In honor of Independence Day, KEXP is saluting some of our favorite indie record labels whose DIY-spirit helped revolutionize the music industry. As an independent radio station ourselves, KEXP is thrilled to give a 13-gun salute to these pioneers with a series of label spotlights through the Fourth of July.
By Mel Trejo
Before eventually evolving into a seminal label within the industrial genre, Wax Trax! had its beginnings as a record store. Business and life partners, Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher opened the Wax Trax record store in Denver, Colorado during December of 1975. They moved to Chicago in 1978 after selling the initial store and opened up a new shop under the same name in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The store became a cultural hotbed for music lovers and the underground scene in Chicago. As well, it was one of the very first known record stores to sell imported albums, which we take for granted now, but this would help set the stage for what Wax Trax would become as a record label. The store expanded to a label in 1979 with their selling of an illegal Brian Eno single called Was Trash 101. Although the sales of this single were unauthorized, it is attributed as being the first Wax Trax! release in 1979. The very first “official” release was the Immediate Action EP by Strike Under which came out in 1981. In 1982 a young guitarist named Al Jourgensen handed over a demo of his band Ministry to Jim and Dannie. The songs on the demo became their third release, I’m Falling/ Primental with Cold Life as the B-side. The single found popularity overseas in UK clubs and prompted a demand for thousands of copies. Jim and Dannie now found that they had a full fledged label on their hands.
Nash and Flesher lived in an apartment above the store, which is where they ran the label. The roster of Wax Trax! artists ran the gamut of sounds that spanned from rock to avant-garde, to disco and electronic as well as EBM sounds. But the music term that became synonymous with Wax Trax! was industrial, which Wax Trax! is credited as pioneering in the US. Both Nash and Flesher had grown an affinity for music coming out of Europe that combined elements of rock and dance and in particular artists being released by the Play It Again Sam label in Belgium. They forged a relationship with the label where Wax Trax! distributed Play it Again Sam albums in the US and in turn Wax Trax! releases were seeing the light of day in Europe.
The Wax Trax! band roster included Ministry, Coil, Front 242, The KLF, KMFDM, Meat Beat Manifesto, Laibach, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult just to name a few. In keeping true to independence, Wax Trax! made sure that the artists retained control of their music and signed no contracts with any of their bands which is admirable, but a major part of what led to the label’s demise. An exodus of bands from Wax Trax! to bigger labels during the late 80’s into 90’s was a trend led by Belgium’s Front 242 who made the leap to mainstream when they signed to Epic at the end of the 80’s. Wax Trax! eventually filed for bankruptcy in the mid-90’s and was bought out by TVT records in 1992. With the fading of of Wax Trax! as it’s own label and the passing of Nash in 1995, Dannie Flesher quit the music business and he too passed in 2005. The spirit, enthusiasm, and memory of Wax Trax! is currently being kept alive by Julie Nash, the daughter of Jim Nash who maintains a site that preserves the memory of Jim Nash, Dannie Flesher, and the Wax Trax! legacy. Read more details about the Wax Trax! story at the site here.
Watch an interview with founders Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher from 1987 and enjoy a few videos for some of the memorable songs released by the label here below:
Wax Trax! Founders Jim Nash & Dannie Flesher:
Front 242- Headhunter
My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult- And This is What the Devil Does
Revolting Cocks- Do Ya Think I’m Sexy
KMFDM- More And Faster