In 1984, Larry Sherman, Vince Lawrence, and Screamin' Rachael began what would arguably become the most important record label in house music. On November 1st, I sat down with Screamin' Rachael- label president and artist. Pleasant, enthusiastic with many insightful things to say, Rachael and I talked about the label's history, the gay community and Trax's future.
ER: For the younger and uninitiated, what is Trax Records and why is it significant?
Rachael: For people that are younger, they wouldn't know about the history, so I'd like to get into that a little bit. I think most younger people today are very into dj culture and Trax is the cradle or the home of where dj culture began. House music, which we specialize in, was the original label that started the whole house music trend. From house music came drum and bass, hard house, techno/trance... so many of the things that kids are listening to. Most hings that relate to dj culture started at Trax. I'd say the reason why we started dj culture is interesting. What comes out is that as kids, when we started out 20 years ago, our whole thing was to have vinyl for the dj's to play. At that time there really weren't all these magazines like "Dj Times", "Accelerator" and so many of the great music mags, "I dj" out of the UK. All these music magazines today relate mainly to dj's and dj culture. Back then, we were coming out of a time when people were really anti disco. I was really kind of anti-disco myself, I was into a new kind of music that was just being born, and that was house music. I'd say house music was a combination of many things: disco, rock, new wave, stuff like New Order, which was the stuff that I really liked, industrial things like Ministry. All these things are going to be stuff that kids don't know but, to put it boldly, we were teenagers that couldn't get into clubs, just like they are kids that can't get into clubs now. We would have underground parties. At our underground parties, we would have live acts but also dj's. It was very important for us as kids to get our music on vinyl, and that was the dawning of dj culture, and everything that we know today. I think now things are just so changed in every way that we can look at it, but I'm seeing kids really into, regardless of what they are really listening to, whether it is trance or hip hop, a dj motivated thing. Kids today want to be dj's. If they don't, there certainly are very many things relating to and magazines relating to youth culture that would relate to records and vinyl. Trax needed vinyl for dj's and we were on such a small, local leveland that eventually just blew up to the rest of the world. If you wanna know why dj's are so important, start at Trax.
ER: You said it was a small, local community. Twenty years ago, were all of you friends that collaborated, or was it a thing that you were interested separately and then you just found each other or how did it happen?
Rachael: The way it happened is interesting. There were Warehouse parties. Frankie Knuckles was one of the people that a lot of people looked up to because he was throwing parties at a place called the Warehouse. Me and my friends, which were more alternative and a little bit harder edged, we were doing parties at a place called the Space Place. There were also school dances. People like Jesse Saunders and Vince Lawrence and Farly Jack Master Funk were doing a lot of the school dance parties. Basically we all came together out of going to these all-ages parties. Specifically the Warehouse parties had a bigger influence because when you are a kid, dance parties at your school are okay, but let's face it, you'd rather go to a rave. Today, you'd still rather go to a loft party. I was at a great all ages loft party this past weekend. I went on Halloween, it was really cool to see. It reminded me of when I was growing up and saying "Wow here I am listening to all this great house music, at a party and this is how we all started." It really was a small group of friends, and we used to go to Frankie's parties and Ron Hardy's parties at The Music Box. We started saying "Geez, this music is really great. We need to make our own records."
Frankie Knuckles Vince Lawrence, Jesse Saunders, myself, Marshall Jefferson, we became the foundation of dance music as its known today.
ER: Can you give me an approximate timeline?
Rachael: The first actual house recording started around 1984, and that's why Trax itself is celebrating its 20 year anniversary. It was about was a need. We wanted vinyl for our parties, and Larry Sherman, my partner, had a vinyl pressing plant in Bridgeport on the Southside. We saw a big sign off the highway..."Wow!A vinyl pressing plant! We could go there! We could get records!" We met Larry, and said "Can you press up our music?" We began shopping these records out of the trunks of our cars to the smaller mom and pop record shops. Places like Gramaphone, places like that which are now the backbone of dj culture still to this day. These records were selling in really big numbers, even though it was such a grass roots kind of thing. Larry realized "Wow, this could be something, maybe I should back these kids." So he did. It's interesting because even though there were some vocals on these records, the reason that Trax is called Trax it that is was still not a "song", it was a "track". Larry really couldn't spell, so we had a happy accident! "Trax" instead of "Tracks." Nowadays everyone wants to be tracks-this, tracks-that---Dust tracks...there are so many, but there is one original Trax records, and this is it.
ER: Since 1984 and now, how has house music evolved?
Rachael: It's come full circle, which is the best part of the whole thing. I think now more than ever, its so evident in things that you are hearing. Subliminal, and so many of the other companies that are doing house music that are current, are going for a retro sound. I think the simplicity of the stripped down basic thing that we started back then is still relevant. I was hearing "Zig Zag" played at a party, and that's one of Trax's more classic cuts and I was thinking to myself, "I bet a lot of these kids that are hearing this don't realize that this is a record that's at least ten years old." But they aren't thinking that way, they are just thinking that it's a great record. They'll hear one of these classic acid cuts for instance, from the Acid Album, and just like the NY times has said, it could fit in to something that you'd hear right now. You wouldn't necessarily know it. There is a timeless quality. We started out with really basic house stuff, it evolved into more soulful things, then we got into hip house, where we put rap on house, and now P. Diddy is going in that direction. People like the Neptunes and Missy Elliot are there. They've combined rap and house. Hard house also evolved, people call it techno, I still call it hard house. A lot of people don't know that the roots of the techno scene started here. I think if you really go back and get into studying music or if you listen
to some of this new dance music that you are hearing out there, labels like Ultra, Star 69, none of them could deny that they were influenced by what Trax did. Some of the better music from Trax, it just holds up. You read any of these magazines that are talking about us these days, Cargo, Blender, they are all giving you the idea that innovation never goes out of style. The full evolution has gone back to the basics: what made house music great in the first place.
ER: What kind of styles have house music traversed?
Rachael: We were always evolving because I think the music and the people who set out the scene always kept evolving with it. The original Chicago people, Frankie Knuckles and myself, we were the ones who brought it to New York, so that people like Masters at Work and Little Louie Vega got into the sound through what we did. We have touched on so many different things. These days people are talking about how rock and house are coming together. You are seeing a lot of guitars the same way Run DMC did "Walk This Way." Now you see house people taking that kind of direction. Rock, house, hip house, deep house, vocal house, soulful house, even beat poets like the Distant Planet and the Jungle. Jazzy house. You're seeing jazzy house being big today and coming around. I'm hearing that kind of influence. I think we've always grown with it and we've always moved into these different directions. House is to me, being a person who grew up with it, sort of like what Rock N' Roll was when everybody talked about rock. I think house took all these different dimensions and all these different styles and combined them all. Maybe some that aren't from Chicago resent the fact that house was such a Chicago thing. They might just want to use this ambiguous term "dance" but I think "house" is really the mother of these styles that we have today.
ER: What modern sounds or bands are you listening to?
Rachael: I have always loved the idea of live music with the influence of dance beats. The important thing that happened before house music is that people wanted to dance and bands at the time were forgetting that. Now bands are remembering that people want to dance. The commercial world is taking house music. It is a good thing that dance is coming into the whole mix. People want to dance, that's key. Maybe that was always key, but people were forgetting or going in different directions. Its good to hear it coming out in all this kind of stuff. Me, personally, I love going to hear dj's spin, I love it when I see people singing live with a dj, guitars playing live with a dj, when I see bands that incorporate djs. I like that. I perform with Afrikaa Bambataa, and we add instruments, we add percusssion, but we have the foundation of the dj. I enjoy that. I do a lot of singing and producing, I like that. I always like to be creating the actual thing.
ER: In rock music, generally, there's one thing that is being admired, andthat's the person who wrote or is performing the song. In house music,there could be three different people being admired at any given time:the singer, the person that produced the track and the dj that's spinning the track. In your mind, who is admired in house music?
Rachael: That's an interesting question because I'm not really a dj. I guess I could be a dj like they used to be when they weren't cutting and mixing and scratching. It's interesting because I've helped to build a whole dj culture. I have to say to myself, "Look at what's happened here: I am a vocalist and a producer, but I've given a whole lot of credit in my label over to dj's." It happened, we didn't engineer it to happen that way, but we sure did make it happen that way. I have band that I play with, it is hard for bands to get live gigs, and why is that? Because everyone has a dj. And why is that? Because we created dj culture, and to some degree I've put some of the things that I love out of business. That makes me a bit sad. I do know that because we loved making these records, and our whole thing was getting djs to play them, djs are now gods in the whole house music set. There are people that understand the importance of the singer, and there are people that understand the importance of the producer, but basically, when they talk about dj culture these days, yes, we made dj's superstars. Back when I was growing up with Superstar dj Keoki, and he called himself "Superstar dj Keoki", that was a big statement! There weren't superstar dj's then. That did not exist. He was creating that path, but little did we know that there were going to be many superstar djs, whether they had that prefix before their name or not. We didn't see it coming. I was thinking the other day, "look at what we have done!"
Read Part 2 of Erik Roldan's exclusive interview with Screamin' Rachael.