written by contributor Hannah Hines
Record Store Day feels like a holiday for many music lovers; a chance to come together and celebrate music while supporting local business. Me and my friend Morgan woke up before the sun, got in the car, and drove around town trying to find the shortest line to wait in. The lines in Chicago seemed particularly long this year as many people were hoping to snag Wax Trax! Soundtrack as their ticket in to watch the new documentary Industrial Accident: The Story Of Wax Trax! Records at House of Vans with live performances from Ministry and Cold Cave.
I have been to House of Vans countless times for different events but I had never seen it so crowded. The energy was palpable despite the fact that most of these people were running on coffee and anticipation having probably also been up since 6am – and they did not even know if they were going to make it in the building. I walked through the crowd feeling like I was at a family reunion I did not quite belong to, but I was really thankful I got to experience a community still passionate about their story and art.
The venue was transformed into a museum of memorabilia from Wax Trax’s Chicago store after being recovered from a garage by director Julia Nash (Jim Nash’s daughter) in 2010. I do not want to give too much of the story away if you don’t already know the impactful history behind the independent record store/label and founders Jim Nash & Dannie Flesher. Mainly because I think you should watch the doc for yourself. It is a story of loss and love, of misfits finding a home, of the LGBTQI+ community, of pure intentions eventually getting taken advantage of, and the post-punk and industrial music scenes in the ’80s / ’90s coming to life. The doc features interviews with Steve Albini, Jello Biafra, Chris Connelly, Dave Grohl, Al Jourgensen and many more.
As someone who found community on the internet before I felt comfortable in physical spaces (like venues and parking lots and unfinished basements) it is so interesting to learn about a culture truly born from only the space of a record store. It was where you met people, where you went on a Friday night, where bands were formed, even where you went to learn. It was described as an “alternate reality”; every inch of space covered in posters like the bedroom you wish you had. “It was really weird to see a place that was literally built for people like me and it was magical”, said Steve Albini of Big Black. Every record in that shop was picked by someone who believed in it so much that they wanted other people to hear it.
Wax Trax was more than a record store though – it was an international record label, it was live shows, it was freedom and fashion and a community; an entire culture that broke boundaries and wasn’t bound to just Chicago. It reached kids in the bible belt and small towns in an era so different than what we know now. The documentary goes on to explain the way technology changed the music scene with sampling and more electronic sounds. It shows the pride Chicago punks took in going to the dance club, something not happening in other cities in the same scene. The storyline does not shy away from the eventual heartbreaking end of Wax Trax as a label and store – but the screening itself shows how the legacy and community continue to live on.
To continue the celebration, House Of Vans quickly turned into a concert venue. Cold Cave, an electronic post-punk group, has said the label is one their influences which made their performance a very full circle moment after finishing the doc. The dark room gave permission to just shut your brain off and dance or check out and take in the at times hypnotic projector visuals lighting up the stage. Cold Cave is an intense creative project with many layers and themes mixing making it hard to define but I think that’s the beauty in it.
To close out the night the pioneers of industrial metal heavily featured in the doc, Ministry, took on the stage squeezing out every ounce of energy left in the crowd. Al Jourgensen is more leader than frontman both in persona and world view. The band’s songs scream out with fury with political themes they clearly believe in strongly. There is clearly a fire in this band that has yet to burn out over the years, best showcased in their record AmeriKKKant.
The event as a whole made me take time to reflect on the music community I am apart of and cherish it a bit more. Although we live in such a tech-centered world, there is something so irreplaceable about physically owning the music/art that you let soundtrack your life. Wax Trax records was so important to so many people and I was able to feel a little bit of that magic thanks to the documentary and all the records, posters, tickets, t-shirts, and more saved from all those years ago.