The first time I experienced the real Chicago scene was when I walked down the steps of an underground club. The doors at the bottom of the stairs opened to reveal a small room full of dark figures dancing to the beat of music that seemed to encapsulate me. Little did I know I was walking into a movement, not just a show, a Deep House movement.
I will never forget how the crowd seemed to move together rather than just individuals on their own. It almost seemed as though the hooded DJ was the puppet master and we were his marionettes. In a way, that's exactly what the best DJs are supposed to be like. They put us under their spell and we are mesmerized by their selection. Chicago is filled with these wizards and we here at Magnetic feel it's important to pay homage to some of the best.
These 10 tracks represent the dance music culture as it has been, is and always will be in Chicago.
10. 'The Whistle Song' - Frankie Knuckles
Honestly, I don't know how we could have a list like this without including this song. It could very well be #1, but that would be way too easy.
Frankie Knuckles is the Godfather of House. He was born in the Bronx, however spent most of his time in Chicago making new wave sounds in the 1980s. He helped develop the dance music scene by spinning at the Warehouse, a well-known club in Chicago that started in 1977. This is where his sound synthesized, and the movement was spawned. 'The Whistle Song' is simply a timeless classsic.
9. 'Sensation' - Ron Hardy
Here's where we get a little harder on the dance music scale from Chicago. It's amazing to think that a jacking track like this was produced in 1985, during the prime time of dance music experimentation.
Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles go hand in hand when talking about the beginnings of House music. If Knuckles is the Godfather of House, then Hardy is the Godfather of Deep House. Hardy and Knuckles went on to influence many of the artists on this list, along with a slew of others not featured here.
8. 'Time to Jack' - Chip E.
[Gotta Dance Records]
What would Chicago dance music be without the iconic "Jack". Another 1980s classic House artist, Chip E. was also denoted the "Godfather of House Music" by Street Mix in 1985. Most known for his rotation on three different Chicago radio stations, his 'Time to Jack' hit entranced his generation and moved the house genre along swiftly. Very similar to the previous two artist (Knuckles and Hardy), he perfected brilliantly repetitive beats. His album Jack Traxx, which includes 'Time to Jack', is much of a myth now, but rarely comes up on eBay selling for a couple hundred.
7. 'Acid Tracks' - Phuture
Phuture stepped onto the scene with 'Acid Tracks' in 1987, which found its backing on Hardy's Music Box. 'Acid Tracks' really was one of the first songs to develop the Acid House movement, which grew from there, so it just had to be on this list due to it's revolutionary status. This song brings you back to the basics: synthesizer and rhythmic resonants. Plus having been produced and mixed by Marshall Jefferson, it's an ultimate classic.
6. 'Brighter Days (feat. Dajae) (Underground Goodies Mix)' - Cajmere
Cajmere (aka Green Velvet) is originally from Chicago and remains there to this day. He attended The University of Illinois to study chemical engineering but decided to make his own beats during graduate school and returned to the city to do focus on his craft full time. Of course 'Percolater' could make any Chicago House list, but 'Brighter Days' is an equally influential track and we felt it necessary to break the mold.
5. 'Do You Know Who You Are?' - Virgo Four
This track taken from Virgo Four's debut in 1989 has all the makings of an instant classic. The melodic synth arrangement and the classic percussive beat tell the complete story of Chicago House music. Often confused with Virgo (Marshall Jefferson, Adonis and Vince Lawrence), Virgo Four stand alone with their iconic motifs that helped pioneer House music during the critical early years.
4. 'Midnight Movement' - Larry Heard
[Black Market International]
Another Chicago based artist with too many releases to include on a list such as this, Larry Heard is a masterful producer. We chose to include this track due to the brilliant keyboard solo that carries throughout the track. It's done in such a way that it could probably continue for another 10 minutes and you wouldn't even notice with the steady beat coupled with the keyboard variations. This one is absolute gold.
3. Boo Williams - 'Out Of Sink Jazz'
What can we say about this groove, it's absolutely brilliant. Boo Williams is a true legend from the Chicago scene and his mark is left with the countless releases he's produced over the years. This one came about in 2000 and might fly under the radar when discussing top tracks from Chicago artists, but you can't deny, this jam is absolutely timeless.
2. 'Watch Them Come' - Men From The Nile
This particular track is recognizable for featuring the skilled synth work of Chicago legend Roy Davis Jr. and Jay Juniel. They joined forces back in the mid to late '90s and formed Men From The Nile. Although they didn't release much, this soulful House track is as timeless as it gets.
1. The Magi - 'Come On Clap Your Hands'
DJ Sneak once told of a legend where Prince was in the club listening to Mark Farina play this track and actually went up inside the booth and stopped the record to see who sampled his work. This on by Derrick Carter and Chris Nazuka is Chicago in it's purest form. A steady House beat with driving bongo rhythms and a funky motif. Throw this one on if you are in desperate need of a dance.
We know there are too many classic Chicago House tracks to include on this list and it's impossible to get them all. So feel free to post the tracks you think should be included in the comments section (such as Cajmere - 'Percolater', Steve "Silk" Hurley - 'Jack Your Body', anything by Frankie Knuckles and more).
a. 'Mushrooms' - Marshall Jefferson, Chris Liebing and Andrew Wooden
Although this track was produced by Chris Liebing and Andrew Wooden and was released on a German label, it features the iconic Chicago producer Marshall Jefferson talking about taking mushrooms. Marshall may be most notably recognized for his all-time classic House anthem 'Move Your Body', and including that track on this list would just be way too easy. In my opinion, this track 'Mushrooms' possesses that infectious groove that is inherent in the best of House music. It's minimal in nature, but oh so deep with subtle atmospherics and driving percussion. It's a truly timeless production, released in 1996.
b. 'Is Everything OK?' - Felix Da Housecat
Felix da Housecat hails from Chicago and definitely has his roots in Chicago House music, however he adds his own electroclash sound. We felt it necessary to include 'Is Everything OK?' due to its recent release, yet also the essence of nostalgia that flows through it. The track holds similarities to the Chi-town legends Knuckles and Hardy, so it's fitting to have this track represent the new age.
c. 'Original Don (Flosstradamus Remix)' - Major Lazar
How could I not add Flosstradamus to this list? The production duo represent a different classification than anyone else on this list, but they are rooted in Chicago and their high profile status can't be ignored. Consisting of Josh Young and Curt Cameruci, Flosstradamus is undoubtedly one of the most popular groups to come out of Chicago. The duo focuses on Trap, however you can hear their Chicago influences in all their songs. 'Original Don' is one of their most recognizable tracks, even if it's not an original.
[Above photo of Roy Davis Jr. by Sean Delahay]