The two labels most associated with early Chicago house will forever be Trax Records and D.J. International, but whatever Dance Mania lacked in pedigree, it made up in hustle.
Over 15 years, the label founded by Jesse Saunders and run by distro boss Ray Barney chronicled the rise of house from disco’s ashes and the development of its acid house and ghetto house derivatives.
The latter strand — a rough-around-the-edges mix of breakneck beats, raw bass, and sexually explicit calls-to-action — would come to define the sound of Dance Mania, influencing everyone from Daft Punk to Night Slugs. Recent interest in the label has even led to it re-opening its doors for the first time in a over a decade, re-releasing records by Parris Mitchell, Robert Armani, and Paul Johnson, with more in the works.
Picking just ten of the label’s nearly 300 records (whether singles or EPs) was not an enviable task, but in assembling this list, we’ve tried our best to account for both the label’s growth and long-time favorites. Apologies to Lil Louis, Da Posse, DJ Slugo, Gant-man, and the other producers whose records we had to leave in the bin; they’ll serve as a reminder that this is simply a jumping off point when it comes to Dance Mania.
Hercules was one of the many aliases of house originator Marshall Jefferson, and while it may not be as iconic as his house anthem ‘Move Your Body’, the track’s infamous “seven ways to make you jack” lyrics — equal parts dance lesson, spiritual invocation, and sex guide — foreshadow the sleazy/cheesy dichotomy of future Dance Mania releases. Sonically, the jet engine filters and lithe, sensual bassline still pack a punch more than 25 years later, perhaps due in part to mixing by fellow house progenitor Lil Louis.
02. GARY JACKMASTER WALLACE
‘House Has Taken Over Me’ (Acid Mix)
Not to be confused with Farley Jackmaster Funk (or Jack “Jackmaster” Revill), onetime Billboard club reporter and music buyer Gary “Jackmaster” Wallace released a handful of late-80s tracks, none more essential than this anthem (offered here in squelching acid flavor). By this time, its simple “house every night” refrain could be sung by revelers from Chicago to Manchester.
03. ROBERT ARMANI
By the early 90s, the label’s acid house and hip-house flirtations gave way to harder edged rhythm tracks. Robert Armani (né Woods) was an early proponent of these techno-leaning creations; the feedback squeals of ‘Ambulance’ do little to distract from the smash-mouth beat. These trax would eventually evolve into the backbone of Dance Mania’s most fruitful period.
04. TRAXMEN & ERIC MARTIN
‘Hit It From The Back’
A revolving crew of producers (including Robert Armani, Paul Johnson, Gant-Man, and Eric Martin) would use the Traxmen name, at one time or another. 1994 House Trax’s Volume 1 was entirely produced by Martin, and standout ‘Hit It From The Back’ could almost be confused for hard house, if not for the sexed-up “hit it from the back / bend over bitch” loops that place this one firmly at the start of the label’s ghetto house period.
05. PAUL JOHNSON
‘Feel My M.F. Bass’
After writing the irrepressible ‘Let Me See You Butterfly’ for the Traxmen (a track that appears to have been produced by Robert Armani), house veteran Paul Johnson made his proper Dance Mania debut with A Nite Life Thang. The EP is anchored by ‘Feel My M.F. Bass’, a song whose raunch is even simpler and more direct than that of ‘Butterfly’, and one whose alternating kicks would become a genre touchstone. [The selection of Dance Mania’s 69th release is purely coincidental.]
06. PARRIS MITCHELL
After early releases on Dance Mania under his Victor Romeo and Rhythm II Rhythm aliases, Parris Mitchell would find great success with the burgeoning ghetto house genre, culminating with his Project EP. The oft-sampled and recently reissued ‘All Night Long’, with its driving beat, shifty melody and Reggie Hall’s increasingly-raunchy entreaties is a ghetto house highlight. Alternatively, B-side ‘Ghetto Shoutout’, with a ‘Billie Jean’ bassline and Waxmaster on the mic, serves as the paragon for countless “shoutouts” — most notably Daft Punk’s Dance Mania-referencing ‘Teachers’.
07. DJ DEEON (as DEBO)
‘Let Me Bang’
One of the most prolific producers of Dance Mania’s ghetto house period, Deeon “DJ Deeon” Boyd would actually release his most memorable track under an alias, as Debo on the Split Personality EP. The percolating sing-along is sparse and sexual — the perfect formula — and has been remixed by everyone from Jam City to Brenmar & Salva.
08. DJ MILTON
‘Bang It Up’
Dance Mania’s staggering catalog is full of the work of producers who could churn out ghetto house at an impressive clip; DJ Milton knocked out 20 records in under 5 years for the label. ‘Bang It Up’, mixed by fellow beat masher DJ Slugo, is typical of Milton’s output: a juking, barebones track with chopped-up vocal clips that would hint at what would come from Chicago in the next decade: ghetto house’s claustrophobic cousin, footwork.
09. JAMMIN THE HOUSE GERALD
Factory Muzic EP
Jammin The House Gerald released almost all of his music on Dance Mania; for Parris Mitchell’s money, he’s “one of the greatest and [most] underrated DJ/Producers” that ever passed through the Chicago mainstay. His releases all included “Factory” in the title, perhaps a nod to Dance Mania’s super-efficient approach to crafting club bangers. Whatever the cause, his Factory Muzic is as solid as anything off the Ford or GM assembly lines. Tracks like ‘Pump That Shit Up’ and ‘Hold Up’ are built around impossibly catchy call-and-response shout outs and clap-along backing tracks.
10. DJ FUNK
Ghetto House Part 2
Not only was Chuck “DJ Funk” Chambers one of Dance Mania’s most reliable producers in the 90s, but he’s also worked diligently to keep ghetto house alive. He also briefly rescued (or hijacked, depending on your perspective) the Dance Mania name in the mid-aughts, before Ray Barney and Parris Mitchell re-launched it properly this year). Funk’s 1997 mixed CD Ghetto House Part 2 collects some his better known material (e.g. ‘Pump It’, ‘Work Da Body’, ‘Booty Bounce’), tracks that trade what little nuance Dance Mania had in exchange for supercharged booty house anthems (not coincidentally, the name of his long-running compilation series).