There are some labels whose music epitomizes everything that’s good about a musical genre. Think of Stax Records and Southern Soul, Blue Note and jazz, Chess Records and Chicago blues, Salsoul Records and disco or between 1972 and 1975, Philadelphia International Records and Philly Soul. Each of these labels produced some of the best music in the history of modern music. To that list, I’d add Trax Records. Trax Records were one of the most influential and innovative Chicago house labels.
Founded in 1983, Trax Records enjoyed a longevity that few other house labels enjoyed. Trax were responsible for releasing some of the most important releases in the history of house music. Think of just about any of the Chicago house classics, and most likely, it’ll have been released on Trax Records. Along with DJ International, Trax Records dominated house music. Indeed, when it comes to Chicago house, its history can be divided into to periods. B.T, before Trax, and A.T. after Trax.
Trax as you can see, was hugely important in the development and growth of Chicago house music. Would house music have become as popular as it has, without Trax? Similarly, would house music have enjoyed the longevity it has without Trax? In some ways, with Trax helped spread the Chicago house gospel far and wide. However, in th eyes of some people, Trax wasn’t a benevolent benefactor.
No. Then again who is? Controversy and allegations surrounds some of its business practices. The same can be said of many labels. In the case of Trax, whether there’s any truth in these rumors, who knows? What I can say, is that it’s become part of the myth and aura that surrounds Chicago house music’s biggest label, who in 2013, celebrate their thirtieth anniversary. However, their clubbing days are far from over. No. Trax are reliving the heady, hedonistic days of Chicago house’s heyday with the release of Trax Box.
Released by Harmless Records on 30th September 2013, Trax Box is no ordinary box set. Far from it. It’s a sixteen-disc box set that features Trax Records’ first seventy-five releases. This includes the A and B sides. There are many a glittering hidden gem awaiting discovery during the sixteen discs. A voyage of discovery awaits the diligent crate-digger. It’s well worth spending the time listening to each disc. To do this, set aside two days. Do what I did, and immerse yourself in some of the finest Chicago house ever released between 1985 and 1989, which the Trax Box covers. Relive the music of Marshall Jefferson, Mr. Fingers, Virgo, Vincent Lawrence, Fresh, Frankie Knuckles and Robert Owen. That was all still to come. Back in July 1979, disco had just died.
House music was born in Chicago out of necessity. Disco had died a slow, lingering death. After the vitriolic Disco Sucks campaign succeeded in killing disco, dance music was at a crossroads. Disco had provided the musical backdrop to the second half of the seventies. Ironically, disco went from hero to zero in the space of a year. Suddenly, disco sucked. Disco’s downfall started on Christmas Eve 1978, That’s when Steve Dahl was fired by Chicago radio station WDAI. It had previously been a rock station, but switched to disco. Steve wasn’t out of work long. He was hired by WLUP, a rival station. WLUP played rock, which suited Steve Dahl. He’d an inkling that disco wasn’t long for this world.
Steve wasn’t a fan of disco, and took to mocking disco on-air. Openly, he mocked WDAI’s “disco DAI.” It became “disco die” to Steve. Soon, Steve had created the Insane Coho Lips, his very own anti-disco army. Along with cohost Gary Meier, they coined the now infamous slogan “Disco Sucks.” The backlash had begun.
From there, the Disco Sucks movement gathered momentum. Events were held all over America. This came to a head at Disco Demolition Derby, which was Steve Dahl’s latest anti-disco event. Each one was becoming bigger, rowdier and attracting even more publicity. Disco Demolition Derby, which was held at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979 surpassed everything that went before.
WFUL were sponsoring a Chicago White Sox game at Comiskey Park. if fans brought with them a disco record, they’d get in for ninety-eight cents. These records would be blown up by Steve Dahl. An estimated crowd between 20-50,000 people attended. Quickly the event descended into chaos. Vinyl was thrown from the stands like frisbees. Then when Steve blew up the vinyl, fans stormed the pitch and rioted. Things got so bad, that the riot police were called. After the Disco Demolition Derby, disco nearly died.
Following Disco Derby Night, disco’s popularity plunged. Disco artists were dropped from labels, disco labels folded and no further disco albums were released. Disco was on the critical list, and suffered a near death experience. It took a long time to recover. After disco’s demise, dance music changed.
No longer were record labels willing to throw money at dance music. Budgets were suddenly much smaller. Gone were the lavish productions of the disco orchestras of the seventies. This is epitomized by The Salsoul Orchestra and John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. Strings and horns were now a luxury. Music would have to go back to basics. Replacing them would be sequencers, synths and drum machines, which during the last couple of years, had become much cheaper. Previously, they were only found in studios or were used by wealthy and famous musicians. Now they were within the budget of many musicians. This would prove crucial in the rise and rise of house music, one of the musical genre that replaced disco as the favored choice of music for discerning dancers and DJs.
For DJs all over America, disco’s demise was proving problematic. What were they going to play? If they even dared to drop a disco track, they were risking clearing the dance-floor. While DJs wrestled with this problem, a group of Chicago DJs decided to think laterally. They came up with an eclectic and inventive selection of tracks. Rather than playing just boogie, which was replacing disco as the choice of discerning dancers, DJs like Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, Tee Scott and Marshall Jefferson cast their musical net wider.
Rule nothing out seemed to be their approach. So, a typical DJ set during the early eighties, saw Italo Disco tracks sit side-by-side with hip hop, electro funk, synth pop, funk punk and vintage disco. Then there was boogie and the classic European electronica of Kraftwerk, Yello, Telex and Yellow Magic Orchestra. This eclectic musical tapestry won over Chicago’s clubbers. This included one of Chi-Town’s top DJs…Frankie Knuckles.
Before his arrival in the Windy City, Frankie Knuckles, had previously DJ-ed at Better Days in New York. When it became insolvent, Frankie, without a residency, travelled to Chicago. He was booked to play at the opening night at The Warehouse. That was Frankie’s introduction to Chicago’s club culture.
After The Warehouse’s opening night, Frankie was asked to stay on and become resident DJ. At the start, Frankie attendances were poor. He persisted, gradually, winning over The Warehouse’s discerning dancers. His style is best described as a fusion of his slick New York style with the more eclectic “Chicago sound.” So successful was Frankie, that he founded The Power Plant in 1982. It became the place to go in Chicago. Frankie’s marriage of The Chicago and New York Sounds had dancers hooked. His eclectic fusion of musical genres and influences wan’t just successful, but was influential.
The Chicago Sound could be heard on radio shows like Hot Mix 5’s, WBMX and Kent’s Punk Out. With Frankie fusing everything from boogie, Italo Disco, synth pop, hip hop, electro funk, funk punk and vintage disco he quickly established a loyal following. This just happened to included a new generation of DJs. They went on to become the first wave of Chicago House producers.
Chicago’s new generation of DJs included Jesse Saunders, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Ralph Rosario and Steve “Silk” Hurley.” Their musical tastes were equally eclectic and their approach to DJ-ing progressive. An example of this is Jesse Saunders and Farley Jackmaster Funk using a drum machine to add a 4/4 beat over other records. This would prove to be one of the tell-tell sounds of house music. It would prove successful, but problematic.
When DJs added a 4/4 beat over other records, dancers were instantly won over by this new type of music. There was a real problem with that. The music was all improvised, not recorded. Once it was played, it was gone. Dancers couldn’t go out and buy a copy of the music. This frustrated dancers. Soon, DJs realized they could recreate the music. Then dancers and other DJs could play their music. Inadvertently, for this new breed of DJs, this was the start of successful production careers. This was only possible because of the affordability of new technology.
Back in the seventies, synths were way beyond the pocket of the ordinary musician. They either belonged in recording studios or were within the budget of successful musicians. Pioneered in the early seventies, artists as diverse as Stevie Wonder and Kraftwerk popularized synths. Gradually, they found their way into more studios and onto more records. As the seventies became the eighties, synths, just like drum machines and sequencers were much cheaper. Now anyone wanting to make their own music could do so, if they could afford synths, sequencers and drum machines.
Suddenly, a new wave of producers were able to make their own dance music. They didn’t even need access to a recording studio. Spare rooms and basements became makeshift studios. To do this, the Roland Corporation supplied the necessary equipment. Many of the early house releases featured the same sound. This meant a Roland TR-808 drum machine and Roland TB-303 bass synth. Other musical weapons of choice for the nascent house producer was the Korg Poly-61 synth. Add to this either a vocal, or samples “borrowed” from classic funk, soul or disco tracks. The result was, early Chicago house music. With all this new music being produced, new labels were springing up. In 1983, Chicago house’s biggest label Trax Records was born.
Larry Sherman is credited with founding Trax Records early in 1983. He’d just bought Chicago’s biggest record pressing plant, Musical Products. It was based on Chi-Town’s south side. Larry’s reason for buying the plant was personal. He collected jukeboxes and wanted a wider variety of music available. Buying Musical Products allowed him to have an unlimited selection of music available. It unwittingly, proved to be a profitable business venture, when Larry met Vince Lawrence.
DJ Jesse Saunders and his friend Vince Lawrence, a lighting engineer who’d dreams of becoming a producer. Vince’s father owned a record label, and had released the new-wave track Fast Cars. It had given Jesse and Vince a minor hit single. Then Jesse and Vince met pianist Duane Buford and Screamin’ Rachel. Together as Z-Factor, they recorded a series of singles that Vince’s father was due to release. He was taking too long for their liking. So, Vince and Jesser recorded a basic beat track, which was based upon a vintage disco megamix and incorporated parts of the tracks they’d already recorded. Complete with a handwritten label, this new track, they called On and On.
Complete with its handwritten label, On and On, was ready to be pressed. Vince headed out looking for a pressing plant. That’s when he came across Musical Products. Vince was out in his car when he saw the pressing plant. He went in and met Larry and struck a deal. Larry pressed 500 copies for a Dollar a copy. Two days later, the 500 copies were sold out. So, Vince headed back to Musical Products and ordered another 500 copies. Larry, like any entrepreneur sensed there was money to be made. He offered to print the 500 copies of On and On and in exchange, Larry became a partner in Trax Records, which was the baby of his new partner Screamin’ Rachel Sanders.
During 1984, On and On went on to be a huge commercial success. Featuring drum machines, synths and samples, these were the staple of many early Chicago house track. It’s credited with being one of the first and most important Chicago house tracks. Ironically, it wasn’t released on Trax. Indirectly, it would help Trax and his friend, Rachel Sanders.
Rachel Sanders had founded Trax Records in early 1983. According to Rachel, Vince Lawrence had designed the logo. His inspiration for the logo was one of Vince’s favorite labels, Wax Trax, another Chicago label. Vince was part of the Trax family though. He was in charge of A&R. Many of the producers he’d go on to sign were inspired by On and On. They all felt they could surpass On and On. Trax would benefit from this sudden onslaught of new productions.
During 1984, Trax Records started signing artists. In charge of A&R, was Vince Lawrence. He concentrated on signing the best up-and-coming producers. Among them were Le Noiz. Jesse Velez and Farley Jackmaster Funk. There were also releases from Trax founder Screamin’ Rachel Sanders and Ron Hardy during 1985, the first year that the sixteen-disc Trax Box covers.
The sixteen-disc Trax Box cover the period between 1985 and 1989. This four year period covers Trax Records’ first seventy-five 12” releases in their entirety. So this means every track on these seventy-five releases. Whether it’s B-Sides, instrumental mixes, remixes or vocal mixes, it’s all here. Discs 1-8 feature the music on the A-Sides, while Discs 9-16 feature the music on the B-SIdes. Quite simply, nothing has been overlooked. Harmless Records have gone to great lengths to source pristine vinyl copies of each of the seventy-five releases. This wasn’t easy.
Throughout the seventies and eighties, the quality of vinyl that was being used was poor. This started in the seventies, during the energy crisis, and resulted in inferior quality vinyl being used. Ironically, this defeats the arguments that vinyl’s sound is superior.
From 1985 to 1989, many people alleged Larry Sherman used inferior quality vinyl. What he used was recycled vinyl. As for the sleeves, they were made of recycled paper. Trax Records wanted to get the music released quickly. Believing the music had a short shelf-life, Trax resorted to the same tactics punk, then electronic music, labels used. They weren’t running a boutique label, so everything was done quickly and cheaply. This was part of Trax Records’ charm. Unfortunately, this meant standards slipped. However, Trax Records aren’t alone in using inferior vinyl. Many record companies, large and small, are guilty of this. Thankfully, this hasn’t stopped Harmless Records producing a fitting tribute to Trax Records’ thirtieth anniversary. Harmless Records sourced pristine copies of Trax Records first seventy-five releases.
Choosing the highlights of the lovingly compiled and luxurious sixteen-disc Trax Box set isn’t easy.Going through each disc isn’t possible. That would result in a small book, not a review. So, what I’ve decided to do, is pick a few tracks from each of the five years the box set covers. That’ll bring back memories for those of us who were there. It’ll also encourage those who missed out on the heady, hedonistic days of Chicago house to revisit the music of the glory days of house. That music can be found on Trax Box.
Over 220 tracks can be found on the Trax Box. The way Harmless Records have organized the music, is Discs 1-8 feature the music on the A-Sides. As for Discs 9-16, they contain the B-Sides. Strangely, some of the music that languished on B-Sides is every bit as good as the A-Sides. That’s why you should always flip a single or album over. Don’t ever get complacent. After all, you might just discover a hidden gem. There’s plenty of hidden gems on Trax box, which I’ll tell you about.
1985 was year zero for Trax Records. This was the year the first releases featuring the legendary Trax Records logo. Two years after the label had been founded by Rachel, her new label was on its way to becoming the most important and influential label in house music. During that first year, 1985, Trax would release their first single, and later, release a stonewall Chicago house classic. The music from 1985, can be found on Discs 1 and 9.
The nascent label’s first release was The Noiz’s Wanna Dance. Produced by Jesse Saunders, elements of European electronica is fused with hip hop and house. Samples synths and drum machines play their part in this infuriatingly catchy, experimental track.
In total, there are eight versions of Vincent Lawrence’s Virgo Tracks Again on Discs 1 and 9. Each version offers something new and different. Of the eight tracks, the Latin-tinged Untitled A2, which features on Disc One is my favorite version. Coming a close second is Untitled B3.
Marshall Jefferson contributes a true house classic, Ride On The Rhythm. It features the vocal prowess of Kevin Irving, and is a paean to hedonism. Twenty-eight years later, it’s a timeless classic, that epitomizes Chicago house music.
Having release their first Chicago house classic during 1985, 1986 would see Trax Records release some of their most important music. 1986 was the year Trax Records came of age.
During 1986, it was as if Trax could do wrong. Everything they released was innovative and inventive. It also oozed quality. That’s why the music from 1986 is spread over Discs 1-4 and 9-12. It’s not just the A-Sides that ooze quality. There’s many a glittering gem tucked away on the B-Sides. So don’t be tempted to skip through the B-Sides. Instead, immerse yourself in these eight discs of music from what was, one of Trax Records’ best years.
Remarkably, Ron Hardy only ever released one single for Trax. That was the sensual, needy sounding Sensation. In total, there are three versions of the track. Two feature the Adrian Jett’s sensual and sensuous vocal. They’re the long and short versions. As for the long version, it’s describe it as sassy and dance-floor friendly. The short version is the best version. Clocking in at just under four minutes, it’s a soulful, dance track.
Sleezy D’s Lost Control transports you back to 1986. Instantly, you’re dancing in a cavernous club, the bass bins blasting out the dark, dramatic and moody sounding Lost Control. There are just two versions of the track on the Trax Box. Of the two, the Space Side has a lysergic sound. That comes courtesy of the sinister vocals. Just as good and proving you should always check the B-Side to a single, is the House Side. These two tracks show two sides to another Trax classic.
When Virgo released Free Yourself in 1986, this was the start of run of house classics Virgo released.The man behind Virgo was Marshall Jefferson. He was responsible for the track’s almost Germanic sound. Unlike other tracks, it’s quite understated and ethereal. Sculpted by Kraftwek-esque synths, it’s one of Virgo’s finest moments. A hidden gem is Under You, which featured on the A-Side of Free Yourself. Featuring the same elegant, meandering synths, hissing hi-hats and crisp drums play their part in this hidden gem.
1986 was truly a vintage year for Traxx. A string of successful tracks were released. Several of these were classics. Two of them came courtesy of Mr. Fingers. The first was Washing Machine. With its squelchy synths, beeps and squeaks, it epitomizes Trax Records’ sound, before evolving into a gospel-tinged anthem. Then there’s the equally anthemic Can You Feel It, where Mr. Fingers becomes house music’s first preacher. Futuristic, anthemic and innovative, we should be grateful Mr. Fingers gave up the drums and bought himself a drum machine and synth.
Trax were a prolific label during 1986. That’s why it takes nearly eight of Trax Box’s sixteen discs to showcase 1986s music. Listeners are spoiled for choice. 1986 truly was a vintage year. Adonis, Santos, Willie Wonka, Marshall Jefferson and Farm Boy all released music during 1986. Replicating the success Trax enjoyed during 1986 wouldn’t be easy. After all, they’d produced numerous dance-floor classics. With every release, Trax Records established a bigger following. DJs and dancers knew that Trax Records meant quality. The only thing that could make life difficult, was DJ International, who’d become Trax’s main competitor. Despite that, Trax continued to dominate Chicago house during 1987.
Despite the presence of DJ International, Trax continued to release innovative music. The only problem were serious allegations surrounding Trax’s business practices. The allegation were more that using recycled vinyl. Allegations included neither honoring contracts, nor paying royalties and even illicitly releasing tracks. These however, are just allegations. Nothing was ever proven in a court of law. However, with these rumors going round Chicago’s musical community, DJ International Records were signing some of the biggest producers.
Founded in the mid-eighties by Rocky Jones, DJ International Records quickly became one of Chicago’s big two house labels. Among their signings were Tyree, Joe Smooth, Fast Eddie, JM Silk,Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and Jesse Saunders. Now Chicago house had two labels slugging it out for the title of King of Chicago house.
With all the rumors surrounding Trax going around, some producer weren’t signing to Trax. The voice of Chicago house, Robert Owens did. Robert will always be remembered as the voice of so many Chicago house anthems and classics. His vocal is unmistakable and can transform a track. Mediocre tracks become good, while good tracks become great. Bring Down The Walls is another anthemic, classic. With an arrangement that’s reminiscent of Washing Machine, Robert’s whispery, sensual vocal is accompanied by a needy, sassy female vocal. As well as the original classic on Disc 4, instrumental and dub versions feature on Disc 13. They bring something new to a familiar anthem, and are well worth discovering.
On The House’s Give Me Back The Love is a track designed to jack to. It has a much more sophisticated sound. That’s down to the arrangement. From the bursts of blazing horns, percussion and synths to Marshall McLain’s scatted vocal and piano solo, a joyous slice of house unfolds. This is another Marshall Jefferson production, where piano house and vocal house join forces with the original Chicago house sound. In many ways, this was house music growing up and evolving.
Just like 1986, Trax were releasing their fare share of innovative tracks during 1987. Innovative describes Phuture’s Acid Tracks. Here, Trax’s trademark sound is fused with Latin percussion. Futuristic, with a sci-fi sound, Trax made the squelchy synth sound their own. That’s not Phuture’s only contribution. No. Disc 13 features Phuture Jacks and the wonderfully sinister Your Only Friend. Phuture Jacks, another track that epitomizes the Trax Records’ sound, is another of my favorite tracks. Again, it’s the marriage of the eerie vocal and the squelchy synths that lead me to describe both Phuture Jacks and Acid Tracks as timeless Acid House classics.
Kevin Irving, like Robert Owens, is one of voices of house. Blessed with one of the finest voices in Chicago house, Children Of The Night allows his heartfelt, soulful vocal to take centre-stage. That’s where it belongs. Not only does the Original 12” version feature on Disc 5, but so does the Radio Edit. Over on Disc 13, features the Dub version, which will come as a welcome addition for DJs.
1987 saw Frankie Knuckles release another classic anthem Baby Wants To Ride. By now, he’d settled into a role as one of the founding father’s of Chicago house. Along with Marshall Jefferson, who was also working in Trax’s A&R department, they were two of the biggest names in house music. Baby Wants To Ride is nine minute opus. Ironically, one of the lyrics says: “tell my people of my second coming.” That’s fitting, as it’s Marshall’s second house classic. Frankie’s other contributions are the Kraftwerk-esque It’s A Cold World on Disc 6. Then there Your Love and Bad Boy on Disc 15. Why Your Love languished on a B-Side seems a waste? So good is Frankie Knuckles’ B-Sides, that they’re better than many people’s singles.
On the face of it, Trax Records hadn’t been affected by DJ International. The pair seemed able to coexist. Granted Trax weren’t able to have their pick of the up-and-coming producers, but their existing producers and new signings meant Trax were still Chicago house’s premier label. After all, they’d also released music by Mr. Lee, Eric Bell, Terry Baldwin and Lidell Townsell. This was just a few of 1987s releases. Would 1988 be as successful?
1988 saw Trax continue to release music in similar quantities to 1986 and 1987. They were still Chicago house’s biggest label. DJ International were catching them up. Then there were new labels springing up throughout not just Chi-Town, but America and further afield. Britain and Europe were now disciples of Chicago house. For many of these new disciples, Trax Records was synonymous with Chicago house. So to fulfill the increasing demand for Chicago house, Trax released music by Mr. Lee, Donell Rush, Maurice Joshua, Lidell Townsell, Acid Fantasle, Phuture, Donnell Rush and Maurice Joshua during 1988.
Phuture’s We Are Phuture has a familiar sound. It’s reminiscent of Acid Tracks and Your Only Friend. Both tracks have the same sinister, haunting vocals. The main difference with We Are Phuture is the vocal. It has a soulful side. Other times, it takes on a robotic, futuristic sound, resulting in a 21st Century sound.
Evie’s Just Stay The Night falls into the category of glittering hidden gem. Featuring a vocal from Evie Camp that’s reminiscent of Madonna, a proliferation of rocky guitars and slick, poppy hooks are combined with Chicago house. As an added bonus, the Radio Edit features on Disc 6. Over on Disc 14, the Dub version shows another side to this poppy gem.
Despite Mr. Lee releasing House This House in 1988, it still featured Trax’s trademark squelchy synths. With sharp, urgent bursts of choppy vocals, this proves mesmeric and hypnotic. Quite different, is Pump Up Chicago. It’s an explosion of energy. Driven along by pounding drums and stabs of horns, a rapped vocal and squelchy synths see Acid House, hip hop and funk collide head on. Of the two versions of Pump Up Chicago, the Acid Mix is the best. On Disc 15, Mr. Lee heads on a transatlantic tour, with Pump Up New York and Pump Up London proving an interesting variation on a theme.
Lidell Townsell has a trio of Acid House tracks featuring on Disc 7. Jack The House, As Acid Turns and The Groove see a welcome return of the Trax Records’ sounds. It’s truly unmistakable. Not only that, but it’s timeless. Of the three tracks, it’s a close run thing, with The Groove just surpassing As Acid Turns. Having said that, both tracks epitomize the Trax Records’ sound.
While 1988 didn’t see releases from Trax Records’ biggest names, their other signing pitched in with some quality music. Mr. Lee, Phuture and Lidell Townsell contributed some slinky, sometimes, futuristic Acid House. What it did have in common, was the Trax Records’ sound. People it seemed, couldn’t get enough of this sound. It had proved popular since 1985 and this was nearly as long as the disco bubble lasted. Luckily for everyone at Trax, there was no sign of the Chicago house bubble bursting.
As 1989 dawned, Chicago house had become an industry within the Windy City. Labels, clubs, artists, promoters, studios and pressing plants were all part of this new industry. This could prove profitable for the economy. Proof of this was Manchester during the second summer of love. Chicago was enjoying a boost from its latest musical export. From the same city that gave the world Chess and Motown, Chicago house this marriage of musicians and machines was a boon to the economy. One company who’d played an important part in the Chicago economy was Trax Records. During 1989, they’d release their seventy-fifth release, which incidentally, marks the end of the Trax Box. That’s still to come.
Although Trax was founded in 1983, the label had only released its first single in 1985. Since then, Trax had established itself as Chicago house’s premier label. One man who played his part in the rise of Trax was Farley Jackmaster Funk. He made his return in 1989, with Farley Jackmaster Funk Presents Ricky Dillard’s As Always. It was a welcome, soulful and dance-floor friendly return from one of Chicago house’s legends. Soul, gospel, funk and house combine during this joyous, celebratory track. Of the two versions, the original 12” version is the best.
Virgo Four was another of Trax’s big hitters making their return in 1989. Do You Know Who You Are and In A Vision which feature on Disc 8, show that Virgo Four are back to their best. Even the B-Sides Going Through Life and the hypnotic, mesmeric and anthemic Take Me Higher, which closes Disc 16 and the Trax Box shows Virgo Four only make quality music.
That’s quite a fitting way to end this review of the Trax Box. After all, Trax Records were synonymous with not just quality house music, but the best house music has to offer. Trax Records is responsible for many a Chicago house classic. Anthems and timeless classics, Trax has released more than their fare share of them. The music Trax released was innovative and inventive, way ahead of what their competitors were releasing. That’s why so many people remember the music Trax Records released between 1985 and 1989. For many people, this four year period represents Chicago house’s heyday. These four heady, hedonistic years represent house music at its best. I’ve only had the chance to mention a few of them.
There’s any number of other tracks on Trax Box I could’ve mentioned. That’s how consistently high the quality of music is. Considering Trax Box is a sixteen-disc box-set, Harmless Records, who release Trax Box on 30th September 2013, deserves our congratulations. With sixteen discs to fill, they could’ve forgiven the odd musical faux pas. That’s not the case though. They’ve not resorted to filler. Instead, it’s quality, quality and quality. Indeed, it’s killer all the way, during Trax Records’ first seventy-five releases. Spread over sixteen discs, this is an in-depth four year magical mystery tour through Trax Records’ illustrious back-catalogue. Best described as everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Trax Records, but were afraid to ask, the music and 100 page book documents the life and times of Trax Records. This is the perfect way to celebrate Trax Records very special anniversary.
This year, Trax Records is thirty. Long gone are its clubbing days. It’s youth, which was between 1985 and 1989, which the Trax Box covers, is another country. The Trax Box is the perfect way to remember Trax Records first four years, faults and all. Between 1985 and 1989, the unlikely pairing of Larry Sherman and Rachel Sanders made Trax Records Chicago house’s premier label. Along with a small, loyal staff, Trax Records records become one of the best known labels of the last thirty years. Trax Records was the equivalent to Stax Records, Blue Note, Chess Records, Salsoul Records and Philadelphia International Records. Just like these labels, Trax Records provided the soundtrack to a generation. They hold that music dearly, they cherish this music that was part of a musical revolution.
That’s no exaggeration. Before house music, dance music was at a crossroads. Disco had died in 1979. Other musical genres tried to fill the void. Synth pop, Euro Disco, and boogie all tried. Nothing filled dance-floors like disco. Disco had died, who wanted to dance to music people said sucked. People weren’t going to dance to yesterday’s music. They would dance to tomorrow’s music.What was needed, was something new, innovative and dance-floor friendly. The solution was house music, the musical offspring of disco, funk punk, Italo Disco, synth pop, Euro Disco and Philly Soul.
Just like punk in the seventies, with its D.I.Y. culture, aspiring producers were able to make music cheaply without the benefit of a large budget, recording contract or even, a recording studio. Drum machines, synths, sequencers and 4-track recorders were much cheaper. Now it was possible to record a hit single in your spare room. Many of the tracks on Trax Box were recorded this way. This was the future. What many people thought would be almost disposable music, stood the test of time and influenced further generations of musicians.
Despite the lack of a large budget, recording contract or recording studio, this didn’t hamper this new breed of talented and innovative producers. The music they recorded was revolutionary. Here was music that was imaginative, innovative and went on to influence further generations of producers. Some of that music is twenty-eight years old, but has aged well. It certainly has a contemporary sound. You wouldn’t think it was recorded in the eighties, on equipment which by today’s standards, is basic. That’s why I’d go as far as describe the music as timeless. That certainly is a good way to describe the music Trax Box, which is a glorious reminder of Chicago house’s premier label, Trax Records.