Jesse Saunders – In Their Own WORDS

Some books you just race through I guess fired up by the excitement of reading about what you love. In this case House Music and if you find yourself here you’ll know the feeling. Jesse Suanders who history records as producing the first House release: On & On in 1984 (co-credited to Vince Lawrence) charts the history of the music beginning with the diverse set of influences which informed its formation.

In turn the pure style of Disco is said by Jesse to begin with MFSB: Love Is The Message. While also saying that House Music was very much a phenomenon attributed to his native Chicago, which included the post-punk and European records also feeding into the mix, along with new drum machines, synthesizers and of course American Disco to create what became recognised as the House sound.

In Their Own WORDS soundtrack

The intimate testimony of those who populated the clubs are what defines this book lending the pages an excitable, I was actually there, dimension which befits the energy of the story rather than a dry retelling. The chapter and verse on the Windy City documents plenty of detail you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere, creating much more depth and nuance than is usually described, expanding what happened in people’s lives and how that fed back into the clubs. To say that lives were lived as part of an underground culture would be the truth. The vital importance of radio is also highlighted as a medium of communication beyond the clubs, and in particular the significance of certain shows.

In ways with what has happened because of the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020 it all feels / seems like a world away. Then again those who danced, DJ’ed and ran clubs in the late 70’s through to the 1980’s couldn’t observe all this on a screen, they had to experience it in person.

Ron Hardy’s history beginning at Den One in the city is a fascinating read, and it’s most welcome that other Dj’s and clubs are also rightly namechecked for posterity. So often with stories like this people and places get left out when in fact they were key parts of the picture. Robert Williams’s story is also invaluable and the detail of The Warehouse with Frankie Knuckles and then subsequently Music Box with Hardy are, once again, wonderfully involving. Likewise Jesse’s own story.

By chapter 5, House is then being talked about in terms of its global impact as further testimonies from the UK to Europe and beyond relive how the music effected those invloved, leaving the final section to expand into the broader terms of Rave Culture.

However, for me it’s the time and space occupied by the early days in Chicago which are the most fascinating, partly because I wasn’t there but also because it sounds like they were having the time of their lives. This is an invaluable book.


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