DJ HISTORY’S Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton take a massive risk by commissioning and releasing re-edits of a host of legendary Chicago house label Trax’s finest ever moments, and we’re delighted to say the risk has paid off. These fresh edits have been done by a mixture of invited artists and selected submitted works, with the likes of Greg Wilson, Optimo’s JD Twitch, Swag and Justin Harris tackling classic cuts from Adonis, Mr Lee, Mr Fingers and Ralphi Rosario respectively. Vintage moments from Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle also get touched up, and the good thing about this is that all those re-editing don’t stray too far from the original tracks, just giving them an adept touch-up so each track’s identity remains intact.
“Legendary house label gets remix birthday cake”.
How we make and consume music has changed immensely in the 25 years since Trax began. The pioneering Chicago house label was home to most of the genre’s best-known early exponents – Mr Fingers, DJ Pierre, Frankie Knuckles and Farley Jackmaster Funk. There’s a satisfying synergy to website DJhistory.com – run by Bill Brewster and fellow DJ sage Frank Broughton – being let loose on the Trax catalogue to mark their silver jubilee.
They’ve invited a band of name producers (including Swag, Greg Wilson and Leo Zero) to offer reworkings as well as run competitions for unknowns to contribute, the latter consciously harking back to those pre-superstar DJ times. What’s apparent is the great reverence these nascent house tunes are still given. Justin Harris’ reworking of Ralphi Roasrio’s You Used To Hold Me is subtitled the Respectful Redo. Well, quite.
Here’s something to make acid-housers feel bewilderingly ancient: Trax – the imprint that pretty much kick-started modern club culture – celebrates its 25th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, the rave academics over at DJHistory.com have compiled 21 suitably reverential new re-edits, with classics from Frankie Knuckles, Adonis, Farley Jackmaster Funk etc getting chopped, tweaked and re-EQed byt the likes of JD Twitch, Mark Broom and Richard Sen (plus a handful of unknowns who triumphed in an online contest).
To be honest, it’s almost impossible to listen to Trax tracks objectively in 2010, as they’re so steeped in cultural significance that they’ve moved beyond being mere dance tunes. That aside, everything here still sounds incredibly fresh and energising – partly due to the skilful re-editing, and partly because Trax’s lo-fi, box-tweakin’ aesthetic is, fortuitously, bang ‘on-trend’.
It’s easy to understand why house music’s Chicago roots are so mythologized. For a start, unless you’re a DJ Pierre or Frankie Knuckles (which we’re assuming you’re not, but if you are, hi Pierre and Frankie!), you almost certainly weren’t there to witness it first-hand. Instead, like us, you’re left to mull over a handful of pictures and stories of who invented what, and clubs where people didn’t dance, they’d ‘jack’. And then, of course, you have the birth of acid, a sound which – when you consider it next to disco and ‘80s pop – probably resembled the bubbling lake of hell itself, especially if you’d had a few.
Strip this away, though, and you’re left with a legacy of music that continues to sound exciting and vibrant, remarkable for its influence on generation after generation of producers since, but still otherworldly in its untamed, original form.
‘Trax Re-edited: the Original Chicago House Label Reborn’ (out now on DJHistory.com/Harmless) celebrates a quarter of a decade of Trax Records, arguably Chicago’s most influential label, which launched household names – if your hold really is deep into the sound of house – of Ron Hardy, Robert Owens, Jamie Principle, Adonis, Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk, DJ Pierre and many more onto the record-buying public. Since such characters have gone onto become the object of much scrutiny, it seems appropriate that the project of compiling and re-editing the revered label’s legacy should fall upon DJ History, gatekeepers of rare and arcane DJ knowledge who run a pretty nifty website.
“If you mentioned 25 years ago to a Trax artist that we’d be doing a compilation in appreciation of their music, I think their hats would have fallen off really”, says Bill Brewster, DJ History co-founder alongside Frank Broughton, of the project that started when Ian Dewhirst of Demon Records, a friend of Bill’s with a similarly long-standing service to music, acquired the Trax back catalogue. “All they wanted to do was make a record that Ron Hardy or Frankie Knuckles would play!”
Deciding in a more contemporary spirit to turn it into a re-edit series, DJ History set about farming out some tracks to long-standing allies such as Swag’s Chris Duckenfield and Dissident’s Andy Blake, while the others they offered via a competition on the site. As well as uncovering previously unknown acts such as R&R&S and Bleepfunk, ably re-jigging Virgo’s ‘R U Hot Enough’ and DJ Pierre’s ‘Fantasy Girl’ respectively, it also led to the discovery of more established fans, from Freaks’ Justin Harris whose ‘Respectful Re-do’ of Ralphi Rosario’s sass-fuelled ‘You Used To Hold Me’ is just that, to Mark Broom who already had a beefed up version of Master C&Js ‘Dub Love’ in his personal DJ arsenal.
Expertly making the tweaks necessary to update classics such as Robert Owens’ ‘Bring Down the Walls’ (tip of the hat to Leo Zero) and Mr Lee’s ‘Pump Up Chicago’ (high five to Optimo’s JD Twitch), the assembled team does a sterling job in making up for the label’s original quality issues, which arose from boss Larry Sherman melting down old records to press Trax releases.
“To be quite honest, in some perverse way, the poor quality is part of the attractiveness of Trax Records”, laughs Bill at just one of the label’s purported shady business practices. “To me it’s like punk rock. Releasing records on really poor quality vinyl on badly designed labels continues the ethos of pressing tracks, getting them out there and seeing what happens. “Give n this short-sighted money making, the vaults of Trax weren’t lined with reels of original master tapes, either. “I think what happened was that they’d record a tune to a two-inch tape, master it from the tape, then wipe the tape and make the next tune with it. Pretty much everything we were working with was mastered from vinyl and then cleaned up.”
To side-step this, KiNK – whose own productions authentically ape the sounds of Chicago house, whether solo or alongside Neville Watson, who also appears on the comp – provided a cover of Jack Frost’s ‘Clap Me’, a cleaner, sharper doppelganger of the original with a glowing white Hollywood smile.
“For some people this is what got them into house music in the first place, so it’s like chasing your first high”, Bill reckons on Trax’s enduring appeal. “For other people it’s so long ago that even if you’re thirty, it didn’t mean anything to you as a kid so it’s always been in the past. Because of that, it seems a bit more fresh than if you lived through it”. Whatever your age, there’s no doubting the timeless appeal of Trax.