DJ remembers the 'Godfather of House' music

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: It's not often that an American mayor eulogizes a DJ. But Frankie Knuckles blazed a path from Chicago for his music: house music. And with his passing, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said his city had lost one of its most treasured cultural pioneers. Knuckles died yesterday, and DJs all around the globe are paying homage to him today. Among them, DJ Rekha, who runs the monthly Basement Bhangra party in New York City. And though Hindi styles are a far stretch from Frankie Knuckles' house sound, there is a direct connection.

DJ Rekha: I must have been either listening to a late night radio mix show growing up in Long Island or Queens, or actually...I definitely remember listening to it at the Palladium. You know, the song 'Move your body' is just...it's a seminal house classic. I've had it on repeat all morning.

[music]

Werman: You did tweet a sad R.I.P. today when you heard the news. What influence did Frankie Knuckles have on you? Did he make you wanna spin for a living?

Rekha: When I started DJing, I played a lot of house music. I don't play as much any more. But the beauty of house music and of that genre was, house DJs combined all types of sounds. And he was definitely in my crate, in my first crate of records, for sure. And there's just a lot of energy and soul in the tracks.

Werman: I mean, as you said earlier, he's the godfather of house music. For those who don't know, for the uninitiated, what exactly is house music and how does it differ from its antecedent disco?

Rekha: House music came after disco. Frankie Knuckles originally is from the Bronx, moved to Chicago and started DJing at a place called Warehouse. And they played a lot of unreleased tracks, homegrown, by many different producers in the Midwest, Detroit and Chicago. And they would often play stuff that was white-labeled or unavailable. And when people started asking for that style of music, they kept saying "Gimme that house music," referring to warehouse. So he's actually responsible for the naming of the genre. And in terms of its difference from disco, it's definitely affected by, more by drum machines, less live instrumentation, though it's used in it. And it's got more of a steady beat.

Werman: You know what's weird about the death of Frankie Knuckles is, I was just listening to a new CD collection, which we'll hear a taste from in a moment. It's called Bombay Disco. It's just a bunch of disco-inspired songs from Bollywood. And then I hear this news about Frankie Knuckles. He must have had a major effect and influence, not just in the U.S. but around the globe.

Rekha: One person who also tweeted, he definitely did, is Bally Segoo, a producer who influenced me greatly. And a lot of his early dance mixes and records have a real feeling of house. And he also tweeted that he was very heavily influenced by him. And you can hear it in his sounds. Bollywood likes to emulate, I should say politely, all kinds of music, so that's not a surprise.

Werman: What was a nightclub like when Frankie spun there? Just describe the scene.

Rekha: It's euphoria. There is just people losing themselves in the music. It's a time when people are really...there's a certain spirituality around the music, and you really feel the presence of the DJ. You feel like the DJ's actually doing something, and working, and giving you a unique experience, as opposed to just playing tracks. You really feel the presence.

Werman: How do you think Frankie Knuckles is gonna be remembered?

Rekha: Hopefully, with a lot of gratitude and reverence. Of reverence that he deserves.

Werman: And very likely, a lot of Frankie Knuckles' tracks spinning in people's homes, just like your own, and New York today.

Rekha: Absolutely.

Werman: DJ Rekha spins in New York City and runs a monthly Basement Bhangra party there, which will be celebrating its 17th anniversary this Thursday. Rekha, thanks so much.

Rekha: Thank you.