The History and Basics of House Music

The History and Basics of House Music

House music has its roots in the underground clubs of Chicago in the early 1980s. It was created by DJs and producers who were often misfits in mainstream society – people of colour like Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan, as well as members of the LGBTQ community. They took elements of disco, funk, and electronic music and fused them together into a new genre centred around a four-on-the-floor beat.

The Birth of House Music

House music got its name from the underground house parties and clubs, often in abandoned buildings, where it was born and first played. DJs would play for hours straight to keep dancers on the floor. The music was fast, repetitive, and primarily instrumental to keep people moving. It was a safe space for those in the LGBTQ community and people of colour to dance freely without judgment.

Musical Characteristics

House music is considered any dance music with a four-on-the-floor beat structure – a prominent, regular bass drum hit on every quarter note. It is generally between 118-135 BPM. Melodies are usually made up of synthesizers, drum machines, sequencers, and vocal samples or chants. Lyrics are often minimal or nonexistent to keep the focus on dancing.

House Music vs. EDM

House music differs from EDM (electronic dance music) in that EDM is a broader term that encompasses many genres beyond just house, like dubstep, drum & bass, trance, etc. House music can be thought of as a subgenre of EDM. Some other subgenres of house include deep house, tech house, garage house, acid house, and more.

Techno: A Close Cousin

Techno originated in Detroit in the 1980s and is often faster-paced than house music, usually between 120-150 BPM. It focuses more on percussion and rhythm rather than melody. Techno also became hugely popular in Europe, especially Germany, due to the rise of underground techno clubs and festivals in the 90s.

House vs. Techno

While house music and techno share origins in underground dance music scenes, they have distinct sounds. House relies more on melodic elements and vocals while techno is more minimal, stripped down, and percussion-focused. BPM also tends to be faster for techno.

Raves and Electronic Dance Music

A rave generally refers to a large, unsanctioned dance party featuring electronic dance music like house, techno, trance, etc. They became popular in the late 80s/early 90s underground scenes in the UK and gained mainstream attention. However, house music itself is simply a genre – you can have a house music show or party without it necessarily being a “rave.”

Evolution of Terminology

In America, the term “EDM” (electronic dance music) became popular in the late 2000s/early 2010s as genres like house, dubstep, and electro rose to mainstream popularity. It serves as an umbrella term but is sometimes criticized for being too commercialized compared to older terms like “techno” or specific genre names.

Tempo and Evolution

On average, house music sits between 118-135 BPM while techno ranges from 120-150 BPM. However, there is overlap and variation between tracks. Deep house, for example, may be slower at 110-126 BPM. Genres also evolve over time so BPM guidelines can vary.

Musical Characteristics

House music is characterized by its melodic elements like synth lines and vocal samples that give tracks an anthemic, singable quality. Even if there are no lyrics, the melodies help drive the energy of the music. Techno, on the other hand, often has more minimal, repetitive percussion patterns without much melody.

Pioneers of Techno

While its exact origins are debated, many credit Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson (aka “The Belleville Three”) from Detroit as some of the earliest pioneers who helped develop techno in the mid-1980s. This laid the foundations for the rise of electronic dance music worldwide in later decades.


In conclusion, house music originated in Chicago in the 1980s as a genre centred around a four-on-the-floor beat that brought together disco, funk, and electronics. It provided an inclusive community for misfits and helped spawn the modern electronic dance music scene we know today. While related genres like techno have distinct sounds, house music remains a popular mainstream and underground staple driven by its infectious melodies and rhythms that keep dancers moving.

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