Chicago will serve as the backdrop for “The Warehouse,” a movie project celebrating the life of the late Frankie Knuckles and his legendary after-hours club on the South Side from which the film gets its title. The announcement was made today by the production team, which includes producers Bob Teitel (“Men of Honor,” “Barber Shop”), Chicago club/restaurateur Billy Dec (Rockit Ranch/Elston Films), Randy Crumpton (“The Truth”) and Chicago club owner Joe Shanahan (Metro/Smartbar/Double Door).
The Grammy-winning Knuckles, “the Godfather of House Music,” died on March 31, 2014, from complications from diabetes. He was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2004 a Chicago street was named in his honor on the former site of the club. To kick off the film’s production, the producers will host a launch party and Frankie Knuckles Foundation Benefit at The Underground (56 W. Illinois), at 6 p.m. March 31. Tickets start at $20 (includes a two-hour cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception till 8 p.m.) To purchase tickets, visit TheUndergroundChicago.com; 100 percent of ticket proceeds will benefit the foundation.
“Just from traveling all over the world and talking to people about the nightlife business that I’m in, it’s interesting to see how obsessed they are with house music and yet it blows my mind that they have zero idea of this connection that house music has to Chicago because of Frankie Knuckles,” said Billy Dec. “Having spent decades now in this business I am just obsessed with the fact that this beautiful story about this man [and his music] has not been told.”
Following the closure of The Warehouse in 1983, Knuckles opened his own club, the PowerPlant, and then after its closing decided to supercharge his career by returning to New York City. Throughout the 1990s played a string of DJ residencies at some of the world’s most famous clubs. “The film is also the story of [Warehouse owner] Robert Williams,” said Dec. “It’s both their stories and legacies that we want to celebrate.”
Dec said more details about the feature film, which is being made with the full cooperation of the Knuckles estate, his family and friends, will be released on March 31 via the benefit, including the screenwriter’s identity. Dec said he will have an acting role in the film, but would not elaborate. Dec, who was working as a doorman at various Chicago latenight clubs such as Shelter and Limelight when Knuckles exploded on the Chicago music scene, says he remembers how down-to-earth the larger-than-life DJ truly was.
“That he would take the time to acknowledge a club doorman just proved to me how real, and how kind he was,” Dec said. “There was just an incredible energy on the nights he would come to a club.”
About the passing of Knuckles, the Sun-Times obituary from March 31, 2014 noted:
“At the time I was the only DJ in the city playing a sound that they heard nowhere else,” [Knuckles] told the BBC in 2011. “I would program different break beats and use them as segues between songs and additional beats. I had my own little piece of heaven right there.” Indeed. When attending a house party back then – and even now – dancers would shout: “Frankie’s playing that house.” It became a mantra, and a song in its own right. It also became a way for Knuckles to deal with the – unfamiliar to him – tone of segregation in Chicago. He wanted to create music that brought everyone together.
“To come to Chicago and it be segregated, I didn’t know what that was,” Knuckles said [three] years ago at a retrospective on 1980s house music, reported by WBEZ’s Natalie Moore for Ebony magazine. “I had actually never experienced it, but the thing was [at The Warehouse], I was trying to create something really, really special.”
It worked. As Knuckles told the BBC: “So, when dance parties and regional DJs began popping up on the South Side of the city, to attract the same kind of audience that I had at The Warehouse…. they would advertise that they played ‘House Music’.”