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Celebrating Dance Mania’s First Decade: 1986-1997

Dance Mania is legendary. Its acidic, testosterone-filled releases defined a genre, merging hip hop, techno and house music into one heady mix. Not one to bow down to social constraints, the label became synonymous with terms such as ghetto-tech or ghetto-house, due to the rapid fire kicks, snares and bass, all conspiring to make your head spin—with a nice side-helping of sex-addict lyrics to set you on fire. If you’re scratching your head in bewilderment, never fear, because thanks to Strut Records, the first 11 years of Dance Mania are here to school you on one of the greatest record labels of modern times.

Proceedings are kicked off with Hercules’ ‘7 Ways,’ an old banger that croons and growls its way into your psyche. From the offset, we are entered into the world of Dance Mania: dark, dangerous, and damn sexy, exemplified by Hercules, as he tells you—no holds barred—what he’s going to do to you.

Another massive Dance Mania tune we’re tantalized with early on in the mix is ‘JB Traxx’ by Duane & Co. A club smasher from 1986, the vocal samples are just as dirty-minded as its predecessors, with the synth-piano in the back giving the tune an intensity that’s as addictive now as it was then. A personal favourite from CD1, meanwhile, is most definitely Jammin’ the House Gerald with ‘Black Women’: a total smasher that makes you realize what house music really is. Hot Creations? Disclosure? Nursery rhymes when you put them against these tunes.

Nowadays, Dance Mania is overseen by Ray Barney, alongside Victor Romeo AKA Parris Mitchell, who still manages to keep the label fresh and as unique as ever. Mitchell, a longtime member of the Dance Mania family, told me of what it was like being a part of the label in those early days: “the releases were never scrutinized, it was like everyone on that label was respected and capable of delivering a great EP,” which is evident form the first listening. Each track is so obviously Dance Mania, yet so wonderfully unique to each artist.

And coming out of Chicago, the birthing ground must have had some input in creating the genre, right? Not necessarily. “Honestly, Dance Mania now are underdogs. I think Europe and other places are doing far more for the genre of ghetto-tech than Chicago.” That said, with over ten years of releases under their belt, there must have been a few forgotten gems? “Oh yes,” says Parris, “sometimes Ray [Barney] will have to contact Traxman—he’s like the connoisseur for the Dance Mania back catalogue. But yep, some still slip through the cracks.”

ADJ Funk (photograph: Ruben Fleischer)

As we move on to CD2 and into the second half of the decade, the tunes get harder and heavier. DJ Funk’s ‘House the Groove’ is a brain spin of a tune, doubled-up rhythms and vocals sit side-by-side with driving drum machines to give it that extra dose of speed. If CD1 was the date, this is definitely the night of the wedding. Tune after tune is sweat-soaked and laced with the acidic intensity that Dance Mania is so famous for. Robert Armani’s ‘Ambulance’ is almost intolerable in its climax, but deep basslines provide a respite from the sirens and formulate the recipe for yet another stormer of a tune.

It’s not a coincidence that the majority of the songs on this LP are so steeped in sex. It’s a character of the genre as much as the kicks and snares. ‘Hit It From the Back’ is testament to this, and after listening to 20 or so songs of the same ilk, the phrase “bend over bitch” repeatedly flying into your brain suddenly seems not quite so shocking. Dance Mania is an aphrodisiac (or should that be nymphomaniac?) and certainly isn’t shy to talk about bedroom behavior.

But you know, it’s not all ass and bitches: there’s a slightly sensitive side to Dance Mania too; ‘Searchin’ Hard’ by Parris Mitchell himself is an almost calming tune, ambient in comparison to the rest of the record. As he explains: “there’s definitely a more melodic side to [Dance Mania] in the archives. As for releasing more in this style, we would have to see what the future holds. I mean, people just want to dance after all is said and done.”

And dancing is something that is certainly a mission objective for Dance Mania. Both CDs are bursting with total dancefloor grooves that only get better with age and volume. As for the next ten years for Dance Mania? “Well, just like before nothing is ever calculated, except for now, we supply for demand,” says Parris. “The best thing is to let creativity flow naturally and take its own evolutionary course.” Wise words from a man who really knows how to throw a party. So pump a fist for Dance Mania, long may they make us sweat.

- Liz Ward

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