When we talk about the two eternal poles in dance music, techno and house, the names of a couple of American cities often precede them: Detroit and Chicago respectively. And that's just what makes these cities the preferred destinations of "techno tourists" from around the globe. But let's focus on Chicago's legacy as the house music capital of the world. Nearly every corner of the city holds a piece of this sound's history: from Gramaphone Records to the location where the original Cro Bar stood, this is the city where house took its first steps.
Putting the "House" in "House Music"
While the sound of house music as we know it today certainly developed nebulously, with influences from around the world, it's in Chicago that house music gets its name and thus its identity. Like most good origin stories, Chicago house is somewhat contentious. But consensus seems to be solidifying around the term "house" being a shortened reference to the The Warehouse, a legendary Chicago club that played a mixture of older disco, soul and electronic dance records in Chicago. Record stores hoping to reach a market looking for the records they heard at their favorite dance shop began to label bins with references to the club. Eventually tags such as, "Heard In The Warehouse," were shortened to "house records" and we arrive at the sound we know today.
We should stop right here and say that dance music in Chicago far exceeds the aesthetics and ideas in the genre we call house music, but every element of the rich dance culture that this city boasts today is founded on the bedrock the house culture created. House music is what taught this city to dance no matter what those people are dancing to now, which is almost every genre of dance music that you can imagine. And so when you look at the venues in this city and the kinds of dance events they offer, you're looking at one of the most rich and diverse offerings in the world.
Take for example a dive bar, like Danny's Tavern. Located in Bucktown, this hole in the wall pub feels more like a tiny home than a venue, but it's one of the most interesting places in the city to go dance. From left-field electronic music to Italo-disco and cold wave, think of Danny's as a great house party with awesome beer.
And then there's long-running venues like Neo where you're likely to find a floor full of people dancing to new wave and industrial, two genres that probably influenced the sound of Chicago house more than most people realize. That community has been going strong in this city since the heydays of Wax Trax and Neo is the place to join it.
Smart Bar on the other hand has exactly what you'd expect from the city that house music built, and then some. Opening the same year as the influential titan of dance, The Hacienda, Smart Bar has been packed and almost exclusively playing dance music for thirty years. Incomprehensible rosters of dance luminaries have passed through the doors of this basement bunker in Wrigleyville... and there was that one time Tom Waits took over the decks. The Smart Bar Funktion One sound system itself has legions of fans, some of whom even created a Facebook group to celebrate one of its speakers in particular (the left front, if you're curious).
But if you're looking for a more European style club with all the bells and whistles like bottle service and confetti cannons, Chicago has that too. The Mid is a superclub sized venue with superclub sized lineups to match. If you're in the market for a Mark Ronson DJ set and a bottle of champagne that costs more than your rent, they'd be happy to accommodate you. Well equipped to cater to bachelorette parties and the like, this is a big venue looking to provide a big night out.
The point is that Chicago is one of the few true dance destinations in the world. And that's the legacy that house music leaves us. In a city that grew up dancing at Medusa's until 12PM Sunday afternoon and listening to the Hot Mix 5 on WBMX, dance music isn't just for 21 year old clubbers in furry boots. Serious dance music heads come in all ages and colors and from all walks of life around these parts. You're as likely to see an off-duty police officer hugging that left front speaker as you are to see a co-ed on spring break. That makes this a very special place indeed.
Can't Miss Shows This Month at Smart Bar (3730 N Clark St)
- May 23: Mala, buy tickets here
- June 1: Neel of Voices From The Lake, buy tickets here
- June 7: Kyle Hall, buy tickets here
Can't Miss Shows This Month at The Mid (306 N Halsted St)
- May 18: Sidney Samson, buy tickets here
- May 24: Qbert, buy tickets here
- June 7: Keys N Krates, buy tickets here
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