On & On - In Conversation with Jesse Saunders (FoH2017)
For the latest interview for FoH I'm chatting to Jesse Saunders, in essence the man who put the very first stamp on house music, creating the prototype of what house could be with On & On. We talk where the divide between house and disco is, how it was received, and how we should think about the historical narrative.
LM: Cool lovely. In fact shall we start with On & On. There's been a couple of people who have maybe suggested alternatives as the first house track. So a couple of people have referenced Shari Vari by ANUMBEROFNAMES or the Walter Gibbons mix of Ten Percent.
JS: Those were disco records. There's actually a very big distinction between the two. The whole idea of what house music represents and where it comes from is a movement of sounds. See? Basically the way that we programmed the tracks and what not, the use of the 808, and the basslines and how they came to be. And the stripped down version. Because that's what house music was built on. It was more about the atmosphere of dance, and not really about songs so to say. The origins of it. It was a whole different feel in terms of the way things were programmed or played and you know... and like I say it was built for the dance floor, it was ever meant to be anything else it just became something else as it evolved. But the sound is very distinctive. You can't really compare disco to house, they're totally different things. It's a completely different thing. As I said it evolved later on into a more song oriented type of sound, but originally it was just for the dance floor. It was meant to be something that you felt, basically, in your soul and made you move in a different way. And the sounds were totally different. If you put that Ten Percent record that you mentioned or whatever that people had claimed to be. You put that next to On & On, they're two totally different things. They're not even remotely close to each other.
FoH: How was that new house sound received by people on the dance floor, moving from a band, a very natural sound, to something very electronic and very synthetic. How was that received?
JS: If you think about the whole idea of a kid growing up, you get into your teenage years; those are your rebellious years right? So whatever is conventional, you're kind of looking for something that's not. You're looking for something that’s more underground or different or avant garde. It's not like the music your parents play. And it gives you your own sound and it becomes the pulse of the community or whatever. And that's how it grew. First a few people started to get into it. You know at first people would just stand around because they didn't know what it was. They knew they were experiencing something different, they just didn't know what it was. The whole idea of peer pressure and cliques and groups and things like that, the reason why there is a group is because somebody has to be a leader and say "yeah this is ok to dance to" so everybody else starts to dance to it. That's kind of like how the whole thing grew, and because it was an underground movement, and it was basically teenagers that were spearheading it, it just kind of grew and grew and grew in that community. At one point every high school you went to had these kind of parties.
LM: One thing that's been said a lot, and especially when considering Pump Up The Volume and then the Unsung documentary you did, is that maybe we don't hear the narrative as it truly was. What are your thoughts on that?
JS: At the end of the day when you're relating the story in a manner which is historical or whatever... I think you should really tell the truth about what happened. And I get it all the time "oh I heard this" or whatever. Email me or whatever, send me a facebook message. I heard this was this way or blah blah. And I just laugh and I'm like "no it wasn't that way, this was the way it was" and you know people are like "wow! whatever we're seeing out there for the most part isn't really the way that it was" and I'm like "no it's not". As a matter of fact when you go into the whole Frankie Knuckles being the beginning of house music its like no! Frankie was not the beginning of house music! Everybody thinks that. I've had people actually get mad at me for saying it wasn't. But you've got to realise Frankie wasn't there when this was created. He was at the PowerPlant playing disco music. He was at the PowerPlant in Chicago, he had his own club when he left the Warehouse. But he was at the PowerPlant playing the same music that he'd played before. I mean new cuts that were coming out, but that particular sound. He wasn't... I don't want to say that. He WAS very experimental in the way that he presented it. Meaning like sound effects and different things that made experience enhanced. And for that part I will give Frankie a lot of credit because he was where I heard... maybe even in the middle of the set he would play this train record that sounded like it was far away and by the time it got close it just came through, like the train was just right in front of you, loud and everything and it'd make people scream and think this was a crazy atmosphere. So he was innovative in those instances, but for the most part he was just basically playing New York disco. I mean that's great don't get me wrong, but when you're trying to define a genre from an historical perspective you have to really delve into what really happened and how it happened. And yes maybe that influenced some people to maybe want to do some records, and obviously it did because that sound kind of permeates house music in a lot of ways, especially today with the technology, which is another problem I have. Because I have a big problem with people stealing other people's records and calling it their own and putting it out on Traxsource and these other places and getting paid for it. So I have a big problem against that. But it is a very big influence.