The truncated version of this article appeared in Library Journal, but Trevor Jackson had too many interesting things to say, so here’s the full uncut transcript….
What was the impetus behind Metal Dance? What made you revisit this music from your youth?
A couple of things. One: I was searching through the attic of my parent’s house and I found a bunch of old tapes I made when I was a teenager and I just thought it was quite bizarre; there was loads of compilations coming out, many of them didn’t touch on the more industrial, well there were more obscure industrial compilations, but they didn’t touch on what to me were more commercial records, more club records, what we used to call alternative dance when I was younger. I just felt that it was kind of …. lots of music from that time was overlooked and deserved to be out there in the public domain again.
For the benefit of a reading audience that might not be familiar with this music, would you tell us a little about the genres and subgenres collected on the album?
That’s the thing…. at the time, we’re talking about that point in the Eighties, music wasn’t so genre-sized. You had rock, dance, there weren’t so many genres. I suppose the music from that time was outsider music, maybe, it was certainly subversive, it was definitely alternative, it was underground and it was mainly made with primitive electronics and by people that maybe weren’t musicians and they just kind of found their way around things they could make sound with in a way that …. in a primitive, naïve way. And that’s what appeals to me about it. It’s not music made by professional musicians as such, which often leads to things which are quite boring.
Were these the same qualities that grabbed you as a young music fan?
I was a teenager of that time so I grew up reading comic books, playing videogames and playing Close Encounters, Star Wars, and ET. These were films and these were books and comics that were all about the future. And so all the music around me and all the music in the charts at the time was boring rock music. And I was interested in music that was…. These records were by people that wanted to sound like something new. So I think that’s what excited me most. It was new sounds, and beyond sound, most of these bands had really strong images, like conceptually and their whole approach to making music, and that to me was really inspiring.
What was the connective tissue that held all of this music together for you?
I think it’s many things. For me, I was too young for punk and this is pre-hip hop, so for me being a teen, a young teenager seeking out alternative music, I kind of found it on the dancefloor and…. I think it was just… A lot of these people reference Burroughs and they reference a lot… To me it was just intelligent, it pushed things forward compared to what else was going on in the charts at the time and what my friends were listening to. It was something that was brand new and it was also… I remember listening to John Peel in my bedroom, when I was supposed to be asleep, my lights were off and I was under the covers with a radio, you know? And I’d religiously listen to John Peel every night. It’s kind of sad now, I don’t know what the alternative is for young kids, but that was pretty subversive then and for me it was a bit naughty and… I was young! I had friends who were older than me, 17 or 18, who were taking me to clubs when I was 14! It was quite an amazing experience. You’d go to a gig or you’d go to a club and there was a crazy mix of white, black, fashion people, arty people, normal people, bands onstage with crazy piercings, tattooed, smashing pieces of metal, playing synthesizers. It was insane. It was like a playground. For me.
It was an interesting time in music, with John Peel, NME with Napalm Death or Public Enemy on the cover….
It’s so hard for young people to understand! Because now there’s so much of everything. But then, one great record came out every few weeks… probably one great record came out every month. For me one record that blew me away came out every month. Maybe what it was was that people didn’t look to the past so much, people looked to the future and to the now, and also politically a lot of this music was rooted in politics, most of the bands were British or European… what was going on in the UK at that time was reflected in the music. The music is aggressive, so much of it is politically aware and that adds to the energy and the authenticity and the integrity of the music. These people weren’t just making music for fun; a lot of these people were trying to say something as well.
How did you choose the tracks? I’m picturing these epic listening parties?
No… Literally it was finding that cassette in my parent’s attic and then…. It was kind of difficult then because it was released on an independent label (Strut). Some of the tracks I wanted – like I would have loved to have had a Depeche Mode track on there, or Human League, or there were other bands I would have put on there, more obscure tracks by these bands – but you’re very limited in that major labels make it very restrictive now for you to license songs without paying a huge amount of money in advance. So it meant that I had to really dig deeper and find things that were on smaller independent labels. Which probably made the compilation more interesting. But literally it was 75% was on that cassette; they were records that were to me, anthems and for many people going to clubs at the time. So I tried to pick those big records and also add a few other things that I discovered quite recently that fitted in as well.
Do you have any good stories about making contact with the artists on the album?
Nothing really that exciting but purely from my point of view even thought I’ve been involved in the music business for twenty years, I’m still a punter, y’know? I don’t see myself as this industry person. I live around the corner from Rough Trade East, I shop there nearly every day buying records. For me getting the chance to speak with some of these artists…. even emails… I’m always very hesitant to make contact with anyone that I’m a fan of because the only times it has happened have been hugely disappointing. But generally Ive had nothing but positive responses from all the people involved… particularly some of the bands like Hard Corps and DAF. It’s been an honor to be able to talk to them. It’s still freaks me out that I’m in contact with artists I admire. I’m doing a gig with Jah Wobble in two weeks. Jah Wobble and Keith Levene are doing Pil’s Metal Box without John Lydon. And it’s just bizarre that I’ve been on the phone to Jah Wobble. I don’t believe it!
I like the variety of tracks chosen and that there are some surprises in selection, but this also feels like an accessible entry point to a rather inaccessible form of music. Was that in the back of your head at all?
That was 100%. I could have done a compilation of the weirdest music that no one had ever heard before, and I would have loved it and I would have had a lot of kudos from the people in the right places but for me, in my position now, I see myself more as being, in an odd way, a good librarian. As I become older, it becomes increasingly harder for me to be creative in many ways, my output becomes less and less. I think about things too much, I’m far more hesitant about putting things out there because I kind of want to make a statement with everything that I do, yet my knowledge of music and many cultural things going back from when I was a young kid… I like to be able to share that with people. When I made this compilation it was interesting because … There were two reasons: I picked the tracks that I loved. The Pete Shelley track I chose, I was a massive Martin Rushent fan, the producer, everything he did, I bought. But that particular 12” that tracks was the one I loved most off that album. But I decided when I made the compilation, I was like, forget all the people who are really cool who are going to think these are really obvious tracks. I wanted to make it an introduction for those people who might not have heard this music. And it was kind of vindicating, because I was concerned, thinking, All of my contemporaries are going to say that this is so OBVIOUS, but then I started doing interviews with people who are in their twenties and they’d never heard any of the tracks! Not one of them! So it was like, this is amazing. To me it was like obvious, this music, but to a lot of people it’s not, so it’s really satisfying that it worked in that way, certainly.
Did you do all of the design and packaging on this record.
I did the whole lot. To me music is more than just about the sound it’s about everything you know.
What work went into it?
I think that sex and music has always been an incredibly important thing. And those times were very experimental times. Perhaps it’s slightly too overtly heterosexual because the music of that time wasn’t completely about one sexual preference but people played with sexual imagery a lot at the time. So I wanted to reflect that, but in a contemporary way. The sleeve is all about …. It’s supposed to be a sleeve within a sleeve, so it’s imagining finding an artifact, an imaginary sleeve for an imaginary album that never existed, that’s what it’s supposed to look like.
If a library were using this collection as a jumping off point, are there any albums or artists that you’d particularly recommend?
Whoa. There’s so many. I’d have to say Cabaret Voltaire to start off with. They’re probably to me one of the most important electronic music artists of all time. It’s honestly… so many artists on the album are seminal artists. Like Cabaret Voltaire, Yello to me… People talk about Kraftwerk as being the kings of electronic music, to me Yello were equally as important. I think some of their albums… They’re more human than Kraftwerk, there’s more humor in there, there’s more overtly obvious humor, and they’re sexier records. In a way. And they’re so creative. So Cabaret Voltaire, Yello, and probably… Those two bands in particular are artists that if anyone liked the compilation they should definitely hunt out more of theirs. And they did a lot of albums as well.
Do you have any curatorial projects in the works?
I’m trying to concentrate on my own music this year. I mean, part of me, it’s almost like, I spend my life collecting things: I’ve got thousands… I’ve got 50000 thousand records, I’ve got 15-20 thousand books, I’ve got tons of stuff. And in an ideal world I’d have a publishing company that would reissue books, reissue records, reissue films, reissue everything. But obviously its… We live in a time and it’s obviously quite interesting from a librarian’s point of view, the whole electronic age. I’m not overtly opposed to downloads and the digital realm, but at the same time I need to hold something in my hands, I need to possess things. I think the interesting thing is that the physical object is going to become a fetish. It’s not a bad; I think the mainstream will become all about the equivalent of renting, you won’t buy anything. But I think there will be a hard core that won’t won’t – that will probably grow – of people that have a passion for the physical. As I get older, I think that’s what I want to do. I want to try and rerelease, not just music, there are loads of things I’m passionate about.