CHICAGO — This fall, ARC Music Festival will mark their third year of honoring a form of music that uniquely can only be from Chicago.
Since house music hit the mainstream, many may be unaware that a small community in Chicago laid the foundation for something that people would soon love around the globe.
“It’s an incredible story of resilience of these communities forced underground and coming up with something that now has this worldwide global residence,” Max Chavez, Director of Research & Special Projects with Preservation Chicago said.
The End of the Disco Era
When some hear the words “Chicago” and “disco,” many think of the infamous night in 1979 at the old Comiskey Park that was thought to be the end of dance music: Disco Demolition Night.
When in reality, the opposite was happening on the city’s south side.
“The ashes of Disco’s black and queer culture in the late 70s laid the foundation for a new genre of dance music that was conceptualized in the clubs of Chicago, and thus house music was born,” SPIN magazine wrote in 2021.
“I Was There When House Took Over the World,” a documentary released in 2018, showcased how “disco’s death gave birth to a house (music) takeover.” The first of the two part documentary highlighted “how social unrest and Chicago’s underground gay clubs led to a global dance movement.”
The home to ARC Music Festival, Union Park, will be less than two miles from where house music all started.
Located at 206 South Jefferson Street in Chicago’s West Loop, “The Warehouse” is considered sacred ground for house music as it “influenced and shaped the rich culture that was pioneered and purveyed.”
Without The Warehouse, There Would Be No House
“The Warehouse opened in 1977 with DJ Frankie Knuckles and a state-of-the art sound system per the vision of owner Robert Williams to convert an old industrial building into a vibrant nightclub creating dancefloor freedom for Chicago’s Black gay community,” Preservation Chicago stated.
Once patrons entered The Warehouse, the music took over. No assigned dances to this newly formed style of music, yet everyone was moving.
“House music was complete freedom of expression,” Darlene Jackson, known as Chicago’s proclaimed House Music Queen DJ Lady D, said. “People were free to experience themselves in anyway they found through movement.”
A sound heavy in beats and speeds no one had heard prior, house music ushered in a new way of expression.
“Emerging from troubled 1970s Chicago, (house music) became dance music’s most iconic sound,” the 2018 documentary website stated.
But in 1982, The Warehouse was deemed unsafe by the city and Williams was forced to close the nightclub.
House was All Day, Everyday
As Knuckles, Ron Hardy, and Williams spread the house music message around Chicago, a teenager from Washington Heights took notice.
Darlene Jackson first heard house music when she was 11-years-old and quickly fell in love.
Living on the city’s south side, Jackson and her friends grew up in the heart of where a new style of music started to blossom.
Before being able to share her gift of elevating people’s quest for enlightenment and joy, Jackson watched as the house music wave swept throughout city. By the time she got to high school, house music became a youth movement.
Jackson never had the chance to visit the original nightclub location, but as luck would have it, the founders of house music continued the movement by opening other clubs and venues.
One venue, that made an impact on DJ Lady D, was the gymnasium of an all-boys catholic high school on the south side.
Mendel Catholic High School, located on 111th Street and King Drive in Chicago’s West Roseland neighborhood, realized that they could raise money for school activities by hosting house music shows on the weekends.
The gymnasium of Mendel Catholic High School became the place to be for a “house” party.
“Parents were cool with it because they knew where we were, and nobody was getting in trouble we were just having fun because we were dancing,” Jackson said.
It didn’t take long for Jackson to find her passion for house music, but it did take a trip to medical school to realize what she was meant to do.
“It’s like mood elevation, so in that sense it’s very therapeutic for people and I’m sort of like the doctor,” DJ Lady D said. “So even though I didn’t finish medical school, I still get to treat people and work on people and that part I really enjoy.”
The Expansion from Chicago to the World
By 1984, businessman and record publisher Larry Sherman purchased “Precision Pressing,” a vinyl-plant in Chicago that played a huge role in the development of house music.
“Soon after, ambitious kids showed up with one thing on their mind, getting their music pressed on vinyl. Thus started the youth explosion of house music that was born in Chicago,” according to the TRAX website.
Soon after “On and On” by Jesse Saunders pressed what’s known to be the first house single, TRAX Records sparked the match that would spread house music around the world.
“Back in the day, we used to sprint to the records shops to see what just came in from Chicago,” Fatboy Slim said in the aftermovie. “We watched house music travel the globe, shift shape and style, and bring people together wherever there was a dance floor.”
Making The Warehouse a Chicago Landmark
In an attempt to preserve the site of The Warehouse, Preservation Chicago created a petition to try to get landmark designation for the building where house music was created.
“The Warehouse should be protected as a symbol of the rich history of Chicago’s gay and Black communities, the incredible story of house music, and the groundbreaking impact that DJ Frankie Knuckles had on the sound of modern music across the world,” petition organizers wrote.”
Preservation Chicago doesn’t have a set plan for the building if and when it receives landmark status, but apart of the community would like to see it turn into a house music museum.
“If we don’t do it, somebody else will,” DJ Lady D said. “It would be a totally missed opportunity.”
On April 13, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously to grant The Warehouse a preliminary landmark recommendation, which means it will move to the next step of the process.
During the hearing, one of the buildings owner spoke and informed the Commission that they have no intention of demolition and “do not want to impede” any designation of cultural significance.
“Without The Warehouse, there would literally be no house music,” Max Chavez said.
On Wednesday, June 21, the Chicago City Council approved landmark status for The Warehouse.
ARC Music Festival
From a small nightclub in an old industrial building in the West Loop to now a beloved subgenre of dance music, house music will be celebrated by it’s community Labor Day weekend at ARC Music Festival.
ARC expects to have fans dancing from dusk to dawn, and on repeat.
“There is no festival in Chicago that focuses on house and all it’s different forms, which is crazy considering Chicago is the birthplace of house music.” ARC Music Festival Founder John Curley said.
With a lineup that reflects a rich history of house and electronic music, festival-goers can look forward to a weekend of legendary proportions.
From over 50 artists like Chicago’s very own DJ Lady D to Derrick Carter, to electric dance music icons Eric Prydz and Fatboy Slim, will come together to pay tribute to the relationship between house music and the city of Chicago.
“I believe this is one of the most important festivals that’s been thrown together in a long time,” Fatboy Slim said in the aftermovie. “There’s a statement being made here that quality and culture matter.”
From newcomers to those who have been around the scene for nearly five decades, ARC Music Festival provides a space for all walks of life to come together and celebrate Chicago being the “home of house music.”
“Frankly, everybody was thrilled,” Curley said about artists learning about ARC Music Festival. “Most people were wondering why this hasn’t been around.”
ARC made the decision to schedule their performers in a way that “tips their hat” to those who have laid the foundation and continue to carry the genre today.
Rather than building up to the headliner at the end of the night, ARC instead focuses on the artist’s individual impact to house music. So, one of the most well known DJ’s may play in between two performers some may have never heard of, but their contributes to the genre are recognized by ARC and the artists that play alongside.
“We’ve received a lot of respect from well-known artists, some of the largest artists on the globe have been very happy to play after some of the people that arguably by profile-size are a lot smaller than them,” ARC Music Festival Founder Stuart Hackley said.
“But in terms of their significance to music, (performers are) happy to have those artists play above them because of what they’ve contributed and the fact of if it were for some artists, we wouldn’t have this type of music.”
“ARC being one of the first intentional curated festivals to do that is extremely important,” DJ Lady D said.
“Bring back into the conversation the people that really started it and instead of continuing down a path of exclusion to be really intentional about pointing out where the roots of this music comes from.”
With Chicago having a large music community, festivals are not a new thing for the city. Although, no festival in Chicago can compete with the experience that ARC Music Festival will present this September.
One special attraction coming to this year’s ARC Music Festival has house and techno music fans counting the days until ARC: Eric Prydz presents HOLO, “an incredible holographic show with state-of-the-art visuals and light effects, resulting in an immersive experience the world has never seen before.”
Fans, organizers, and even performers are looking forward to this unique visual experience.
Unlike many other festivals, ARC Music Festival plans to continue the party immediately following the festival headliners with multiple after parties over ten different locations around Chicago.
In 2022, ARC After Dark hosted over a dozen artists at eight different nightclubs across the city. From venues like PRYSM and Spybar, to Concord and Cermak Hall, ARC wants to make sure the house music community truly enjoys a fall night in the Windy City.
ARC After Dark’s artist and venue lineup was announced on Saturday, July 24. To view lineup, click here.
“House music remains Chicago’s gift to the world and it’s time to remind people where it came from,” Fatboy Slim said in the aftermovie.
House music and Chicago may be celebrating 46 years of magic, but as Fatboy Slim proclaimed: “We’re just getting started baby.”
For more information on ARC Music Festival, click here.
For more information on The Warehouse petition, click here.