The ingredients of a classic house track
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The ingredients of a classic house track


It’s July 12, 1979 and the Chicago White
Sox are set to play the Detroit Tigers in the second game of a double header. The baseball park had a capacity of 44,000
people. But that night, 55,000 spectators showed up. This event is remembered not because of the
game, but because of what happened right before it. It was Disco demolition night. The main attraction, the Disco Demolition, spearheaded by morning radio man Steve Dahl and his anti-disco army called the Insane Coho Lips. Ooh. That felt good. Steve Dahl, a disco-hating radio DJ thought it would be hilarious to blow up hundreds of disco records in center field. Much to the dismay of those that approved
this stunt, about 7,000 people bum rushed the field, inciting a riot. Many of the fans are scattering on the field now, where they fight the police. The baseball game never happened. This moment went down in history
as the night disco died. But it didn’t. Within just a few years Chicago’s youngest
music producers and DJs would completely reinvent dance music by playing those disco records
over hard hitting electronic drum machines. In the city that disco died, it was reborn
as House music, and within a decade it would travel the globe. Frankie Knuckles, one of the Godfathers of
House, called it “Disco’s revenge.” In 1989 James Wiltshire was working in a record
store in Manchester, England. One Saturday someone came in and just
want I want the record that goes “Wowwwwww.” The song they wanted to hear was “Ride on
TIme” by Black Box. Obviously in this clubber’s mind, it was
the most important record that they’d ever heard. This happened at the tail end of an underground drug-induced movement in the UK, dubbed the “Second Summer of Love.” Some very clever people suddenly realized
that they could haul a massive sound system out into a field and get 20,000 paying punters
to come and see it. In 1989 “Ride on Time” went from being
an underground house hit to spending six weeks at number one on the pop charts. By the end of the year it was the best selling
single in the UK. “Ride On Time” represents some of the
genre’s biggest influences. From the vocals and piano, to the drums, each
element of the song helps tell the story of how House music came to be. “Ride on Time,” Black Box. Top of the Pop’s 2, BBC 2. Starting first song, now. This is Black Box performing “Ride on Time”
on Top of the Pops, England’s iconic music show. Despite what this performance might have you
believe, this person isn’t actually singing. She’s lip syncing to one of the most widely sampled disco records in house, Loleatta Holloway’s “Love Sensation” Loleatta Holloway was a gospel singer turned
disco diva from Chicago. Her song “Love Sensation” was released
just a few months after Disco demolition. While the track itself fared pretty well,
it’s the acapella, released on the 12-inch single, that Chicago DJs remixed over and
over. They didn’t just do it in clubs – they did
it on the radio. WBMX is a Chicago radio station that was home
to a legendary group of DJs called the Hot Mix 5. “The Hot Mix 5 on WBMX. Chicago’s number one dance party. Here’s another hot mix on 102.7 FM. These DJs played a pivotal role in popularizing
house music. From Ralphi Rosario To Farley “Jackmaster” Funk. Through the 1980s the Hot Mix 5 went from remixing
disco records live on the air to playing original house music tracks that Chicago DJs produced. It’s estimated that a million people in Chicago
tuned into their show every Saturday night. Fans would record these programs on cassettes
and share them around the world. That process is literally how I’m able to
share this recording of Farley Keith remixing Love Sensation live in 1984. There’s always been this association with
big diva vocals and house music. So it’s of no surprise to me that
people went for some of the most powerful vocal samples that had
come from the disco era and started chopping them out and piecing them back together. By some estimates “Love sensation” was
sampled nearly 300 times – while DJs in Chicago likely started that trend, it was “Ride
on Time” that made Loleatta’s voice a house music staple. Even the most diehard instrumental techno
loving vocal hating snobs that I know within that scene still love that vocal. What you’re listening to is the kick drum
of the Roland TR-909, if there’s a defining instrument in house music it’s this drum
machine. It’s a big chunky beige box with proper 80s
livery all over it. You’ve got 16 buttons at the bottom, a series
of controls for all of the actual different drum sounds. The 909 was invented in 1983 by Ikutaro Kakehashi,
the founder of Roland corporation. This man gave us, probably by accident, machines
that caused nothing but a revolution. The 909, or the 9 as lovers of it would like
to call it, is the successor to the 808. You probably know the 808 as the drum machine
that powers hip-hop. Kakehashi invented that too. Both used analog synthesis to generate sound,
but the 909 was unique in that its cymbals and hi-hats were samples of real drums. There’s something and especially the open
hi hat that just whips a dance floor into a frenzy straight away. I mean the kick is one thing, but it’s really
that certain “woooosh” and you’re like “Yep that’s that’s a track.” As much as the 909 is really iconic today, back in
1984 it was deemed a commercial failure. Only 10,000 units were actually made. When the producers were wanting to create
this new type of electronic music in Chicago, most of them were broke so they just went to
the pawn shops to see what was available, and the one thing that was nearly always available
was the poor 909 because it just hadn’t sold very well. But it just so happened to have that particular
perfect storm of the massive kick drum. The belting clap, the snare drum that you
can do fantastic little rolls on. And those sloshy four or five cymbals and
hi hats. That punchy sound of the 909 quickly permeated
through Chicago and even Detroit, where bedroom producers were taking inspiration from house
music and developing a genre called techno. You can think of Larry Heard, “Can you feel it.” You can think of Derrick May’s “Strings of Life.” You can hear it in “Jack Your Body” – the first Chicago house music song to reach number one in the UK. All the way to early house hits made in the UK like
Adamski’s “Killer”. If you take away to 909 from that, a lot of
that thumping drive is gone. It’s no surprise then, that in the opening
few bars of Ride on Time – you can hear that 909 kick drum and those crunchy hi hats. And then the pianos started, and then it got
interesting. In the late 1980s different house subgenres
began to form. There was acid house, developed from the song
Acid Trax by Chicago producer Phuture. Its iconic sound came from the squelching
bassline of a TB-303 synthesizer. There was deep-house which leaned heavily
on soulful vocal samples and spacious synthesizers. And then there was Italo-house, which more
than any other offshoot, relied on the upbeat rhythm of a digital piano. “Ride on Time” is a classic Italo-house
track. So much so, there’s a solo piano version
of the song on the 12 -inch single. The Italians really knew how to do this mixture of great big pianos — and you add
that kind of oversung diva element into that and it became a staple. In 1986, three years before “Ride on Time”
– Chicago’s Marshall Jefferson released “Move Your Body” dubbed the house music
Anthem. It’s this song that helped establish how
future house tracks would incorporate piano riffs. The way pianos are used in house music is
very much almost as a powerful rhythmic guitar. Listen to the piano in “Ride on Time”
next to “Move Your Body” and you’ll immediately hear the similarities in rhythm. The musical exchange between Italy and Chicago
might seem like a one way street. Italo-house and “Ride on Time” in particular
would not have existed without the innovations of Chicago artists. And that was met with a lot of controversy
– Loleatta Holloway’s vocal in “Ride on Time” wasn’t properly cleared when the
song was released – nor was she initially credited for it. But if we rewind back to Chicago in the early
1980s right after Disco Demolition, an unlikely genre of music was taking off: Italo-disco. Italian disco had a massive effect on the
early house producers. Because they effectively had this going before house music had really come to the fore and was the new sound in clubs. Just like House, the sound of italo-disco
is driven by drum machines and synthesizers. And it’s this genre that forms the link
between Loleatta Holoway’s disco and house. Take a listen to this WBMX radio show again: That was that Loleatta Holloway acapella you
heard earlier, transitioning seamlessly into “Shame (you were the big sensation)” an
italo-disco record. Go through any Chicago House DJ set in the
1980s and you’ll see them littered with italo-disco records, and that influenced what
those DJs would go on to produce. Take the italo-disco song “Dirty Talk”
– released in 1982. That opening bassline and arpeggiated synth
is mirrored in a lot of early house tracks including the 1986 classic “Your Love”
by Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle. By 1990 House music was a global music genre,
artists from the UK to Australia were filling dance floors with a 909 kick drum. That was almost inevitable. From its inception in Chicago, House music
was always a cross cultural phenomenon. What happened when “Ride On Time” came
forward is that you had the kind of perfect storm of a great big monster club sound with
a vocal that, A, a load of people already knew, and B, sounded powerful. You could almost put it as an actual pivotal
point in house music and say from that point it all just blew wide open.

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