24. The Promised Land (Underground Mix)
Written by Joe Smooth
Performed by Joe Smooth & Anthony Thomas
12’’ single (DJ International, USA 1987)



Reverse migration one


By the 1960s Chicago’s packinghouses had closed and its steel mills were beginning to decline. What had once been envisioned as a ‘Promised Land’ for anyone willing to work hard now offered opportunities mainly to educated men and women.

‘… The Great Migration’s impact on cultural life in Chicago is most evident in the southern influence on the Chicago Renaissance of the 1930s and 1940s, as well as blues music, cuisine, churches, and the numerous family and community associations that link Chicago with its southern hinterland—especially Mississippi. To many black Chicagoans the South remains ‘home,’ and by the late 1980s increasing evidence of significant reverse migration, especially among retired people, began to appear.’

Great Migration, by James Grossman, Encyclopaedia of Chicago http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/545.html


Music & migration

At the height of the night I’d switch all the lights out. The windows of The Warehouse were painted black, the crowd would be high on the music and on drugs. I’d pump up the bass then play this record which was the soundtrack of an express train. People would scream – it was a mixture of ecstasy and fear – its sounded like a train was racing through the club.’

Frankie Knuckles, resident DJ at the Warehouse, Chicago, quoted in The History of the House Sound of Chicago, by Stuart Cosgrove


House music begins in Chicago. It represents a break with the city’s gospel and rhythm and blues traditions in that it is made with machines, Japanese computers, and, at least initially, owes more to European electronic pop and disco made in America, Germany and England than the blues and gospel forms made famous by the African Americans that migrated from the South at the turn of the century, and in as much as Chicago is known as such for most of the twentieth century by said migrants, House music begins in the Promised Land.

House music begins, or so we read, in a nightclub called the Warehouse. The Warehouse may well have been a warehouse, though as likely a no longer functioning warehouse, given the economic decline of the time. House music begins when the promise of life with economic and educational opportunities, of life without racism, has worn thin.

The development of House music coincides with a converse movement in the flow of history. House music begins, roughly, when a seventy-year history of migration slides into reverse, and African Americans begin to return to the south. House begins when everyone is thinking about home -leaving home, going home, looking for a home.

House music begins as a small thing, a loud, intimate scene on the margins, or beneath the margins, an underground culture made up of and by Hispanic and African Americans of hetero and homo sexual persuasions all getting along quite nicely. House begins as a socially inclusive space: in microcosm, a small dark space called the Warehouse offers the future a model for social relations.

House reproduces itself in endless permutations: there is Deep House, Techno, Trance, Ambient House, Minimal House, Funky House, Hard House, Progressive House, Hardcore, Happy Hardcore, Gabba, Tech House, endless flowerings and permutations, a dispersal which has produced its very own sonic Diaspora, proof that House is as durable and malleable as the Chicago blues and gospel based forms that precede it.

House music begins when one thing is about to end and something else, something new, for better or worse or better and worse – is about to begin. In Europe, club culture begins with House. House arrives in Germany at the end of the Cold War. For many people it is the soundtrack to the destruction of the Berlin wall. House provides the rhythm of life after the Cold War.

Thinking of England, House arrives here as the country is undergoing a cultural and economic transformation in which the flow of market forces, rather than social need or for that matter the idea of society, is considered the highest arbiter of social relations. The response of the first generation of Brits to be touched by House suggests that the wisdom of this thinking has its limits, beyond which there is a desire for community, expressed through the experience of dancing and taking drugs to House music: a deeply held conviction expressed through the most ephemeral of states and the most ancient of symbolic acts, dancing together.

Such is the case on the first House music tour, the DJ International Tour of 1987, which features some of the founding figures, the architects, if you like, of House: Frankie Knuckles, Larry Heard, Marshall Jefferson, and Joe Smooth. And so heartfelt is this expression of community that it moves Smooth to write one of the genre’s earliest and most resonant anthems, Promised Land. Here, by way of blog.beatboost.com December 16, 2007, is Joe Smooth:

Promised Land was inspired by what I saw while travelling around the world on the first House music tour [in 1987]. It had to do with the way the people we were performing for, were so supportive and only expressed love for what we were doing on stage. It seemed no matter where we were, and no matter the various language barriers, the music and spirit behind House music transcended all. It was like a coming together of all people under a positive and inspired light. That moment in time let me know that we can make it to the Promised Land.’

House music suggests a place in the present for the defiant optimism of the civil rights movement, an optimism crystallised in Martin Luther King’s last words to America before his assassination in 1968. ‘I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land.’

Chicago’s promise fades as the creators of its new music use the redemptive language of America’s civil rights past to imagine a new promised land, motivated by the experience, in far off Europe, of a fleeting sense of community, created by their music, made in their city, in which communities formed in the wake of the Great Migration decide to reverse the rhythm of history.



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