Chicago: Bring It Home

Chicago Nightscape Cosmic

A human cosmos bound by the mysteries of music

Counter-clockwise, it’s midnight and we’re taking it home… Feel 12:

Download: Feel 12 – Chicago: Bring It Home, at 160 kbps


“‘Can you feel it!?’ They say House is a feeling. They say hope was nope. They say you’re a nothing. A phony. Maybe House is more than a feeling, because I can see the good in you. ‘I’ve been happy lately thinking about the good things to come and I believe it could be something good has begun.’ I’m falling deep in love. ‘I’ve been smiling lately thinking of the world as one.’ Feel what it is to believe in the future. Feel what it is to be free of fear. Feel for each other. ‘This is a faxed invitation to oblivion with bells…deep voice…deep voice…’ What lies on the other side of oblivion? It’s time to find out.”

In the early 1980s, a slew of underground dance tracks spread through the city of Chicago like a supernova and are still pulsing round the planet. New York City transplant, DJ Frankie Knuckles, who moved to Chicago in 1977, the same year Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ came out, was best friends with genius DJ Larry Levan. Knuckles pioneered his own soulful blend of electro disco called “House” music. Another DJ, Ron Hardy, a Chicago native who cut his turntable teeth in Los Angeles, cooked up a more Dionysian sound at The Muzic Box, inspiring the liquid electricity of Acid House, that squelching, twanging avalanche of sound courtesy of Japan’s Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer.

So many legendary producers and DJs came out of Chicago: Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard, Phuture, Jamie Principle, Adonis, and on and on. With Phuture’s “Rise From Your Grave” came possibly the first urban track to decry the hell of crack cocaine. Jefferson’s “Move Your Body (The House Nation Anthem)” would go onto shake Europe with its cascading piano and upbeat attitude. Anyone looking for the roots of Daft Punk, need look no further. Fingers, Inc.’s classic “Can You Feel It?” was another crystalizing moment in global dance culture with its gospel message of love conquering fear. “A Path” was more somber in tone but an uplifting sermon about life’s journey against adversity.

Larry Heard

Larry Heard

House music, along with its techno cousins in Detroit and its post-disco forebears in New York, has inspired youth around the world. It’s message is simple: The beat of the drum, the beat of the sun, the beat of the heart, are home to our deepest hopes and prayers. That pulse of life grows stronger every year as more musicians pick up on its vibrations. A new generation of artists are rediscovering this rhythm, from Usher and Snoop Lion to Katie Perry and Rihanna. Its impact on global culture cannot be underestimated. From Polish upstarts Catz ‘n’ Dogz to Toronto’s DeadMau5, from England’s Groove Armada to Germany’s Move D and Italy’s Spiritchaser, house music has become the soundtrack of our time.

In 2012, London welcomed the world with a rollicking opening ceremony for the Olympics. It was hailed across the spectrum, with the exception of Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, a right-wing nostalgist for British Empire and one of Mitt Romney’s more fervent supporters. Most were overwhelmed by Danny Boyle’s awesome spectacle, much of it to the beat of electronic dance music. While the music directors, Underworld, paid tribute to rock and other pop genres, the anchoring style of the evening was EDM. Tracks like “Rez” and The Chemical Brother’s “Galvanize” gave the proceedings a sense of fun that was sorely missing from the super serious Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Modern dance music helped in no small measure to bring the world together as one, if only for a night. Guided by the techno blues of Underworld and revamped by drum ‘n’ bass whiz High Contrast, the night’s soundtrack was also a respite from the pessimism of Nordic economic austerity. New Order’s rock dance anthem “Blue Monday” also made an appearance, a track white suburban American kids ate up in the 1980s. Unbeknownst to those kids was New Order’s inspiration from Manchester’s rave scene, much of it fueled by Chicago house. Did Michelle Obama, who attended the ceremony, hear the connection?

Daft Punk

Daft Punk

In August, 2004, then Illinois state senator Barack Obama helped re-christen the Chicago street where Knuckles’ first club the Warehouse reigned “Frankie Knuckles Way.” The two shook hands at the unveiling and the man who would become the 44th President of the United States in 2008 commended Frankie for helping capture the soul of the Windy City. 20 years before that, Jamie Principle gave Frankie Knuckles a demo tape that he played repeatedly at his Power Plant club. That track, “Your Love,” was the perfect expression of Yankee yearning and optimism in a computer world presaged by Kraftwerk’s post World War II stylings on technological humanism. During that same decade, Obama honed his progressive pragmatism in the poorer neighborhoods of South Chicago.

The next generation is taking those vibes and running with it. John Tejada, a half Latino, half Austrian American, who lives in Los Angeles, is the perfect example. His timeless “The Open” surfs on bittersweet waves of hope. He wrote it in 2008, the same year America elected its first African-American president. This past May, disco legend Donna Summer died after a long battle with cancer. Her song “I Feel Love,” produced with Giorgio Moroder, is considered the first electronic dance song of all time. Its perhaps her greatest legacy. The paths EDM has taken since are ever winding and never ending.

Over the past four years, everyone has been filled with doubt stemming from the pain of the Great Recession and a cloud of coded bigotry, from Birthers to “You lie!” Some could make the case from a broad historic view that these are signs of growing pains of a nation still torn and threatened by the ghosts of the Civil War.

So in a way, we’ve only just begun. There is work still to be done and Election 2012 couldn’t be more important.

It’s time to feel … move … vote. “To the front. To the back. To the side. Don’t hide.”


Download: Feel 12 – Chicago: Bring It Home, at 160 kbps


Michelle Obama and Barack Obama with DJ Frankie Knuckles

Michelle and Barack Obama with Frankie Knuckles in 2004