DJ Frankie Knuckles the Godfather of HouseJuly 20, 2012 By: Steve Lewis
They named a street after him in Chicago. He had a day named for him too as the Mayor of Chicago proclaimed, in 2004, August 25th as Frankie Knuckles day. There was a time when various bores would debate on who the "true originator" of House Music was. However, who started it wasn't as important as those who sold it. The individuals who introduced the public to the genra changed music forever.
Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Larry Levan and many other legends took something that was underground into the arenas and stadiums of today. Known as the Godfather of House, Knuckles is constantly offering his considerable rep and talents to help those in need. It was his constant fundraising for charities dealing with aids, homelessness, and education of our youth, that garnered him that street sign and that honorable day. He's worked with artists such as Mary J. Blige, Sounds of Blackness, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, Luther Vandross, Michael Bolton and Toni Braxton.
In 1997 he became the first recipient of the Grammy for Remixer of The Year in recognition of his production and mixing. His Whistle Song was an instant classic before it earned pop lore fame as the Lipton Ice Tea commercial tune in the mid 90’s. He is a legend among legends and has a smile as broad as his talents. Nightclub Confidential caught up to him as he was preparing for a gig at Le Poisson Rouge, in Manhattan.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): You were there at the beginning when House Music became a big deal. How has it changed, how have you changed?
Frankie Knuckles: OMG! In so many ways. With the advent of 'DJ Culture' it's not enough to be good at blending two songs together. Musical education is essential. Being knowledgeable about sound and musical history has taken DJs beyond the DJ booth, ultimately, turning us into celebrated people. The game has changed and it's a real challenge to stay on top of it.
NCC: Electronic Dance Music is the talk of the town... actually the world. To a layman where does EDM begin and House end or vice versa or are they the same thing more or less?
Knuckles: 'House Music' in its natural form is the foundation of all energetic dance music. It stretches out across genres incorporating various sounds that breed new sub-genres like, Techno, Trance, Dubstep, Drum & Bass and now, EDM. Every so often the media industry gets bored and sets out to find the next big thing. They're looking to see who has reinvented the wheel. And to make it palpable what was once Techno/Trance bordering a more Rock influence vs Soul or R&B what we have is EDM.
NCC: You are a DJ, a producer and an artist; a legend. Yet DJ's like Tiesto and Paul Oakenfold have amassed fortunes. How does that sit with you and the other originators?
Knuckles: Someone has to make that money; it may as well be them. I didn't get in this business to become a millionaire. I would've had to sell my soul to the devil to accomplish what they have. At the end of the day I have to live with myself. Am I happy? Absolutely! Beyond this business I have a life. I've survived in a way that so many have not. I think I've made a significant enough impact on this industry globally that I REALLY have no room to complain. If I disappeared or left this earth tomorrow I think people would be impacted by it.
NCC: Tell me about this gig and what you have been working on?
Knuckles: With my new imprint, Director's Cut, with my partner Eric Kupper we've been on a mission to bring House Music in its 'Classic' form back to splendor. Between 1998 and 2005 it seem like House Music all but disappeared. But for me during that time I was on a never ending global tour playing the same as I always have, with the same musical approach and sensibility that I always have. After 911 NYC was no longer the Mecca it once was for the music industry. In 2006 I produced the remix of 'Blind' for Hercules & The Love Affair after not producing or remix anything in six years. That song single handedly re-shaped and breathed new life into nightlife, especially clubs that play 'House Music'. A new romanticism was born which has brought me to this day.
NCC: What equipment do you use?
Knuckles: It depends. In the studio; over the years Kupper has amassed a brilliant collection of vintage keyboards and synths. From day one when we first produced 'The Whistles Song' we've developed a signature sound that's all mine. People hear it and automatically know that it's me.
In the DJ booth; 2-3 CDJ2000s, I'm lucky if I can have a Funktion One system available. Personally, I prefer a custom system designed by Gary Stewart, Steve Dash or SBS (Sounds by Shorty). And because I very rarely travel with an assistant these days, I don't carry vinyl or CDs. My music is kept on two 64GB USB keys, making it possible for me to carry and play anywhere from two to twelve hours and from current to Classic.
NCC: In today’s internet world, how do you get new music and how do you get your music out there?
Knuckles: Well, the days of mom and pop record shops are gone. So, my online shop of choice is Traxsource. But I'm one of (if not the most) fortunate DJs working out here. I've developed friendships and relations with just about every producer/DJ working this side of the street. Everyone makes sure I have everything musically and, that I stay on top of everything technically. Being associated with Nocturnal Groove out of the UK has made it possible for me and my music to be available everywhere globally. I'm a very lucky DJ!