House Hunting #29 – Aka Dance Music


Last week the Mrs was gettin’ some hair couture done at a West End salon (how much?!) so I jetted to the backstreets of wax maze Soho for a strictly vinyl affair… Usually Reckless is my go to record joint for a deep dose of dusty fingers or maybe the Music & Video Exchange for a case of crate crusading. However, on this wax jaunt I backtracked on Broadwick Street when waltzin’ past Sounds Of The Universe aka Soul Jazz and as I hadn’t checked in for time so thought I’d pay a long overdue visit…

For those who ain’t ventured into this vinyl institution well from its initial humble beginnings as a Camden record stall 25 years ago it’s evolved into a Soho mainstay stocking the more discernible and facets of cross-cultural sounds through a myriad of genres whether it be soul, jazz, funk, disco, reggae, dub, post-punk, Brazilian, Latin, African, hip-hop, house or techno. Regulars include Gilles Peterson, Jamie Cullum and Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) plus on a transatlantic tip heads like KDJ, Theo Parrish, Questlove and even Prince jet in when in town so further emphasises this emporium’s pedigree. The store itself is owned by Soul Jazz Records who over the two decades have been a source of education with their renowned compilations encompassing an array of disparate genres and eras including Brazilian Bossa Nova, Jamaican Dancehall, New Orleans Funk, New York Disco, and of course, my personal favourite Chicago House. They’re also affiliated with Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Jamaican institution Studio One releasing compendiums on Ska, Dub and Reggae on their ‘Studio One Series’ subsidiary. Check the emporium’s encyclopaedic range of records here or even better take a trek to Soho and lose yourself for hours in this vinyl mecca.

Anyway, back to the House Hunting and though I made a quick diversion downstairs to the basement to peruse their book selection (last time I visited I copped house forefather Jesse Saunders’ ‘House Music: The Real Story’ book so always worth checking out), normal service resumed as I raided the racks to see if I could find any house Holy Grails in the Chicago and Detroit racks. As ever, Sounds Of The Universe on the pulse when it comes to the latest fresh batches of wax so anything I was interested in was on a reissue tip which you know ain’t my flavour. However, housed in their compilation section was an LP that I never got round to replacing (when initially bought a couple of years back mine was a scratched defect and exchanged for another record as the shop didn’t have more in stock). The record in question is ‘Bang The Box! – The Lost Story Of AKA Dance Music Chicago 1987-88’ curated by Still Music’s Jerome Derradji.

Hang on a minute, ain’t that a resissue? Well, yeah technically I’m throwin’ out the House Hunting rulebook on this one however though some of the joints on this you can get via original pressings the reason I’ve relented with this one is the majority of the tracks are previously unreleased and have been raided from the long lost vaults of AKA Dance Music – so won on a House Hunting technicality! So anyway who/what is AKA Dance Music? Well, it was actually a Chicago label founded by Matt Warren of Sunset Records Inc. fame. Prior to launching the imprint he released and featured on the early records of influential Chicago House imprint Sunset Records Inc. under an array of aliases including Razz, Master Plan and Modern Mechanical Music. Shouts to Matt at Vinyl Underground also killing me this month as he instagrammed a rare original pressing of Matt Warren’s obscure Holy Grail ‘Rock The Nation’ for sale at 60 notes now is not the time to be posting that black crack! Yeah I could take the easy route and cop the recent reissue (there goes another one…) but will track down this elusive slice of hallowed house. Anyway check that and some of that proto Chicago flavour on Sunset here…

Anyway we’ll leave Sunset Records Inc. there and serialise the label another time though if you’re feelin’ those joints then check out the ‘Kill Yourself Dancing’ – The Story Of Sunset Records Inc. Chicago 1985-89’ also compiled by Jerome Derradji celebrating the label’s obscure output. Back to Matt Warren and ’86 proved to be a turning point. As documented in house historian Jacob Arnold’s superior sleevenotes for the AKA Dance Music compilation (worth buying it for these alone!), Matt had an epiphany when his friend Mario “Smokin” Diaz took him to check out the Power Plant.

“I’m going to set the scene for you,” Matt Warren begins. “We’re driving down the street, having a hard time finding [the Power Plant], because it’s in an old factory. All of the sudden, we hear music through the car windows…. We pull up right in front. It’s all busy—there’s people waiting to get in. We’re going to try to find a parking space, but I could hear the music coming through the window. And what did I hear? I heard this thing which I had never heard before. And it’s going, ‘Time to jack, time to jack, ti-ti-ti-time to jack.’ And I’m like, Whoa, what is that?”

This proved to be a formative experience with Matt becoming a Power Plant partisan transfixed by Frankie Knuckles’ life-affirming sets. On one particular visit with the dancefloor in full flow Matt witnessed the crowd exclaiming “Bang the box, Frankie!” which inspired Matt armed with his TR-808 and Korg-Poly 800 to compose ‘Bang The Box’ – a primitive beat track that became synonymous with defining Chicago House era. Definitely one to lose yourself in the cavernous confines of a deep, dark basement proper belter…

Matt enthusiastically took the tape of his new house direction to Sunset label-head Alex Rojo but he wasn’t convinced so Matt decided to establish his own imprint and AKA Dance Music was born… The name actually comes from the AKA Dance Club where Matt was spinnin’ at the time along with Mario Diaz. The club was a North Side Institution, regularly attracting 1100-1200 heads through the door with Chicago house hierarchy such as Frankie Knuckles and Farley “Jackmaster” Funk making guest appearances. With Matt’s following at AKA, the club invested in his new label project. The aforementioned ‘Bang The Box’ was released in ’87 and became a huge hit, selling 50,000 copies alone from the boot of Matt’s car!

Within the next year AKA Dance Music released a further six records, with personal favourites including ‘House Ain’t Givin Up’ by BnC featuring the late Kevin Irving on vox (as featured in House Hunting #26), the Colonel Abrams styling of ’The Music’s Got Me’ by Team and the lucid acid of ‘Take Me Higher’ by Nexus 6 – check ‘em all out here…

After only seven releases AKA Dance Music wound down. Factors included the demise of the AKA Dance Club (which lost its late license due to the club’s soaring popularity – inevitably resulting in fights between revellers), Matt leaving AKA Dance Club’s later incarnation ‘Club Flamingo’ to spin at ‘Coconuts’ (as a result AKA Dance Club no longer backed the label) plus the saga that faces many an independent label – difficulties with those damn distributors. Though the label disappeared into long lost obscurity, like his compendium on Vince Lawrence’s Mitchbal Records and its subsidiary Chicago Connection on ‘122 BPM (The Birth Of House Music)’, the aforementioned Sunset Records Inc. comp plus the recently released ‘KStarke Records (The House That Jackmaster Hater Built)’, with ‘Bang The Box! – The (Lost) Story Of AKA Dance Music Chicago 1987-88’ Jerome Derradji has curated another love letter to the obscure allure of early Chicago House.

As well as the ace artwork, old-school photos, gatefold styling (love a gatefold…) and Jacob Arnold archiving the label with his linear notes, the actual unreleased AKA trax from the archives are all killer and no filler with personal highlights being the wistful melancholy of ‘Lost In The World’ and the proto-italo flavour of ‘Alternative House’by Michaelangelo aka Miguel Garcia.

So if like me you’re a hardcore Chicago House enthusiast I highly recommend you cop this compilation – still sealed copies at Soul Jazz! I’ll leave you with this video featuring an interview with AKA Dance Music & Dance Club mainstays Matt Warren and Miguel Garcia reminiscing over those days – just remember this LP ain’t a straight up reissue it’s an archive of unreleased Chicago House history yeah?!

Aiden d’Araujo