Wax Trax’s Shock-Rock Showcase
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Wax Trax Records may be the most influential little-known enterprise in pop music today. The original home of such industrial and electronic music heavyweights as Ministry, KMFDM, Coil, KLF, the Revolting Cocks and many others, the Chicago label can claim bragging rights to this year’s Angst -ridden hero Trent Reznor. Mr. Nine Inch Nails is represented on this three-CD retrospective with his lead vocal on “Supernaut,” a cut by Ministry chief Al Jourgensen’s side group 1,000 Homo DJ’s.
Founded in 1980 by former record store co-owners Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher, Wax Trax (which filed Chapter 11 in 1992 and emerged restructured last January) specializes in the more experimental end of electronic music. As collected on “Blackbox,” it ranges from the thrashing assault of Jourgensen’s various projects to the KLF’s groundbreaking 1990 rave anthem “What Time Is Love?”
Wax Trax has supported an aggressive style combining easy shock value with true cutting-edge sensibilities. Common themes among Wax Trax artists are isolation, sexual ambiguity and living in a decaying society. Where Reznor filters many of those issues through rock star stances and commercial savvy, the typical Wax Trax artist seems intrinsically incapable of cracking the Top 40. But while they are generally far from mainstream tastes, Wax Trax acts have come up with unexpected hits.
Besides the KLF smash, Ministry saw a steady increase in its audience with each release, laying the foundation for its big impact on the 1992 Lollapalooza tour. The success of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult’s “Sexplosion” album helped the group land a major-label deal with Interscope Records.
The label isn’t coasting on past triumphs, though. Included in “Blackbox” is “Afterburn,” a limited-edition sampler that showcases new talents such as Kenny Larkin and Sister Machine Gun at the forefront of progressive techno sounds.
The pop market, loosened up by the likes of Reznor, may finally be ready for the truly innovative output of Wax Trax. This retrospective collection shows why that’s good news.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).