Few labels are as synonymous with house music as TRAX Records, which is marking its 35th anniversary this year with a series of events both in its native Chicago and further afield.
The label, which is led by Rachael Cain, aka Screamin’ Rachael (dubbed the ‘Queen of House Music’ by Billboard Magazine), continues to push the boundaries after three and a half decades, pushing newer artists such as Mikey Everything, Jason Prince and 1Farshad, as well as boasting a back catalogue most production houses would die for.
The best of the new and the not so new are collected on a new compilation launched by the label to commemorate this landmark anniversary, TRAX Records – Made In Chicago: 35 Years Of House Music.
Following on from its recent release, 909originals caught up with Screamin’ Rachael to learn more about how the compilation came together.
Q. Hi Rachael, thanks for talking to us. TRAX Records is synonymous with house music. Was it important when putting the compilation together to illustrate the development of the house genre over the past 35 years?
Because TRAX is synonymous with house music, it was important to illustrate all of the various textures, styles, excesses and even minimalistic approaches.
I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘development’, as some very recent cuts like Lois Plugged and Fruckie’s Gotta Have House hark back to the beginning days. It’s interesting how some really early cuts are considered new by people who are recently exposed to them.
Nevertheless, there has definitely been a lot of experimentation in the genre. There seems to be something timeless about house music, and it’s hard to put my finger on why.
I feel that house is the mother of all dance music as we know it today. Some people put labels on everything, such as ‘acid’, ‘hip house’, ‘deep’, even ‘EDM’. I don’t really do that. I think of house music as the rock and roll of our generation.
People want to dance, they need a release that is both spiritual and physical. In today’s crazy world, I believe house is a cure for social malaise. People are being divided by governments, nations, races and religion, but this music is the common denominator that brings us together and we can all relate to.
Q. There are a couple of more hip hop-style cuts on the compilation; to what degree has TRAX been influenced by hip hop and vice versa?
People who know me, and in fact those who know the roots of house, see the influences of hip hop. When I think of the early days, hip hop was the street sound of NYC and house of Chicago.
I remember Afrika Bambaataa and I having a conversation when we were producing my cut Fun With Bad Boys. We thought about bringing the two genres together, and we did just that, calling it ‘hip house’.
People like Todd Terry followed with the Jungle Brothers’ I’ll House You, Doug Lazy’s Let it Roll and of course Chicago legends like Kool Rock Steady, Tyree Cooper, and lots of others.
These days, major rappers like Ty Dolla $ign and Kanye are sampling our beats! That’s something I saw coming, because, let’s face it, a lot of hip hop people use samples, while house producers create their own.
We feature Grandmaster Melle Mel on the 35th Anniversary compilation, with Boom Goes My Heart. He’s influenced all the greatest rappers around since his smash The Message.
We used the same sample Kanye used, from the classic Dancer – Boom Boom; after all it was ours. I felt since Kanye used it for Lift Yourself – otherwise known as the ‘Poopy-di scoop’ song – we’d be able to take it to a different level.
Nobody argued that the beat was fire. In fact, West and Drake had a beef about it that went all the way to Rolling Stone magazine.
Q. As well as classic artists such as Marshall Jefferson, Robert Owens and Ron Hardy, there are also up and coming artists featured on the compilation. To what degree is TRAX Records seeking to foster new talent?
TRAX has been fostering new talent for years. We don’t sign too many projects because we’re small, with only a few people on our team. But if you listen to the 35th Anniversary, you’ll find a lot of new names.
We still work with classic artists and always will. I collaborate a lot with Joe Smooth, and we are so happy to have underground sensation Marcus Mixx back with us. You will even find classic artists like George Clinton, Todd Terry, Tony Moran and Melle Mel, who are not TRAX staples.
There are lots of new artists that I absolutely love. Some of them new this year like LGBT rapper Mikey Everything, 1Farshad, Jason Prince, and Luca Gerlin. Carmelo Carone has put out a lot of great music and I’ve worked a lot with him for almost four years.
Also, look out for DJ Oliver Fade – he’s out of Chicago and grew up with house music all his life. He also produced Mikey Everything. His TRAX project is due early 2020, and I guarantee it’s going to tear the roof off.
I’m going to drop my new album too, and I’ve been working with very exciting producers, including Didier Marouani of Space, who influenced Daft Punk. I love to perform, DJ, and write music. That’s really what I live for.
Q. House music now permeates every aspect of our lives; soundtracking commercials, movies and on TV programmes, as well as on daytime radio. What role do you think TRAX has played in the evolution of house music in this way?
I don’t think that anyone could argue the fact that TRAX has played a huge role in taking house music to the world. It now permeates popular culture in just about everything, from commercials to movies etc. It truly is everywhere!
Besides, these days every kid wants to be a DJ or producer. It’s not like back in the day, when they wanted to be in a band. I find it practically unbelievable that we went from ‘house music, what the hell is that?’, to house becoming an undeniable genre.
Somehow, though, I’ve got to admit that I always believed that was going to happen. I always knew the music and the label were very special and worth fighting for. Last year we were even featured in the commercial for the VH1 Video Awards; the funny thing is, we’ve never even had a video on VH1!
All I can say is this is a dream come true and if I could give anyone advice it would be never give up and keep on striving for what matters to you.
For example, look at the version of Move Your Body that Solardo just did with Marshall Jefferson – it’s No. 1 on Beatport’s chart. No doubt, we’ve arrived and we are here to stay!
Q. What excites you most about the future of house music, was the label marks its 35th anniversary?
The things that excites me most is that we keep evolving and growing. 35 years has not slowed us down and in fact I feel we are really finally just hitting our stride. There is not a moment that I’m not grateful to God and all our fans for their continued support and belief.
We’re on to our fourth film now with director Eric Rivas and we are signing a worldwide distribution with 1091 Media for the Vamp Bikers trilogy and Japanese Borscht. The Orchard, which is a subsidiary of Sony, distributes our music and I just signed a publishing admin deal with Ultra.
All those things are great, but none of those companies have anything to do with our day-to-day operations or our choices. We don’t fit their mould and they know that, but they appreciate our idiosyncratic operation.
At the end of the day, we are TRAX and that’s that. I’m thrilled about that… and intend to keep it that way!
[Thanks to Rachael for the interview. For more information or to purchase the TRAX 35th anniversary compilation, click here]