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screamin' rachael

In depth with Screamin’ Rachael

It’s no exaggeration to point out that Screamin’ Rachael is someone who’s been there, done that and worn the t-shirt. Indeed, she’s worn the t-shirt quite literally, particularly in the case of her beloved Trax Records, a label she’s been with since the days of yesteryear (and whose associated merchandise she’s often seen sporting with real pride). So what’s it like to play your career out as the head of one of dance music’s most famous labels? With her iconic record, U Used to Hold Me, getting a new lease of life recently courtesy of the likes of Marcus Mixx, Todd Terry and more, we figured it’d be a perfect time to pass some questions past Rachael to find out more…

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How are you, how has your summer been so far?

I’ve been positive and feeling relatively good considering the fact that Chicago did not officially open up completely until early July. We had no Independence Day fireworks or festivities for two summers! That’s a big thing in America…The numbers in the USA are not good in certain states, so there is talk of lockdowns again, masks and various limitations. Regardless I’ve been doing creative things and getting outside! This summer is like a REBIRTH for me, beautiful weather, breathing fresh air without a mask, and for the first time in almost two years, even a bit of travel. Covid is still a threat though. We just lost a wonderful talent, my dear friend Paul Johnson died on August 4, so there is still a dark cloud above us. It’s hard to believe that we will never get to travel, work or party together again. Though the vaccine is controversial I’ve had mine, the alternative is something I personally don’t recommend people taking a chance on.

How was the lockdown, where did you spend it and how?

Lockdown was really hard to take mentally, but my theory is when you get lemons to make lemonade. I spent the entire time in my condo in Chicago and didn’t even go out to the TRAX office. I did take walks with masks though once it was allowed. Health and compassion became important so getting in shape and going vegetarian/ mostly vegan was a change I made. Luckily I have a beautiful view of the lake so I didn’t feel completely shut-in.

I had a lot of time to work on music and connect more with international artists and others on Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp! I got very turned on to the virtual world. In fact, one of the artists I work with, Jason Chaos started The Empire Nightlife Group, it’s just big enough but not huge, and lots of us made friends and supported each other there.

We organized a virtual TRAX PARTY with help and coordination by James Farley, every Saturday that started in Chicago the very first week of lockdown in March of 2020. Djing and producing music with people everywhere is what kept me sane! During that time, I met many fantastic new artists whose projects we signed to TRAX, including Saytek, Daniel Smith AKA “Late Nite Dub Addict, Mindgazm, DJ Elmo, Barbara Crowft and others. I also reconnected with some awesome classic house music people including, L.A. Williams and Joe Smooth. Of course, Marcus Mix helped me get through everything by label managing with me at TRAX and collaborating on music.

What is Chicago like as a scene and place to party these days? as vibrant as ever?

Well, the Chicago scene was pretty dull until the mayor decided to allow Lollapalooza, and that was almost shut down a week before it started. All the medical people were horrified about that! And we still hope there will be no repercussions or spikes in Covid cases. There are some underground parties but a lot of things were cancelled, and thankfully clubs that didn’t shut down forever due to economic loss are finally opening up! It’s not as vibrant as ever but I have high hopes for the future. I love Chicago! 

Have you started playing again post lockdowns? What’s it been like? the vibes, the big tunes?

To be honest, I haven’t started playing live gigs except for a couple of small private events, I lost some close friends to Covid and quite honestly I’ve been afraid. Maybe too afraid! BUT since losing Paul Johnson perhaps being overly cautious was the correct decision. I played virtually at least once a week and have done a number of virtual fundraisers for good causes. I CAN’T WAIT TO GET OUT TO PLAY TO AUDIENCES AGAIN! Now that I am finally vaccinated I feel ready, so if anyone is interested in booking me contact at 

Also, I’d like to put a TRAX tour together for 2022!  It has been difficult being mostly virtual but I do interact with the audience and you can see some live shows on @traxrecords on INSTAGRAM TV, and our TRAX RECORDS OFFICIAL YOUTUBE PAGE.

The vibe is always great because I play only TRAX Records music! There is so much to choose from!

I get a lot of audience reactions to let me know what’s up! BiG New tunes include D-Beat’s ‘’Pump It”, Saytek’s “Temper Tantrum”, The unauthorized “Move Your Body” by Jason Chaos, “This Goes Out to Ron Hardy”, by Armitage, “Mission Impossible” by Late Nite Dub Addict, “U Used to Hold Me” Joe Smooth Rework and “Stand Up” by Barbra Crowft. As to classics, there are so many great hits, how can a DJ miss with Acid Trax, Can You Feel It, Sensation, Children of The Night and the LIST GOES ON!

I’m excited to announce that we are throwing our first open-air bash on Coney Island in NYC on August 21st! This will be my first major live performance since the pandemic, so I’m tremendously excited! Jason Chaos, and The Empire Night Life team will be performing and promoting it, while Eric Rivas and our movie ensemble will be shooting and taking part in the celebration! 

How much did the pandemic and being at home alter the style of music you made and its mood and vibe?

Well at first I really got into acid I was playing mostly acid cuts and recorded an entire underground album titled “Acidic”. The whole project was coordinated by myself and Marcus Mix, with crazy cuts like “Come on Kitty”, and “Let’s Jack It Up”. Then I got really influenced by going back to my roots and working with a guitarist I’ve known since my punk days, Matt Donovan. We wrote ‘Stand Up’ with Barbra Crowft, “The Truth” and other cuts that started out acoustically, with just guitar and vocals. Finally, I decided to work on a really banging package for the floor stomper “U Used to Hold Me”.

Tell us about the remix package you have put together for U Used to Hold Me. How did you choose the people?

The pandemic gave me a lot of time to think things through. It is amazing how close I got to people I never even got to meet in person, like Daniel Smith AKA Late Nite Dub Addict, from Manchester, and DJ Elmo out of NYC. I also had this idea that I wanted to give the cut a hip house flavour. Years ago Afrika Bambaataa and I did the first hip-house cut “Fun with Bad Boys”. The original vinyl came out on Grand Groove Records, which was strictly a hip hop label out of the BRONX at the time… I wanted to go there! I really think it’s time for that sound NOW, and you can see it everywhere with people like Kanye and others sampling house records. I absolutely LOVE Todd Terry’s sound, he’s my favourite classic NYC producer and Joe Smooth is one of my best friends in the industry, and I believe he’s the all-time BEST Chicago house music producer. Marcus Mix and Matt Donavan are my ride or die buddy’s and they bring a cool flavour uniquely their own to the project.  

Are you conscious when tackling a track like this that you have to be very careful how artists approach it?

I just do what I do. I don’t think music is something to be careful with. It’s something to feel and I follow where my ears and heart take me… I work with people I believe in and make music I love.

Why do you think this tune is such an eternal classic?

Some songs just make you feel GREAT! I don’t think you can define what will make a classic.  IT JUST IS!

Are you working on new music at all? What’s your current vibe and style?

I’m always working on music, and these days I’m quite excited about working with live musicians again. I got to know a lot of cool live players including the legendary horn player Mario Abney out of New Orleans. Like I said, it’s back to some cool Chicago players like Matt Donovan on guitar, and DJ Oliver Fade an amazing DJ producer, who comes up with great live keyboard stuff in the studio. I love to give back and mentor youth so I met an AMAZING live musician out of a small downtrodden town near Chicago called Harvey Illinois. John Owrey the president of introduced me to Amir Arrington, who is working to revitalize his entire area through music. He has built an amazing world-class studio, in an area that was ripe with crack heads, and gangs. He plays funky jazzy blues type music with a kind of house groove. We are getting ready to produce a solo project on him that I believe will take Trax Records to an exciting new place. Amir started out as a DJ on Technic 1200’s so he’s got the groove!  I’m excited to be working with some house music people out of Nashville too. AND Nashville has a plethora of wonderful musicians, singer-songwriters and great new DJ’s no one knows about yet… 

What’s next, what else are you working on?

I think I’ve pretty much laid out what I’m doing here. It’s easy to see that my entire life is consumed by creativity and I LOVE IT! One of the only things I haven’t mentioned yet is the movies I’ve been working on with a great director out of NYC, Eric Rivas. He’s kind of a combination between Ed Woods and John Waters. Eric has developed a series of actors that work as an ensemble cast including myself. Some of the people are known actors like Lillo Brancato, Angel Salazar, Apache Ramos, and Sylvia Miles, then there are personalities such as Michael Musto, who is a well-known journalist, and might just be Riva’s greatest discovery as an actor! His comedy timing is terrific and he is quite compelling on screen. By the way, Musto has a great voice and has even recorded a single on TRAX.

We have finished four films distributed by Sony Orchard and 1091 Entertainment. They include “The Vamp Bikers” Trilogy, “Japanese Borscht”, and I’m leaving this weekend for New York to work on my role in our 5th movie ‘The Duke of New York”. Trax Records produce all of the soundtracks. Another thing I’m doing that is a first for me is producing an entertainer Irene Michaels, from start to finish. So I’ve put a lot of time into choosing material, imagining and putting the best members of my team on the project. She’s someone I believe in.

Music aside, what’s exciting you about life right now? 

Well, a lot of people don’t know that I’m a hip hop head and so excited that NYC has finally opened The Universal Hip Hop Museum. It’s an honour and privilege to know people who are my friends being immortalized in their lifetime. Grandmaster Melle Mel, Doug E Fresh, Busy Bee, these are my guys and they have always backed me up since way back when I arrived at Sugarhill Records. That’s where I first got to know them and work with them. That experience changed my life because I met Sylvia Robison, who started the label and inspired me to take house music to the forefront the way she did with hip hop. It is my greatest wish that one day house music will have its own museum or at the very least a comprehensive exhibit. That’s something I’ve been talking to the Chicago History Museum about. 

There are times when I put a hip hop cut on when I DJ. Unfortunately, sometimes that really pisses off some of the house heads. One of my favourite tracks to play is “Got Things Sewed” by Busy Bee. Some days I just don’t give a CRAP! All I can say as I jump up and down to that awesome beat is GO BUSY! By the way, TRAX Records started a rap division in the ’80s called ‘RAP TRAX’ and though it’s not that well known it’s still alive and kicking! I’ve got big plans for it too, and like Busy Bee says: “I’VE GOT THINGS SEWED”.

Screamin’ Rachael’s “U Used to Hold Me (Remixes)” is out now via TRAX. Buy/listen to release here.  

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