Trevor Jackson Interview
With the Metal Dance compilation of Post Punk, Industrial and EDM just dropping on Strut and 23 Skidoo playing live at the launch this weekend at Elektrowerkz we caught up with Mr Ex-Output for an in-depth grainy skype conversation. You'll forgive some of my hastily typed transcription.
‘Metal Dance’ mines deep and hones in on the more underground and danceable side of industrial, post-punk and EBM (Electronic Body Music), a phrase coined by Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk but honed by later bands like DAF and Front 242 as socialist realist aesthetics were dragged onto the dancefloor during the mid-‘80s. Jackson cherry-picks classics and rarities from this era. Featuring seminal artists of the time Cabaret Voltaire, Nitzer Ebb, Yello, Alien Sex Fiend & Pete Shelly it's a very confontational and definitely not an easy listen a lot of the time…
With that in mind:
What draws you to confrontational music like this?
I just have a lot of disdain for the mainstream in many ways because the mainstream has its foundations built on deception and corruption. Most things in the mainstream very rarely get there through honest, natural means. I just like things that are honest and real. I'm not in any way going to say anything in the mainstream is not real but the majority of it gets there for reasons which maybe aren't justified and if you dig around in the underground you will find things that are honest and real.
"Punk planted a seed in the head of every dissatisified youth with the mentality of YOU CAN DO THIS too." DJ History People can DO THIS too now, even more so but why do you think things have changed in the way movements of music evolve?
The problem is what happens now is the majority of youth today feel quite content with their lives. Because they've got their laptop, they've got their Vrigin broadband and they're quite content in many ways. It's crazy for me because there's probably more fucked up shit going in the world now than there has been any time before. Obviously we have student riots but there's not an overall kind of creative, political movement. The way I see it now most young people want to be mainstream. Now I'm a grown man but if I was coming out of college I wouldn't want to be working for a huge corporation I'd be wanting to do my own independent shit. When I was younger it was all about doing things for yourself. It was all about empowering yourself. Not becoming part of some huge machine. Now so much these days things are just about lifestyle. People get into things for lifestyle and not the real reasons. It's fashion at it's worst. Times are very different now, back then people had a very different attitude. I'm not going to deny there's not really fantastic things going on today but things were different, in that punk mentality people wanted to be different then. People wanna be the same now. One of my biggest issues with the internet; when I used to travel and play in different cities there were people's and place's own scenes. They're still there now but things have become far more homogenised. Youth culture has become a far more international thing but that in some ways has kind of destroyed in many ways the subculture.
Why do you do a lot of design in Black and White?
When you get older and you get a bit more refined you realise less is more. My earlier work was mental. I'm slowly learning to hold back… When it comes to colour you can't get much more held back than doing things in black and white!
I'd definitely count myself as a post punk fan but I'd not heard half of these records. I don't see that as ignorance on my behalf as I love discovering new music…it must have been a bit of a nightmare to try and license tho?!
What it was, I had my wishlist of records that I wanted to license. 90% of these tracks were on a C90 cassette that I found in my parents house. And I thought to myself I know that people have put out loads of post-punk compilations but I thought there was a certain area of this more industrial sounding stuff which hadn't really been exposed.
The main issue you have with putting out compilations on an independent label is the majors just make it very difficult for you to license things. Yeah in an ideal world I'd have Kraftwerk, Gary Numan – but I couldn't. It was even really difficult to get Cabaret Voltaire & Nitzer Ebb because the Mute catalogue is owned by EMI – so yeah it was a fkkin nightmare to get all these tracks. For me, many of those records were big anthems when I used to go out, even though they were underground they were anthems but I also wanted to put a few on that nobody would had heard of. Some of the tracks I didn't know about till quite recently – Diseno Corbusier – Golpe De Amistad but wanted people to hear them…
Yeah i mean this compilation definitely educated me in the ways of Martin Rushent, I previously only really knew him from Human League productions. (Included on the compilation are Hard Corps – Je Suis Passe and the dub of Pete Shelley – Witness The Change)
People obviously know him for DARE but the man's a genius – you should hunt out every single remix he ever did. Most of them are just mindblowing.
And that's what the exciting bit about it is… discovering.
I was chatting to a friend last night. Doesn't matter how much you think you know about music? Every week something will always pop into your life you've never heard. Things will always pop into your life that you never knew existed. With 23 Skidoo I didn't even realise that 7 Songs was produced by Throbbing Gristle under pseudonyms until a few weeks ago. It's easy to fall in and out of love with music but at the end of the day it constantly surprises you.
You find this era sonically so exciting and have difficulty with the mainstream. How do you produce these days? I read in a lot of recent interviews that you've gone back to analogue.
I think the way that I've approached music in the past has maybe been a little bit wrong in the fact that I treated it like a design project. I've always had a very considered and conceptual approach to it and through using this analogue equipment the music I'm making right now has become more performance based. Because it's more live and performance based it actually makes it a lot more fun. When I'm making music now I feel like I'm performing. I've never really enjoyed making music – before I couldn't sit in front of Logic for 8 hours without getting a headache. Now I can use these machines for 12 hours and it never gets boring. I never feel like I'm working anymore…I've never really enjoyed making music before and now I do. Now the actual process of making it is more important to me. I finished 10 years worth of music last year, I've got just under a 100 tracks. I've just bought a reel-to-reel tape machine to edit it all down with…
Will that be as Underdog, Playgroup or just Trevor Jackson?
I don't know what it'll be under yet. Playgroup is very specific so I'm not sure it'll be that… but we'll see.
Eclectism has become a dirty word… discuss.
I definitely think it probably has but I'd rather people were playing an eclectic mix of music than playing progressive house or more linear music. It's not a dirty word to me!
What did you want to license for the compilation but due to whatever reasons didn't make it on?
Obviously Kraftwerk & Gary Numan but I would also liked to have had Depeche Mode, Blancmange, New Order. When you're licensing things from a major label for an independent compilation there are about 2 or 3 you can have. If I was to do a volume 2 or 3 then I'd definitely include these. I'm very happy that it came out how it did but I could definitely two or threee more volumes.
"The art world and fashion world seem to have little taste in music whatsoever, it dumfounds me how they either embrace the very worst of mainstream music or lack originality & innovation," Do you think this translates into most of clubland these days?
No, not at all. I don't know if clubs themselves are as exciting as they could be but musically there's certainly enough people playing great music. I made that comment about the artworld because you'd think in a culture full of so many incredibly talented, visionaries people would have better taste in music. You go to an art event or party and they'll usually be playing generic nonsense, Same with the fashion world. Unfortunately I think i the super-ironic camp musicality of gay club culture which made sense at a certain point in time has become the mainstay along with cheesy mainroom club anthems…. there was a time when intelligent and cutting edge music was the soundtrack to the fashion world, except for a handful of the most forward thinking labels, now it's an embarassment.
Metal Dance the club – is this a recreation of every great club you went to back then?
Well 23 Skidoo are playing but I don't just want to play old music. I hope it's as interesting a club night that I used to go to when I was younger. And hopefully there'll be some really interesting people. Ultimately the music and the people in it are what makes a great club…
What one record got you interested in this post punk / industrial scene or would you say it was going to the clubs you mention where Colin Faber/Eddie Richards and DJ Wolf etc.
The thing is, it wasn't one record that I was listening to. I was listening to Hip Hop, Electro, R n' B, Loose Ends. This is more a focus on one aspect of the sound I was listening to then. In the same week that I heard Malcolm McClaren, I was listening to the Human League and Adrian Sherwood and Pointer Sisters.
Metal Dance ties in with Kraftwerk's Electronic Body Music references. Was all this music driven by a machine funk aesthetic?
For me it's probably more about the attitude. It was a time when it was new technology. People exploited new technology as best they could…
What's your relationship with record shops these days? Do you still frequent them?
Yeah I live a minute from Rough Trade East so I'm pretty much in there every day. For me the unsung heroes are people that work in record shops. I'm on Boomkat every other day too.
I probably get most of my music via recommendations and I'm very fortunate to have these relationships with record shops. I made a comment which got misquoted recently which said "I don't play promos." What I meant was, was that I actually end up playing more of the music I buy as opposed to the music I get sent for free. If you make a conscious decision to go and buy you feel some attachment to it. It becomes very difficult to go through 500 MP3s or WAVs you get sent. Even if there's something you love it doesn't resonate with you as much because it's not there physically.
You mentioned that Zomby's Dedication was the last album you listened to all the way through recently. What about now?
I listened to the Common album – first 8 tracks on it are great until John Legend starts singing.
Francis Bebey reissue album African Electronic Music 1975-1982 – colette
Atomic Forest – Obsession 77 – Now Records really good. – Reissue of an old psychedelic funk rock band from India.
Has Booking 23 Skidoo been something of a lifelong ambition?
They haven't played in London for well over 20 years so i'm really excited to hear them. It's a mixture of two early versions of the band that have never played before in this format. They're reforming for one gig. This is just a one-off. I've never seen them before but I've heard incredible things about them. Obviously I love their music and when I was thinking about doing a launch party for the album I was thinking about who would I like to play. I'd suggested it before and they'd said no, no, no but then I asked them again for this and they said yes. But yeah everything that anyone's told me about them playing live is that they're a very special band to see. Very excited!
Metal Dance with an exclusive live performance from 23 Skidoo takes place at Elektrowerkz this Saturday. More info and tickets here.
Buy metal dance from the wonderful Norman Records. R$N's favourite record shop in the whole wide world for oddities and goodness. No money has changed hands, they really are that great.
Not that I'd ever question your knowledge but check where the Chemical Bros nicked Block Rockin' Beats from: