House Music: A Commercial Underground

The popularity of Deejay’s (DJ’s), house music, and rave-like parties has grown substantially over the recent years.  Never since the late-eighties to early-nineties has house music been so prevalent in the lives of America’s young generations.  Unfortunately, consumers have closely linked it to drug usage. It is frightening that this dangerous combination may have come back into “style”.  Why is house music involuntarily connected to drug usage, and what does that mean for the younger generations who have become interested in house music and DJ’s?

House music has been alive for a relatively short time compared to other genres of music.  What began as a counter-culture has now become mainstream. House music originated in Chicago in the mid-eighties.  The revolution began at the original Comiskey Park, where a rave-like party was thrown for people to burn their disco records.  During these years an “underground scene had already stepped off and was beginning to develop a new music style that was deeper, rawer and more designed to make people dance”.  By 1985, the movement was spreading throughout Chicago, New York City, and Europe where DJ’s were becoming popular and producing their own records.  Sub-genres of house music including deep house, techno and acid house began emerging in each city where specific DJ’s would have their own specialty. By 1988, house music had a strong underground following and in Brooklyn, a young man, Todd Terry, brought sampling into house music for the first time.  In 1989, “house music fused into raves, especially in London…”  There, “organizers would pass out bags of MDMA tablets and throw dance parties that lasted more than thirty-six hours.”

Accordingly, with the rise of raves and house, the subsequent rise of drug usage followed.    One of the most prominent drugs in the house music scene was MDMA, more commonly known as “ecstasy”.  Because house music so heavily relies on all-night dancing and light shows that stimulate the senses, MDMA was the drug of choice for ravers.  “People who use MDMA in clubs and at raves emphasize its sensual and stimulant properties, the way it enhances music and dancing. But they also talk about a sense of connectedness, especially at raves.” Another user describes MDMA and house music as “peanut butter and chocolate.”  It is clear that since the beginning of house, the sub-culture who embraced this new style of music was also well aware of the enhancing effects of MDMA, LSD, and mushrooms and made sure to take advantage of these drugs.

As the late-90’s passed and the new millennium settled in, the addictive beats began evading into the more commercial music world.  Industry men and women realized that there was money to be made in the underground rave world.  “Dealing with permits and insurance and zoning laws” were all lucrative avenues for those looking to cash in on the movement. “So broke the dawn of the first commercial parties and, on their heels, the inevitable oxymoron of a ‘commercial underground club’”. As soon as money was discovered in the business of house music, it exploded.

It is incredible how popular house music has become amongst today’s younger generation.   The crowds flocking to these house music festivals and concerts are getting younger and larger.  DJs, such as Avicii, Girl Talk, Afrojack and Kaskade are now celebrities to this generation.  Top 40 radio stations now play house music regularly. DJs are now also signing to major record labels, like David Guetta on EMI.  House music has truly invaded the music industry and the young generation has latched on.  It is no longer an underground scene, but now it is the scene to be involved in.  In 2011, Ultra Music Festival in Miami sold out 150,000 tickets, hosting one of the largest crowds for their annual electronic music festival. There is no doubt that it will only grow this upcoming year.

Perhaps one of the main reasons our younger generations are so drawn to house music is the fact that we as a culture need immediate gratification.  Teens and twenty-somethings have grown up in a world where access to any sort of information or person is at their fingertips.  This young generation becomes “bored” quickly and at least house music provides that constant change and newness that we now expect in all other aspects of our lives.  With house music, many DJs, being audio-virtuosos, are able to be on the cutting edge. With this new popularity of house music, however, comes the same drug usage that occurred in the 80’s and 90’s.  As younger and younger teens turn to electronic music festivals and concerts, they are being exposed earlier and earlier to addictive and harmful drugs.  Unfortunately, according to many teens, MDMA seems to be required in order to enjoy the full effect of house music.  This partnership has proven lethal at times and is clearly dangerous.

Whether drugs are involved in this music culture or not, it seems as though house music is here to stay.  It rose from humble beginnings in the Midwest and now is a global phenomenon that has reached all types of people. What was once an underground movement is now a worldwide business that is growing and evolving by the day.



“Breaking: Ultra Music Festival 2011 Sells Out,” Big Shot Magazine, February 18, 2011, accessed September 30, 2011,

David Holthouse, “Rave Review,” Phoenix New Times, December 21, 1995, accessed September 27, 2011

Jacob Sullum, “Sex, Drugs and Techno Music,” Reason, January 2002, accessed September 28, 2011,

“The History of House,” last modified March 5, 2004,

“The History of House Music,” last modified 2011,


Michelle Ozog is a J.D candidate at the University of Miami.



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