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FinalTraxboxExpandedPackShot_zps837e0820.jpgLabel: HarmlessScore: 10/10

This is the longest review I’ve ever written in over 40 years of doing this. It’s taken over two days to listen to the 18 plus hours of music on these sixteen CDs while trying to translate that experience and the importance of this behemoth project into words.

But it had to be done, not least because nobody else has and the biggest single label boxset dance music has ever seen deserves it. At last, acid house is being treated as a serious enough part of dance music’s evolution to merit this deluxe boxset treatment and, going on the reaction to Terry Farley’s monumental Acid Rain boxset, this was well overdue. It was always Harmless Records’ intention to follow Terry’s set with this monster – a set so single-minded, demented and huge it sits beautifully as both perfect companion and vast motherlode source. So what’s two days next to the months of detective work and micro-surgery which went into compiling this miracle of the modern age?

Acid Rain dipped heavily into the Trax Records vaults because no set purporting to represent this supernova period in dance music history could do without the several tracks which also appear here. Now here’s the rest. If Farley’s compilation holds Trax up as one of the pivotal house music imprints, Traxbox establishes it as most vital to the whole movement (especially in the light of past rival DJ International holding out on letting anyone near its own gem-studded vault). In a striking package complete with fact-packed 104-page book with notes by DJHistory’s Bill Brewster, the sixteen CDs chronicle the first 75 twelve-inch singles released on the label; both A and B sides.

Chicago‘s fledgling house music industry became dominated by Larry Sherman‘s newly-formed Trax Records in 1985. Holding the cards by owning a pressing plant, Sherman eschewed traditional record company practices like A&R and publicity departments, even game plan (although Marshall Jefferson was a key pair of ears for deciding releases). Sherman simply took a hot new tune and pressed it up, initially selling thousands locally and on export. A lot has been written about Sherman’s business practices but if he hadn’t taken chances on this alien new music, dance music might have taken a different turn, as the set shows. Bill’s copious notes relate how artists would wait until Sherman went to lunch, then grab boxes of records against the money they had given up hope of seeing.

Before we start going through the set, it should be remembered that many of the tracks here were created with one major goal, along with the attraction of an advance from Sherman. As regulars at the heaving bacchanal that was the Music Box club held in an underground car park in downtown Chicago, the young producers knew what effect the right tune could have of one of the craziest crowds dance music has ever seen. That was all down to DJ Ron Hardy, Chicago’s answer to Larry Levan and the single most important figure in house music’s development into  world phenomenon. Presiding over the black-painted sweat-pot lit by a single strobe, Ron took his LSD-driven throng on insanely euphoric journeys, cranking the pitch control and volume to senses-shattering levels, hotwiring the right tune into an apocalyptic anthem (and instant local hit). There’d be shagging behind the skyscraper speakers, a lot of hallucinogenic drugs and many revelers inspired to go off and make their own music, echoing the punk rock revolution of the previous decade.

If Frankie Knuckles is the ‘Godfather of House’ who carried the torch for spiritual disco at the Warehouse, Hardy was the devil who sired its wigged-out lysergic brother. Ron willingly played tapes handed to him in the booth, driving crowds to rapturous frenzy by deconstructing records into something else, even playing them backwards as he careered into the realms of psychedelic happenings or avant garde exploration. When I was making dance records in the 90s, I would often imagine the effect some hair-raising stroke might have on the revelers at the disco infernos I frequented, such as the Drum Club or Voodoo. These producers were pushing the boat out in the same spirit, thrashing and teasing maximum dancefloor carnage out of their primitive setups with the aim of presenting Ron with a fearsome new electronic battle weapon. Maybe break a few hearts too because, it has to be pointed out, this set also includes some of the most beautiful, other-worldly house music ever laid to tape, particularly those Virgo Four tracks.

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