TRAXX - FAITH (NATION)
As much as Detroit has had much to celebrate with a consistent output of electronic dance music since the early 80’s, Chicago to my mind has seen a drop off in quality and quantity that arguably stretches back for nearly a decade. Not since the heady days of DJs like Gemini and labels such as Relief, Prescription and Dance Mania in the mid-90’s has Chicago seen a truly great run of artists or records that can match Detroit for consistency. It’s not a game or a contest, but American cities are unusual places, cut off by huge distances that only with the advent of hi-speed internet has seen them begin to pollinate again with new ideas. The generic and somewhat slick tech-house that the likes of Mark Farina et al play seems a world away from the raw elements that made Chicago House at its height so singular. In pockets though, idiosyncratic talents such as Tadd Mullinix, Jamal Moss and Melvin Oliphant III have kept that spirit, made possible by the genius of Ron Hardy, alive and more recently have seen a vital ally in their efforts in the Clone/Creme/Bunker axis that has emerged from Holland. Mathematics Recordings continues to produce wonderful, strange and ultimately unique records that importantly have a stamp of Chicago on them.
Oliphant aka Traxx is an incendiary talent on the turntables, but although he has been releasing records under various production units and aliases since the turn of the decade, this is his first album on his own Nation imprint. “Faith” is an apt title, as he places a lot in the raw idea of on-the-spot “box jams”, an aesthetic that is central to Oliphant’s idea of “Jak-Beat”. As you can imagine, digital is nowhere to be seen. The album itself is a straight-up dancefloor number, but has an atmosphere and number of melodic arrangements stretching across the 11 compositions that gives it a strong narrative. Vocals, such an important aspect of Chicago’s totemic image in dance music, are naturally well-placed, with Nancy Fortune’s graceful tones in particular providing a warm, soulful counterbalance to the heartfelt strings of “My Soul”. There’s also a wonderful vocal backdrop to the swirling kinetic energy of “Parametric Melody”, and “Cosmic Zigzag”, with its fervent Rhodes keys and catchy refrain, show that it’s not all drum machines and synths. “Enka” takes a while to get going, but it mutates into a deep, corsucating raw jam that we very rarely hear with dance music nowadays, ending with minor keys that hint at melancholy. The final track “XTC 4 Love” is a 12 minute eulogy, but finishes off the album in a dramatic fashion that seals “Faith” in appropriate fashion.
Despite the raw approach, there’s a considered and careful touch here across all the tracks that belies Traxx’s nature as a DJ. I’ll be honest in saying that I was expecting something a little more off-the-hook like his sometime production partner Tadd Mullinix, but “Faith” not only surprises with its soulful core but deep down the melodies tug at the heart. Traxx has kept the spirit.