LGBTQI+ Origins and Impact of House Music: From Chicago’s Underground to Global Phenomenon

June 14, 2024

We are right in the centre of the month of June, a month dedicated to LGBTQI+ Pride, celebrating the beautiful history of queer people and the huge steps we have taken to ensure everyone is allowed to live as their true selves. While, sadly, there is still a very long way to go right across the globe, the sacrifices and fight that queer people throughout history have made has proven to make a notable difference to queer people today. 

A lot of fans of House and electronic music are aware of the deep rooted queer history of the genre but we wanted to take a look back at the very start of it. The people, the places and the music that changed everything, the birth of our beloved genre and how that has become what we listen to today. 


In 1977, Chicago witnessed the birth of The Warehouse, a pioneering nightclub that became a safe haven for black and Latino gay men during a time where queer spaces were targets of frequent and unwarranted police raids. The Warehouse operated as a members-only club, providing sanctuary in an era before legal protections for sexual orientation were codified in the city’s 1988 Human Rights Ordinance. This ordinance, which banned discrimination on grounds including sexual orientation, race, gender, and disability, came well after The Warehouse had established itself as a refuge for marginalized communities, forcing the queer population to seek underground venues for most of the 70s and 80s.

The music at The Warehouse, under the guidance of DJ Francis Warren Nicholls, Jr. (better known as Frankie Knuckles), revolved around R&B and disco. Knuckles’ innovative DJing involved extending disco tracks using reel-to-reel tape loops and later incorporating a drum machine to create the rhythmic foundations of what would become Chicago house music. His blend of classic disco, indie soul, occasional rock, and Euro-disco became the club’s signature sound.


The term “house” music, a nod to The Warehouse, emerged as the club gained a more diverse patronage, leading Knuckles to leave and establish Power Plant. Subsequently, Ron Hardy took over as the resident DJ, and the club was rebranded as the Music Box. This genre fused disco’s lush orchestrations and powerful vocals with the synthetic elements of Euro-disco, positioning house music as a counter-movement against the anti-disco sentiment prevalent in late 70s rock culture—a sentiment often intertwined with racial biases. House music, therefore, became a medium of resistance, asserting the presence and rights of black and queer communities.

As house music evolved, the orchestral richness of disco gave way to electronic instruments, particularly in Detroit. Pioneers like Juan Atkins blended influences from Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Italo-disco, and funk, infusing post-industrial themes and sci-fi motifs into their sound. Atkins viewed house as an extension of disco, pushing it towards early techno and electro. Unlike Chicago’s underground scene, Detroit’s techno scene provided a cultural escape for suburban black youth, distancing themselves from inner-city life through clubs like Plush, Charivari, and GQ Productions, which exuded European luxury and fashion.

Techno’s rise in Detroit was marked by the influence of Afrofuturism, which repurposed technology to resonate with marginalized audiences. In a city facing massive job losses due to automation, the embrace of technology in music mirrored broader social shifts. House and techno’s popularity surged in the mid-80s, breaking into the mainstream as evidenced by Steve “Silk” Hurley’s 1987 hit “Jack Your Body,” which topped the UK charts. This success demonstrated house music’s potential for widespread appeal. As house music spread to the U.S. and Europe, distinct regional variations emerged, each infusing the genre with local flavors.

By the late 80s, Chicago producers introduced deeper bass lines and the Roland TB-303 synthesizer’s distinctive sound, birthing “acid house.” The UK rapidly adopted and transformed this sound, leading to the rise of illegal raves and the development of new sub-genres like breakbeats, early drum ‘n’ bass, and proto-dubstep, which fused two-step rhythms with dub reggae influences.

House music’s journey from the gritty dance floors of The Warehouse to a global movement underscores its origins in queer, black communities. It began as a celebration of identity and defiance, evolving into a genre that embodied freedom, acceptance, and an enduring cultural legacy. It is so important that when we enjoy house and electronic music today, that we remember these roots and strive to maintain and preserve the ethos and message of inclusion and acceptance. These pioneers and founding fathers of the genre, will be forever remembered and thanked for the creation of this incredible scene.

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