By James Currie
What is it about Wax Trax! Records that still holds people’s interest? This long defunct independent record store and label has had a resurgence of sorts these past few years and fans just can’t get enough of it. Well, there’s good reason. So many powerful, iconic and memorable musicians and performers came out of there in a relatively short time. Maybe there was just not enough time to take it all in or get full closure when it left. It was the Industrial music scenes Mecca that gave us such bands as Ministry, Front 242, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and so many more. In the early 80’s until about the mid 90’s, Chicago was the place to be for this genre. Musical masterminds like Al Jourgensen were pioneering a new frontier that garnered a cult following that still reigns strong today. With the help of Reid Hyams and his Chicago Trax Recording Studio, new music was spewing out of the northside faster than its state politicians hitting the slammer.
The place to get all this was a record store in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood called, Wax Trax! Records. Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher migrated their little record store from Denver Colorado in the late 70’s. They flourished for a decade and a half until getting hit by hard times and closed down. Normally, that would be the end of any business. But it wasn’t just any business, record store or indie label. It was a movement. An almost cult following grew from it. The bands and artists that survived it maintained a following of fans that just just wouldn’t die. The music was immortalized in movies, TV and the underground music scene where it stayed relevant for decades to come.
With a little luck, a lot of hard work and the love of the genre by the many fans, Jim Nash’s daughter Julia, revived the legend back to life. She found a treasure trove of goodies from her dad and his partners place. Piles of history were uncovered for several years as she, her husband artist Mark Skillicorn and other family and friends started going through barns, storage bins, basements and garages – finding and saving would be lost relics. They painstakingly have been regrouping the brand and bringing it back to the masses in small batch events like this.
But there’s more. Not only has Julia brought back classic records, tapes, posters and trinkets for fans to glom over, but she’s also revived the record label creating the first new Wax Trax! Record in almost 20 years. A 12-inch single was created for the band, Cocksure. A legend in that industrial scene helmed by Chris Connelly (Ministry, Revolting Cocks etc.) and later generation industrial musician Jason Novak (Acumen Nation, Czar). This lead to even more releases so keep an eye out for those.
As if that’s not enough, Mrs. Nash also put together a documentary about the scene her father helped to create. “Industrial Accident” as it’s titled, is on the film touring circuit where she and her family show it off to the industrial music fans around the world at different fests and theatre screenings.
This show tonight, is at House of Van’s in Chicago’s west loop. Set in the clubs punk rock skater club, Nash and her crew (that also includes original employees from the original store) and family (young daughter included) sell their goods, show off a temporary exhibit (housed in original store display cases) of historical items like rare behind the scenes photos, production prints, original store displays, autographed memorabilia, rare records and even a pair of rhinestone encrusted high top tennis shoes from the Sex Pistol’s legendary bassist, Sid Vicious. A souvenir her father grab for himself back in the days when he went to see bands. Tucked in the brick lined cubbyholes of the club, you’ll find galleries, the record store and a t-shirt merchandise stand.
When I arrived, it was about 5PM. The doors wouldn’t open to the public for about another two hours, but that didn’t stop the masses from coming out early. Wax Traxer’s were already lining up and stretched down the alley and into the next block. I walked by the front of the line and asked a girl leaning against the wall, waiting patiently, what was this event to her. Why was she there? Jenna, from Logan’s Square said, “I’ve just been a fan of the music for so long, I just had to be around this scene. When I heard it was a pop up store, I shouted out loud – TAKE MY MONEY!” She went on to say she wasn’t around when the original place was, but that the history and staying power of the bands and music have been a part of her life since as long as she’s be into music. She ended with, “It’s not only for the music, but a sense of Chicago pride to be here.”
Once the fans finally rolled in, and some literally ran in, they milled around a bit looking at the displays but quickly headed back to the record store section as soon as they saw it. Some, like myself included, quickly thumbed through the vintage vinyl and grabbed their favorites before they were gone. Some of the rarities included first pressings of the first Wax Trax! Record Minimal Compact, a white vinyl copy of Thrill Kill Kult’s Confessions of a Knife and a test pressing of a Lead Into Gold 12-inch to name just a few.
I liked watching the bins run thin as the shoppers came in and cleaned them out. I wish I had a high-speed camera set up to record the action. It was like watching beetles bugs cleaning the flesh off a decaying carcass lying in the dessert. By an hour into it, the overly full bins (with original record store dividers in place) were running lean.
Another interesting piece they added to the experience was the displays of televisions playing various videos like Ministry’s, In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up Live. One station playing had an interactive sound and video module mounted on the top of the TV where you could put on headphones and twist and tweak knobs to affect the presentation.
The whole atmosphere of the event was incredibly inviting and impressive. They had a DJ starting off the night playing classic Wax Trax! Records followed by live music from Chicago’s own, Caustic and the San Andreas Fault as well as Youth Code and ending with the iconic punk band, The Dead Milkmen.
Wax Trax! opening their vault was a sight to see to say the least. Viewing the walls of history, the cabinets full of curiosities, the physical original media and hearing all the great music just makes the end all that bitter sweet. It’s something wonderful to be in and a part of, but absolutely devastating to know that soon it will all be over, packed away and shelved for who knows how long until it sees the light of day again.
I know Julia Nash is absolutely swamped. Her plate is overfull with these pop ups, rebranding the name, touring the documentary and making new music all while still working her day job and still maintaining a family, but fingers crossed, maybe she’ll get finished with a few things and consider actually reopening a brick and mortar store front that we all can revel in for years to come. There’s a new generation chomping at the bit for it. If the turnouts they’re getting from these rare and random events are any indication, it would do very well.
One of my favorite jobs I ever had was working at a record store. Though I never worked at the northside Industrial music headquarters, I did frequent it. I remember the sounds (and smells) and a highlight being the time I bought a Ministry record from Chris Connelly himself. I loved hearing new music every day, meeting new people and turning them on to something new, like Pailhead or Front 242. The heyday of the true independent record store may be over, but there has been a great resurgence of rare records and vintage vinyl collectors. All the conventions, few remaining stores selling records and special events like this prove there is a market for it. Could be part nostalgia, could be because now we’ve grown up, got careers and can afford the buy more vinyl, but whatever it is, we’re here, so, Julia Nash and Co, TAKE OUR MONEY!
For more on Wax Trax! Records, other rare appearances and movie screenings, click here
For photos from the House of Van’s Inside The Vault Wax Trax! Archive Gallery, click here
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