Frankie Knuckles died this week, but I expect you knew that already. It’s a testament to the legacy of the man, and his place in the pantheon, that so many buttoned-down, straight-laced establishments of the mainstream media have seen fit to spend time and space eulogizing him. You can hardly move online this week for the sheer crowd of links taking you to videos for Your Love, or The Whistle Song on Youtube.
I never knew the man, and was uncertain ( or uninterested) in who he was when I was just getting into this music. I knew the songs, of course – who didn’t? For anyone with even a passing interest in House music, Knuckles’s tunes were almost like nursery rhymes; amongst the first we heard, and the oldest. informing our developing passions in the cadence, and feel and history of House. Later, as I became more picky about what I listened too, I began to understand his role in so much classic work. The big papers and websites got excited because they got to name-check the superstars Knuckles remixed. But that wasn’t really the important stuff, was it? the real priceless material was in the work he did with other House legends: Jamie Principle, for example, or Marshal Jefferson. That music was no less special for being hidden in plan sight.
I thought about choosing Your Love as my Friday Night Tunes, confident that the moment would help diminish the laziness (and slight cheesiness) of linking to what is probably the most watched video on Youtube this week. I considered other work by Knuckles, but felt slightly uneasy about it. There has been so much said about Knuckles this week, about the scenes he was a part of and about where House music came from. Rather than regurgitate the same stuff, I thought I would do something different: I wanted to show where House music had gone.
Knuckles himself had a fine understanding of dance music that carried that almost undefinable trace of melancholia and wistfulness. Too often House music equates boring minor chords and dull jazzy elements with deepness (it’s not. As far as deepness goes, it’s paddling pools versus the ocean) which is why I’ve chosen Fred’s P’s peerless It Is What It Is. It’s a gorgeous, hauntingly ethereal summation of hurt, and loss, and love and the fragility of hopes and dreams. Some people will probably tell you that this is Techno, not House. Those people are wrong. It Is What It Is is House music the way is should be. And it is perfect. I’m not going to say anything else. Just close your office door, listen to this and dream about where the music came from, and where it’s going.
Frankie Knuckles RIP.