Dance Mania’s appeal is often summed up in terms of its raunch. That part’s crucial—the sleazy shout-alongs, the implied physicality of its focus on rhythm above all else, the moment when enough repetition elevates music about dancing and fucking from hedonistic to transcendental—but there’s more to the scrappy, prolific house label than the dirty stuff. Over more than a decade and almost 300 records, Dance Mania staked its claim as ghetto house’s Motown, holding its own as the brash, DIY counterpart to more internationally-established, crossover-primed Chicago peers like Traxx and DJ International. Sure, the stuff that hewed a bit closer to house’s disco roots got the European licensing deals, but Dance Mania’s deep, familial roster got the overcrowded projects of Chicago’s south and west sides, the ones Parris Mitchell immortalized on 1995’s "Ghetto Shout Out", where guys like DJ Deeon and Jammin Gerald were DJing Kraftwerk, gangsta rap, Ron Hardy, and their own bedroom recordings. The music was raw, explicit, often escapist, and made do with the resources available, and as such, its apparent simplicity was often deceptive. In as much as anything can be about shaking asses, Dance Mania made music about shaking asses. But as the buttcheek-thinkpiece industrial complex should suggest, for better or worse, it’s never really just about shaking asses.
Last year’s Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997, released via Strut, marked the first official compilatory survey of the label, and it arrived on the heels of Parris Mitchell and owner Ray Barney’s 2013 announcement of Dance Mania’s re-launch. (It shuttered gracefully in 2001; the label’s commitment to musical risk-taking had always relied on the financial success of its primary role as a record distribution hub, a foundation that crumbled in the late '90s as the independent retailers it serviced began to disappear.) That compilation focused on the label’s most essential tracks, documenting straightforward but formative early work like Hercules’ 1986 "7 Ways", the label’s second-ever pressing, as it grew leaner, rawer, and lewder by way of flirtation with acid, hip-hop, and techno. These are records that never crossed over into the mainstream in any significant sense (beyond the errant Daft Punk shout-out) but often sell for thousands of dollars on Discogs today, thanks to a recent surge in popularity among primarily European collectors. It’s a familiar paradox for Rust Belt dance music innovators looking to keep their legacy alive: if financial viability is at all a priority, artists risk a loss of crucial context as they invest in outside markets.