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House music refers to a collection of styles of electronic dance music, of which it was one of the earliest forms, beginning in the early to mid 1980s. The common element in most house music styles is a foundation that consists of a 4/4 beat generated by a drum machine together with a solid (usually also electronically generated) bassline. Upon this foundation, different styles would add sounds (both electronically generated as well as samples) more associated with other genres such as jazz, blues and synth pop. The article first considers the history of house music. House music has split into a bewildering number of styles, some of which are described in the section on Styles of house music.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Styles of house music
3 For further information


Not everyone understands House music; it's a spiritual thing; a body thing; a soul thing.
--as sampled by Eddie Amador

Proto-history: from disco to house: late 1970s to early 1980s

The early history of House is disco. Initially a limited genre, appealing mainly to a gay and/or black audience, it crossed-over into mainstream American culture following the hit 1977 film "Saturday Night Fever".

As the existing disco clubs filled there was a move to larger venues. "Paradise Garage" opened in New York in January 1978, featuring the DJ talents of Larry Levan (1954 - 1992). Studio 54, another New York disco club, was extremely popular with a door policy which, at its peak, turned many people away. The clubs played the tunes of groups like The Supremes, Anita Ward, Donna Summer and Larry Levan's own hit "I Got My Mind Made Up". Acid, poppers and Quaaludes aided the stamina of the clubbers. The disco boom was short-lived. There was a backlash from Middle America, epitomised in Steve Dahl's Anti-Disco Rally in 1979. Disco returned to the smaller clubs like the Warehouse in Chicago.

Opened in 1977 the Warehouse in Chicago was a key venue in the development of House music. The main DJ was Frankie Knuckles. The club staples were still the old disco tunes but the limited number of records meant that the DJ had to be a creative force, introducing more deck work to revitalise old tunes. The new mixing skills also had local airplay with the Hot Mix 5 at WBMX. The chief source of this kind of records in Chicago was the record-store "Imports Etc." where the term House was introduced as a shortening of Warehouse (as in these records are played at the Warehouse).

Despite the new skills the music was still essentially disco until the early 1980s when the first drum machines were introduced. Disco tracks could now be given an edge with the use of a mixer and drum machine. This was an added boost to the prestige of the individual DJs.

Chicago years: early 1980s - late 1980s

In 1983 the Muzic Box club opened in Chicago. Robert Williams owned it, but yet again the driving force was a DJ, Ron Hardy. Hardy always opened his set with "Welcome to the Pleasure Dome" but the chief characteristics of the club's sound were sheer massive volume and an increased pace to the tunes. The volume is self-explanatory, the pace was apparently the result of Hardy's heroin use. The club also played a wider range of music than just disco. Groups such as Kraftwerk and Blondie were well received, as was a brief flirtation with punk, dances like "Punking-Out" or "Jacking" being very popular.

The first tune that can be considered House is a choice of two, both arriving in early 1984. The tune that was chronologically first was Jamie Principle and Frankie Knuckles' "Your Love", it was a huge hit in the clubs but was only available on tape copies. The second tune was later but critically on vinyl - "On And On" from Jesse Saunders.

By 1985 House music dominated the clubs of Chicago, aided by two main factors. First was the boost offered by the musical electronic revolution - the arrival of newer, cheaper and more compact music sequencers and drum machines (such as the legendary Roland TB-303 in late 1985) gave House music creators even wider possibilities in creating their own sound, indeed the creation of Acid House is directly related to the efforts of DJ Pierre on the new drum machines. Second was the rise in Chicago of the Trax record label, founded by Larry Sherman (the owner of the only vinyl pressing plant in Chicago) this was something of double-edged sword. In its favour Trax was very fast to sign new artists and press their tunes, establishing a large catalogue of House tunes. But the label used recycled vinyl to speed the pressing process resulting in physically poor quality records. Also disappointing were the sharp business practices of the label; many artists signed contracts that were rather less favourable towards them than they hoped.

Trax became the dominant House label, releasing many classics including "No Way Back" from Adonis, Larry Heard's "Can You Feel It" and the first so-called House anthem in 1986 "Move Your Body" from Marshall Jefferson. This tune gave a massive boost to House music, extending recognition of the genre out of Chicago. Steve 'Silk' Hurley became the first House artist to reach no.1 in the UK in 1986 with "Jack Your Body"which helped moved House from its spiritual home to its commercial birthplace - the United Kingdom.

The British connection: late 1980s - early 1990s

In Britain the growth of House can be divided around the "Summer of Love" in 1988. House had a presence in Britain almost as early as it appeared in Chicago however there was a strong divide between the House music as part of the gay scene and 'straight' music. House grew in northern England, especially Manchester, as an extension of the 'Northern Soul' genre. The key English club was the Hacienda in Manchester, founded in 1982 by Factory Records. But until 1986 the club was a financial disaster, the crowds only started to grow when the resident DJs (Pickering, Park and Da Silva) started to play House music. House was boosted by the tour in the same year of Knuckles, Jefferson, Fingers Inc. (Heard) and Adonis as the DJ International Tour. Amusingly one of the early anthemic tunes, "Promised Land" by Joe Smooth, was covered and charted within a week by the Style Council. The first English House tune came out in 1986 - "Carino" by T-Coy.

But House was also developing on Ibiza. A hippy stop-over and a site for the rich in the 1970s by the mid- 80s a distinct Baleric mix of House was discernable. Clubs like Amnesia where DJ Alfredo was playing a mix of Rock, Pop, Disco and House fueled by Ecstasy, began to have an influence on the British scene. By late 1987 DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling were bringing the Ibiza sound and drug to UK clubs, like Shoom in Southwark (London), Heaven, Spectrum and Future. But the "Summer of Love" needed an added ingredient that would again come from America.

In America the music was being developed to create a more sophisticated sound, moving beyond just drum loops and short samples. In Chicago Marshall Jefferson had formed the House 'super group' Ten City (from intensity), demonstrating the developments in "That's the Way Love Is". In Detroit there were the beginnings of what would be called Techno, with the emergence of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. Juan had already scored in 1982 with Cybotron and in 1985 he released Model 500 'No UFOs' which became a big regional hit, followed by dozens of tracks on Transmat, Metroplex and Fragile. One of the most unusual was "Strings of Life" by Derrick May. The NME described it as "George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator". The records were 100% independent and no-one would have dreamed of playing commercial pop at these parties.

The combination of House and Techno came to Britain and gave House a phenomenal boost. A few clubs began to feature specialist House nights - the Hacienda had "Hots" on Wednesday from July 1988, 2,500 people could enjoy the British take on the Ibiza scene, the classic "Voodoo Ray" by A Guy Called Gerald (Gerald Simpson) was designed for the Hacienda and Madchester. Factory boss Tony Wilson also promoted Acid House culture on his weekly TV show.. But rather than be confined in the clubs ambitious promoters took the music to large temporary sites such as fields, handling up to 30,000 people in a single illegal event, called a Rave . Promoters like Sunrise, Energy, Biology and World Dance held massive events in defiance of the police and music industry. Unlike the elitist clubs they were open to all ages and races The events were shaped by Ecstasy, which greatly influenced the music too (you had to be off your face to enjoy it). Revelations of these 'dangerous' events in the tabloid press helped publicize the scene while also creating a 'moral panic' in less enlightened groups (the government, police etc.). Many tunes became hits from these events such as like "Everything Starts with a E" by the E-Zee Possee, "The Trip" by S'Express and "NRG" by Adamski who became the first rave superstar

The publicity and the knowledge that these events could make significant amounts of money led more professionally criminal groups into raves. The police became more active to prevent or close down rave. As the second "Summer of Love" arrived in 1989 the police became even more oppressive, culminating in a 1990 Act of Parliament. This was counter-productive, it both forced raves back underground and increased the criminal presence in organising raves. But the music continued, one of the finest Techno groups grew out of the rave scene, named Orbital after the M25 motorway. Their British Techno hit "Chime" was snapped up by Pete Tong's FFRR label. By the end of 1989 House was mainstream music in Britain, it charted regularly with "Ride on Time" from Black Box being at number one for six weeks.

Back in America the scene had still not progressed beyond a small number of clubs in Chicago and New York, Paradise Garage was still the top club, although they now had Todd Terry, his tune "Weekend" demonstrated a new House sound with Hip-Hop influences evident in the quicker sampling and the more rugged bass-line. While Hip-Hop had made it onto radio play-lists, the only other choices were Rock, Country & Western or R & B.

After the "Summer of Love": early 1990s to mid 1990s

While in Britain further experiments in the genre boosted its appeal (and gave the opportunity for new names to be made up). The idea of 'chilling out' was born in Britain with Ambient House albums like the KLF's "Chill Out". A new indie dance scene was being forged by bands like the Happy Mondays , The Shamen, Meat Beat Manifesto, Renegade Soundwave , EMF , The Grid, The Beloved etc

The Criminal Justice Bill of 1994 was another government attempt to strike at House - banning large events featuring music with "repetitive beats". There were a number of abortive "Kill the Bill" demonstrations and although the Bill did become law in November 1994 it had little effect. The music continued to grow and change, as typified by the emergence of acts like Leftfield with "Release the Pressure", which introduced dub and reggae into the House sound. In more commercial areas a mix of R & B with stronger bass-lines gained favour.

The music was being moulded, not just by drugs, but also the mixed cultural and racial groups involved in the scene. Tunes like "10 to Get In" from Shut Up and Dance used sped-up Hip-Hop break-beats. With SL2's "On A Ragga Trip" they gave the foundations to what would become Drum and Bass and Jungle. Initially called Breakbeat / Hardcore, it found popularity in London clubs like Rage as a "inner city" music. Labels like Moving Shadow and Reinforced became underground favorites..... Showing an increased tempo around 160bpm, tunes like "Terminator" from Goldie marked a distinct change from House with heavier, faster and more complex bass-lines - Drum and Bass. Goldie's early work culminated in the twenty-two minute epic "Inner City Life" (which was a hit) . UK Garage developed later, growing in the underground club scene from Drum and Bass ideas. Aimed more for dancing than listening it produced distinctive tunes like "Double 99" from Ripgroove in 1997. Gaining popularity amongst clubbers in Ibiza it was re-imported back to the UK and in a softened form had chart success. - soon it was being applied to mainstream acts like Daniel Bedingfield and Victoria Beckham

4 Hero went in the opposite direction - from brutal breakbeats they adopted more soul and jazz influences , and even a full orchestral section in their quest for sophistication. Later this led directly to the West London scene known as Broken Beat

Mid 1990s and beyond

Back in the US some artists were finding it difficult to gain recognition. Another import into Europe of not only a style but also the creator himself was Joey Beltram. From Brooklyn his "Energy Flash" had proved rather too much for American House enthusiasts and he need a move to find success. . The American industry threw its weight behind DJs like Junior Vasquez , Armand van Helden or even Masters at Work who were happy to churn out endless remixes of whatever they were given. Soon the radio was full of identikit remixes of boy bands and pop divas all claiming to be house records..

In serach of ever more profits, the corporate industry developed "handbag house" throwaway pop songs with a retro disco beat. Underground House DJs were reluctant to play this style, so a new generation of DJs were created from record company staff, and new clubs like Cream and the Ministry of Sound were opened to bolster the ultra commercial sounds.

By 1996 Pete Tong was in full control of BBC Radio 1, this meant that every record he released was guaranteed airplay.The Majors began to open "superclubs" where only major label acts could play, and to squeeze all the independent clubs and labels out of business. These clubs entered into huge sponsorship deals first with fast food, soft drinks, and clothing companies - later with banks and insurance brokers etc. Flyers in Ibiza would have up to 30 corporate logos on each one ......

Soon every club in the UK was playing exactly the same music as the commercial dance shows, as was every bar, every supermarket, every TV advert ... ...for a couple of years this streamlined machine made commercial hits over and over again. Dance music became increasingly uncool to the young and hip as the same old DJs seemed to be playing year after year, leading to the term Dad House. House music became racially segregated in contrast to its inclusive beginnings , with major UK clubs refusing to book black DJs.....Crucially MDMA was replaced by Cocaine which was more profitable - but created an entirely different , moodier vibe. Ketamine and GHB also flooded onto the club scene.

By the end of the '90s UK DJs were playing Madonna, Kylie Minogue, U2, Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, Spiller, Mariah Carey, Puff Daddy, Elvis Presley and the Vengaboys and calling them all house music. Oakenfold has now had more hits than the Beatles and as much money as Bill Gates.

However a new generation of DJs and promoters is emerging determined to kickstart the underground scene .... and by 2003 there are signs of a renaissance in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and other racially-mixed cities, as well as in Canada, Scandanavia, Scotland and Germany.


Styles of house music

  • Acid house: A Chicago derivative built around the Roland TB-303 bassline machine. Hard, uncompromising, tweaking samples produce a hypnotic effect.
  • Ambient house (see ambient music): Mixing the moody atmospheric sounds of New Age and ambient music with pulsating house beats.
  • Chicago house: Simple basslines, driving four-on-the-floor percussion and textured keyboard lines are the elements of the original house sound.
  • Deep house: A slower variant of house (around 120 BPM) with warm sometimes hypnotic melodies that originated in San Francisco.
  • Epic house: A variant of progressive house featuring lush synth-fills and dramatic (some would say pretentious) beat breakdowns.
  • French house: A late 1990s house sound developed in France. Inspired by the '70s and '80s funk and disco sounds. Mostly features a typical sound "filter" effect.
  • Garage: New York's version of deep house, named after legendary club the Paradise Garage pronounced "ga-raaj" May also be called the Jersey Sound due to the close connection many of its artists and producers have with New Jersey. Not to be confused with the British style nowdays called UKG pronounced ":garridje".....
  • Ghetto house: A variation from Chicago that features minimal, 808 and 909 drum machine driven tracks, and profane (sometimes sexualy explicit) lyrics.
  • Hip house: The simple fusion of rap rhymes with house beats.
  • Hard house: House music on the harder side, leaning more towards aggressive 'hoover' type sounds. Loud fast and cheesy.
  • Italo house: Slick production techniques, catchy melodies, rousing piano lines and American vocal styling typifies the Italian ("Italo") house sound.
  • New York house: New York's uptempo dance music, referred to simply as club music by some.
  • Pop house: The use of house production styles to make traditional pop artists more acceptable on the dancefloor results in the pop house phenomenon.
  • Progressive house: Progressive house is typified by accelerating peaks and troughs throughout a track's duration, and are, in general, less obvious than in hard house. Layering different sound on top of each other and slowly bringing them in and out of the mix is a key idea behind the progressive movement.
  • Sexy house Sexy house draws its sounds from soul and funk with a 4/4 beat, and is sometimes confused with an acid jazz sound. Sexy house doesn't feature as much synthesizer sounds (but does occasional uses cheesy 1980s synth samples) as other genres, but typically features horn sections, electric pianos and congas, but it is less jazzy or downtempo as trip-hop. Typical beats per minute are 125~128. The melody of this style is inspired from 1970s black soul and funk, and it features strong bass drum sound, with a softer higher frequencies. It is found played in bars and restaurants.
  • Tech house: Tech substitutes typical booming house kickdrums with shorter, often distorted kicks, smaller hi-hats, and noisier snaress. House's funky jazz loops are replaced with techno-sounding synth lines.
  • Ultra house: Extremely fast house beats typically 160 to 220 beats per minute, the same speed as "jungle" music

For further information

See also


  • Sean Bidder Pump Up the Volume: A History of House Music, MacMillan, 2002, ISBN 0752219863
  • Sean Bidder The Rough Guide to House Music, Rough Guides, 1999, ISBN 1858284325
  • Simon Reynolds Energy Flash: a Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, (UK title, Pan Macmillan, 1998, ISBN 0330350560), also released in US as Generation Ecstasy : Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (US title, Routledge, 1999, ISBN 0415923735)