In the beginning, there was house music… and there was TRAX Records.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the founding of the legendary Chicago label, and over the next few months, 909originals will be featuring a series of interviews, artist profiles and features, in an exclusive tie-up.
But while TRAX has built an important legacy over more than three decades, it is also looking to the future, and continues to set new benchmarks for house music both at home and around the world.
Tomorrow on the site, we preview the TRAX Records’ first single release of 2019, but ahead of that, 909originals caught up with TRAX co-founder and current chief executive, Screamin’ Rachael (aka Rachael Cain), to chat about the anniversary year and the label’s future plans. [Photos by Billy Hess]
Q. Why do you think it is so important to look to the future with a label like TRAX Records?
Of course, the history of the label is hugely important, but it’s a new day, it’s a new time, and what we are doing right now is going to set the tone for tomorrow.
We have always kept the quality of the music foremost in our minds. We’re not trying to be trendy, follow trends or anything of that nature. When we work with an artist, we don’t care if he or she has a hundred or a million social media followers.
What’s most important is what the music says, and making sure we keep the same quality that we always had. That’s why we have stood the test of time, and continue to move forward with great projects.
Q. You are a firm believer in house music playing an important role in society. What do you mean by this?
House music has always been about people coming together under the umbrella of positivity, erasing the boundaries of colour and prejudice and hatred. Finding common ground among people and bringing people together is the most important aspect of what we do.
I think we need this positivity more than ever, because of the way that politics and social issues are having a negative impact on people – here in Chicago we have seen a rise in hate crimes.
House music, and how it makes people feel, is very important in addressing this.
I wouldn’t say that house music is having a Renaissance, as it never really went away, but there’s certainly a feeling that this is an important period in history and house music has a part to play.
Q. One of the big projects you are working on this year is a revival of the ‘hip house’ genre. What does this involve?
We’re going to be working with Doctor Dré of Yo! MTV Raps, who obviously is more noted for his hip hop, but he’s also very dedicated to the community as well.
If you think of hip hop in a historical context, you think of the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Melle Mel, but in recent years it has become more about gangs and violence. Hip hop is an art form and it can be used to have a positive or negative effect.
In recent years, there has been a real coming together of hip hop and house music – hip hop producers are using more house beats in their productions, because they want to make people dance, and bring a message of positivity to young people.
That’s a really important message, because kids these days don’t have an outlet. Back in the day, we used to have dance parties and warehouse parties to go to, but there’s less of that these days.
For example, in Pilsen, which would traditionally be a working class neighbourhood of Chicago, we’re going to run some all-ages parties. There are a lot of lower-income families there, and underprivileged teens, and we want to give them an outlet to express themselves and enjoy themselves. That’s really where house music began as well, so it’s important that we recognise it.
I’ve actually talked to some of the school principals in areas that have been hardest hit by the economy, and they have told me that when they were growing up, house music helped them stay out of trouble, and gave them something to live for.
Obviously, house music is a lot more overground than it was back then, and it’s infiltrated every other type of music there is – but it still has a healing, positive effect, and we want to connect young people with that again.
Q. Are there any ‘hip house’ releases scheduled?
Yes! We are working with a new artist called Mikey Everything. He’s come out as gay, which is difficult to do in an industry where women are regarded as ‘bitches and hoes’ and there’s a lot of negativity towards sexuality.
Mikey is going to be releasing some hip house on TRAX, and is also working with local youth groups, putting on some parties in Chicago. It brings a different twist to things, and it opens the doors for so many young people that are into rap.
Actually, Afrika Bambaatta and myself were actually the first people to do hip house, when we did the song Fun With Bad Boys, back in 1987.
Since then, obviously the likes of Todd Terry and Doug Lazy have done it, but people never really talk about the influence that hip house had on the Chicago scene. It was a real force here, and I would argue a positive force as well.
Q. Do you think that house music is regarded with the same cultural significance as hip hop?
That’s hard to say, but we are addressing it. We’re going to be working with the Chicago History Museum, on making sure that house music is preserved. Hip hop is actually recognised in the Smithsonian Museum, but currently house music has nothing like that.
We’re supplying them with archives: recordings, photographs and videos from back in the day, and we want to make sure that they are available to be studied and preserved, while at the same time coming up with new ways to spread the message.
It’s really a combination of combining the new with the classic, and when it comes to the classic, making sure we retain it for all time.
No other music in history has been as positive as house music, I don’t think anyone would argue that. In terms of the ideology and how it brings black, white, gay, straight etc people together, it’s important to remember that.
Q. Last November, you released the track I Am House Music alongside legendary producer Joe Smooth. Are there any new Screamin’ Rachael releases planned?
I have a new album coming out close to the summer. I’ve been working with a group called Space, who released a big instrumental track in the late 70s called Magic Fly.
I travelled to France to meet Didier Marouani, the leader of the group, and we have done a new version with vocals on it, as well as a remix package. Space were actually a big influence on Daft Punk… as were the early TRAX Recordings.
Q. TRAX made its debut in the world of cinema recently, with the Vamp Bikers trilogy. Are there any more movie projects lined up?
Yes. we’ve done three movies already, as you said – the Vamp Bikers trilogy – and it’s enabled us to branch out from house music, particularly on the soundtracks, where we are working with bands such as Wildstreet.
Movies are a great platform, because you can create such an atmosphere around them. Plus I’ve had the opportunity to act in them as well as work on the music, which has been very exciting.
Q. What are your main goals for 2019?
Keep doing what we are doing, and staying true to our roots.
In some circles we are being treated like the newest, hottest thing; Gucci used our music recently, and so did Maison Kitsuné. But I don’t really pay much attention to that – happiness is more important to me than money.
With TRAX, there’s something different to everything we do; no two projects are the same. With that in mind, I’m confident it’s going to be a wonderful year.