WORDS: Alex Caslano
When I heard the news this morning some part of me hoped it was a cruel and terribly distasteful April Fools joke, but as the tributes filtered through from close friends and the dance community in general, the sad reality was confirmed: on the 31st of March 2014 the Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles passed away. It’s hard to really overstate his influence on the world’s dancefloor – a pioneer of house and one of dance music’s longest serving DJs, he was also a masterful producer, with seminal classics like ‘Your Love’, ‘The Whistle Song’ and ‘Tears’ all standing the test of time.
One of the most popular and ultimately talented DJs during 70s New York, his time spent at the Continental Baths with Larry Levan defined the true concept of ‘dancefloor and DJ’, playing a mix of soul, disco and R&B to a rapturous crowd of wild and devoted party people. Moving to Chicago in 1977, he was invited to play at the Warehouse where his extensive and prolific sets would give birth to the term ‘house’. He later started his own club in the city called The Power Plant to which his faithful dancers followed, cementing his reputation as one of the world’s most influential DJs. The mutation of disco into house is what Knuckles described as ‘disco’s revenge’ and of course his ingenious edits of the day’s popular music would pave the way for the first recognised ‘house’ records.
But legacy aside, what makes his passing even more tragic is that at 59 he was still very much in his element, touring extensively, playing records and doing what he loves. In fact, ahead of what his much anticipated appearance at Love Action this month at The Arches we had carried out an interview with him only a matter of days ago – something which makes the news all the more poignant and upsetting. So while it’s undoubtedly important to acknowledge his past, it’s equally important to recognise the artist he was when he passed away. Having heard him play a very special set on a rooftop in Ibiza last summer, it was easy to see his passion was still burning strong, with each new record and the crowd’s emphatic reaction encouraging a mile-wide grin on his face. With regards to production, recent remixes of the likes of Martina Topley Bird and Spencer Parker are up there as some of his best in my opinion, delivering that timeless Knuckles sound and the notion that yes, house music is a feeling, a feeling which will last forever.
Check out some of Frankie’s incredible music below including classics and new productions alike:
As mentioned, we had the honour of interviewing Frankie Knuckles last week (a very special thanks to Maria at Def Mix for making it possible) and we’ve debated about whether it would be inappropriate to publish it or not. Ultimately though, we feel extremely lucky to have talked with him and to hold on to the interview would be a waste; so omitting a few questions, here are our first and last words with the legendary Frankie Knuckles. RIP.
SG: We saw you post a photo from Miami yesterday with the likes of Hector Romero, Louie Vega and Bob Sinclar in the frame; is the WMC still a great place to swap tunes and find those big tracks you’ll be playing right through the summer?
Frankie: Absolutely! That photo was taken at The 3 Kings Party. It was fantastic. Everyone was there I just didn't manage to get them all in the pic.
SG: We’re just listening to your new podcast for XLR8R at the moment which we understand was originally recorded from your residency at the Sound Factory Bar in NY; why do you think that 90s sound has made such a big resurgence in dance music recently?
Frankie: There's a certain romanticism about the sound that's been long missing from the scene. Simple songs and tracks with lyrical content hit you and I truly think that was the last great era for dance music.
SG: Obviously you’ve been playing house music for a long time, you’ve seen peaks & troughs and you’ve seen it reach new heights; what is your opinion on the success of Disclosure for example? Does it make you happy to see guys who are in it for the right reasons do well?
Frankie: Unfortunately I'm not familiar with Disclosure’s work but I applaud anyone's success especially when it's garnered in the most honest way - not at the expense of the scene. The world has beaten a path to Disclosure's door because of the purity and honesty the audience gets from their performance.
SG: One of our favourite remixes last year was your Directors Cut mix of ‘Crystalised’ and we’re really digging ‘The Look’ remix too on Saved; is it easy to identify what songs will make a great remix?
Frankie: Some songs/tracks are easily identifiable in this process and some should be left alone to thrive and grow on their own. But I think ‘Crystallized’ and ‘The Look’ we’re very important when I first listened. I thought I could do something special, lending a certain 'classic' twist to the production.
SG: When you look back at your days at The Continental Baths, The Warehouse and Powerplant, what are the main differences you notice with today’s dancefloor? Is there anything you miss?
Frankie: I think the thing I miss most is the camaraderie and fellowship amongst the people that came out to be a part of it all. Today, most clubs cater to numbers versus the music. The music is always centre stage, but with most clubs around the world they want the DJ to take centre stage. The DJ should be a by-product of the music being presented…
Frankie Knuckles January 18, 1955 – March 31, 2014