Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage
Electronic dance music has branched into an incredible multitude of genres and subgenres today – Post-popstep? Laptronica? Liquid Funk? To an outsider, distinctions and styles differences might seem arbitrary or downright ridiculous. But it shouldn’t be ignored that even 30 years ago, a wide array of styles was played in discoteques and clubs: Disco, Electro, Cosmic, Hip Hop, Soul, EBM and Industrial, Euro Disco, Funk, Italo Disco… many of those musical styles were born in the clubs or became hits there, in contrast to the “mainstream” music that was played on commercial radio.
Ron Hardy at the Music Box
During this era a new DJ culture was born: The classic diskjockeys (who would use a microphone to announce the next track while changing records) were replaced by diskjockeys performing seamless sets for hours on end, developing techniques to extend the runtime of records and beat-matching skills for smooth transitions. Important protagonists of this scene of the late 70ies and early 80ies were (among others) Larry Levan and Nicky Siano in New York (Paradise Garage and Gallery), and Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy in Chicago (Warehouse/Power Plant and Music Box).
Especially Levan and Knuckles and their resident clubs became so influential in a short time their musical DJ styles were branded as own music genres: “Garage” and “House” music. Both styles were heavily influenced by the 70ies Disco and Soul sound in the beginning. One of the most essential record of that time was “Love is the Message” by MFSB.
This number (and later disco productions by the Salsoul Orchestra, for instance) established the classic “four to the floor” rhythm, i. e. a constant beating of 4 bass drum kicks throughout the song. Other records that were played in clubs notoriously were vocal disco tracks such as “Let No Man Put Asunder” by First Choice or “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Inner Life.
By the end of the 70ies and due to the extreme backslash against the ubiquity of disco music (“Disco sucks” movement), DJs began scouring other musical genres for records to integrate into their sets. During this time, electronic and pop music from Europe increasingly found its way into the sets of Levan, Hardy et al. Amongst these were so called Italo Disco productions, which (next to Italy) were very popular in Germany, a country where people such as Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermayer had been producing fully electronic disco records (like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”) for years. Classic records from that time were Klein & MBO‘s “Dirty Talk” and Two Tons of Fun‘s “I Got The Feeling”.
Both Levan in New York and Hardy in Chicago began playing a wild mix of styles that also transcended the barriers between “indie” and “mainstream” music. It was not uncommon to hear an old Philly Soul classic next to the new single of Prince or Eurythmics, followed by an Indie Disco anthem such as “Walk The Night” by Skatt Bros or an early Chicago House number such as “On & On” by Jesse Saunders. Even more obscure pieces of music by for instance Yello or DAF found their way in DJ’s crates. The creative approach to mixing genres, combined with music and light effects and high-end audio systems made these clubs to unique temples of the scene that offered previously unknown experiences.
(…continued in Part 2)