Jack boldly declared “Let There Be House” and House music was born– Chuck Roberts, 1985 House music is the best of both worlds. While it has undoubtably influenced and altered the pop landscape to a massive effect, it has never lost its edge, still managing to be an exciting and innovative genre even today. Starting in the black and latino LGBT underground in Chicago in the early 80s, before moving to Detroit, New York and London, the house sound can now be found everywhere in the world. Drawing on everything from jazz to salsa to disco to soul to electro funk, house music is addictive and entrancing, designed to keep one dancing for as long as possible while being immersed in its silky, repetitive sounds.
In this guide to house music, we will cover everything you need to know about the genre, including how it got started, its influences, the key characteristics of its sound, and how it has developed into the present day. We will list the most important house artists to listen to, both old and new, before recommending some great YouTube playlists to listen to. We will also help you create your own house music by recommending the best hardware, software and samples to use. Read on now to learn more!
VIDEO: “I Was There When House Took Over the World | House Was Born | Part 1”

House Music Definition

House music is composed of a few key characteristics. The first is the four on the floor drum beat, usually provided by an electronic drum machine such as a Roland TR-808 or TR-909. Like in trance music, the hi-hat is usually on the off-beat, and the rhythms can be very syncopated and complex. The tempo is also relatively steady, coming in at between 118 and 135bpm. Synthesized bass-lines are always integral to this sound, locking in with the drum beat to create a hypnotic, danceable rhythm. Samples are usually from classic disco tracks, old-school hip/hop, jazz, latino and funk although in recent years house music has been known to sample everything from classical music to contemporary pop.

Instrumentation and Effects

The type of instrumentation found in House is usually jazzy piano and organ chords, high strings, bells and hi-hats, congas and bongos. Coming out of the DIY ethic of turntableism, old-school house is about mixing vinyl records together to create a warm and fun sound, so extra effects in classic House Music beyond adding reverb, horus and delay, are actually rather sparse. In the realm of more modern house though, which leans towards to a more synthetic digital sound, multiple effects might be added.

Born From the LGBT Community

While most house tracks do not have lyrics, there is always an emphasis on ideas of feeling free, moving your body and being able to express yourself without being judged. Coming out of a specifically gay African-American and Latino scene in Chicago, this was a way of an oppressed people to reclaim their identity. There is often a spiritual element to the music, with DJs such as Frankie Knuckles comparing their sets to attending a church service. Many forms of dancing have also come out of house, including voguing whereby African-American trans women and gay drag queens would compete in ballrooms as to who could give the best performance (immortalized in the film Paris Is Burning) and footwork, which prioritised fast, jerky movements of the feet, and was accompanied by its own subgenre.

Clockenflap festival

The Beginning | House Music in Chicago

Chicago is widely recognized as the birthplace of house. It all started in 1977. While disco was dying and all eyes were focused on the punk scene, Frankie Knuckles was playing sets at The Warehouse club in Chicago. A members-only club for gay black men, it was the perfect place for Knuckles to play a blend of synth-pop, disco classics, rock and European electronic music such as Kraftwerk. This combination of music slowly came together to define the sound of House, which took its name from the second half of the clubs name. A key event was the Disco Demolition Night of 1979, in which rock fans blew up an entire crate filled with disco records during a baseball match between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. This was emblematic of the backlash against disco music by straight rock fans, who disliked its unabashedly queer elements.

Reworking Disco Classics

A love of disco persisted in Chicago however, with DJs quickly making their own edits of disco classics, focusing on the shorter elements of the tracks that worked well on the dance-floor. These were pressed almost entirely on vinyl and some are still extremely rare. In 1984, Jesse Saunders released “On and On” on vinyl, which took the bass-line from Player One’s “Space Invaders” and looped it to an instantly enjoyable effect. From the success of the song, many Chicago producers, including Jamie Principle, Frankie Knuckles, and Chip E. were inspired to create their own instrumental music. This was made easier by the availability of cheap drum machines such as the Roland TR-909, TR-808 (immortalized in 808 State’s “Pacific State”) and the TR-707.
Created for people who want to dance for hours on end without stopping, trance music often features simple arpeggiated patterns, allowing for easy mixing between tracks. This sense of euphoria is the key to the genres success, where it is often the music of choice at locations such as Ibiza, Full Moon Parties and Goa, where the sunrise and sunset is often the backdrop to epic set-lists. This euphoria and the empathy for fellow man it brings is why the genre, along with acid house, is often considered to be the sound of love itself, as epitomized by classic tracks such as Age of Love and “Lost In Love“.

Lil Louis, the founding father of House Music

Origins of House Music: Hi-NRG, Italo-Disco, Electro Funk

Concurrent to the rise of house music was a range of disco subgenres that showed producers how they could take the genre in new directions. Arguably, the three most important of these genres are Hi-NRG, Italo-Disco and Electro Funk. The mother of all tracks, and uniting the first two genres on this list is the Giorgio Moroder-produced, Donna Summer track “I Feel Love” which took disco to a new, higher energy level.

Hi-NRG

With tempos ranging between 120-140 BPM, the resulting genre, Hi-NRG, was a glossier, up-tempo version of disco that relied more on synthesizers and drum machines to create its unique sound. The music was no longer funky, instead, it Europeanised the disco song to create a more synthetic, straightforward product, with a strong emphasis on octave bass-lines and handclaps. It had a huge impact on the LGBT community, especially among gay men, helping to pave the way for House music.

Italo-Disco

Meanwhile, in Italy, Italo-Disco was reinventing the wheel of what pop and electronic music could do, featuring lush vocals over heavily processed drum beats. Yet it was the instrumental sounds that felt revolutionary, featuring insane bassline patterns, high EQd drumbeats and a genuine willingness to just go really out-there. Songs such as Klein & MBO’s “Dirty Talk”, Doctor’s Cat “Feel The Drive” and Mr. Flagio’s “Take a Chance” had a massive influence on the genre, taking the Moroder sound and turning it into something truly unique and danceable.

Electro Funk

Electro-funk took hip-hop breakbeats and combined them with funk and electropop, creating classic tracks such as Africa Bambaataas Kraftwerk-sampling “Planet Rock. While the genre was short-lived and replaced by more traditional hip-hop, its innovative, cut-it-up approach would have a massive influence on house music.

House Music from the 90s

House music was announced to the mainstream in 1990 when Madonna released “Vogue, a song that both evoked the classic house sound and paid homage to the voguing ballroom dancers in New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. By then House had spread across the world, most notably in England and France. The English took the chilled out aspect of Deep House as popularized by Mr. Fingers and developed an ambient House, it’s most notably records being The KLFs extraordinary “Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard” and Apex Twins Analogue Bubblebath. Clubs in the UK such as Lakota, Cream and The Eclipse were known the world over, with the most popular being the Ministry of Sound, started in 1991. In fact, dance music became so popular in the UK that the Government passed controversial legislation in 1994 attempting to ban raves altogether.

If you want to reproduce deep House from start to finish, here is a useful course that will let you do so.

Likewise in late 90s France as seen in the 2014 Mia Hansen-Løve film Eden –  The French Touch took classic American and European disco tracks, added thick filter and phaser effects and created something that was at once easy to listen to and unmistakably French, as seen in Daft Punks “Da Funk and Pepe Braddocks “Deep Burnt“.

Daft Punk

How To Make House Music: Software, Hardware and Samples

Like building a house, making House music is all about the foundations. One must have a strong and catchy bass-line melded with a syncopated and funky mechanical drum beat. From there high strings and piano riffs can be added. It’s good to figure out which type of house music you want to make: the technology you will use differs massively depending on if you want to ape the classic Chicago sound or create something more in line with French House. Read on below to see which kind of equipment is perfect for making house music, including hardware and software, and the best places to find house samples.

Hardware

As previously mentioned, house music came into its own thanks to the rise of cheap drum machines, most notably the Roland TR-808 or TR-909. If you want to incorporate a more latin feel, then you can’t go wrong with the TR-272. If you are looking to recreate that sound, those are the ones to buy. Then for an authentic synth sound – we would recommend the Roland Juno 106 for that big boomy sound, the Korg M1 for that classic piano vibe, and the Yamaha DX27 for a strong bass-line.

Software

Nowadays, as house music keeps moving towards a glossier and more pop-friendly sound, both progressive and tropical house tracks have been created from people’s computers alone. Whether you are looking to join in on the new genre or wanting to recreate authentic sounds, there are a bunch of plug-ins that you can use in order to get ahead. Take a look at the list we have come up for you below!
If you want to reproduce “Progressive House Track from Start To Finish”, here is an awesome course that will let you do so!

Samples

House music was born out of sampling disco tracks and finding the best parts to loop and add new elements too. Therefore, if you are looking to create good house tracks its worth trying to find the most obscure 70s funk, soul, and disco songs that you can to chop up and make into classic tracks. If you are looking for some great sample packs to get started, why dont you check out the massive selection at splice.com. That said, as House music can be so piano-heavy, its always worth learning a few chords and develop an ear for melody, so you can make some tunes yourself.
Conclusion
Since houses humble origins in 1977 to its infiltration of pop music today, it’s safe to say that its inclusive message has struck a chord across the world. We hope that you have enjoyed our guide to the genre, which aimed to give a brief overview of house music and highlight its most important elements. Watch this space as we will dive deeper into the subgenres of house, really getting to the heart of what makes each sounds unique. If it’s not the genre for you, check out our separate guides to Future Bass, Vaporwave and Trance music now.

Larry Heard

Redmond Bacon

Redmond Bacon

Contributor

Redmond Bacon is a film obsessive and amateur music producer who can easily spend all day either at the cinema or making fresh beats. Catch his writing over at redmondbacon.co.uk.

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