New Documentary Explores Black Gay History of House Music
House music came to be known as the music of defiance, revolution and celebration. A new two-part documentary by the British television broadcaster Channel 4 coming out this month, titled, "I Was There When House Took Over the World," is set to highlight the origins of house music born in the Black gay scene in Chicago's Southside.
Split into two parts: "House Was Born" focuses on the social and cultural environment that gave rise to the genre, while "House Went Global" explores the soaring, chart-climbing ascent.
Directed by Jake Sumner and produced by Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock, the docu-series explores “how Disco’s death gave birth to the most iconic sound in dance (music)."
The documentary shows how the "Disco Demolition" of 1979, where a crate filled with disco records was burned at Chicago's Comiskey Park in the middle of double-header games between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers, was largely a homophobic incident. The local radio host Steve Dahl who orchestrated the "death of disco" chose the word "sucks" as an intentional homophobic slur.
Disco, an extremely popular genre of music at the time, had garnered even more attention after the release of the movie, "Saturday Night Fever" but was also commonly emphasized by the media as "gay" music. And the rallying cry at that night was, "Disco Sucks."
But the attacks on disco transformed the music into something even more powerful. As DJ Frankie Knuckles, dubbed the “Godfather of House," said, “House music was disco’s revenge.”
Warehouse, a Black-owned Chicago club that opened in 1977 also known as the birthplace of House music, was a members-only gay club. The club started incorporating electronic synthesizers, drum machines with a psychedelic vibe and a heavy gospel influence, giving way to the genre.
A relatively small and unassuming spot in the West Loop it came to be known as a safe haven for the gay, Black and Latino communities in Chicago.
House music emerging from Chicago's Southside came to be known as the music of defiance, revolution and celebration. Knuckles who made his mark in Chicago was a regular fixture at the Warehouse.
Before large-scale commercialization of House music and diversification into several sub-genres — like Deep House, Progressive House, Electro House, Tech House, Tribal House — some of the known names that set the course were Cajmere/Green Velvet, Steve “Silk” Hurley, Ron Hardy and Felix da Housecat.
House music was already big in the 1980s dance scene in the U.S. The crossover to the U.K. in the form of acid house topped the pop charts with numbers such as Farley's "Jackmaster," Funk's "Love Can't Turn Around," that reached the top 10 on the U.K. singles chart in September 1986.