House Music Clubs: Testify!

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Three Chicago clubs loom large over the history of dance music: The Warehouse, The Power Plant and The Music Box. The Warehouse was the first–from 1977 until he left to open The Power Plant in 1982, Frankie Knuckles was its king, turning dancers inside out with his New York-style mixing skills. When Knuckles left, The Warehouse's owners opened The Music Box and hired the late Ron Hardy, whose thirst for innovation was matched only by his penchant for excess. Though few in the crowd would have said they were dancing to "house music," the blend of disco, New Wave, R&B and soul heard at The Warehouse, The Power Plant and The Music Box would go on to define the genre until the present day. We asked some folks who were there to tell us what they remember.

Frankie Knuckles on the songs of The Warehouse and The Power Plant:
"If there was any song that signified The Warehouse experience it would be 'Let No Man Put Asunder' by First Choice. It spoke of everything–the relationship I had with the folks that frequented The Warehouse weekly. It was a happy wedding/marriage that occurred every Saturday night/Sunday morning, religiously. And that one song is at the root of what all house music is about–its backbeat and strong vocal delivery of faith and devotion is what kept folks coming back for me.

"For The Power Plant, it had to be the introduction of Jamie Principle and his anthems 'Your Love,' 'Baby Wants To Ride' and 'I'm Gonna Make You Scream' that ushered in a whole new way for the kids in Chicago to recognize their own homegrown talent. Living in this world during that period, none of us could've ever imagined that what we were doing would blossom into what it has [or] spawned as much as it has. And no matter how many ways from Sunday that someone new comes along trying to reinvent the wheel, the core of what this music is will always be traced right back to these few songs and these two artists."

Chip E on The Warehouse:
"I'd never seen so many beautiful people enjoy music so freely."

DJ Pierre on The Music Box:
"The thing I remember most about The Music Box was that it was the first time I [had] ever seen people praising a DJ as if he were a prophet of the Lord. People were screaming Ron Hardy's name like their very souls depended on him and his music. Hundreds of people lined the underground car park like it was Woodstock! The first time I came there was the day I was truly baptized into the true meaning of house music."

Screamin' Rachel on The Music Box:
"My favorite club of all time was The Music Box. I have traveled the world and still never experienced a DJ who mesmerized a crowd like Ron Hardy. The experience was raw and primal and shook you to the core of your being. When Ron introduced a new record, he literally burned it to the ground. A night I will always remember was hanging out with Marshall Jefferson, Hercules and Bam Bam with Ron Hardy slammin' our new cut at the time, 88's "Rock Me"–it was pure musical orgasm! The Music Box was the true spirit of house."

Chip E on The Music Box vs. The Power Plant:
"The [music at] The Power Plant was more conservative. It was more of your contemporary disco, R&B and soul. The Music Box was much more cutting edge, much more avant garde. You'd hear Laurie Anderson 'O Superman.' You'd hear the weirdest tracks, just rhythm tracks played back to back continuously. It was all about feeling the music more than hearing it, all about what would get you moving. So you'd hear a lot more tracks and more obscure material at The Music Box, whereas The Power Plant was a lot more vocals and established hits.

"The Music Box was a much more raw crowd. The people really didn't care what they were wearing–they came there to dance and sweat. The Power Plant [had] a bit more mature crowd. A lot of people had grown up with The Warehouse, and they put on their Armanis and such. They'd dance, but try not to sweat too much–you know, dry cleaning bills! But The Music Box was a totally raw experience. It was a minimalist environment, almost like being in an enclosed alley with a couple of Mars lights and some strobes. Between the two clubs, there might have been 20-30% people who'd go to both clubs, but [usually] you were either a kinda mature, Friday night Power Plant guy or a you were a down and dirty Saturday night Music Box guy."

Gene Hunt on The Music Box vs. The Power Plant:
"What was the difference between Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles? They're both the godfathers of house, but it breaks down to this: one crowd [was] more bougie and the other crowd was ghetto. Frankie Knuckles's crowd was the 'Oh, no. You're not good enough to be around us–we're the elite.' Ron Hardy's crowd was the kids that went to the projects, the kids that were from the streets. [But] if they did something on the same night, they'd both have crowds. Chicago's so funny like that. People would be like 'OK, let's go check out Ronnie for a while then we're gonna slide up and check out Frankie for a couple of hours.'"