Over the last year I’ve had a little bit more time on my hands, so i’ve been brushing up on the history of house. I thought it’d be a nice idea to share some of these documentaries that have helped shape my understanding of the electronic music scene. This article covers the history of house through a number of killer films that have been produced over the last 25 years or so. I hope it provides you with some essential Youtube viewing and some valuable insights into the history of house itself.
The Best House Music Documentaries
- Pump Up The Volume
- Can You Feel It – How Dance Music Conquered The World
- RIP- A Remix Manifesto
- Everybody In The Place – An Incomplete History Of Britain 1984 – 1992
- HIGH TECH SOUL
Pump Up The Volume
This definitive history of house was produced in 2001 by Channel 4 in the U.K and features some great interviews with a number of the key D.Js, producers and promoters including Paul Oakenfold, Jamie Principle, Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy. It also details some of the now legendary night clubs which shaped the history of house including The Paradise Garage, The Warehouse and The Ministry Of Sound. We believe it’s definitely a candidate for one of the best house music documentaries ever.
The documentary kicks off with disco’s explosion into the mainstream due to the release of Saturday Night Fever and was the beginning of the end for the genre which came from underground clubs and was conceptualised by black, gay and latino party goers. This really sets up the documentary nicely, as it highlights how the death of disco pushed club culture back underground, galvanising the rebirth of a club scene that would later become known as house.
The documentary keeps up a steady pace and soon explores the Trax record label and some of their fairly unethical business practices before detailing the first real subculture to be born out of house.
Derek May and Jaun Atkins then navigate you through Detroit techno before the scene gets taken over to the U.K for the birth of acid house.
Pump Up The Volume is available to watch in full over on our Youtube channel.
Can You Feel It – How Dance Music Conquered The World
This 3 part documentary was aired on BBC 4 covers a lot of the same stuff as Pump Up The Volume in 2001. However, as it was made in 2018, it also fills in the gaps between the two films. Rather than being linear in its timeline of the history of house, it splits the content into three key aspects of club culture.
Part 1 -The Beat
This episode explores the impact that the TR-808 had on house music and documents the cottage industry of house music production from the very firstly vinyl release “On & On” by Jesse Saunders and Vince Lawrence.
Part 2 – The Club
The Club, as the title would suggest, takes a dive into some of the venues that have shaped the history of house and some venues which are leading the way today. It references David Mancuso’s legendary Loft Parties along with Mancheter’s Hacienda and, more recently, venues such as Ushuaia in Ibiza.
Part 3 – The DJ
This episode start with the tragic death of the talented DJ Avici and uses it to reference the huge change in focus (and status) that DJs have experinced since the explosion of electronic music. It also features a bit with Greg Wilson which I highly recommend as it shows his U.K T.V appearance in the 80’s, which was (if legend is to be believed) the first 2 deck mixing ever shown on UK T.V. I’m not sure whether it’s a key moment in the history of house but I loved it all the same.
You can watch all three episodes on The DJ Mixtape Youtube channel HERE
RIP- A Remix Manifesto
Not so much a history of house, but a homage to the art of sampling and the legal ramifications surrounding licensing.
This film follows Girl Talk, a producer famed for his intricate use of samples to create his own productions and live performances. The footage is quire ‘fly on the wall’ and gives real insight into his creative process and live performances. It delves heavily into the ownership of music and what constitutes fair use when it comes to using other peoples music.
Being a fan of Hip Hop and sample culture in general, watching 2 hours of this was a real joy.
You can watch RIP – A Remix Manifesto HERE
Everybody In The Place – An Incomplete History Of Britain 1984 – 1992
This documentary takes a look at how the early rave scene in Britain was shaped by the social and political landscape. Its fairly quirky in its nature and cuts between the film maker (Jeremy Deller) presenting the film as a lecture in a classroom and classic footage of key socio-political events of the time.
The shift in British culture from drab nightclubs to sweaty warehouse raves is highlighted perfectly. My personal favourite being the nightclub seen during the filming of “The Hitman & Her” (a middle of the road pop music T.V show) whereby the presenters went to a club which was playing naff 80’s pop one week and upon their return acid house was being pumped out of the sound system.
You can watch the film HERE.
HIGH TECH SOUL
HIGH TECH SOUL is the first documentary to tackle the deep roots of techno music alongside the cultural history of Detroit, its birthplace. From the race riots of 1967 to the underground party scene of the late 1980s, Detroit’s economic downturn didn’t stop the invention of a new kind of music that brought international attention to its producers and their hometown.
Featuring in-depth interviews with many of the world’s best exponents of the artform, High Tech Soul focuses on the creators of the genre — Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson — and looks at the relationships and personal struggles behind the music. Artists like Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Eddie Fowlkes and a host of others explain why techno, with its abrasive tones and resonating basslines, could not have come from anywhere but Detroit.
We hope you enjoyed are picks for the best house music documentaries. Please let us know if we’ve missed any.