A Brief History of the Disco that Made House in 1980s America

Colonel Abrahams

If you’ve ever listened to a Parkway Mastermix it’s likely you’ll hold the man responsible, Mark Seven, in lofty regard. His exhaustive knowledge of disco, italo, electro, boogie and house music leaves most well-regarded diggers in his dust, and to boot he commands a pair of 1210s with consummate technique honed over three decades behind the decks.

Ahead of playing for not-for-profit party starters Heels & Souls at The Pickle Factory (24th Nov), Mark charts an often-overlooked period in the early 80s, where disco slowly morphed into early house music by way of italo, electro, boogie and plenty more besides. Over to Mark…

“You love to hear the story again & again of how it all got started way back when. Jesse Saunders’ ‘On & On’ is often cited as the first HOUSE record and yeah, I’d go along with that. In those early days “house” in Chicago meant stripped down electronic tracks for jacking to, often made in very basic studios and circulated to local DJs on tape. Jesse was the first to put that raw on wax, and despite the Mitchbal and Let’s Dance releases before it, his DIY effort is how most define where house began.

“But the sound of those early records didn’t come from outer space, at least not literally. Chicago’s pioneer producers grew up on a steady diet of disco, Italo, electro and hi-NRG that directly inspired what they would go on to make. These records were the result of advances in studio technology, sequencers, synths and drum machines and in some cases the zeitgeist interest in sci-fi and space. When the commercial bubble burst for disco in the late 70’s much of the underground club soundtrack came from small US labels and Italian, German and UK imports so the house sound was born from a diffuse set of influences, but these labels certainly helped bridge the gap between disco’s heyday and the dawn of house.

“Disclaimer: Some of my favourite labels released plenty of what’s been termed proto-house: Apexton, Supertronics, Profile, Jump Street etc. BUT not until after Chicago was house!

1. Emergency

New York label started by Italian DJ & producer Sergio Cossa in ’79, originally as a partnership with Baby Records. Cossa bought out Baby after 6 months and the label focused more on US productions.

Kano – It’s a War (1980)

Spacey Italo disco sounds produced in Italy but for the US market with a pounding mechanical rhythm.

Electra – Feels Good (Carrots & Beats) (1982)

It’s still only 1982 but we’ve certainly moved away from the boogie sound into a halfway house of House! A massively influential record in Chicago and it still sounds amazing

Bonus: Check out Sergio Cossa and the producers of Elektra clowning in this gold promo clip:

2. Factory

Yep, Factory. Tony Wilson’s classic Manchester label released club classics in the US on their sublabel or on import during the 80’s. Blue Monday was, of course, hugely influential but you know that one, but there’s also Section 25, Marcel King and…

Cabaret Voltaire – Yashar (1983)

The industrial side of Proto, but the cut-up vocal samples, the machine drums and baseline are so-House it hurts!

Quango Quango – Love Tempo

Mark Kamins remixes Manchester for the Danceteria crowd into a leftfield club classic.

3. Unidisc

I’m using this Canadian powerhouse of a label as a catch-all because much of their output was licensed from labels in Italy, France, Canada & the US, but their catalogue during the early 80’s sums up much of the sound that gave birth to house. See also Uniwave, Matra, Black Sun, Siamese etc.

Hotline – Fantasy (1982)

One of many Bobby O productions you could pick as an influence, check Still Hot 4 U while you’re at it.

Lime – On the Grid (1983)

Driving, robotic dance music and another one that still sounds fresh today.

Nancy Martin – Can’t Believe (1982)

Originally released in Canada on Neige and then RFC, this was later licensed by Unidisc so it’s a good excuse for me to get it in here! MFSB style strings over a simple programmed drum and bouncing baseline, Can’t Believe is proto-house defined!

4. Easystreet

The quintessential New York label released so many keystone club records featuring people like Paul Simpson, Winston Jones and Fred Zarr and their impact was felt far beyond their NJ & NY home turf.

World Premiere – Share the Night (1983)

Just say “Jack, Jack, Jack” over this drum programming and, hey presto!

Serious Intention – You Don’t Know (1984)

A landmark record in many ways, You Don’t Know is sparse and raw club music just as House was to become.

5. Streetwise

The Paul Simpson Connection, Rockers Revenge and New Order all released tunes on Arthur Baker’s NYC label that were big in Chicago, but none more than…

Colonel Abrams – Music is the Answer (1984)

Huge in NY, Chicago and everywhere, spiritual House before House.

John Rocca – I Want It To Be Real (1984)

Later remixed by Farley into a bonafide House classic, the stuttered, sampled vocals and electronic rhythms show exactly what the new technology of the time could do.

Mark Seven plays for Heels & Souls at The Pickle Factory (24th Nov) alongside DJ Slyngshot and Brudenell Groove. All profits raised will be donated to music-based mental health charity Key Changes.

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