The Home of House: Evolution of Dance Music in Chicago

Frankie Knuckles Mural in ChicagoFrankie Knuckles Mural in Chicago

Mural by: Michael Tupak, Flash, B-Boy B, Dez AIR, Skol CMW

Chicago is a longstanding music destination. Many genres are associated with the city, from gospel to Chicago blues, jazz, hip hop, and house music. Chicago’s rich history and famous venues have had a significant role in shaping early electronic music culture. 

It begins at The Warehouse, a three-story factory established as a nightclub in 1977. Still a venue, it is known today as the Music Box. DJ Frankie Knuckles reigned there as musical director until he founded a new club, the Powerplant, in 1983, and fellow Chicago house music legend DJ Ron Hardy took over. Latino and Black gay men mainly frequented the Warehouse. Knuckles redefined dance music by layering songs with repeating beats and basslines. Dance music encapsulated disco and R&B, mixed on vinyl players and reel-to-reels. 

House music is a descendant of Chicago's electronic sounds, featuring four to-the-floor beats made on drum machines, analog synthesizers, and sequencers with soulful vocal samples. The genre burgeoned during the early 80s with disco and Italo disco influences. House was the predecessor to techno and other electronic sounds that became popular in cities across the United States and globally.  

The Warehouse in ChicagoThe Warehouse in Chicago

The Warehouse in Chicago

Distinguishable from the percussion-heavy techno associated with Detroit, or New York City’s penchant for garage and soulful sounds, what emerged in Chicago was melodic, funky, and varied. Two Roland drum machines, the boomy bass of the TR-808 (released in 1980) and the punchy TR-909 (released in 1983), standards today in house and hip hop production, were pioneered in the Chicago house scene. 

As the popularity of traditional Chicago house began to decline in its city of origin, it was making its way to the UK, and the Windy City’s dance music morphed into a subgenre known as acid house. Phuture’s “Acid Tracks” was the first popular instance. Acid house incorporates another Roland electronic instrument, the TB-303 synthesizer (released in 1981), which carries signature squealing basslines. 

Throughout the 80s and 90s, local commercial radio stations broadened the reach of house music in Chicago. Rave and DJ culture from the UK expanded across US clubs, warehouses, and outdoor DIY spaces. Meanwhile, hip hop took Chicago’s mainstream music culture by storm in the 1990s. Electronic music rapidly globalized while remaining relatively underground well until the early 2000s.

Frankie Knuckles Way in ChicagoFrankie Knuckles Way in Chicago

Frankie Knuckles Way in Chicago

House and disco are foundations for electronic subgenres that continue to emerge today. In the era of digital downloads, streaming, DAWs, sampling, and genres spawned on the internet with no fixed geographical location, Chicago remains synonymous with house in the dance music scene.

North Coast Music Festival, established in Chicago in 2010, created a highly inclusive mix of electronic, hip hop, and jam band artists. Then with the commercial explosion of EDM, North Coast honed in on the world of raving. 

Chicago is the hub for the midwest’s biggest musical events, from Lollapalooza to the weekly street festivals across the city. Electronic music’s many branches of evolving sounds call for extremely diverse events. North Coast’s multi-genre approach responds to this demand for diversity within one festival environment. 

North Coast Music Festival co-founder Michael Berg has been throwing events in Chicago for decades. He speaks about the city’s history leading up to the modern, multi-genre dance music culture that North Coast exemplifies. 

"Chicago has been a central hub of electronic music for decades. The city birthed house music in the early 80s and has pioneered multiple other dance genres like acid house and footwork, giving North Coast the perfect opportunity to directly honor some of the roots of Chicago's musical identity. In the case of North Coast's lineups, that has meant transitioning into an electronic-focused festival - a move that reflects the city's electronic background and helps the festival adjust to Chicago's changing festival landscape.”  

North Coast Music FestivalNorth Coast Music Festival


“This year's lineup includes a ton of amazing names. From ascendant artists TSHA and LP Giobbi, to global acts like Kaytranada, Porter Robinson, and Armin van Buuren, North Coast 2022 once again represents the breadth of dance music sounds that fans can ultimately trace back to Chicago,” Berg says.  

On the North Coast 2022 lineup, ILLENIUM is a closing headliner in his hometown, where electronic music continues to transcend boundaries. ILLENIUM’s fiery and futuristic melodic bass serves a massive fandom. He is a heavy supplier of the “sadboi” aesthetics that draws from rock and post-hardcore emo lyrics, with soaring synths. 

Local Chicago acts are carrying North Coast’s lineup, and among electronic music’s greatest acts are ones who are shaping the future of Chicago’s dance scenes, including DOGMAPau HanaApollo XoDjorgiou, and Jakeshoredrive

Starting Friday at the Canopy stage are locals Steve Gerard and Mike Lang. Très Mortimer kicks off the celebration at the Stadium stage, followed by Gettoblaster. The duo is made up of Paul Anthony from Chicago and Zach Bletz from Detroit, who blend the respective electronic sounds of their cities. 

Sherm leads in Saturday at the Canopy and then plays a three-hour set B2B with special guests at the Silent Disco space. The Incendia Fire Pit has an EDM Chicago takeover on Sunday. The festival showcases artists from every realm popular today: dubstep, psytrance, drum & bass, techno, electro, trap and, of course, house. 

Smartbar ChicagoSmartbar Chicago

While visiting Chicago, you can experience more of the city’s famous spots including Sound-Bar, where North Coast afterparties will take place, and others like Smartbar, PRYSM, Radius, and Spybar. 

The majority of NCMF’s ticket buyers began as Illinois locals, and it has since become a destination festival, attracting EDM fans from all over the country. North Coast’s sonic diversity has strengthened with an added focus on female acts and the Black and queer origins of electronic music in the city. 

Upon the drop of this year’s set times, fans ecstatically commented on the lack of scheduling conflicts, speaking to North Coast’s expertise on what fans of each genre need. 

Berg says, “Electronic music is embedded into the veins of Chicago's music institutions, from the origins of Frankie Knuckles and Warehouse to the ongoing relevance of Gramaphone Records. North Coast is paying homage to that history."

North Coast Music Festival will take place Sept. 2-4 in Bridgeview, IL, at SeatGeek Stadium. Get tickets at

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