Chicago house is an electronic dance music genre that began in the mid-1980s in the city of Chicago. It incorporates disco, European synth music, soul music from the 1970s, and beats created on drum machines and synthesizers. 

The mainstream popularity of disco music began to fade after Chicago’s Disco Demolition Night in mid-1979. While disco recordings were becoming rare in the early 1980s, the genre remained popular in several Chicago nightclubs and on at least one radio station, WBMX-FM. During this time, Chicago radio and club DJs played a variety of dance music. This included older disco records, newer Italo disco, electro, EBM tracks, B-boy hip hop music by Man Parrish, Jellybean Benitez, Arthur Baker, and John Robie. It also included electronic pop music by Kraftwerk, Telex, and Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Some of these DJs created and performed their own reel-to-reel tape edits of their favorite songs as well. They focused on the parts of the songs that worked well on the dancefloor. Some added effects, drum machines, and other rhythmic electronic instrumentation to their songs. This was an attempt to make them more appealing. These edits and remixes rarely appeared publicly. When they were, they were exclusively accessible on privately manufactured vinyl records or mixtapes.

Many of the tracks that defined the Chicago house music sound came published on vinyl, by the labels DJ International Records and Trax Records. Both had distribution outside of Chicago. This resulted in the success of the style in other places such as New York and London. The Chicago house aesthetic shared similarities with various outsider hip hop and punk subcultures.

Characteristics of the Chicago House sound

Chicago house took shape as a mash-up of extended disco, electro-funk, synthpop, and hip hop. As a consequence, a distinct sound emerged. It had a long-lasting effect on the aesthetic of house music. Steve “Silk” Hurley’s “Jack Your Body,” and several other house singles achieved number one success on the UK Singles Chart (1987). “Love Can’t Turn Around” by Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and Jesse Saunders featuring Darryl Pandy was the first house tune to be deemed a huge smash in the United Kingdom, peaking at #10 on the UK Singles Chart in 1986.

Chicago house relies on Roland instruments like 808 drum machines, 303 basslines, Juno Keyboards, and other prominent synthesizer sequencers from the 1980s. It employs quantization, strong repetition, up/down arpeggios, and minimalistic basslines. The style, much like garage house, largely focuses on remixing older songs. The main distinction is that Chicago house remixes integrate a wide range of genres rather than only disco. This results in a sound that is distinct from any other genre.