Frankie Knuckles and the Birth Of EDM
EDM, or electric dance music, is a genre of music associated with a range of percussive electronic music genres made for raves, festivals, and nightclubs. As you flip through the images of famous mainstream artists associated with EDM you’ll find mostly straight white cisgender men. However, the origins and its ties with House music paint a more colorful image that includes queer people of color (QPOC).
EDM draws its sound from the earlier House music that was birthed in the studio known as “The Warehouse” by its attendees in the 1970s. The Warehouse was originally a club located at 555 W. Adams Street in Chicago. The industrial space eventually evolved into a members-only space where individuals like Fredrick Dunson, known today as Frankie Knuckles, and other young black and gay individuals would come to dance and create new music.
“Being ostracized as black, gay kids,” Dunson, who was quoted in a Billboard article said, “this felt like a place where we could be who we were while being protected from the judgments of society.”
Other house innovators such as David Mancuso and Larry Levan helped set the scene in the 1970s and 1980s in a gay club. Gay men of color were widely credited with creating house music which became the catalyst for many of the genres, such as EDM, that evolved from it. Like blues, jazz, and other genres before EDM, the music was created and developed by a marginalized community. It is only now that it is dominated by the heteronormative mainstream.
“The Warehouse ‘was a haven for the gay community, which also turned into the heterosexual community because the gay kids were inviting the heterosexual kids who were dying to come in,’” Warehouse founder Robert Williams was quoted to say.
Frankie Knuckles is known as the godfather of house music which has a major influence on today’s contemporary sonic landscape. His careful crafting of combinations of gospel, soul vocals, and kick drums on drum machines played at 120 to 130 beats per minute started a movement that began in the gay dance scene, survived the AIDS crisis of the ’80s, and lived to spread across the globe into the mainstream. Frankie Knuckles was so widely beloved that his death in 2014 prompted personal letters to close friends from President Obama.
Although representation in the mainstream among queer artists, and especially those of color, is limited, the last few years have seen more activism, inclusion, and spotlight on the female-identified artists, people of color, and the queer artists whose community previously trailblazed the way the for these new talented artists.