It has many names: acid, boompity, jacking, but in the end, it’s all house music. And house began with Chicago’s Trax Records. Evolving on the storied dance floors of South Side clubs like the Warehouse and the Muzic Box in the early ’80s, house music came into being as DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy were amplifying the rhythms and low end of disco and upbeat soul with stripped-down beats-and-bass backing tracks.
Recognizing the music’s potency, youthful scenesters like Jesse Saunders, Vince Lawrence and Rachael Cain gave those minimalist tracks their own voice, seeking out a pressing plant, Musical Products, and its owner, Larry Sherman, to help release them.
Chatting from the dimly lit room four of CRC Studios, where many of Trax’s hits were recorded, Cain, the “Blondie on a beatbox budget” better known as Screamin’ Rachael, has remained a central figure in the label. “We recorded a couple songs, ‘Fantasy’ being the first,” she says. “I’ll never forget when I heard it on the radio because this friend of mine had said, ‘There’s this new record, it sounds really cool, and this chick has this unique style.’ It came on the radio when we were together and I went, ‘That’s my record!’ ”
It was 1986 and those minimal four-four beats hadn’t yet been dubbed house, but this trio (with financial backing from Sherman) had started releasing the “Chicago sound” through Trax. Soon, artists like Adonis, DJ Pierre and Marshall Jefferson were signing their groundbreaking work to the label.
On Tuesday 18, the label commemorates its legacy with Trax Records: The 25th Anniversary Collection, a two-disc set that includes more than a dozen hidden gems from its catalog and a documentary covering Trax’s early days, the sound’s explosion overseas, and the hope of Cain, the label and its artists that Chicago will get proper recognition for birthing house music.
With Candi Staton piping out “You’ve Got the Love” in the background, an endlessly energetic Cain shares a story of traveling to New York in the late ’80s with some of Trax’s key artists and getting hounded by reporters, but from Europe instead of the U.S. Here, there was resistance. “People in the industry would say, ‘This isn’t music, this is garbage. These don’t follow the typical pattern of a song,’ ” she explains.
“I remember when Marshall made ‘Move Your Body,’ ” Cain continues, of the quintessential house anthem from ’86. “My producer at the time, when he heard it, he said, ‘That record really sucks. Everything in the world is wrong with that record.’ ” Joining us in the studio, Ten City vocalist and Trax artist Byron Stingily chimes in. “When Ron Hardy played it, people were busting their heads running into each other trying to get to the floor,” he says. “I didn’t know it was a hit and I was right there when he was doing it.”
Today, Cain looks to artists like David Guetta as a source of vindication. “I think he’d be the first to say that he really learned a lot from Trax,” she says. “Carol Cooper [of the Village Voice] compared his new album to our new release. She said it was the only other release of the season worthy of attention.” Cooper’s right; given dance music’s current ubiquity, it’s impossible to ignore those artists making freaky machine music in the ’80s, or the label that gave them a home.
Trax Records: The 25th Anniversary Collection drops on Tuesday 18. Visit traxrecords.net for details.