Starting a conversation about “dance music” in the post-disco era inevitably elicits (along with a protracted debate about what that phrase actually means) a million clichéd ideas. And one of these clichés is that it “brings people together,” that dance music unites people who are unafraid to embrace it, either by taking part in what the music is designed to make you do or simply by enjoying the sound.
So you’ll have to forgive me for the cliché of observing that Frankie Knuckles and the music he created genuinely did bring people together. It didn’t matter if you were gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, American, European, or anybody else from any walk of life — and that’s why the DJ and producer who died yesterday at the age of 59 will stand forever as a dance music pioneer, as well as a great unifier of people and subcultures.
But Knuckles’ most important legacy will be what he begot: he’s famously “the Godfather of House music,” and his impact on Derrick May, driving down from Detroit to Chicago to see Knuckles DJ in the mid-1980s, meant the birth of techno music. Even though he’d been a prominent DJ alongside fellow icon Larry Levan in 1970s NYC, it was in Chicago where Knuckles perfected the sound that would influence everyone from Madonna and Janet Jackson to England’s late-1980s Madchester sound, and even the last decade of indie dance music that gave us artists like LCD Soundsystem and Matthew Dear.
When you add all of those things up, when you really step back and look at the legendary career of Frankie Knuckles and all it inspired, you’re unlikely to find a person — musician or otherwise — whose work brought so many people together, whether they realized it or not. Here are just a few examples that illustrate how important his contribution to music was, and remains.
Friday Night Jams on 102.7FM WBMX, 1986
Live on WBMX, 1987
Live at The Warehouse, 1977
Remix of Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Rock With You”
ABSOLUT® Lunch Break with Frankie Knuckles, 2013