Prince, who died yesterday at his Paisley Park Estate in Minnesota, left a huge mark on electronic music in his own charismatic way. He was both a technological pioneer, readily adopting drum machines at a time when they were still largely considered novelties, and an influence on successive generations of producers and DJs, including many of the originators of house and techno. When news of his death broke yesterday, tributes came from a wide variety of figures in dance music, uniting both veterans and prodigies in grief.
To celebrate his contributation to the world of dance, we have listed just a few of the ways in which his legacy has shaped the genre over the years.
1. He embraced drum machines and synths from early on
When Prince got to working in his studio he was tireless, often going for days without sleeping. Some sessions would last so long that he would wear two or three engineers out, Ronin Ro writes in ‘Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks’. It’s partly for this reason that Prince embraced technology to record on his own. When he came to work on his 1982 album, '1999', he turned to the Linn LM-1 drum machine, boasting that his new toy enabled him to knock out ideas in five seconds flat. It also shaped both the musical direction and themes of '1999', inspiring him to exploring a more electronic sound.
Prince made the Linn his own, forums dedicated to the machine still debate how exactly he created the signature sound that can be heard on classics like ‘Let's Go Crazy’ and ‘When Doves Cry’.
2. He was championed by Detroit radio DJ The Electrifyin’ Mojo, who in turn influenced the Belleville trio
Mojo's seminal show on Detroit's WGPR has long been acknowledged for introducing acts like Kraftwerk to the city's listeners, later he was among the first to play proto-techno, including Cybotron's ‘Alleys of Your Mind’. He also championed Prince, sometimes playing ‘Controversy’ three times in a row during a show when it took his fancy. Prince repaid the favour by granting one of his only interviews to Mojo in late '80s. Among Mojo’s fans were Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Jeff Mills.
3. He influenced several early Chicago house producers and musicians
Jamie Principle, one of house music's most famous vocalists, was obsessed with Prince — his stage name was even intended as a homage to the artist. His idol’s influence is particularly apparent on Frankie Knuckles’ ‘Baby Want to Ride’, in which Principle emulated both the Purple One’s vocal style and his erotic subject matter.
4. 'Controversy’ was also a staple of Frankie Knuckles' Warehouse sets
According to Michaelangelo Matos, who wrote the definitive book on Prince's 'Sign O' the Times', 'When Doves Cry' was also a favourite of Ron Hardy and Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk sets.
5. Vince Lawrence, who co-founded Trax Records and its sister label Precision, bought a Linn drum machine to imitate Prince
Lawrence would go on to co-write ‘On and On’ together with Jesse Saunders, often cited as the first house track.
6. His legacy has lingered long in Detroit, inspiring a successive generation of producers
Prince's music continued to have an influence on dance music throughout the 90s and early 00s, particularly in Motor City.
Kenny Dixon Jr., better known as Moodymann, sampled Prince’s ‘All The Critics Love U In New York’ on his, fittingly-titled, 1997 track ‘U Can Dance If U Want 2’. Likewise, Carl Craig, another key figure in Detroit's second wave, has often cited the Purple One as an inspiration. As he recalled to Pitchfork in 2013, “I was learning how to play guitar because I wanted to be Prince”.
7. Prince’s influence often appeared in unexpected places
Like in UK hardcore. Jungle pioneers the Ragga Twins, sampled the “Dearly Beloved” intro of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, mixing it with breakbeats and dancehall vocals on their 1991 track ‘Hooligan 69’.
Years later dubstep would also bear the mark of Prince’s seemingly inescapable influence. One of the genre’s foundational labels, Hyperdub, launched in 2004 with a track called ‘Sine Of The Dub’, a stoner homage to ‘Sign 'O' the Times’.
8. Lastly, Prince remains every DJ's saving grace
How many times has Prince lifted a sagging DJ set and rescued a dwindling dancefloor? His appeal is universal, whether you’re playing to aficionados in an underground club or to thousands on a festival stage: you can count on Prince every time.