Dance Mania: Ghetto House’s Motown
The story about the seminal Chicago label: DANCE MANIA
Dance Mania has roots in Chicago’s soul scene. At the age of 25, Willie J. Barney opened a record store called Barney’s Swing Shop. In the early ’60s, he founded the distribution business Barney’s One Stop Records and opened a separate retail location on Chicago’s West Side. A “one-stop” distributor carried all of the major labels, which meant Barney’s employees would pick up product from the companies’ branches and deliver them to mom and pop stores throughout the area.
In 1980, after receiving a degree in business and accounting at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, Ray Barney took over management of the distribution side. Ray was 22 at the time. “We distributed music mostly in the Midwest,” he recalls. “But all over the United States. We distributed to independent retailers. We dealt mostly with major label music.”
minal Chicago label.
Artists were attracted to Dance Mania because Barney was fair with them. “I wanted people I dealt with to be successful,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to make all of the money. I wasn’t trying to take credit for everything.”
Since Dance Mania was not his primary business, Baney could take risks without worrying about an unsuccessful single taking down the label.
After a brief flirtation with hip-house between ’88 and ’90, Dance Mania’s sound began to shift. Releases by Robert Armani, DJ Rush and Traxmen all embraced a harder, faster techno aesthetic. Was this a conscious decision? “I wish I could take credit for it,” Barney says, “but I think it had more to do with me having trust in what people were bringing me was actually what was happening in the clubs and on the dance scene.”
A beginner’s guide to Dance Mania
The Dance Mania catalogue is enormous, but newcomers need not be intimidated. Here is a brief guide to key time periods and artists.
The classics (1986-1988)
The label’s early roster is a who’s who of house music innovators, from Marshall Jefferson as Hercules, to Farley Keith as The House Master Boyz & The Rude Boy Of House and Yellow House. Lil’ Louis’ “Video Clash” was a big hit, but “Frequency” and “How I Feel” are just as essential.
Acid and hip-house (1989-1990)
Few house/hip-hop crossovers have aged well, but some of the acid tracks from this period still sound current, with contributions from Gary “Jackmaster” Wallace, Vincent Floyd and Da Posse (incl. Hula & K. Fingers).
After most other Chicago labels stopped releasing stripped-down rhythm tracks, Dance Mania made them its trademark, laying the groundwork for ghetto house with early releases by Robert Armani, DJ Rush, Glenn Underground and DJ Funk. Hidden gems include 3.2.6., Tim Harper, Victor Romeo as The Dance Kings and Rhythm II Rhythm.
Ghetto house (1994-1999)
This was the period when the label was most prolific and consistent. DJ Funk, DJ Deeon, DJ Slugo, DJ Milton, Jammin Gerald, Wax Master Maurice, Traxmen (incl. Eric Martin, Gant-Man and Paul Johnson), Drew Sky and Parris Mitchell were all regulars. Reissues may make it easier to collect them all.