The importance of Chicago’s Trax Records to house and techno music cannot be overstated. The term “house music” comes from DJ Frankie Knuckles’ legendary parties at The Warehouse in Chicago, and in the mid-to-late ‘80s, Trax Records became Chicago’s premier house label. Trax was notorious for not paying its artists, awful-sounding pressings on recycled vinyl that often had bits of paper stuck in it, and a strange tendency to package and sell its records in other labels’ sleeves.
Despite its faults, Trax revolutionized dance music by putting out the first acid house records, so named for their “acid lines”, severely tweaked riffs on the Roland TB-303 synthesizer. The 303 failed miserably at its intended purpose as a bass guitar emulator; its production run lasted less than two years. But it was cheap (at the time), and it made sharply expressive sounds with knobs that were the electronic equivalents of wah-wah pedals. Combined with the TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, the 303 acid sound influenced an entire generation of house and techno producers worldwide, such as Hardfloor, Josh Wink, Richie Hawtin, and 808 State.
Armando Gallop was one of Chicago’s pioneers of acid house, producing classics like “Land of Confusion” and “100% of Disin’ U” (sic). But his sporadic output and his death at 26 from leukemia kept his fame within DJ circles, and he never achieved the widespread recognition that peers like Larry Heard (aka “Mr. Fingers”) and Farley “Jackmaster” Funk enjoyed. Trax Classix attempts to right this wrong by compiling and remastering his long out-of-print singles.
Compared to today’s electronic music, the production here is startlingly primitive. The sounds are rather dry, with little reverb or effects. Tunes from this more innocent era were often named for their samples; “Don’t Stop”, “Turn my Shit Up”, and “Here We Go” have vocals that say exactly those things. Often, the ingredients are simply a 303 grinding away on top of a 909; this is minimalism by necessity, rather than by design. But the results are funky, driving, and, of course, tweaky. As a working DJ, Armando no doubt knew dancefloor dynamics, and to keep tunes moving, he places well-timed changes and percussion fills, such as the killer shuffled hi-hats a minute into “Turn my Shit Up”. Hooks are simple, strong, and insistent, to the point that out-of-key divas sound not just acceptable, but downright spicy, creating a lack of resolution that prevents repetition from feeling repetitious.
For a collection of singles (i.e., “tracks”) intended for DJ use, Trax Classix is surprisingly listenable. Some of the tunes have been remastered from original vinyl pressings, and the remastering job is competent. A few jarring pops and crackles remain that could easily have been cleaned up, but perhaps retaining them provides a more “authentic” Trax sound.
The timing of this compilation is perfect, given the recent acid house revival on dancefloors worldwide. As the voice-over in “Pleasure Dome” and the dark pads in “Land’s End” (Green Velvet), the chopped up diva samples in “100% of Disin’ U” (early Moby), the whispered vocal in “Don’t Stop” (British acid house), and the filtered 303 in “Get Crazy” (psychedelic trance) show, Armando’s influence has never waned, but has just gone unrecognized until now.
// Notes from the Road
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