Some time in late 1995 or early 1996 I bought a record called “From The Archives.” It was on a Chicago label called Flex Records Inc. and was produced by John Basil Kardaras, AKA John Basil or John Kardaras, and Chris Ike. At the time they were known as Black Ant Productions Inc. This was the second time a piece of their music had been committed to vinyl. Their track “Unity Gain” appeared on a 1993, joint release EP with Tyree Cooper called “Prove It” by J.T. Melody Presents Tina Reneé.
Like a lot of records I bought and reviewed back then, I probably found it in a store in San Francisco, most likely BPM, one of my favorite SF stores of the ’90s, where I met Chris Lum mere weeks after I got off the boat from Irelandland — the fabulous Tweekin’ Records was the other. I was pretty impressed with the seven-track EP, so I decided to review it. At that time XLR8R was planning a story on Chicago house, an idea that probably originated with Matthew Bernsen, AKA Matty B (RIP). Matty was something of a house evangelist at the time and we wanted to write about the labels and artists from Chicago that were inspiring us. There was plenty to write about. The Chicago piece, including the “From The Archives” review was published in XLR8R #20, which also featured an interview with Derrick May by Beverly May (who is not related to Derrick).
The entire Chicago piece featured writing by the sadly-missed Bernsen, Finn Campbell Notman, Corey Black (of 40 Thieves) and Andrew Rawnsley. All of us were rabid house music aficionados and the seven-page geek out includes interviews with DJ Sneak, Johnny Fiasco, Terry Mullan, Mark Farina, Bernard Badie, Derrick Carter, Glenn Underground and Cajmere. It also includes label overviews of Jeff Craven’s fine Large Records imprint, the Vibe Music label, Ike and Kadaras’ Flex Records Inc. label and my chart of classic Chicago cuts.
Given that “From The Archives” was from the Windy City I felt it would be a good idea to include a review of it. Yes, this little label only had one release but, I heard some promise in it and at that time, in the halcyon days of the mid-90s, it always felt like a good idea to give the little guy, the underdog, a hand up. None of us were waiting for a publicist to contact us and good records took precedence over nepotism (a situation that I’m not so sure about today).
Nearly 21 years later I got a Linkedin message from John Kardaras and a Facebook message from Steve Mizek (the guy behind the Little White Earbuds blog and the Argot and Tasteful Nudes labels). They both told me that Kardaras and Ike were about to have 14 of their unreleased tracks issued on digital format via Argot with a vinyl 12 inch of four of those tunes also slated to drop. The entire release is called “Lab Work 91-96” by Shifty Science, a project name Kardaras and Ike have been using for several years. It is accompanied by a fanzine.
“Lab Work 91-96” is sourced from material they gave to Steve after meeting him at a party where their mutual friend, Bay Area producer Bvdub (Brock Van Wey), was DJing for Mizek and some friends. Van Wey was someone I would meet on dark streets in my neighborhood in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district on foggy nights in the late ’90s. There is also a joint release from Van Wey and Shifty Science from 2010.
My original review of their “From The Archives” EP is below.
Probably Chicago’s newest label, Flex couldn’t have picked a better time to start. Chris Orr introduces us to their aspirations.
Everything starts off in the underground and every label must go through that difficult phase of releasing its first record and waiting for the feedback. Well Black Ant Productions, John Basil and Chris Ike, have done that twice. First they were behind “Prove It” by Unity Gain on Plastic Musik in 1993, and, more recently, they released the brilliant “From The Archives” EP on their own Flex Records imprint. This came out in the late summer with only 200 copies being allocated to the US (why ?). The rest went to Japan (may I suggest a repressing?).
This EP basically gives a good indication of where the boys are coming from sound wise; deep Chicago house tempered around the edges with Derrick May and Juan Atkins influences. The only complaint anyone had about this record was the fact that some of the cuts were so short, especially those on the b-side, great grooves but, just as you’re getting into them they’re over. However, they remain wicked mixing tools.
The next step for this small label is to release “From the Archives Vol 2,” which will include a remix of “Smooth” and an edit of the horn-driven wonder that is “D-Spice.” Chris and John also promise an album from new vocalist Allegra and an EP to herald her arrival on the scene. This EP will include a track called “UR Free.” This is only in rough tape form but, if the planets are in the right alignment, it could to be a summer anthem.
Black Ant Productions’ sound is familiar, yet unique, and this is especially evident on the “From The Archives’ EP.” Keep an eye out for it and for future releases on Flex. Hopefully this label will become another reason why Chicago is so special.