Roots Of: The ChicagOx House Scene

The name ‘Bloody Knuckles’ might draw to mind the slightly sadomasochistic classroom game played with 50p pieces, but Oxford regulars will recognise it as the name of the termly night dedicated to house music. Of course, definitions have changed – Bloody Knuckles isn’t about Tomorrowland-esque big room house, as popularised by Avicii, Hardwell et al. Instead, it’s a retrospective to the music you might hear playing in, for example, a club in 80s Chicago. A club called the Warehouse, perhaps.

It’s here that the name Bloody Knuckles starts making more sense. A tribute to a man who’s often called the godfather of house music, the night is named after one Frankie Knuckles, who brought a fusion of soul, R&B, disco, and European electro to the eager ears of predominantly black, gay men who filled the members-only Warehouse wall to wall. It’s this Warehouse that is credited for giving ‘house’ music its name. Clearly, ‘Warehouse music’ was too much of a mouthful.

His eclectic mixes brought in an ever-wider crowd, attracting an audience that threatened to deprive the members of the Warehouse of a space for themselves, with the room now packed with white, straight faces. Frankie – being black and openly gay himself – sympathised, and so 1982 saw him opening up a club of his own: the Power Plant. He spent five years here, as house music exploded onto the scene. By this time, house was spreading like wildfire across America, and by the time the Power Plant closed in 1987 it had reached the far corners of the globe.

House music isn’t restricted to Frankie Knuckles, though. Ron Hardy, also a DJ in the gay scene, is often credited with pioneering the variation in samples house music is famous for. While Knuckles was playing mainly disco at the Power Plant, Hardy was mixing in samples from tapes brought to his club, The Music Box, by fans who wanted to be more involved with the music.

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A celebration of all of this and more, Bloody Knuckles is a glance into the past. Three decades later, the quote from their tagline still holds true:

“How hot is house music right now?” the cameraman asks a young Frankie Knuckles. “On a scale from one to 10,” he replies, “It’s 12.”