave".

In Europe (of course) electronic music was the pioneering trend at that time, with (predominantly) British groups espousing a Kraftwerk-meets-pop sound and a dress sense that exploded into the New Romantic post-Punk 80s. On the continent (although there were recognisably similar fashion trends), that same passion for electronica channelled the more frenetic, adrenaline-fuelled style of artists such as Sylvester, Bobby O and Giorgio Moroder (especially in places like Italy and Belgium); and the club music variously known as "Italo-Disco" and "Hi-NRG" was the result. The latter style was enthusiastically embraced in the UK (particularly thanks to the efforts of DJ Ian Levine), and directly influenced the pop powerhouse known as Stock, Aitken, Waterman - who were to dominate the charts of that decade and beyond.

Over in the States, however (as famously stated by Mr Frankie Knuckles) "Disco never died - it merely changed its name to protect the innocent". He was referring to the type of dance club scene that still bought into the ever-popular funk, soul and dance styles that originally defined Disco but eventually, in the hands of innovative DJs in Chicago and New York, played with and mixed them up with other (newer) types of music (such as Italo) and random sounds to create something new. Sampling was born - and out of this "scratch" and "groove" art-form came "House", "Garage" and all that followed...

These trend-setters were not alone. From Belgium came a seminal "mash-up" of Italo-Disco and the more familiar funky US sounds, a style known as "New Beat". One of the pioneers of this genre, and of many innovations that travelled back Stateside to be incorporated into the blend [as I referred to above, club records and remixes were "batted back and forth" endlessly at the time] was the DJ Patrick DeMeyer, who was later to gain massive success with acts such as Technotronic. An early New Beat project of his was this filthy little slice of gorgeousness [a long-time fave here at Dolores Delargo Towers], Black Kiss - The Orgasm:

The aforementioned Hi-NRG music of the early-to-mid-80s (especially) here in the UK may have been a (albeit significant) flash-in-the-pan - being massively aimed at us gayers in the era of poppers and fan-dancing [with such choons as So Many Men So Little Time, You Think You're A Man, It's Raining Men, et al], it hit a bit of a crisis as the seriousness of AIDS began to make an impact - however a few of the producers who embraced it did cross over to the "House sound". One such was British writer-producer Andy Watkins [who later went on to mega-success working with Spice Girls, Atomic Kitten, Lisa Stansfield, Will Young and many more], who was responsible for this early classic that straddles the Hi-NRG and House Music eras perfectly - I Don't Believe by Erica Holland:

Popular though it was with the big-city clubbers, House Music - however it evolved or could be defined - was (surprisingly) not as commercially successful in its homeland of the USA as it was in the UK and in Europe in its early years. The first really big House Music success was a #1 single in the UK in January 1987 - Jack Your Body. The rave-hungry Brits had already given Farley Jackmaster Funk a hit with Love Can't Turn Around a year earlier, but by the time 1987 came around (and dance music was becoming huge again here) it was the turn of his Chicago compatriot Steve "Silk" Hurley to really get things moving...

House Music still persists, of course [as do Disco, Italo, Techno, "New Romantic-style" electronica and even Hi-NRG, but that's another matter]. Its proliferation throughout the 1990s and early 2000s in dance music dominated the world; its influence on Madonna, Daft Punk, David Guetta, Britney Spears, RuPaul and countless other huge artists worldwide is well-documented. Even in the past few years, acts like Calvin Harris, Gorgon City, Sigala, Tiesto, LMFAO and Kiesa have "kept the faith" in House Music, and clubs from Ibiza to Croatia to Miami continue to thrive on it.

I'll end this little reminiscence, however, with one final classic. In 1980s Holland too, House Music became a massive movement - especially when DJ Peter Slaghuis decided to work under the pseudonym of Hithouse; and this 1989 classic [and another fave] was the result:

Viva House Music!


  1. In retrospect it was racism and, especially, homophobia that killed disco here in the USA, but at the time it didn't necessarily seem that way. Ethel Merman gave disco-haters an easy way out, they could claim the musical form did not legitimately fall under the Rock and Roll umbrella, rhythm and blue roots notwithstanding. A quarter of a century later Donna Summers was STILL considered a controversial choice for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    1. Donna Summer continues to cause controversy - I love it! Jx


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