“What does one say about a man whose work in clubs and in the studio has not only entertained for decades but also challenged conventional notions of dance music, met or exceeded all expectations of the modern DJ, elevated the role of streetwise remixer to one of innovative producer, and literally changed lives with a boundless ability to fill clubs with so much love that patrons can only absorb so much before they actually start bouncing it off each other?” Austin Downey (NEXT Magazine) penning sleeve notes for ‘A New Reality’.
Here at Ibiza-Voice we always strive to select our words as wisely as possible, so what can we say that’s fresh about Frankie Knuckles now in 2004?
Bronx born in 1955, Frankie’s immense career spans generations, and perhaps most famously the Warehouse, where it’s said the actual term ‘house’ was born from a necessity to describe the music played there at that time. You can see a far fuller bodied past biography at the Def Mix site, but currently Frankie’s doing an extensive eleven-month long tour to support his first album in seven years for Def Mix titled ‘A New Reality’ which was unleashed earlier this year.
Furthermore, we can now add the fact that Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley’s just proclaimed Wednesday 25th August 2004 as ‘Frankie Knuckles Day’ to honour the Grammy award-winning DJ and producer in the city! Yes, this special day is to begin with a street dedication ceremony at noon, feet away from the legendary Warehouse; when Jefferson Street, between Van Buren and Monroe, is to be renamed ‘Frankie Knuckles Way’. There will also be an evening presentation before Frankie closes up the DJ Series at Chicago’s Summer Dance.
With this dawn of ‘A New Reality’ and a city mayor’s major approval it seems highly appropriate that Knuckles’ latest single ‘Matter Of Time’ is now out on Definity Records. So in view of this Ibiza-Voice asks ‘the godfather’ himself just what's goin' on?
Greetings Frankie, we hope that you’re well! Your first artist album to be released in seven years, ‘A New Reality’ went out earlier this year; so what have the reactions been like since, and in what terms have you personally measured its success?
FK: “The reaction has been better than I expected. Phenomenal to be exact, and I measure its success on that fact that it has become a reality. It lives. It breathes. It emotes and makes people feel.”
On ‘A New Reality’ your album credits extend all over the world, but what have your extensive travels in 2004 taught you about so-called ‘house’ music in today’s high-tech world? “That like rock & roll, rhythm & blues and soul; house music will live on. It will embrace all the new technologies and continue to flourish… And people around the world will continue to be entertained.”
You say, “Pacha, Ibiza is by far, the greatest club I’ve ever worked for…” Now you’ve played there a few times already this season, so how’s the atmosphere building for the ‘Island Of Desire’ nights?
“I think the season is off to a good start. Some folks think it's a bit slow, but I can see what's looming on the horizon. When the season finally kicks in, it will be the usual summer madness. Pacha is magnificent for me because it hosts a variety of different events every night of the week. You can go there every evening and never experience the same music twice. Plus the staff and management treat my audience and I like gold. I find myself playing for more island locals, which I absolutely adore; tourists will come and go all season, but it's the locals whose respect I savour. It's like being welcomed into any community. When you are welcomed, you can make yourself at home.”
As an originator and pioneer of ‘house’ music, how do you feel about being so close to something that’s so elusive in reality? For example no experienced DJ is ever happy putting a concise definition to the actual term ‘house music’. Are we therefore right in thinking that if we asked for your own meaning it would also be a struggle?
“Not at all, I understand why there are so many definitions of HOUSE MUSIC now. It’s because there have been so many different ideas of what HOUSE MUSIC is bantered about over the past fifteen years, and depending on who you ask you're gonna get a different response. But for me, HOUSE MUSIC is any song or MUSICAL composition that I would've played at The WAREHOUSE. The music, the song or the composition had to make sense, not only to me, but to the audience that I played for.”
(As a ‘hippy’ side note to that question, it’s maybe interesting to note that many influential concepts on this planet also escape science and defy definition, like matters of the human spirit for example.)
“I wish I was high on something (other than life) to respond to this. I can get deep if you like, but not everyone is really interested in my going there.”
Of course, so looking out from the DJ booth these days must be very different to those remarkable early times, but perhaps essentially the same, what are your thoughts? (David Morales has said, “People danced with each other more, which we're missing today… Vocal house is where you see people interacting; it's more of an intimate thing…” What do you say?)
“Vocal music is so much a part of my music equation. I like to think of myself as a storyteller when I'm DJing. With enough time to stretch out my set, I like to take the audience on a journey that will tug at their emotions. Playing with their energies and bringing them to a place that in their minds is sometimes close to heaven. When I look out in the room at the crowd, I focus on those people that are locked into what I'm doing. Playing in pubs and bars or those ‘rave’ kinda situations, where you have a crowd that's trying to dictate what and how you spin, doesn't work for me. My job’s not simply to play in the manner they see fit, but instead I give people the benefit of my experience from thirty plus years without having to dig too deep in my music vaults. Only an intelligent listener will allow you the space to achieve this, and in the end, good, bad or indifferent they will respect you for the effort.”
You’ve enjoyed a colossal career. If you could have that time all over again with the benefit of hindsight would you change certain things?
“Yes. I would give life back to all the DJs and entertainers that helped shape this very culture that so manner take for granted. There are many unsung heroes/fallen DJs that contributed to this business that aren't even recognised today. At the risk of sounding a little crazy, I find myself channelling the techniques of some of these guys (who all inspired me to this place in my career) every time I step up to play.”
Indeed, keep on dancing… what’s the longest set you’ve ever played out of interest?
“Twenty-four hours, twice, at The WAREHOUSE in Chicago, circa 1981 and 1982.”
What song/album or track title most aptly summaries your life in 2004?
“‘Stay Free’ by Ashford & Simpson.”
Does the decreasing use of wax among DJs make you at all sad or are you embracing the new school methods of MP3 computer-aided mixing?
“I do miss it all the time. However, this is the way of the world for the club DJ now. There was a time I was cold to the idea of playing CDs, but in order for me to stay in the game and work amongst my contemporaries I have to be prepared to work and understand the technology from the most practical viewpoint. Plus, after losing too many records because of faulty airport workers and airlines (not to mention carrying those heavy-ass record bags!) I believe I’ve earned my day out of the sun when it comes to playing vinyl.”
We hear that you’re not a big fan of politics, but are clearly focused upon charity work. Is this perhaps a case of tackling grassroots with practical acts of kindness when let down by politicians?
“Huh? No I'm not a fan of politics. But I do believe that those of us that are blessed with a talent and the ability to make a living with our talent are obligated to put something back. To share our fortune with the less fortunate, even if just lending our name to a certain cause helps make someone (whose life is less fortunate) a little bit better. It feels good to help.”
If love was the message back in the 70’s then what do you imagine is the message for today’s ‘noughties’ dancefloors?
"Keep On Movin', Don't You Ever Stop."
With a city mayor’s endorsement it seems highly apt that your latest single is called ‘Matter Of Time’. Well 'Frankie Knuckles Day’ and ‘Frankie Knuckles Way’ – what's your response to this news?
“Well, I would imagine if you asked any of my family members or biggest fans they might sing along and agree with the title of the new single; it’s just a ‘MATTER OF TIME’.
This is a very surreal experience for me. I'm at a point in my career where I could never possibly imagine something like this. The fact that the city is giving recognition to the genre of HOUSE music means that they (in city government) recognise this as something real and viable.
To bestow this honour on me is proof positive that hard work and dedication bring you to this place, not to mention the profound effect it has on the people that follow you around the globe for years. I've always thought that it was reward enough to have an audience that love and respect your talent and craft. To have him or her acknowledge you with support by showing up at every gig and hanging in there with you, even in the most difficult conditions, is more than a reward. It’s faith and belief. I'm in a very good place right now, and I'm happy 'bout the whole thing.”
Would you like to say anything else to our Ibiza-Voice readers to conclude this interview? (A broad question left open for you.)
“I'd like to personally thank the people of Ibiza for being so kind and generous to me and my company, Def Mix. I know that it isn't easy to host the countless amount of DJs and followers, tourists and whatever else bombards the island every year and keep a sense of self. If no one has ever said to the people of Ibiza, let me be the first to say ‘THANK YOU’ for being so gracious, from Frankie Knuckles.”
Ibiza-Voice return sincere thanks to Frankie and also Dennis Wheeler at Def Mix. Congratulations again on ‘Frankie Knuckles Day’ and of course ‘Knuckles Way’!
The album ‘A New Reality’ and its single ‘Matter Of Time’ are both out now, while Knuckles is on the decks certain Saturday’s for the ‘Island Of Desire’ nights at Pacha, Ibiza.