House takes its roots from Chicago in the 1980s. With influence from disco and electro-funk, it is characterised by a 4/4 time signature, synthesised basslines and drum-machine rhythms. What is thought to be the first major success for the genre of house was Jesse Saunders’ song ‘On and On’ in 1984 – which made use of a synthesizer and a marginal use of vocals. From Chicago, house made its way to Detroit, forming the sub-genre of Detroit techno, where the song ‘Nude Photo’ by Derrick May and Thomas Barnett provided a staple for this new sub-genre.
However, in England, house was already a prevalent genre of music, primarily on the dance-scene. The song often regarded as the first mainstream success of house music in the UK was Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk’s song ‘Love Can’t Turn You Around’, which even reached number 10 in the UK charts in 1986. House then expanded even more through the ‘90s, into the ‘00s, with producers such as Daft Punk entering the scene, and to where we are today.
These are the origins of house. However, this type of house is not what I am writing about. What I am concerned with is a hybrid – ‘mainstream house’; the kind of music you’d hear in Kuda or Salvation, or any other popular student club. Over recent years, the lines between house and pop have become increasingly blurred, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to separate the two in, not only the student-club scene, but also mainstream radio. With artists such as Disclosure reaching huge chart success – their album Settle, for example, reaching number one in the UK charts – we see the popularity of this new pop-house hybrid surge. This relationship can also be seen in the music of Calvin Harris, who has had major mainstream success. Harris is constantly extending his mixture of pop and house, and his fame, further throughout the radio – having produced for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Rita Ora and even Mary J. Blige. Not only are we now seeing house DJs making mainstream house, we’re seeing house DJs making mainstream house for mainstream pop artists – if this doesn’t show the popularisation of house music, I don’t know what does.
However, we must not be mistaken into thinking that mainstream house consists solely of pop-oriented music. Artists such as Redlight, who produced ‘9TS (90s Baby)’, have also reached mainstream success, even with much more conventionally-styled house music. Another song you most definitely would recognise, perhaps whilst dancing the night away at Fibbers or old-Tokyo, is ‘Jack’ by Breach – a song prevalent in every student club, everywhere. In fact, the echoing words, “I want your body, everybody wants your body, so let’s jack”, does not leave your head for days after.
There are, therefore, two types of mainstream house: house-oriented pop music, and pop-oriented house music. However, the common theme in both sub-genres is the fact that pop and house have been mixed for popularity’s sake.
The following must then be asked – where is mainstream house going? Will it sustain its popularity, or will it simply become hidden from our ears? The inevitable result is that house will lose its mainstream appeal. The popularity of different genres of music come in cycles – house used to be mainstream twenty-odd years ago, but then went into the underground scene. This is what will most likely happen again; it will be placed naturally back into the alternative scene, ready for another mainstream battle in years to come. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Not at all. No style of music can maintain itself for such a long period of time without going into hiding every now and then.