In the long history of house there are few labels whose records as hard or expensive to obtain as those put out by the small but hugely influential Mitchbal Records.
An obscure independent label hailing from 300 W. North Aveneue, Chicago, it originally acted as a vehicle for soul 7”s produced by Nemiah Mitchell Jr (Mitch) and David Baldwin (Bal) in the early 80s. However, unbeknown to Nemiah, there was a severe dose of right time, right place waiting just around the corner.
Nemaih had a son, a son called Vince Lawrence, who along with his good friend and aspiring DJ Jesse Saunders, was fully immersed in the underground disco scene in Chicago at that time, dancing the night away to Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse or Powerplant, and Ron Hardy’s Music Box where the style of music being played was getting coined, by local record shops, ‘house’ after the Warehouse.
At the time this was a style rather than a genre, taking in all sorts of sounds - tracky edits, druggy disco, Italo imports, new wave oddities and classics from New York and Philadelphia. But this was all about change with the release of a handful of records.
Legend has it that the first proper 'house' record ever released on vinyl was Jesse’s 1984 remake of Mach’s disco medley/mash up ‘On and On’, a record co-penned by Vince and possibly even funded by his Dad, Nemiah. But around the same time Vince and his father did release their first Mitchbal house effort, ‘Fast Cars’ under the name Z-Factor.
The actual date of release is a bit of a mystery. The label says 1983, which would make it the first ever house record, but as ‘On and On’ is universally acclaimed as setting this milestone in 1984, there might have been a little bit of foul play to try a steal that accolade when the labels went to print! We’ll probably never know but the record itself is a bit of an odd one. The A-side has a truly awful spoken word, vocal about having sex in Ferraris and is best avoided, but the SFX Mix on flip comes on like Chicago style blueprint for Visnadi’s ‘Racing Tracks’ . In recent years it’s been championed on CBS (I-F’s internet radio station) and the, somewhat inevitably, bootlegged as part of the Automan series.
This release was promptly followed up by ‘Fantasy’, which was produced in partnership with Jesse Saunders, and had a real Italo feel to it, appropriated the bass line Vince and Jesse used for ‘On and On’ (if it ain’t broke!). However, it too was marred by another dreadful vocal, so head straight to the instrumental mix.
Before 1984 was out, Nemiah, Vince and Jesse had also released ‘The DJ’ and the so rare it’s almost mythical, Z-Factor ‘Dance Party LP’, which featured all of the tracks mentioned above 3 more.
The following year ‘The DJ’ was remixed into ‘I’m the DJ’ and in the shape of the ‘Jazzy mix', which again ditched the dodgy vocal, a more mature sound, more readily recognisable as house as we know it today emerged.
Save for a couple of lame efforts by McGhee (who?) and Mr Lee, no more house really appeared on Mitchbal after 1985, although the label’s offshoot, ‘Chicago Connection’, went on to release the all-time house classic ‘Shake Your Body’ by Jeanette Thomas and Frankie Knuckles’ corking cover of Omni’s disco bomb ‘It’s Out of Our Hands’, under the name Unfinished Business, before that too signalled its departure from the scene with another rubbish Mr Lee release.
Vince went on to team up with Adonis and form Trax’s house supergroup Virgo, Jesse went on to tell everyone who would listen he invented house music, and Nemiah still produces his music (God knows what it sounds like though).
If you want to hear these Mitchbal records to today, you have a small number of choices. You can pick up the repressed Dance Party LP (available via discogs), you can weigh out between £50-£100 a shot for the 12”s, or take the easy option, and listen to this mini-mix I’ve done of the 12”s of Fantasy, Fast Cars, and I’m the DJ.
Just hit 'play' below - and don’t say I don’t look after you!