DJ OF THE WEEK 4.7.14: MEMORIES OF FRANKIE KNUCKLES
After a week as difficult as last week, how do you follow up with a DJ of the Week as if nothing ever happened? Yeah, we’re supposed to move on; tomorrow is another day; the show must go on; that’s all well and good, but sometimes it isn’t as easy in practice. The reason I host this site and continue to write about this scene is because of my love for House music and Frankie Knuckles has always been a major part of this.
I remember the exact moment a cousin of mine asked “You ever heard of house music?” Until that moment, I had considered myself a straight up cone tip Adidas wearing, breakdancing -or at least attempting to- b-boy. I was all ready to dismiss the question and counter by asking if he had heard T. La Rock or Doug E. Fresh’s latest, but the way he asked made me feel as if I truly was missing out on something grand. I had to give it a try, even if it was nowhere as good as Run DMC.
We went into the basement where his older brother, a DJ, had his glorious system hooked up. I’m pretty sure we were doing it on the sneak tip, but we went ahead and proceeded to play the tape. My life changed the second I first heard this concoction of exotic and otherworldly voices expertly playing over that four to the floor beat; I was hooked instantly. The mixtape that contained this new magical genre consisted of tracks now dug deep into the history books of house music such as Robert Owen’s ‘Bring Down The Walls,’ Marshall Jefferson’s ‘The house music anthem,’ ‘Set it off,’ by Strafe and a track with a piano hook so captivating, so hypnotic I am still under its spell over 30 years later, Frankie Knuckles ‘Your Love.’
Little did I or anyone know way back when that this artist with the weird name and the genre he was at the forefront of would go on to be what it is today. Frankie Knuckles would go on to inspire a city then a nation overseas and eventually the world. He would remain at the top echelon of house royalty but was also loved by the mainstream; he inspired generations; even those who don’t know his name have felt his touch. He was and always will be that DJ we aspire to be, the producer we could only dream of becoming. Frankie Knuckles left behind a legacy without equal.
That old mixtape had a life changing effect on me and because of it I felt a connection with Frankie. I would learn years later that all who listened to him felt the same. He had a way about him and his sound claimed a permanent spot in our ears, our heads, and our hearts. It’s not easy to just move on from such a great and unexpected loss. That’s why this week there is no DJ of the Week. There is simply each of our own memories of Frankie.
I would end up taking a copy of that classic mixtape to my childhood home of New Haven, Connecticut and eagerly introducing it to all my friends. None understood, loyal b boys that they were. Everyone else looked at me as if something was wrong with me. I remember playing it on a rinky dink old stereo at home so much my mom complained. At nite I would play it ever so softly so as to not bother my brother sleeping in the same room or to further stir up my mother’s wrath. I couldn’t get enough; I began looking for more of that magic. That’s when I discovered that if I stayed up long enough on the weekends, I just might be lucky enough to catch it on a local radio station. Saturday night, however, was the big pay off. That’s when New York’s then Hot 103 would air the Saturday Night Dance party. Soon after I was buying vinyl, dreaming of becoming a DJ myself, always looking for Frankie Knuckles name in the credits, trying to follow in his footsteps. He might be gone now, but I’m still following them. And I always will.
Feel free to share your own memories of Frankie Knuckles in the comments below.