90s in 90 Days #86: BLACKBOX Wax Trax! Records: The First 13 Years

90s in 90 Days #86: BLACKBOX Wax Trax! Records: The First 13 Years

Wax Trax! Records released BLACKBOX, a commemorative three-disc box set, in 1994.  The set spanned the label’s first 13 years of maniacal music-making, including memorable noise from label stars such as KMFDM, Ministry, Revolting Cocks, and Thrill Kill Kult, and even-more-fringe acts like Mussolini Headkick, Coil, and Laibach.   The initial pressing was packaged in a galvanized steel box, offering bonuses like “69 feet” of physical audio tape for the discs to nest in.  The tape allegedly had edited outtakes of Wax Trax! recordings on it, but I never put it to the reel-to-reel test.  

(Audio tape, steel box, and author shown below) 

In the early 90s, we saw Wax Trax! limp off into bankruptcy, eventually selling itself to the ghoulish TVT Records.  In October, 1995, the label’s heart and soul, co-founder Jim Nash, died from AIDS complications.  The tragedies and disappointments of Wax Trax! grabbed a lot of industry headlines back then, but I’d like to believe that time has refocused attention on what the label was all about: ahead of its time, industrial/martial dance music.

Wax Trax! was a rare indie whose brand was strong enough to drive fans to pick up a 12″ or album without ever hearing a single note from it first.  The label was always consistent, and always true to their vision.  Perhaps Nash and co-owner Dannie Flesher weren’t the savviest businessmen, but god damn, they had incredible ears and a true sense of what they wanted that label to be.

Few Chicago labels define a sound.  Alligator has the blues down cold.  Bloodshot has the alt-country thing firmly under hand. Wax Trax!  was industrial.  Others have tried since (Metropolis, Invisible), but the shadow of Wax Trax! simply looms too large. 

BLACKBOX a must-own for Chicago music fans; a real testament to the label’s wall-shaking, parent-scaring, sound.


90s in 90 Days
Over the course of 90 days (not consecutive, though I’ll try), I’ll be offering up a capsule look at something about Chicago music from the 90s. It could be a radio memory. Thoughts on a song, show, band, or album. Maybe a review aided by hindsight. Whatever it is, it’ll be original content just for this site, and not found in my book.

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