The art, jewelry and accessories of The Silver Room in Wicker Park serve to make the entire space one of daring and limitless expression that pays no heed to a more conservative rulebook. It was thus the perfect venue for a July 10 discussion about the impact and future of house music.
Entitled "Old School/Future Classics," the event formed a part of the Illinois Humanities Council's "We The People" series and was co-presented by the Silver Room's 12th Annual Sound System Block Party, the Center on Halsted and Slo 'Mo: Slow Jams for Homos ( and their Fans ).
Born in Chicago 30 years ago at legendary venues such as The Warehouse and The Music Box through the groundbreaking work of iconic names like the late Frankie Knuckles, Alan King, Wayne Williams and Ron Hardy, house music became the art form in which a community found freedom. Gay kids who would sneak into clubs in the earliest days of the genre were at liberty to express themselves and become empowered in music that eclipsed race, orientation, gender and eventually international boundaries.
The Silver Room audience who took every available seat for the evening panel perfectly complimented the uniting force behind house music. There was no racial, sexual or gender majority to be found among them as they enthusiastically traded memories and opinions with a panel that included Maurice "Judge" Chaytor, a five-year assistant to Knuckles and a director at the Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation; Kristen Kaza, the creator and host of Slo 'Mo; innovative sound engineer and DJ Craig Loftis; dancer, vocalist DJ and producer Shaun J. Wright; and Brown University Ph.D. candidate Micah Salkindwho was also a part of the panel at the Out at CHM discussion on house music earlier in the year.
The panelists had brought along tracks that were personal to them and helped shape their own perceptions of the genre. Frankie Knuckle's "The Whistle Song," Hercules and Love Affair's 2008 hit "Blind," Whitney Houston's cover of Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" and Beyonce's "Flawless," to name a few, were brough; each selection spurred as much nostalgia as it did debate.
"The way people react to that songwhenever they hear itis like no other song I've ever played," Kaza said in reference to Houston's 1992 hit. "It changes the way people interact. It's why I love being part of the music community, because it is a collective experience."
"One thing we can walk away from here is that we've all been very fortune to be part of a social medium was born in a gay environment," Chaytor said. "Its rhythms were celebrated within the gay community and it became both a culture and a sub-culture."
"We don't always remember, but house music started as people defying genre. It was non-commercial," Salkind added.
But what of its future? The panel discussed the fact that it is much harder for LGBTQ teens to follow the covert footsteps of the 70's and 80's generation into nightclubs and there are fewer age-appropriate safe-space venues available to them. "Are there spaces today where a 15 or 16-year-old young gay person can dance with their friends in public?" Salkind wondered."And if not, what do they have to help them create a musical culture like House?"
"Back in the 7'0s, people weren't checking IDs and the clubs didn't get into as much trouble as they get into now," Loftis answered.
However, both the audience and the panelists agreed that there are still outlets for LGBTQ youth. Gay-straight alliances and Chicago Public Schools employees have been organizing gay proms, and social media has brought people together in a unique way.
"I'm not a big Facebook user," one audience member noted. "But every single day I get at least a half-dozen tracks to listen to. In today's social networking world, kids have a broader opportunity to explore their music. They may not have a club that they can go dancing to as a community, but they are sharing it online and forming their own groups."
Shaun Wright developed his extraordinary talent for dance while watching others vogue in the modern ballroom scene. He believes that there are further opportunities for young people in the uncommon energy of the ballroom culture to find inspiration much as he did.
There was a great deal of discussion about the rise of Hip Hop.
"Right nowin this cultureI've witnessed a transformation where hip-hop came in and just took over," Loftis noted. "I'm not a hip-hop fan but I try to keep an open mind to its generation because it is the music of their time; of their coming out."