British producer/musician/designer Trevor Jackson recently compiled a selection of seminal industrial and electro tunes from the early 1980s for tastemaking label Strut Records. It was released as Metal Dance, a two-disc set complete with Jackson-designed packaging and sleevenotes. I chatted with him about the collection and how he sometimes feels like a librarian.
MM: What was the impetus behind Metal Dance?
TJ: A couple of things. I was searching through the attic of my parents’ house and found a bunch of old tapes I had made as a teenager. I thought it was quite bizarre that there were loads of compilations coming out, but many of them didn’t touch on more commercial records, more club records, what we used to call alternative dance. Lots of music from that time was overlooked and deserved to be out there in the public domain again.
For those who might not be familiar with this music, would you tell us about the genres on the album?
That’s the thing! During the 1980s, music wasn’t so genrefied. I suppose the music from this time was outsider music—certainly subversive and alternative. It was mainly made with primitive electronics by people who weren’t always musicians. They just found their way around things they could make sound with. That’s what appeals to me. It’s not music made by professional musicians, which often leads to things that are quite boring.
How did you choose the tracks?
Literally, it was finding that cassette in my parents’ attic. Some of the tracks I wanted—I would have loved a Depeche Mode track or Human League, and there are other bands I would have put on—but you’re quite limited…. Major labels make it very restrictive to license songs without paying a huge amount of money.
It meant that I had to dig deeper and find things that were on smaller independent labels, which probably made the compilation more interesting. But it was 75 percent of what was on that cassette; these were records that were anthems to me and many people going to clubs at the time.
Behind the music
This compilation feels like an accessible entry point to a rather inaccessible type of music. Was that in the back of your head?
That was it 100 percent. I could have done a compilation of the weirdest music that no one had ever heard before, and I would have loved it and gotten a lot of kudos from the people in the right places. Yet in my position now, I see myself more as being, in an odd way, a good librarian, with my knowledge of music and related cultural things going back from when I was a young kid. I like to be able to share that with people.
I picked tracks I loved. I chose the Pete Shelley track because I was a massive fan of producer Martin Rushent. I decided when I made the compilation to forget all the really cool people who are going to think these are obvious tracks. I wanted to make it an introduction for those who might not have heard this music.
And it was vindicating; when I started doing interviews with people in their twenties, they’d never heard any of the songs! Not one of them! It’s really satisfying that it worked that way.
If a library were using this collection as a jumping-off point, are there any albums or artists that you would recommend?
I’d have to say start with Cabaret Voltaire, probably some of the most important electronic music artists of all time. So many artists on Metal Dance are seminal. People talk about Kraftwerk as being the kings of electronic music, but, to me, Yello are equally important. They’re more human than Kraftwerk, there’s more humor, and their records are sexier.
Do you have any other curatorial projects in the works?
I spend my life collecting things: I’ve got 50,000 records, 15,000–20,000 books—tons of stuff. In an ideal world, I’d have a publishing company that would reissue books, records, films…everything. 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 think the physical object is going to become a fetish. The mainstream will become all about the equivalent of renting—you won’t buy anything. But there will be a hard-core group who have a passion for the physical. As I get older, I think that’s what I want to do. I want to try to rerelease not just music but all of the things I’m passionate about.
Originally published in Library Journal.