Not many record stores had their own label, and not many stores could have touched the lives of people like Peter Murphy, David J, Ian MacKaye and Trent Reznor long before they were famous. But Chicago’s Wax Trax! did just that, and in the 1980s and 1990s was ground zero for industrial and post-punk music. A new film by the daughter of Wax Trax! founder Jim Nash pays homage to the beloved shop, label and its longtime fans.
With INDUSTRIΛL ΛCCIDENT: The Story Of Wax Trax! Records, Julia Nash tells the story of the legendary independent record store/label co-founded by her father, Jim. Written by Julia’s husband, Mark Skillicorn, the film utilizes archival footage and interviews to chronicle the history Wax Trax!, the scene that evolved around it and its ongoing influence.
Founders Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher originally launched the Wax Trax! Records store in Denver before moving it to Chicago in 1978. Importing new and interesting music was a major focus, with early staples including Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, and Cabaret Voltaire. Before long, Wax Trax! branched out to release its own records. Their success with Cold Life by Ministry allowed them to start filling out their roster as well license music they wanted to bring to American audiences.
Wax Trax! became closely associated with ‘industrial’ music, releasing music from such acts as KMFDM, Front 242 and multiple Ministry off-shots. But among other things, Wax Trax! also put out “Born to Be Cheap” by frequent John Waters collaborator Divine and licensed semi-classical releases from British band In The Nursery. It was a genuinely eclectic label, drivin by Nash and Flesher’s love of music.
But despite the creative success, the heyday of Wax Trax! came to an end with a bankruptcy filing. TVT Records bought the label in 1992, continuing with releases until their own demise in 2001, but the Wax Trax! output during this era was much less adventurous.
Nash died on October 10, 1995, and Flesher on January 10, 2010. In 2011, a weekend commemorative event, “Wax Trax! Retrospectacle: 33 1/3 Anniversary,” was held in Chicago. Featuring performances by many past Wax Trax! artists, it paved the way for the documentary film. Julia re-launched Wax Trax! in 2014, focusing on limited edition releases, merchandise, and ultimately the film.
PKM talked with Julia Nash and Mark Skillicorn.
PKM: Could you talk about how the “Wax Trax! Retrospectacle: 33 1/3 Anniversary” event inspired the making of this movie?
Julia Nash: It really stemmed from that event and the comments from fans. It was like OK, here’s why you are here, because of these two guys. We were originally going to put out live footage of the weekend and then a little supplemental piece that would be kind of like a bonus for the live piece, to give a little background and history as to why this weekend even happened. When we started interviewing people and putting all this together, we were like, ‘this is way bigger than we realized’. When it’s that personal to you, you don’t realize how massive something is, when you’re kind of in the middle of it. So that’s kind of what happened, and we just put away the live footage, and we were like ‘this is our focus’. It could be kind of a miniseries, but we had to trim it down to 90 minutes.
PKM: Did you have any goals with the story you wanted to tell, perhaps in terms of things fans might not know or misconceptions that needed to be cleared?
Julia Nash: Really, I don’t think so. I mean, honestly, for me, it was just sharing with these people who said they had been so impacted by either my dad and Dannie, by the store, by the music that came out on the label. The fact that people were saying it saved their life, it changed their life, it directed them into careers they now have because of the impact it had on them. To that effect, it was giving back to them. Here’s a little more intimate look at what influenced you or impacted you so significantly. Here’s really the story of these two guys, to give fans a bit more insight.
Mark Skillicorn: It was also really less about an academic kind of historical view and more of a very personal intimate look. Because, as you probably have gathered, this is really the fans of this extended family. It’s this huge intimate group. So, it’s very important to be authentic as far as more of a family vibe, and a loving vibe instead of an academic vibe, and that was kind of playing off the fans. It’s how they really look at this as more than just a record label and kind of like a family.
PKM: In the movie, you interview many artists who were on the label, but it was interesting seeing many who were not. Could you talk about how those interviews came about?
Julia Nash: With David J, the whole Bauhaus piece of it was just my dad being in contact with them very early on and bringing them here to Chicago for their first [American] show ever.
Mark Skillicorn: There was a point where Wax Trax! wanted to license Bauhaus in the U.S. before anybody, so there was already a historical connection there.
Julia Nash: Peter Murphy had mentioned many times just how much he loved my dad and Dannie and loved that they just took them under their wings. He adored my dad, and my dad him as well. David J also was a big part of it and with him coming out with his book, he mentions Wax Trax! in that as well, he really was super excited to be a part of this.
Mark Skillicorn: Yeah, we sought him out, whereas somebody like Dave Grohl, he was doing his own documentary that wanted to include Wax Trax.
Julia Nash: He reached out to us for doing that little miniseries on HBO that he had done, and he asked if I would be a part of that, and I was like, ‘yeah, I’ll do yours if you do mine’ kind of a thing, and he wrote back just super-psyched about it. In fact, I just uncovered the email the other day, because we get a lot of comments from people like, ‘why is Dave Grohl in this, that doesn’t make any sense.’ But he genuinely has a connection to it. His cousin lived out here and brought him to the store on multiple occasions. He definitely had a connection with it, and it impacted him. So, I was like ‘go for it.’ He was kind enough to do it.
Mark Skillicorn: I think that’s also a big part of it. A lot of people know the Wax Trax! name, the label part of it, and that at some point overshadowed the store. But there were a large number of people that connected with the store because it was a place they could go and be themselves, find things that they never had before. And that’s where, like Steve Albini, was one of those people who would go to the store. It was a magical place that you couldn’t find anywhere else. So, there was a connection outside of just Wax Trax! artists, and a lot of that has to do with the store and just being this kind of mecca, I guess, of a place that you would go to kind of find your people.
PKM: The store and label were closely intertwined, yet each has interesting stories of their own surrounding them. Was it difficult striking a balance in the documentary?
Mark Skillicorn: Yeah, it was definitely a challenge to balance the importance of the store and give the artists enough time to kind of let their story gel a little bit too, and also create this sort of … I mean, it really is a love story.
Julia Nash: On many levels.
Mark Skillicorn: It’s not just between these two men, but with music in general and how that can be life-changing and life-saving, also just kind of carving your own path. But, yeah, as far as the art goes, it was a challenge that I feel … this is why if it was a miniseries you could kind of expand on a lot of stuff. We did have to compromise a few things, especially towards the latter end of the story. It was definitely a challenge to keep that balance of the importance of the store with just the artists themselves and the label.
PKM: Did any of the interviews stand out to you?
Julia Nash: A lot of these people I’ve been friends with the entire time, so we’ve all had our stories and our conversations throughout the years, but I think were some stories that I didn’t know about it. Ian MacKaye had a couple that were just amazing. David J’s story was fantastic. But again, I think a couple of those interviews are in the bonus material.
Mark Skillicorn: When he stole from the store.
Julia Nash: Yeah, because he fessed up about stealing/shoplifting from Wax Trax on their trip where my dad was like, guys just go shopping, I’ll give you this big discount. Whatever you want, just grab it. And he got a discount and still stole shit.
Mark Skillicorn: Which then he ended up like … well, you can tell it.
Julia Nash: When we did our screening in Los Angeles two years ago November, he missed the screening because he lives far away, but then he was in like towards the end of our trip, and we were loading out of the space, and he was there and said, ‘hey, can I come to see you, wanna go out to lunch, have tea or something?’ And I was like, ‘I really can’t, we’re loading out, I gotta go.’ And he was like, ‘let me just swing by, it’ll take me five minutes’. So, he swung by, and he was like, ‘I have something to give you. This has really been weighing heavy on me for decades,’ and he pulls out this bag and all of these records. He’s like, ‘I stole these from your dad’s shop and I really want you to have them back.’ And that was just like,’ Oh my God! This poor guy is so laden with guilt, you know.’ Anyway, that’s not in the movie, but you just got that story yourself.
PKM: How much bonus material will be included with the DVD/Blu-ray release?
Mark Skillicorn: Well, we have over 75 minutes of bonus material, so it’s almost like another movie. It doesn’t have the same arc. It’s not a narrative. It’s a lot of vignettes of stories.
Julia Nash: Yeah, the bonus material, of course, that’s new and fresh for us. We love it. That’s where we wish on this little road trip, we could just go show the bonus movie. It’s so great.
PKM: It was interesting seeing Trent Reznor interviewed in the film, as in the 1990s he got some slack for the commercialization of industrial music.
Mark Skillicorn: Well, I think he did sum it up in the way of like … you can’t blame the guy. His ego became bigger than all the other stuff combined in a way. It became more acceptable I guess is the best way to put it. He just, you know, he’s honest about it. That’s when the big labels come in, and the money comes in and just try to kind of redo all that stuff and that’s when things get just kind of ruined. I think he touched on it well. He did say it was kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time. I think that’s an honest assessment from him. I thought that was pretty cool of him to kind of like own it and just go like, ‘yeah, I kind of fucked things up’.
Because he really did have integrity early on, as he does now, I’m not trying to dilute his history, but it’s like, you could point to people maybe later in that scene where it just was kind of trying to cash in or whatever, but he really was there from the beginning. Jourgensen brought him in, and he was part of a particular scene early on. His music just took a different path and was just a little bit more on the commercial side of it. You can’t fault him for any of that stuff at all.
PKM: It’s mentioned in the movie how Wax Trax! was the type of label people would purchase any new release from, even if they didn’t know the music. I personally did this. What are your thoughts on that phenomenon?
Mark Skillicorn: I think some of the staff puts it well where it was kind of like this – it didn’t really fall into any specific category, so record stores would kind of by default have to put it all together. Because it wasn’t punk, it wasn’t really metal and it kind of just became its own genre based on this weird kind of this limbo. It fell between some of the other genres, which then helped just kind of carved its own name. We get that all the time, where people would discover new bands, some better than others.
Julia Nash: I’m sure you went home and put that record on at one point and were like, what is this?!?
Mark Skillicorn: You trusted it though. There are other labels like Factory Records that would be doing the same thing, where you just trusted them. That all was part of this whole kind of family vibe that we were talking about. It’s like, okay, maybe I don’t understand this now, but I trust these people, and I think there’s something here.
Julia Nash: I’ll grow to like it.
Mark Skillicorn: Yeah, or you’re just like, ‘wow, this is amazing, and nothing else like it is out there’. I mean it was a great marketing move for some of the stores to do that [put Wax Trax! releases together in the racks], but it also I think made sense because even though they did sound different, it still kind of all worked in the same world.
PKM: You’ve had many screenings and will soon be embarking on a “Wax Trax! Experience” tour that also features a Q&A and a performance from Ministry. Was it an intention all along to have it seen in an event atmosphere before the home release?
Julia Nash: Yeah, for sure, I think just to kind of have that whole experience, we made a real effort to put up kind of a Wax Trax! store, or a pop-up version. Still with the large subway posters, artifacts from the actual store, the Joy Division neon sign that was behind the counter, and some of the original vinyl from the label. We wanted people to feel like they were still walking into this experience and vibe coming out of the film or before they went into the film, you know. To kind of set the tone and the mood. It was super fun.
Mark Skillicorn: In addition to that, we did test screenings in 2017, in Chicago and LA, and we were really conscious of setting up a survey to let these special fans or the people who wanted a preview of it to actually weigh in on the movie. And we did make changes. The feedback we got was an important kind of give and take, bringing them into this whole process. We didn’t change the entire narrative, but we definitely fine-tuned it based on some of the comments that we got.
PKM: There were some false starts in the making of the film. What was the production timeframe of the final version?
Julia Nash: This incarnation of the movie was filmed and edited basically within a year. Even though this whole process has been a lot longer than that, but this film … and we’re really just excited to get this out finally in front of people. A lot of people don’t know that. Some people think we’ve been working on the same film since 2012.
Mark Skillicorn: So, we’re happy because we didn’t know what was going to happen. This could have died on the festival circuit, but we were able to get this past the finish line.
Julia Nash: We’re super excited for people to get to see this. We knew we had the licensing secured for festivals and were just showing it in as many festivals that would have us. So that people would have every opportunity possible to see this. We were still not sure we were going to have a physical product, you know, because it is a very difficult process and an expensive process. So, it was just like, here go see it now because I don’t know if you will later. Hopefully, we can pull back a little and sit with each other and wholeheartedly celebrate this ass busting process and just be happy with what we put out there.
Mark Skillicorn: Yeah, and you’ve got to also understand this entire process … I mean, a lot of people think that Wax Trax! is this giant machine like it was in the 80s and 90s. It is really Julia and I and a core group of like three other people doing this entire thing.
Julia Nash: Every aspect.
Mark Skillicorn: Everything, everything. So, the core group of us, we’re just happy that we’re able to share this at this point and that it’s out there. Hopefully, people enjoy it.
The six-date “Wax Trax! Experience” tour kicks on In Chicago on April 13. “INDUSTRIΛL ΛCCIDENT: The Story Of Wax Trax! Records” will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 16. For more info, visit http://www.waxtraxfilms.com.