Any history of Chicago house music would be incomplete without a triple fold LP size chuck saved for Music Box. In 1982, after, five years as its resident, Frankie Knuckles left The Warehouse (widely credited as the inspiration behind the term “house”) to set up the Power Plant. After a couple months of closure, founder Robert Williams reopened in a new location and looked to Ron Hardy to stem the flow of dancers following pied piper Knuckles. The club was soon renamed Music Box and with it, Hardy established himself as the custodian of a piece Chicago dance history. His combative, experimental style set him apart from contemporaries reaching for similar records and pioneers like Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard, Adonis, DJ Pierre and Chip E all debuted work from his booth. Perhaps most notable was ‘Acid Tracks’ from Phuture, which cleared the floor the first three times it was played that night then sent the club wild on the fourth.
A law against after-hours clubs led to the demise of Music Box in 1987 and, sadly, Hardy’s fight with drug addiction only afforded him five years beyond that, but the legacy both club and DJ had on their city in such a short time is testament to their importance. In honour of both, Global Roots leader Thris Tian charts a brief (alternative) history of the club with some key tracks.
Where does your love for Music Box stem from?
My initial interest in Ron Hardy kinda cam via Theo Parrish I think. I heard him play the Ron Hardy Edit of the Dells ‘No Way Back’. I was immediately in love. The groove on it so laid back but infectious. I ended up being obsessed with finding out what it was (before Shazam). I worked in Sounds of the Universe and sang the ‘No Way Back’ bit to Jim. He eventually figured out it was The Dells, I don’t know how I got to the point of figuring out it was the Ron Hardy edit, but that eventually led me to the Music Box Classics Compilation. That then led me to look at the legendary pre-house club scene in Chicago that inspired the Godfather himself Frankie Knuckles.
The music from Music Box is so diverse and feels like the ultimate expression of freedom. No limitations, no hate, love and good vibrations. All the tracks paint such a vivid picture in my mind. Alongside Larry Levan and David Mancuso, Ron Hardy really laid the foundations for the way in which a lot of us experience music today.
What marks out a Music Box record, compared to the rest of the genre?
Chicago is where house music was born and this was it’s foundation. It’s kinda impossible to look at the history of Chicago without delving into the Music Box.
What Music Box record has left the biggest impression on you as a DJ, and why?
The Dells – ‘No Way Back’ (Ron Hardy Edit). It was one of those records that made me want to DJ to be able to play it. I still find it hard to play 12 years later. It’s unique and you need a very patient crowd.
A brief (alternative) history of Music Box
Da Posse feat. Christa Jordan – ‘In The Heat of the Night’ (Vocal Version) [Future Records, 1988]
This is such a cool track. Early acid house on Future Records from 1988. I probably would have started hearing this kinda stuff and going to clubs ten years after its release, but it still felt like the future in 98. I can only imagine how this would have felt on the Music Box dance floor. Totally freestyle, way too short.
Alias – Civil Defense (Debt) [Persona Records, 1984]
I really don’t know how to describe this track, but it makes me feel like I’m entering a new planet’s atmosphere with no idea whats ahead of me.
Radio Band – ‘Radio Rap’ (Instrumental) [Radio Fantasy, 1984]
So nice…this track is so nice. It’s actually Italian. Early italo disco rap. It just goes to show the diverse range of music that was being experienced in this one room with big speakers in Chicago.
The Brothers – ‘Make Love’ [RCA, 1976]
I suppose most people will probably associate this disco sound with Ron Hardy and Chicago in the 70s/80s. Undeniable. I dare you not to dance!
52nd Street – ‘Can’t Afford’ [Factory, 1984]
This one’s actually British. 52nd Street were kinda big. A Brit funk band that had strong connections with New Order and released on the legendary Factory Records. This video actually shows the making of their hit “Can’t Afford”.