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Terry Farley's Tribute To Frankie Knuckles
The Quietus , March 31st, 2015 15:43

The acid house man remembers his friend, the Chicago house luminary, who passed away one year ago today; listen to Underworld's versions of Baby Wants To Ride with Heller & Farley and The Misterons below

We British have had a love affair with African-American music since the 1950s. The Teddy Boys started doing back-drops to rocking R&B, leading into the 60s and the Mods' love of that infectious 4/4 driving beat that was coming out of black Detroit and Chicago. The late 80s saw the same streets of South Side Chicago produce another invasion with that same 4/4 beat, only this time it came from a 909 drum machine and the music was called house.

The man who spearheaded this invasion was Frankie Knuckles, a Bronx DJ who had been part of Manhattan's early gay club culture. Alongside his teenage friend Larry Levan, he started out blowing up balloons (and allegedly spiking the punch) at Nicky Siano's legendary Gallery club. DJ spots at Better Days and The Continental Baths followed and Frankie's name grew. The underground dance community all took notice of this hip young guy with his take on the 70's disco sound. When, in 1979, white rock & rollers burned disco records at Comiskey Park in Chicago (homophobia and racism barely camouflaged amongst a sea of 'Disco Sucks' slogans). I'm pretty sure today's EDM DJs and Las Vegas-style dance music makers are probably the bastard offspring of these 'haters', as their music is so opposed to the sexuality and soulfulness of what house is all about. Frankie and his peers took the best of the genre underground and started making tailor-made tracks for the Windy City club kids.

In his adopted city of Chicago, Frankie was fast becoming a legend amongst the kids who followed him and packed his residencies at The Power Plant and The Warehouse (the club that many Chi-Town cats say gave house music its name). Frankie was influenced by the inspirational music of the 1970s - Philadelphia International and Salsoul Records' gospel-inspired dance music with that 4/4 beat which (amongst other substances) kept the faithful dancing all night and way into Sunday mornings. More recently, Chicago named a street after its favourite surrogate son. "For those of us in Chicago who concern ourselves with the now-world of music, we looked to Frankie to keep us abreast of what was happening globally, sending us home inspired with a new song to sing," explains local DJ and personal friend Elbert Philips of how proud the city was.

The music Frankie gave us is awe-inspiring. Sleazy genius such as 'Baby Wants To Ride' and the seminal 'Your Love', as well spirits-raising anthems such as 'Let The Music Use You'. If the 80s belonged partly to the Chicago Frankie, then the 90s saw him, alongside his remix partner and friend David Morales, return back to NY and become a king in its vibrant nightlife.

The legendary Sound Factory and Sound Factory Bar clubs were where he forged that Def Mix sound that would bring him a Grammy for his beautiful version of Toni Braxton's 'Unbreak My Heart' and many more remixes that would fill clubs worldwide and now are on endless 'club classic' radio playlists.

Frankie Knuckles, Terry Farley and Kenny Carpenter

As with all musical giants, people remember not just the music but the man. Watching Frankie DJ was like a masterclass in perfection; a large, cool gentleman, he and his music oozed class. None of the embarrassing and banal antics many of today's DJs use was needed. "Sometimes I'd shut down all the lights and set up a record where it would sound like a speeding train was about to crash into the club. People would lose their minds," Frankie told The Chicago Tribune. The music spoke for Frankie as with all great DJs; you could feel how he was feeling through what he fed through the speakers.

One of those dancers going crazy was Tedd Patterson (resident DJ at NY's Cielo nightclub). "During the 90's Frankie was the sound of NYC! He was my idol and the idol of many others. He was humble, approachable and genuine, especially with his peers. He seemed to posses a kindness and generosity of spirit that a lot of other DJs (especially the ones who played songs about love) didn't possess. He was believable! The love that NY had for Frankie was unconditional, he delivered time after time and was making music that was spreading house music worldwide," Tedd recalls. "He wore the crown of Godfather and represented the spirit of house with a grace that none could match. I can't imagine anyone being tagged the Godfather of House and not caving under the pressure. He was the one. I miss him."

The world's house community lost its favourite uncle, its Godfather and the light that showed you the right way of doing things in a musical scene that often gets its priorities and ways of doing stuff very badly wrong. People often say when iconic figures die 'we will never see his like again'; well, looking around at today's top DJs (and there are plenty of fantastic ones), I think that's a fair appreciation of what FK brought to the table and his gravitas. We all miss him and I truly hope his spirit is still watching over all his children, who continue to spin music, in his honour.

To mark one year since Frankie's passing, Junior Boy's Own have put out a special release featuring two versions of 'Baby Wants To Ride' by Underworld, one with Farley and Pete Heller, the other with The Misterons, available as either limited edition 12" or download, with all proceeds going to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Take a listen to the tracks below and get hold of them here: