Album of the Week: Frankie Knuckles – Ultimate Production

Frankie Knuckles is House music. He and friends like Larry Levan, came up through Disco as DJs, playing soul, R&B, Disco, and European synth records in New York. Using drum machines and edits to extend breaks on tracks, while digging further than the tawdry Disco tracks of popular culture in the late seventies, DJs like Levan, Ron Hardy, Tony Humphries and Knuckles ushered in a new era for dance music through what would eventually be known as House music. In New York it was called Garage, named after Paradise Garage the famous club where Levan held a residency, and in New Jersey it was called the Jersey sound, but it would be in Chicago that House would get its name and its all because of Frankie Knuckles.

Knuckles moved to Chicago in 1977 and took up a residency at Warehouse where he continued to play his blend of R&B Soul, Euro-Synth and Disco, which the locals started calling House after the club that spawned it. House was an attitude, a style and even a fashion before it was a music genre, with Frankie Knuckles at the epicentre of its soundtrack. Before it became 4-4 kicks and syncopated hats, it was broad swathe of contemporary music played by one of DJ history’s most legendary selectors. By the early eighties  Knuckles had honed the sound of House when he distilled essence of what he was playing in a set into production through synthesisers and drum machines to establish House as its own musical genre.

Tracks like Your Love, The Whistle Song and Move your Body were the result and today they remain venerable classic House tracks with Knuckles’ melodic disposition and funky rhythm and bass underpinning his works. Although Knuckles found his way on Virgin in the early 1990’s, it would be the Chicago labels DJ International and Trax, that would bring this sound to the wider world at first, with Frankie Knuckles at the head of the light brigade of House music. EPs like “Ultimate Production” and “Your Love” established Knuckles as a producer early on and although these EPs have been repressed countless times as new, younger audiences continue to be charmed by the Frankie Knuckles legacy, never before have they appeared on an album together, until now.

Trax Records have combined those early singles on a single record for the first time in “Frankie Knuckles presents Ultimate Production”, taking its name for the original DJ International record from which the double 12″ takes its name. Adding “Your Love” to the mix and including a Kevin Irving and Dancer track, both mixed by Knuckles, this is a comprehensive early Knuckles compilation. The early DJ influences are predominant on this compilation with Jamie Principle’s soulful voice moving over of progressive, looping House arrangements and Knuckles acute melodic sensibilities at the foreground. Dancer’s “Boom Boom” reflects the early days of Acid House amongst tracks that feel more analogous with an European synth sound from the 80’s than later House records.

Trax obviously haven’t broken any new ground on this record nor have they uncovered any rarities, but putting all these tracks on one record for the first time, puts into perspective the early sound of House and the legacy of Frankie Knuckles that continues to be House music today.