SIFF Face the Music 2018 Review: Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records

Janice Headley

Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records 
(USA | 2018 | 95 minutes | d: Julia Nash)

Festival Screenings:
SATURDAY, MAY 19 8:30 PM | Majestic Bay
TUESDAY, MAY 22 9:30 PM | SIFF Cinema Egyptian
WEDNESDAY, MAY 30 9:00 PM | Shoreline

As Sub Pop Records nears its 30th anniversary, and KEXP has been consumed with our "Count-Up" of their discography, the release of the documentary Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records is perfectly timed. Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt grew up in Chicago, where the label and retail store were based. As a customer, he discovered zines and scenes, and it's safe to say Sub Pop would not exist if not for Wax Trax! Records.

Launched in 1978 as a record shop, Wax Trax! was easily ahead of its time, not only in musical taste, and not only in recognizing Chicago to be a cool place back when only L.A. and New York were regarded as such, but, more poignantly, in that it was run by a gay couple, business-savvy Jim Nash and his quieter counterpart Dannie Flesher (who looks kinda like Dr. Frank N. Furter's Rocky Horror creation in terry cloth gym shorts). I was struck by their bravery in being out-and-proud partners in the late '70s and how that boldness translated into their lives as business partners. (Director Julia Nash, Jim's daughter from a previous marriage, tells a story about seeing Jim and Dannie kiss for the first time, and realizing, "Oh! They're not just roommates!")

The rise from store to label is beautifully documented in vintage film footage (God bless the VHS) and interviews with artists today: Al Jourgensen of Ministry, Jello Biafra, Steve Albini, Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl, and many more. I was also really pleased to see an equal amount of interviews with the label's staff — sure, they don't have the celebrity caché of a Reznor, but the film is about the label, not just the music, and I love how Nash represented that.

Another Sub Pop parallel is how incestuous Wax Trax! was. Much in the way Mark Arm was in, like, 20 different Sub Pop bands in the grunge heyday, Jourgensen was his industrial counterpart, forming Revolting Cocks (with Richard 23 of Front 242), 1000 Homo DJs (under the alias Buck Satan), Acid Horse (which included members of Ministry and Cabaret Voltaire), Lard (with Jello Biafra), and many more. In an interview with Ian MacKaye, the Fugazi frontman talks about meeting Jourgensen in the mid-'80s and forming the short-lived side project Pailhead. By then, Ministry had moved on from Wax Trax! to Sire/Warner Bros., and Jourgensen was complaining to MacKaye about how much he hated being on a major label. Inspired by his moaning, MacKaye penned the lyrics to "I Will Refuse" — as in, "I refuse to sign to a major label"! The song was released as a single via Wax Trax!, where it rightly belonged. 

There are so many bands and years to retrace, that, if anything, Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records suffers from too much information. An extended scene on the ARP Omni synthesizer felt like it belonged in a different movie (like 808, a former "Face the Music" film from SIFF 2015), but with so much to cover, it was easy to stray from the main story. 

Finally, another way Wax Trax! and Sub Pop mirrored each other, is in their eventual downfalls. With more enthusiasm than money, their business model proved unsustainable. And, in the spirit of friendship, Wax Trax! never asked artists to sign contracts. (I also found this ironic, because, as the film shows, Nash and Flesher were inspired by the label Factory Records... who also went bankrupt for pretty much the exact same reasons. Why weren't you label people learning from each other's mistakes?)

Sadly, around the same time, Nash's health was in fast decline, as was Flesher's, we later learn. Though the New York-based TVT Records stepped in to keep the label afloat in 1992. The real story of Wax Trax! Records ends with Nash and Flesher, who made the label what is was by what they were. Sadly, Nash passed away in 1995 and Flesher in 2010; in a beautiful coda: director Julia Nash resurrected the label in 2014.

KEXP is a proud co-sponsor of the "Face the Music" series at the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival, running May 17 - June 10 in various theatres across the area. Follow along with all our coverage throughout the festival here.

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