Given the ubiquity of recent classic Acid House Compilations, it’s occasionally difficult to remember that the music coming out of Chicago from the late Eighties onwards was not always limited to the 303 and various drum machines, as fun and important as those records are. And while those old Acid records are undeniably fun and incredibly important to the history of House and electronic music in general, they don’t tell the whole story.
In fact, whilst the big Chicago labels like Trax and DJ International have continued to hold their place in the sun after all these years, and others like Cajmere’s Relief Records provided most of the blue print for todays bumper crop of slightly soulful, slightly jacking retro-house, it’s Dance Mania that was really pushing its own way through musical history.
There isn’t space here for a full recap of the legendary label – and those interested should buy the record and read the copious and illuminating sleeve notes – suffice to say that Dance Mania’s almost unique fusion of in-yer-face rhythms, Gangster Rap inspired lyrics and wonky, almost atonal synths were more or less entirely responsible for the carnage wrought across European dance-floors in the late nineties and early 2000s by what came to be known as Ghetto-House. And although The label itself faded from its popularity in due course, it left its undoubted legacy in the work of such artists as Delroy Edwards, newer Chicago styles like Footwork and Juke and in the need of huge DJs like Nina Kravizt to proselytize on its behalf at every opportunity. The thing is, she’s right to do so.
The album itself is a two parter: The first covers the labels earlier period, where the material on offer is slightly straighter, more in keeping with what other labels were doing in the late eighties. Some of the tunes – Hercules’ 7 Ways, for instance, or House Nation by The Housemaster Boys, are up there with the best material of Chi-town luminaries like DJ Pierre or Marshal Jefferson, and are every bit as well-known. They keep the velocity down and the groove up, and are perfect examples of feel and mood transmitted through man and machine. In the lush strings of Crazy Wild by Club style, it’s easy to hear and understand the musical knowledge (often forgotten now,) that once flowed between Chicago and Detroit.
For most people, though, it’ll be the second disk that holds much of the real treasure. The names on the track listing reads like a who’s who for some of the most banging music to ever come out of the States. Parris Mitchel, Robert Armani, Paul Johnson, are all present, as are artist who are still inspiring the scene today, like DJs Funk and Deeon. Tunes like Johnson’s Feel My MF Bass or Black Women by Jammin’ The House Gerald are almost the ideal Ghetto House trackks, combining genuinely Jacking beats with a gritty rawness and a playful nastiness designed to get the gangbangers following the girls onto the dance floor. Others, like Armani’s Ambulance are beyond the line and well into Techno territory, rivalling the stripped down and viciously functional stylings of New York Techno greats Adam X and Frankie Bones.
The one glaring omission is the lack of any material by Lil Louis who apparently wouldn’t allow Strut to license any of music. It’s a shame that the man behind French Kiss isn’t present, but, on the other hand, it allows the other artists room that they might otherwise not have had.
Although available on CD and digital, it’s worth tracking down the awesome vinyl release: two lovely slabs of wax, in a gate fold cover laden with all the notes geeky European trainspotters could ever want, and it comes complete with the full CD as well so you don’t even have to dirty the vinyl with the rough grasp of a stylus. The only problem might be tracking one down, although those kind folks at Vinyl Solution still had copies in stock a few days ago – link in our blog roll to the side. Good luck!