Early Chicago House

Freewheeling through time and space, Kris Needs continues his adventures in sound. This month: The early days of Chicago house music

The first column scrawled in 2024 finds me sporting a smiley loincloth, deep in the zone writing Nina Walsh’s ‘Punkadelic!’ biography. It’s 40 years since the first Chicago house 12-inch records started appearing that Nina would dance to, blissfully trolleyed, in the strawberry smoke at Shoom – ironically, the same year Roland discontinued its TB-303 bass machine!

Built to deep-fry Chicago’s underground dance scene that started with Frankie Knuckles’ Warehouse and bastard son Ron Hardy’s crazed Music Box, January 1984’s rudimentary ‘On And On’ by Jesse Saunders is cited as the first, unwittingly heralding a club-spawned, punk-style revolution driven by the motivation to make something better. 

Although not released until a bit later, transcendental time-stoppers were soon being forged by Larry “Mr Fingers” Heard, like ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Mystery Of Love’, and Marshall Jefferson was fashioning ‘The House Music Anthem’. Nina remembers swooning to those at Shoom (and everyone being destroyed by the monstrous juggernaut squelch of Phuture’s ‘Acid Trax’) but her top dancefloor fave at the landmark club remains the orgiastic rumpo-grind of ‘Baby Wants To Ride’ by Jamie Principle, produced by Frankie Knuckles. 

Funnily enough, this steamy, jittering tickler was among the first “Windy City” missives to blow open my own cubicle door after house music hit New York’s cooler spots when I lived there in the 80s. A pulsing, electronic lust hydrant ready to explode, straddled by this on-heat diva with the voice of an angel (I sampled his “make me scream” on the first Secret Knowledge single).

This overlooked, fearless pioneer who loved Prince and UK synthpop followed Frankie’s previous productions with gorgeous time-stopping love bombs including the exquisite ‘Waiting On My Angel’, the heart-napalming ‘Your Love’ and the outrageously beautiful ‘Cold World’. The spine-tingling synth intro of ‘Your Love’ reared again 35 years later on Jagz Kooner’s stratospheric remix of Nina and Mr Weatherall’s ‘Borderland’.

Back to 2024, and following on from the triumphant ‘Phonox Nights’, Nina unveiled her next album on her annual New Year’s Day mix for staunch ally Brother Joseph’s online ‘Sonic Treasures’ extravaganza. ‘All That Bluster’ by Nina & The Fireflies is both a sister album to ‘Phonox Nights’ – recorded around the same time with guitarist Franck Alba – and her stunningly evocative lost ‘Killing Eve’ soundtrack.

Like the gecko sheds his undercrackers, it’s all moving on, still celebrating the glorious past but with both eyes on the future. Do check out our ‘Into The Cosmic Hutch’ podcasts on YouTube! 

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