Whilst Traxx and DJ International dominated Chicago house in the mid-eighties, a whole host of smaller labels were being founded. Some of these labels were releasing innovative and influential music. One of these labels was Dance Mania Records. It was founded in 1986 by Ray Barney and offered an innovative alternative to the Chicago house being released by other labels. This was ghetto house. It was raw, raunchy and understated. This was very different to the music other labels were releasing. That’s why, for fifteen years, Dance Mania Records was one of the most influential and innovative house labels. 

So it’s no surprise that Strut Records will release a compilation of tracks released by Dance Mania Records. Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997. This is no ordinary compilation though. No. This is one of the most comprehensive retrospectives of the music released by Dance Mania Records. It features twenty-four tracks on two discs, three LPs or digital download. These twenty-four tracks are akin to a who’s who of the music released by Dance Mania Records. This includes tracks from Hercules, Vincent Floyd, Tyree, Strong Souls, Rhythm II Rhythm, DJ Funk, Paul Johnson, DJ Deeon, Robert Armani and Top Cat. This makes Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 the perfect introduction to Dance Mania Records. Whether you’re a veteran of Dance Mania Records, or a newcomer to one of the most innovative and influential labels in the history of Chicago House. The story of Dance Mania Records begins in 1986, when Ray Barney founded Dance Mania Records.  However, the story starts back in the early sixties.

That’s when a twenty-five year old Willie J. Barney founded Barney’s Record Shop. This was the ideal time to found a record shop. After all, soul has hugely popular. So, Willie had a captive audience. Then in the early sixties, Willie J. Barney expanded his business. He founded a distribution business One Stop Records and opened another shop. Now Willie was able to not distribute records to all the smaller record shops in the Chicago area. The only thing Willie didn’t have within his empire was  a record label. That was all about to change.

In 1965, Willie founded a record label, Four Brothers Production with one of his employees Jack Daniels. The nascent label enjoyed a number ten US R&B hit with C.L. Crockett’s It’s A Man Down There. Another record company Bright Star was founded, but within two years, both labels were wound up. This was the last label the company wound found until Willie J. Barney’s family were working in the business.

Willie always encouraged his sons to work with the business. Then in 1980, having graduated from Bradley University, Illinois with a degree in business studios, Willie’s son Ray took over the management of the distribution company. He was only twenty-two and was taking over a company who distributed mostly throughout the Midwest, but much further afield. One Stop Records were now distribution throughout America. Six years later, Ray decided the time was right for the family business to reenter the record business.

It was in 1986 when Ray Barney founded Dance Mania Records in Chicago. Back then, Chicago house was providing the soundtrack to dance-floors not just in Chicago, but worldwide. House was now a musical phenomenon. Two labels, Traxx Records and DJ International Records were already dominating house music. However, there was plenty room within the market. Especially with various sub-genres of house music evolving. Dance Mania Records would forever be synonymous with one sub-genre of house music, ghetto house. 

Described as raw, raunchy and lean, ghetto house proved an alternative to the type of music most labels were releasing. This is apparent when you listen to the two discs that comprise Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997. From their first release Dance Mania Records were a pioneering label. You’ll realise this when I tell you about some of the highlights from Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997.


Dance Mania Records’ first release was from one of Chicago house’s pioneers Duane Buford. This was Duane and Co’s J.B. Traxx. It features on disc One of Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997. Suddenly, there was an alternative the music that was dominating dance-floors. With its raw, raunchy and lean sound, this grabbed the attention of dancers and discerning record buyers. The same can be said of Hercules’ 7 Ways. Produced by Marshall Jefferson, who cowrote the track with Hercules this was a landmark release which marked the evolution of Chicago house. So does The House Master Boyz and The Rude Boy Of House’s House Nation. It was a worldwide hit and helped spread the Dance Mania Records gospel. These three tracks helped establish Dance Mania Records’ reputation as an innovative and influential labels.

Proof of this was one of the tracks Dance Mania Records released in 1988. This was Lil Louis’ The Original Radio Clash. Quite simply, The Original Radio Clash is a classic track. It’s one of the most innovative and influential tracks in the history of dance music. Sadly, it doesn’t feature on Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997. However, another track released by Dance Mania Records in 1988 was Victor Romeo featuring Leatrice Brown’s Love Will Find A Way. It has a leaner, meaner arrangement. That’s before the soulful vocal enters. Together they play their part in the evolution of Dance Mania Records’ music.

Three years after releasing their first single, Dance Mania Records released Da Posse featuring Martell’s Searchin’ Hard. Produced by Hula and K. Fingers, it has a sultry, jazz-tinged and understated sound. This is quite different from the label’s early releases. I’d suggest it has a much more commercial sound. However, Dance Mania Records never latched onto musical trends. No. They were more interested in starting musical trends, than following them.

Rhythm II Rhythm – A Touch Of Jazz demonstrates this. It was released in 1991 and mixed by Victor Romeo, who played a huge part in the rise and rise of Dance Mania Records. He played an important role in the label’s constant reinvention. With a jazz-tinged sound, a myriad of beeps, squeaks and washes of vocals drift in and out of this track. Add to this maundering jazzy keyboards and the result is one of the finest tracks Dance Mania Records released in the early nineties.

By 1994, when Club Style released Crazy Wild and Jammin’ The House Gerald released Black Women Dance Mania Records’ releases continued to evolve. They seemed to have realised the secret to longevity was not standing still. So, they constantly sought to keep ahead of musical trends. Club Style’s Crazy Wild demonstrates this. It’s hypnotic and mesmeric thanks to the pounding beats, while a myriad of percussion and Eastern influences play their part in the track’s success. It’s no wonder Dance Mania Records had established a reputation as a successful and pioneering label.


Between 1991 and 1997, Dance Mania Records was a prolific label. This six year period saw Dance Mania Records reinforce their reputation as innovators. The label was influencing another generation of producers and record buyers. They also provided the soundtrack to many dance-floors. That’s obvious on disc two of Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 which I’ll pick the highlights of. 

Ambulance was Robert Armani’s sophomore single. It was released in 1991 and was the followup to 1990s Armani Trax. This was the start of Robert Woods career. He went on to release seven albums, six of which were released on ACV. His debut album was the aptly titled Muzik Man. The Muzik Man’s career began at Dance Mania Records, where he released influential tracks like Armani Trax and Ambulance.

Tim Harper’s debut single was Toxic Waste. It was released on Dance Mania Records in 1992. Produced by Glen Underground and Tim Harper the drama builds before the arrangement unfolds. Crisp beats percussion and washes of disco-tinged strings sweep in. There’s only one city this captivating track could’ve been recorded in…Chicago. 

In 1993 DJ Funk released his debut single House the Groove. This was the start of a long and successful career. It’s a  hypnotic, jacking track. Despite this, House the Groove didn’t feature on DJ Funk’s 1995 debut album Pumpin’ The Trax. It was released on Dance Mania Records and is the only album DJ Funk released. That year, DJ Funk released The Original Video Clash E.P. A fusion of Acid House, ghetto house and techno, this showcased DJ Funk’s considerable talents.

1994 was one of Dance Mania Records’ most productive years. That year, Parris Mitchell released Parris Mitchell Presents Life On Th Underground E.P. It featured twelve tracks, including Ghetto Shout Out. Wax Master featured on this track that showed the direction ghetto house was heading. Full of hooks the lyrics were uncompromising as ghetto house meets hip hop and funk. 

The same year Ghetto Shout Out was released, DJ Deeon released the Funk City. It features Da Bomb and House-O-Matic. Both see a return to the eighties. Especially House-O-Manic, which is full of beeps and squeaks. It’s akin to a homage to classic Chicago house. As for Da Bomb, it’s hypnotic and references early Chicago house and Kraftwerk.

Traxmen and Eric Martin’s Hit It From The Back is my final choice from disc two of Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997. This is  a track from an E.P. released in 1994. 1994s House Trax’s Volume 1 features six tracks. A fusion of ghetto house and techno. One of the highlights was the hypnotic, retro sounding Hit It From The Back. It too, sounds as if it’s a track release in the eighties and sounds as if Traxmen and Eric Martin have sought inspiration from the past. 

Although I’ve only mentioned fourteen of the twenty-four tracks on Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997, there’s much more to discover on the compilation. This includes contributions from Vincent Floyd, Strong Souls, 326 and Top Cat. These tracks are indicative of the quality of music that features on Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997. Throughout the two discs, the quality of music is consistent, as you’re taken on a musical journey through the history of Dance Mania Records. 

Over this eleven year period, the music Dance Mania Records released never stood still. Instead, it constantly evolved. Just like any innovative label, Dance Mania Records with their unique brand of ghetto house were determined to constantly reinvent themselves. That’s apparent throughout the two discs. They’re like a voyage of musical discovery. 

Everything from Acid House, disco, electronica, experimental, Krautrock and techno has influenced the music on Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997, which will be released on 10th February 2014. Known as ghetto house, this was the music that Dance Mania Records became known for. Dance Mania Records became synonymous with ghetto house. Ironically, whilst the music was commercially successful, Dance Mania Records didn’t follow musical trends. Instead, they were trendsetters and trailblazers. They lead the way. Other labels followed in their wake. That’s why when the history of house music is written, Dance Mania Records name will loom large. Proof of this is the music on Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997.


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