Celebrating its fourteenth year, Chicago-based label WTII continues the release of industrial music and its subgenres that made the label from which it was spawned, WaxTrax!, legendary.
Founded in 2001 by Bart Pfanenstiel – who’d been with WaxTrax! since 1994 when he began his career there as an intern – and his friend and roommate, David Schock, the intent was to rekindle and take further what WaxTrax! started in 1980.
Schock had worked at a small independent import music distributor; says Schock, “What that basically meant is that all of those CD singles and expensive imports, especially the Japanese versions, albums that you picked up at your favorite mom and pop record store, such as Rolling Stone Records, Aquarius, Bart’s CD Cellar, Amoeba, Plan 9, Cheapo’s, Twist & Shout, etc. were probably sold to the record store by me.”
Naming the label WTII was an effort by Pfanenstiel to honor his mentors, WaxTrax store (and later label) owners Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher. (Note: WaxTrax! was the record label, WaxTrax Records was the store).
WaxTrax! released so many legendary artists that helped define industrial music of the era, including Front 242, KMFDM, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, MINISTRY (and Jourgensen’s side projects including the Revolting Cocks, 1000 Homo Djs, Lead into Gold, Pailhead, Acid Horse, etc.), Front Line Assembly, Sister Machine Gun, and numerous others that letting the label and all it stood for pass into nothingness wasn’t an option for Pfanenstiel. “The writing was on the wall, we knew it was happening,” he says of WaxTrax!’s untimely demise, which began with its takeover by TVT in 1992. TVT, which stands for TeeVee Toons, was a record label founded in 1985 by Steve Gottlieb, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law, signing artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, Gravity Kills, XTC, and numerous others. “There were only four people left in the Chicago offices and two of them worked for TVT at that point; there was a radio person and a sales person. And then there were Dannie (Flesher) and I, who were technically the only two WaxTrax! employees at the end, and we had made some serious connections. We were talking with VNV Nation and And One and had conversations with Project Pitchfork and Covenant and Stephen from Offbeat and we were pushing and pushing and TVT just would not let us do anything.”
Starting up a new label to continue giving the music he loved an amplifier through which to be heard seemed the logical next step, so in 2001, Pfanenstiel recruited Schock to be his right hand man/vice president and licensed three artists: Melotron, Controlled Fusion, and In Strict Confidence.
In the years since, WTII’s musical family has most certainly grown; “We may not be the ‘biggest or the best,’ but our reputation is one of quality, commitment, and growth for and with our artists,” says Schock. “We are a label that cares for our artists as people first and then as musicians. We may not be the quickest way to make a million dollars, but integrity and our reputations carry a lot of weight with us.”
Among the artists signed to the WTII roster are Chicago-based Dead on TV with its brand of industrialized pop/punk, Stromkern, known for industrial/hip-hop stylings, German synthpop act Beborn Beton, and the self-described “ultrasweaty industrial dance dorkstorm” of the Gothsicles. Recent releases include albums from Stiff Valentine, Die Sektor, Slave Unit, Mechanical Cabaret, SMP, and State of the Union, along with upcoming releases from England’s IDM legend, Autoclav1.1, Frontal Boundary, Deviant UK, Method Cell, and many others.
The near future brings the ColdWaves III Festival to the Metro in Chicago. This two-day festival includes headliners Front 242, Fear Factory, and Die Krupps, with support from artists including Cocksure (the latest project from Chris Connelly and Cracknation’s Jason Novak), Caustic, Acumen Nation, Author & Punisher, and Cyanotic, among others. “If the festival is successful this year, our goal is to expand the ColdWaves premise even further and make it a ‘traveling regional’ festival in between three and five key metropolitan cities next year where you’ll see the headliner(s) play next to the cities’ local talent,” says Schock.
The future looks promising and it’s good to know that we can still count on quality being valued over quantity by WTII Records. “We’ve had many opportunities over the years to expand the roster by a large number and just pump out several releases a month, but we prefer to keep our artist count at a manageable number so that everyone gets equal attention from us with ad space, reviews, club playlists, etc., etc.,” according to Schock.
Kathy Nichols (KLN)