CHICAGO — For the entire Labor Day weekend, festival-goers young and old danced from dusk to dawn around Chicago courtesy of ARC Music Festival.
From Thursday night to the late hours of Tuesday morning, ARC Music Festival hosted a weekend celebration of house music and the city itself.
“You can find house music seven days a week here and you can’t say that about many places,” Chicago house music legend Mike Dunn said. “There’s always going to be some house in the city. Somewhere, in some nook or cranny in the city.”
While now a mainstream genre, some may be unaware that a small community in Chicago laid the foundation for house music that’s enjoyed around the world.
“The ashes of Disco’s black and queer culture in the late 70s laid the foundation for a new genre of dance music that was conceptualized in the clubs of Chicago, and thus house music was born,” SPIN magazine wrote in 2021.
It still thrives decades later, with the proof coming at the ARC Music Festival, which was filled with house music for three days at Union Park.
“Even in other places where they love house music, it’s not as pervasive. I just feel like the city couldn’t shake it if it tried,” Smartbar resident DJ and Bay Area-native, Madeline, said. “It’s so deeply embedded in the culture here. You hear it on the radio, you hear people driving by playing classic house tracks, and you have people of all generations engaging in it.”
What’s fitting is that this weekend-long celebration of this type of music was just under two miles from where it all started.
“Without The Warehouse, there would literally be no house music,” Max Chavez, Director of Research & Special Projects with Preservation Chicago said.
Located at 206 South Jefferson Street in Chicago’s West Loop, “The Warehouse” is considered sacred ground for house music as it “influenced and shaped the rich culture that was pioneered and purveyed.”
“The Warehouse opened in 1977 with DJ Frankie Knuckles and a state-of-the-art sound system per the vision of owner Robert Williams to convert an old industrial building into a vibrant nightclub creating dancefloor freedom for Chicago’s Black gay community,” Preservation Chicago stated.
But in 1982, The Warehouse was deemed unsafe by the city and Williams was forced to close the nightclub. While other establishments and music festivals have come and gone, house music remains constant in and around Chicagoland.
“It wasn’t until I moved (to Chicago) that I really started to learn that house music came from here and dig into the history of Chicago house music specifically,” Madeline said. “I know people who have grown up here often say they’ve heard house music on the radio for their whole life and that was not my experience at all.”
But hosting a house and techno specific music festival didn’t seem possible to many, including some Chicago artists.
“In Chicago before this festival, everything was very much about EDM and really selling to a younger market,” Chicagoland-native and techno DJ Hiroko Yamamura said. “How to move tickets on a house music specific festival seemed unimaginable ten years ago.”
Until Auris Presents organizers saw an opportunity to promote an event that highlights and celebrates the relationship between Chicago, house music, and those who made it one of dance music’s most iconic sound.
“It’s important for me that ARC brings all of these talented DJ’s from all over the world to the city that birthed this music,” South Side of Chicago-native and DJ Terry Hunter said. “Even if you play EDM, techno, or whatever the case my be, you have to come back home to the motherland.”
With the help of the late Knuckles, house music has grown worldwide. Some of the biggest names in the industry are aware of Chicago’s connection to the genre and want to continue the legacy that has been built over the past four decades right here in the city.
“Chicago is arguably the most important dance music city in the entire world,” Grammy Award winning artist Fatboy Slim said in the ARC Music Festival 2022 Official Aftermovie. “I believe this is one of the most important festivals that’s been thrown together in a long time. There’s a statement being made here that quality and culture matter.”
“What (ARC) has done well is include some of the innovators, some of the people who weren’t getting the spotlight that they deserved,” Yamamura said. “They’ve really gone out of their way to bring in those key folks that contributed to house music.”
“We’ve received a lot of respect from well-known artists, some of the largest artists on the globe have been very happy to play after some of the people that arguably by profile-size are a lot smaller than them,” ARC Music Festival Founder Stuart Hackley said. “But in terms of their significance to music, (performers are) happy to have those artists play above them because of what they’ve contributed and the fact of if it were for some artists, we wouldn’t have this type of music.”
Broken off into three islands, Union Park made for yet another great location to host this yearly celebration of house music. With four stages and seemingly endless music, festival-goers had a chance to experience a daily intake of culture that many music festival can’t match.
Featuring Chicago style food, art installations, visual spectacles, and unique stage designs, ARC and Auris Presents curated a party that could’ve challenged even that of Jay Gatsby.
When the headlining DJ’s finished their sets at the end of each night, the festival party continued across the city. More than 70 artists at over ten venues, ARC After Dark made sure the house music community truly enjoyed a fall night in Chicago.
“The way Chicagoans hear disco and house records, no one else hears it and translates it like (Chicago) and I think that’s what’s special about (ARC),” Hunter said.
Make sure to grab tickets so you don’t miss 2024.
For more information on ARC Music Festival, click here.
For more information on Hiroko Yamamura, click here.
For more information on Madeline, click here.
For more information on Mike Dunn, click here.
For more information on Terry Hunter, click here.