Key clubs

Surveying the historic venues where Chicago's club culture grew up

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It’s impossible to write a complete, brief history of the Chicago club scene, and the dance music that drives it; even starting with the city’s legendary house revolution means there are a litany of personalities and genres to discuss. But in the evolution of dance music from the underground venues to the mainstream, certain clubs can’t be ignored.

Frankie Knuckles

1977 Frankie Knuckles begins his residency at The Warehouse
Initially a gay club, the venue soon attracted a wider audience looking for somewhere to dance from Saturday night into Sunday morning. Knuckles blended classic disco, European synthpop, new wave, and industrial in a tidy, seamless night of music. The term “house music” emerges to describe the style of music Knuckles is playing at the Warehouse. In 1982, Knuckles opens his own club, Power Plant.

May 1977 The La Mere Vipere on Halsted starts playing punk records
Months later, it becomes a full-time punk club with films, live bands and even fashion shows. Visiting New Yorkers are inspired to open their own version of the club in Manhattan, the Mudd Club. The joint burns down in 1978, but two clubs – Oz and O’Banions – swoop in to fill the gap for the safety-pin-wearing rockers.

Late 1981 The Hot Mix 5 debuts on WBMX
Farley "Jackmaster" Funk, Mickey "Mixin" Oliver, Scott "Smokin" Silz, Ralphie Rosario and Kenny "Jammin" Jason made up the Hot Mix 5. The group would prove influential in spreading house beyond the clubs and onto the airwaves before splintering apart a few years later, and moving into the world of dance record production.

July 1982 Joe Shanahan opens Smart Bar
It's worth noting that Smart Bar was one of the early genre-blenders. Frankie Knuckles, Al Jourgenson, and a host of other DJs would spin new tracks in this space in the '80s, and the roster hasn't depreciated in quality since then. With a recent refurbishment and new sound system, Smart Bar took home the Club World Awards Nightstalker Award for Best Underground Club in 2006.

November 1983 Berlin opens
The club embraces the outrageous side of the early ’80s underground: "tattoos and transvestites, pinafores and platforms, dada and go-go, Nina Hagen and Nina Simone, All My Children and Art of Noise, homo and hetero,” and extols the virtues of a
pansexual dance floor.

Sometime in 1988 Mark Farina and Derrick Carter meet while record-shopping at Imports, Etc.
The duo will become key figures in the Chicago scene, along with DJ Sneak, Felix Da Housecat and Cajmere in a ’90s resurgence of Chicago house music. Both Farina and Carter hold various residencies, but they hone their individual styles - a techy aggressive style for Carter and a jazzy downtempo sound for Farina – at the now legendary Jerry Kleiner-owned Shelter on Fulton Market.

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