Beloved Chicago label and cultural conduit Wax Trax! Records is the subject of 2018 documentary Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records, directed by Julia Nash, daughter of Wax Trax! founder Jim Nash. Jim Nash established Wax Trax! with life partner Dannie Flesher, as a record store in Denver, Colorado, before re-locating to Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood in 1978. Before the label's closure in 1992, Wax Trax! proved to be a cultural institution like few others, both as the pre-eminent purveyor of industrial music, and the epicenter of Chicago's experiment punk scene. The label's many notable artists include Ministry, Coil, KMFDM, Front 242, Psychic TV, and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. Both Nash and Flesher passed away from AIDS-related illnesses-- Nash in 1995, and Flesher in 2010.
Industrial Accident is part of SIFF 2018's Face the Music Series, and will screen one last time at the festival on May 30th at 9 PM at Shoreline Community College. Julia Nash will appear at the screening, along with Patty Jourgensen (former manager of Ministry), Bill Rieflin (drummer for Ministry, King Crimson, R.E.M, among others), and Paul Barker (bass player, producer of Ministry). In preview of this special event, KEXP spoke to Julia Nash about Industrial Accident and her personal memories of the label, including the impact Wax Trax! continues to have on modern music and culture today.
KEXP: How has the process of interviewing musicians and gathering archival footage changed your understanding of Wax Trax, a record label that you were already intimately familiar with?
Julia Nash: It has definitely been an education. Growing up in the thick of it, I was not really paying close attention. Jim [Nash] and Dannie [Flesher] were my parents and it was take your daughter to work day every day. As a kid you are like, “When can we go do something fun?” Looking back, it was always fun!
What really came through to me was a sense of family throughout the process. I don’t think I initially understood the extent Jim and Dannie really took care of their artists. The stories about giving them everything they wanted or needed extended outside of the recording studio. They had apartments they could stay in, they bought the artists food, stereo equipment, drove them everywhere…The list goes on and on. This was all done without wanting anything in return.
As we defined the timeline of events for the film, it was eye opening to grasp what exactly these two guys accomplished: so much in such a short amount of time. You have to remember there were over 200 genre defining releases by pioneering artists. The star burned incredibly bright for a span of a short 10 years and then it was over. It’s unfathomable to me.
KEXP: Has directing Industrial Accident changed your appreciation for the work and legacy of your father?
JN: Without a doubt. I’ve mentioned this in other places, but because we all were in the eye of the storm so to speak, at the time I had never realized the impact that the store and the label had on people around the world. I’ve come to understand after the fact that for so many fans, this wasn’t just a “cool label” with some “good bands." A cultural shift was happening in the underground during the 1980s. Whether it was people struggling with new LGBT issues or emerging darker club culture or even the young tech brainiacs that didn’t feel they belonged anywhere, Wax Trax! Records served as a constant soundtrack for what a lot of people were going through. I think it helped get a lot of people through some exciting and often tough times, which may be the reason Wax Trax! still resonates with many fans today.
KEXP: Which interviews gathered for the film most surprised you?
JN: I think the Revolting Cocks portion of the film surprised me most in regards to hearing Al [Jourgensen], Richard  and Luc [Van Acker] explain how their sound developed. Many people might feel the title of the film (Industrial Accident) was meant to be negative. I don’t want the “accidental” nature of so many things that happened to be lost on fans. Wax Trax! was a culture that was a pure stream of creativity. My Dad and Dannie, and many of the artists were tuned into capturing and exploiting whatever may happen at any given moment. Revolting Cocks was a total fluke, so was starting a label in the first place.
There were a few interviews that didn’t make it into the final edit that were nice surprises. Patty Jourgensen has some incredible stories. She is truly a crucial linchpin and incredibly important to the transition of Ministry’s sound. There were some hilarious stories from other interviews as well. One of my favorite [stories] Ian MacKaye tells didn’t make the edit. You can see many of them in the bonus B roll disc!
KEXP: What impact has industrial music had on your life?
JN: I’m probably the worst person to answer this question in a broad sense. On a total personal level, my life has been impacted the most by fans of the store and label. So many people have shared their personal stories of how Wax Trax! either validated what they were doing or helped them not feel so alone and isolated growing up. Everything from “Front 242 is the reason I chose the career path I did," to “Psychic TV helped me understand who I was inside," to “I trusted anything with a Wax Trax! logo on it." It’s impactful and moving when someone walks up to you with tears in their eyes because of what Wax Trax! has meant to them.
KEXP: As a child, would you interact with the music and culture surrounding Wax Trax? Was it something that intrigued you?
JN: I feel it’s important to define what the Wax Trax! music culture actually was. The store would play everything from The Pop Group to The Shangri Las. Yes, growing up in Kansas, my brother and I couldn’t wait to visit our dad and Dannie [in Chicago] to be close to what was happening culturally. During this time (the 1980's) I was into bands like The Human League, Japan and Grace Jones, but my true obsession was Adam and The Ants. Wax Trax! wasn’t just Nurse With Wound or Einstürzende Neubauten. Wax Trax! culture was everything a hardcore music fan could ever want across the entire spectrum. This was definitely something that intrigued me.
KEXP: Where do you see the musical or cultural legacy of Wax Trax! continued anywhere in modern pop culture?
JN: Again, I think a proper music critic or pop culture expert may be able to expand on this with more ease, but for better or worse I do think that you can draw a direct lineage between many of the original Wax Trax! artists to much of modern electronic music.
The obvious call outs of course would be Ministry, TKK, and Front 242 defining what “Industrial” has become through the success of bands like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and Rammstein. But I really think the artists had a much wider reach than that. Whether it’s Psychic TV paving the way for Acid House or Autechre and all those amazing Warp Records licenses of the 90s exploring minimal ambient, to EDM origins circling back to The KLF or Underworld, there is no doubt that my dad and Dannie’s work carries on today in some form.
Regarding a cultural impact, I’ll go a little deeper with this one than just “pop-culture”. My dad and Dannie were two men who fostered and valued a community where people could be themselves no matter how absurd. That was always a cornerstone of Wax Trax! Records and probably why it still resonates with some today. They lived by example and never pushed any agenda especially any kind of gay rights mantra. The fact that they were two music and art obsessed fans who happened to be gay with no apologies was inspiring to many going through their own struggles. These two guys also helped change the perception of what “gay men” act like for a lot of straight people they met.
We live in a time today where same-sex marriage is finally legal. I would like to think that my Dad and Dannie may have had some small part in helping break down those doors by just being themselves.
Featured in SIFF's "Face the Music" series, Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records gives us a look at the label's rise and fall.