Dubspot Interview: Frankie Knuckles ‘Godfather of House Music’ + Wavefront Festival (Chicago) Preview

Dubspot’s Nate Mars caught up with “The Godfather of House Music,” Frankie Knuckles, to find out what the legendary DJ and producer has been up to lately, and what he has in store for the Wavefront Music Festival in Chicago. 

From July 5 through July 7, the Wavefront Music Festival returns to Chicago’s beautiful Montrose Beach for its second year. This year, the Chicago-born producers of Wavefront are proud to announce HOUSE COMES HOME: Chicago Heritage of House Stage. This new stage will feature the forefathers of house music: Frankie Knuckles, Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, Gene Farris, Jamie Principle, Ralphi Rosario (Original Hot Mix 5 member), Teri Bristol & Psycho Bitch (Crobar) and Mike Serafini (Gramaphone Records). If you’re coming to the festival, make sure to stop by the Dubspot booth for a chance to win courses via Dubspot Online and more!


Nate Mars: What are you looking forward to the most about playing at Wavefront Music Festival this year?

Frankie Knuckles: I’m looking forward to showing off the best this city has to offer: the people! Nowhere in the world are the people as warm and friendly as the people of Chicago. The city looks great, and to host an open-air extravaganza of this magnitude will be a fantastic way to really set this city OFF!

NM: You have defined the sound of Chicago house music and house music overall. How do you feel about headlining the “Heritage of House” stage?

FK: I’m honored and fearful. Honored because the organizers believe enough in me to feel that I would be the best person to represent our city and house music. Fearful for the obvious reason. This is a serious responsibility, and I have to do my best to make sure all the visitors from around the globe, as well as the locals, see and feel the professionalism and understand truly how serious house music is, all while having a wonderful time.

NM: What does that mean to you personally and for the city of Chicago?

FK: As I said before, it’s a serious undertaking. But I’m glad they chose me to headline. I love the idea of treating our out-of-town guest to some real midwestern hospitality while presenting the best “choons” house music has to offer.

 NM: What have you noticed about the rise of dance music’s popularity with younger generations?

FK: With the advent of DJ culture in the UK and Europe in the mid to late 90s, dance music has been on a steady trajectory. With technology making it possible for DJs to become music producers, it’s no longer enough to know how to put two records together. To be relevant enough to garner a job at a nightclub of merit and play fabulous resorts like Ibiza, you need production skills and product in the marketplace that speaks of how good you are, musically. Everywhere else in the world, clubbing is big business and house music is king. When it comes to nightlife entertainment, the USA has fallen seriously behind in comparison to Europe, Asia and South America.

NM: Are you preparing anything special for your set?

FK: I never plan exactly what I’m going to play, but due to the nature of this event I think I should give a taste of Chicago’s house music history fused with where we are now. With European DJs and producers governing the marketplace for the past 15 years, the focus on homegrown talent all but disappeared. I’ve been on a mission for the past few years to bring the focus back to these shores, starting with the music. With my partners at Director’s Cut and DefMix Production, we aim to put a quality product back in the marketplace. The tracks and EDM choons are fun, and have their place in the pantheon of American pop music, but house music has a history of great songs and production that once again will take center stage. I hope this will force the industry here to recognize and understand what Europe and the rest of the world has always embraced.

NM: What technology are you using to DJ these days? How has it changed over the years?

FK: I carry a pair of 64GB LaCie USB XtremKeys with my complete record collection on them. With these two USB keys, I carry enough music to play a 24-hour marathon set without ever having to play the same tune twice. As long as there are 2 or 3 CDJs and an incredible sound system in place, I’m good!

NM: What projects have you been working on in the studio?

FK: At Director’s Cut, we recently produced mixes for Duke Dumont (“Need U 100%”), Art Department (“Crystallize”), and my current single released on June 17th, Frankie Knuckles presents Director’s Cut starring Inaya Day, “Lets Stay Home”.

NM: What is your production process like these days and how has that evolved over the years?

FK: It’s taken awhile for me to adjust to the digital technology and make it work for me, sonically. I’m old school and was used to being in a full-on recording facility with a great engineer and several assistants. Now for the most part it’s just my partner Eric Kupper and myself. Digital music, club music tends to lean more towards electronica. I’ve been consciously working to bring more warmth to our sound. Feeling more analog and less digital. The best example of what I’m talking about is my current album/double CD offering, Tales From Beyond The Tone Arm. On the first disc, “The Classic Side,” the music feels more analog, warm, and full of emotion. The second disc, “The Soultronic Side,” leans more towards electronica, complimenting the digital feel.

 NM: Any advice you would like to offer to up-and-coming DJs or producers?

FK: If you’re in this business for the money, fame, and women, get out of the way of those who are serious musicians. Yes, there are DJ/producers who are serious musicians but DJs first. You know who you are. You are the heroes who work in the trenches weekly, at those little dives off the beaten path with half-ass sound systems and club owners who don’t take your craft seriously. Still, you know how important your work is. This is your life’s work. I thank God everyday that I survived long enough to see the craft we live become a serious profession. With the highest paid DJ clocking $65 million annually I’d say this business is serious. But for folks like us in the trenches, it’s not about the money. It’s about the music. To quote my friend the late Donell Rush, “it’s who we are, it’s what we do. F**k ‘em if they can’t take it!”

NM: Anything else you want to tell us about?

FK: Thanks for your time and, welcome to Chicago!