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by Philip Sherburne

May 9, 2012

Senior Year, 1988: Chicago House Nation

by Philip Sherburne  |  May 9, 2012

Dance music's been around long enough that it's split along a generational divide. The buzzing, throbbing sounds of big-tent EDM are a young person's game -- as evidenced by Steve Aoki's frequent stage dives, which end with select audience members covered in cake. It falls upon listeners in their 30s and 40s to be keepers of the flame for old-school styles like Chicago house.

It was not always thus, however. Back in the mid- to late 1980s, the hammering machine grooves and twisted synthesizer melodies coming out of Chicago labels like Trax and DJ International sounded as futuristic -- and as wild -- as anything on the planet, sending dancers into a sweat-soaked frenzy. Hip-hop had yet to capture the urban imagination, much less popular culture itself; if you were a black or Latino teenager in Chicago in 1988, chances are that house music was your music.

If you were lucky, you might have sneaked into the Music Box, a legendary (and legendarily loud) club before it closed down in 1987. That was where Ron Hardy had invented the rudiments of house music from scratch, using just turntables, a mixer and a reel-to-reel to play percussive edits and machine fugues that drove dancers to abandon. Even if you hadn't been there, you were surrounded by the music, thanks to WBMX's Hot Mix 5 -- DJs Farley "Funkin" Keith (aka Farley "Jackmaster" Funk), Mickey "Mixin" Oliver, Scott "Smokin" Silz, Kenny "Jammin" Jason and Ralphi Rosario. (Poor Ralphi, why didn't he get a sobriquet?) You were a member of the House Nation, and the commands and rhetorical questions of the canon -- "Move Your Body," "Time to Jack," "Jack Your Body," "Dance You Mutha," "Turn Up the Bass," "Can U Dance," "Can You Feel It" and the king of them all, "So Let It Be House!" -- were your bylaws, the dancefloor your sovereign terrain.

Reminisce along with our Class of 1988 with this playlist of essential Chicago house, ca. 1985-1988, including classic tracks from Marshall Jefferson, Frankie Knuckles, Mr. Fingers, Phuture, Steve "Silk" Hurley and more.

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