Interview: Screamin' Rachael of Trax Records | Features | MN2S

We spoke to Screamin’ Rachael Cain about the past, present and future of her legendary label, Trax Records.

Screamin’ Rachael Cain is one of the most influential figures in house music. As the founder and owner of Trax Records, Rachael helped bring many of the greatest house anthems into the world from the likes of Marshall Jefferson, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Larry Heard, the late Frankie Knuckles and of course herself. We spoke to her about the history of house and the Trax label in general.

MN2S: Did you have any idea how influential Trax would be when setting it up?

Rachael: From the very beginning I really believed in it. That’s why I tried so hard to really make it happen. I can remember talking to Farley in an elevator years ago when we were making ‘Fun With Bad Boys’, and we were saying, “We’re making this music because we love it. It doesn’t matter about the Billboard charts or anything else. Someday the world’s gonna know about it.” I’m very proud of it, I’m very excited about it and I’m very happy that people can appreciate what we’ve done, and what we continue to do.

You’re very passionate about it.

Some people say too passionate. The thing about it with me is, it’s never been about the money. I know everyone says that but in my case it really is not. It’s about the music. It’s about preserving the music, making great new music, and having the same attitude we did when we started, which is doing music we believe in.

That’s a great philosophy. At the time, house music was brand new. No one had heard anything like it before. Was that ever a problem?

People laughed at it, especially in New York.


Shortly after we started it, myself, Jesse Saunders, and a lot of us got bigger deals that brought us to other places. Jesse went to the West Coast and I went to New York. I remember getting there and people would just laugh and say ‘this is not music, this is just a bunch of noise.’ They didn’t see it at all.

I was influenced by Sylvia Robertson and I did some work at SugarHill, rapping and singing backup and things like that. When I was there everybody used to make fun of it, saying our music didn’t have a message. They just didn’t understand it. And now all these rappers are sampling it, using it because everybody wants to dance.

What’s happened is, house music is the mother of all the electronica that’s going on today. I think that dance music is the rock ‘n’ roll of our generation because it’s now everywhere. I can’t look at it any other way. Right now, all pop music is about dance. When people hear dance music they let themselves go.

“Dance music is the rock ‘n’ roll of our generation.”

I remember years ago when Chicago house was starting to get a lot of hype, a musicologist from Cambridge said it was going to take twenty years for house to become part of the cultural lexicon. At the time I was upset to hear it. We were all so young and hopeful and we wanted to be well-known right away. So it was not what I wanted to hear at the time. But one way or another I knew I was in it for the long haul. I was doing it because I loved it.

Major labels and other people who tried to get into it and capitalise on it, they always interfered and they were never able to do what we were able to do at Trax because we followed our own rhythm. I remember Marshall and I worked on a couple of projects for major labels where they would hire us and they would try to tell us what to do, even though they hired us to get our sound.

Is that an important part of Trax now, never interfering with the artists?

I think it is. The way I look at it, we have a lot of new things that we’re doing and that seem to be going really well. We’ve got new projects, and some of the classic people are coming back and working with the newer people and working on their own things. Farley recently came back. It looks like we’re signing a Robert Owens project that some of our newer artists have done remixes for. We just do our own thing. That’s been so important for the sound and everything about the label. I just don’t want any kind of interference.

It’s tough because then I have the bigger labels. Right now I have one of the real biggies coming to me saying “Rachael you’re the ambassador of it all. You can speak on it best,” which is great to hear. But then they said, “We want to buy the label.” I said absolutely not. That’s the way I feel about it. If they want to work with me that’s one thing. Then if they do want to work with me it will have to be on my terms because I don’t want them to interfere with music. I am happy if they want to work with the new people, but God forbid they would change anything. It scares me that that is the ulterior motive.

Would you like to see more major labels getting into house or is it best to leave it to independents?

Like I said before, it’s gone everywhere now so that no matter who you listen to, whoever it is, they’re already kind of there. As far as what we do at Trax, I don’t want them involved there. But they’re already there because it is the rock ‘n’ roll of our generation.

House was never disco. Some say it was, but disco was this overproduced stuff that I never really liked at all. It was way overproduced. When they exploded those records, we just kind of went back to the bare bones of it. I was originally into punk music and when I look at some of the early house music, it’s as stripped down as punk. It’s very to the roots of the music, and that’s what I like about it. I like the simplicity of it. There’s a place for that, and that is what we do. We do not believe in overproducing. The majors are more about that. But right now it’s everywhere. It may not be as pure everywhere but it’s everywhere.

What are some current Trax projects that you are excited about?

I really like this new artist from New York called Tyler Stone, I’m really excited about him. I‘m really excited about I did a project called ‘U-Do’ and I had people like Don Rimini, Todd Terry, Boyfriend from Lithuania, a load of people from around the world did remixes for me. I’m very excited right now that it’s easier to collaborate and work with people from everywhere. And I’m very excited about ‘France We Send Our House to You’, a track that Farley and I just did. It just came out on the 29th. We’re going to donate all the proceeds to Give for France, a French organisation set up to help the victims of terror, because France was one of our main supporters throughout the years.

That’s a great cause. Is giving back to supporters a big thing for Trax at the moment

Yes. It is a huge thing for Trax at the moment. We’re also working with an organisation called Youth Communication. House has its roots in Chicago, and right now, unfortunately, Chicago is the most violent city in the US. So we’re working with Youth Communication to help give urban youth a voice. We were lucky when we were young because we had our music. But a lot of teens are so disenfranchised that they feel like nobody really cares. So we set up a Frankie Knuckles fund: whenever we get royalties from Frankie Knuckles music, it goes to Youth Communication and some other projects are geared towards that too. Because at this point I really like the idea of giving back as much as we can.

This is all great stuff. So what is the future of Trax?

That’s the whole thing. We just keep making the music that we make. And I am happy to say that it seems like there’s a lot of people that love the new music and we get great reviews and a lot of the big DJs are playing and supporting it. On the other hand there are, just like in the beginning, those that just don’t get it, but we don’t care. You know I remember there were people that just really didn’t get it and there’s gonna be people that don’t get it now. But there are people that do, and there’s many people that love it and those are the people that we make the music for.

Is that what always kept you going?

Absolutely. It was very rough hearing that house was nothing but noise and that it wouldn’t last, and hearing that from some of the people that I considered to be idols of mine. I look back on it and it is funny because I was talking to one of my friends today who was one of Twista’s original producers, and he said “Rachael you had it right,” because I told them all these rappers are going to want to take house beats and rap on them, and he said “you were so right.” Because that’s what they’re doing. I told that to Melle Mel, I told that to Doug E Fresh. I told them that years ago and now it’s happening.

Years ago when Kanye sampled Daft Punk on ‘Stronger’, I thought “He’s from Chicago, why hasn’t sampled Mr Fingers?” and now he has. So I see a lot of that because there’s magic in that music. And that’s what I want to continue to perpetuate. That music’s got magic that stands the test of time.

”There’s magic in that music.”

Do you feel smug that you were proven right by history?

Not really. I’ve had so many people say so many crazy things to me. There was one guy in England who said I couldn’t be house because I was white. Now look at all the big DJs, they’re all white. Not that it matters. What it really comes down to is this, and I really believe this, and this is why I am excited about the ‘Can You Feel It’ remixes because, you may be black, white, gay, straight; everybody is welcome in the house. It’s not about finance. It’s not about what country you come from. It’s not about any of that. It’s really about being one on the dancefloor and having music that unifies people, and that’s what we’ve managed to do.

Book Screamin’ Rachael or Trax Records to bring this legendary music to your venue.

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