Trax Records is probably the most important house music label of all time. Created in Chicago in 1985, the independent imprint quickly became the go-to company for anyone who was making house music in Chicago from 1984 onwards.
Originally owned by the larger-than-life Larry Sherman and managed day to day by ‘Screamin’ Rachel Cain, Trax Records officially launched in 1985 with Le Noiz’s ‘Wanna Dance’ and crested the wave of both the house music and acid house scenes for the next 5 years, with a load of club hits and dance-floor smashes.
Traxbox is the most important retrospective analysis of Trax Records since the label began. There have been many Trax related compilations in the past, but nothing that even remotely approaches the sheer scale and comprehensive sweep of Traxbox.
To mark the occasion KMG caught up with Bill Brewster, who has written the foreword, and asked him for his thoughts on Trax.
KMG: When did you first lay ears upon a ‘Trax’ record? and what sort of reaction did it stimulate?
BB: The first Trax record that I was aware of was ‘Hey Rocky’ by Boris Badenough, which I heard on the John Peel Show in 1986. I honestly had no idea what house was or what Trax was then. To me, it was a fun, novelty-ish electronic record, similar to something like ‘I Ain’t Into That’ by the Rappin’ Reverend, which came out aroun the same time. So I had no reaction to it, other than that I liked it (and bought it).
KMG: You lived for a while in NYC, and Trax would go on to epitomise what we now refer to as ‘Chicago’ house. Was there an awareness of what was going on in Chicago in New York at the time? Or did the scene’s in America’s big 2 cities influence each other?
BB: Mmm, well New York was obviously aware of what was happening in Chicago, though by the time I had moved there, the focus in Chicago had moved on to Cajual and Relief, Guidance and Prescription. Also, in the early 1990s, a lot of Chicago artists weren’t even recording for Chicago labels anymore after Trax and DJ International had imploded. New York labels were generally in a stronger position, so it wasn’t unusual to find Chicago acts on New York labels. For instance I signed a Johnny Fiasco EP to my label in 1995, while Tribal America had Celeda & The Heavy Hitters.
Obviously though Trax had a huge impact on New York, though arguably less so than in the UK, simply because there was an electronic sound close to house music that had been developing in New Jersey and New York right through the 1980s with acts like D-Train and producers like Blaze, Paul Simpson and so on.
KMG: Larry Heard or Frankie Knuckles?
BB: That’s tough. As a producer, I think Larry just shades it, but I’ve seen many fantastic live performances from Frankie. I’d have to say Larry Heard on points.
KMG: When we consider how platforms to consume music have evolved over the last 30 years, to what do you think Trax owes its enduring success?
BB: I think one of the main reasond is that there were two labels that had the monopoly for the early years and of those, Trax has the great catalogue. That’s one reason. The other reason, I think, is pure accident in that Trax happened to release records by some enormously talented and unknown people. That happens very rarely, maybe once every generation, maybe not even that. They had: Jamie Principle, Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard, Virgo, Frankie Knuckles. How many new labels have ever found a well of talent that deep? Motown maybe. Philly Inteernational perhaps. Trax certainly.
KMG: The Trax back catalogue is extensive, to say the least, can you pick a top five Trax releases?
BB: Jungle Wonz – Bird In A Gilded Cage
Master C&J – Dub Love
Mr Fingers – Washing Machine
William S – I’ll Never Let You Go
Virgo – In A Vision
KMG: Music is inherently connected to its context, both in terms of culture and physical environment, do you think the scene during the late 80s was reacting to the music, or vice-versa? or are they just perpetually intertwined?
BB: That’s tricky. I think house music, or something very similar, was a historical inevitability, given how electronic music was developing in the 1980s, but the way it exploded out of Chicago somehow gave it greater impact because it seemed to us – in Europe at least – that it had arisen from nowhere.
KMG: Do you think Trax represented the beginning of house music?
BB: Without question. Although house, in its original context basically meant disco records being played at the Warerhouse. But then, as Frankie Knuckles once said, “house is disco’s revenge.”
KMG: What was your first Trax record?
BB: It was the aforementioned Boris Badenough’s ‘Hey Rocky’.
KMG: Are there any particular Trax records that still find their way into you record bag?
BB: Yes there are. Not loads, but Virgo Four/ME, I still play Washing Machine semi-regularly and some other Larry Heard stuff. And Jungle Wonz, too.
KMG: Do you anticipate another compilation in 25 years time
BB: Almost certainly, though I’ll probably be dead by then, so they’ll have to find someone else to write the notes.
The 16 x CD Traxbox is out now on Harmless records…. It’s time to jack.