Interview: Trevor Jackson

In anticipation of his forthcoming 'Metal Dance: Industrial, Post Punk, EBM Classics & Rarities '80-'88' compilation on the Strut label, Trevor Jackson speaks to the Academy about his fascination with the dark side of dance.

Trevor Jackson's record collection isn't that well organized. In fact it's still in boxes, holding the dubious honor of being one of the last unpacked remnants from his soul-cleansing year as a professional vagabond (another story, another time). But if his 50,000 piece collection were currently organized, Trevor explains that despite his upcoming 'Metal Dance' compilation on the Strut label having "industrial" in the title, he doesn't really have an "industrial" section in the stacks. Instead his disco, goth, post punk, hip hop, electro, new wave, no wave, EBM, 80s funk and boogie records are all mixed up - together. Which is basically a good starting point for everything else that follows. Read our interview with Trevor below, and check the compilation's tracklist and preview at the bottom.

First of all, thanks for doing this.

Well, for the Academy, of course! You guys have been so good to me, I can’t not do it.

Ha! So, we need to get this daily check in out of the way. What have you been up to so far?

Today, it was like zero degrees, I thought I’m not going to get out of bed. After like an hour, I thought I should get out of bed and go for a run. I went for a good run, and actually felt fantastic in the freezing cold. And then I’ve been working on finishing some artwork for the compilation. There’s a limited 12” in the works, and I’ve been doing the artwork for that. So, it’s been a pretty busy and productive day.

So, ‘Metal Dance’ is the first time you’ve done a comp for Strut. How did this thing come about?

What happened was, I just came up with the idea. It was just something I really wanted to do. I’d spoken to Quentin [Scott] about doing stuff before, and I just thought they were right. I mean, they had just released the Factory compilation, and if anything, I just felt it would be interesting to release something on a label that perhaps wouldn’t be as well known for this kind of music. I’m equally as interested in introducing this music to a new audience as I am to people who would definitely recognize it. It’s a diverse label and there aren’t so many compilation labels that put out consistently good compilations. And this is one aspect that I like. I like all types of music. I don’t just listen to industrial and electronic music all day, I listen to everything.

The compilation seems like the perfect medium for you.

What do you mean? In what way?

Well, with your wide range of taste...

Ultimately, the thing is... Just doing a compilation is fun. Making your own music sometimes isn’t fun. Releasing your own music isn’t fun always. But a compilation is about other people’s music. It’s not really about me. I mean, it says my name on the front, but it’s not about me and my ego. It’s about other people's music. The records on ‘Metal Dance’ are loads of great records I’ve loved since I was a teenager. So, it’s a completely different thing than doing your own music. Completely different.

The title says “industrial” on the front, but the comp is so much more than that. So, what was your first exposure to “industrial” in the wider sense?

Well, first of all, when you’re selling a compilation, you’ve got to come up with some kind of genre for it. But yeah, this music goes across all genres really. If anything, the best title would be “Trevor’s Teenage Years”. Most of this music on the comp I would have been introduced either through John Peel, or on the radio. It was also stuff I heard going out to clubs. I started going to clubs when I was 13 or 14 years old. All my older friends would drag me out to really crazy clubs during the 80s. So, most of this music is club related music. I mean, that’s the other reason I went with Strut, because most of their stuff is dance-floor oriented.

What were these clubs at the time?

I mean, unless you lived in London, you wouldn’t really know about these clubs. There was a club called the Embassy Club I used to go to. There was a bigger club called the Camden Palace, which at the time was run by Steve Strange. I mean, the nightlife scene in London at that particular time was a lot smaller. There probably wasn’t more than 1500-2000 people going out every weekend to all these clubs. Maybe even less than that. Whereas now, millions of people go clubbing in London every weekend. It was a much smaller scene, and there were only a handful of clubs playing these types of records.

So, this was almost a more exclusive scene...

It wasn’t exclusive. It was just that other people weren’t interested. You know, I was 14 going out to clubs while all my mates just went to the cinemas and got pissed. Really, it was proper underground. It was a real subversive scene. It was really a part of the birth of underground club culture in London. If not Europe as a whole.

"I was happy to shout to everybody how wonderful it was to work with a computer. And then I had one of the worst laptops I’ve ever had in my life..." 

The first concert you went to was Human League, right? Did that have a big effect on your tastes at the time?

Yeah, Human League was the very first concert for me. That would have been around '81. But I mean, even before that, the first record I bought was a 7” from Giorgio Moroder’s 'Midnight Express' - a song called “The Chase”. I grew up reading comic books and science fiction. You know? All these things linked together. This music was the future. I didn’t want to hear Fleetwood Mac and listen to that kind of acoustic or even rock guitar based stuff. I quit listening to Queen. I wasn’t interested. I wanted to hear crazy music that fit all the other kinds of things I was interested in.

So, when you did the Playgroup project in 2001, that was at the early end of the music beginning to revisit the 80s. It’s at least been a decade of 80s emulation now. What do you think is so timeless about that decade?

Well, of course, there is good music in every decade. I mean, if we are honest about it, the 60s and 70s are far more influential, but I grew up in the 80s, so it was personal. I didn’t like the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. I never listened to that music. I don’t own a Neil Young record. I didn’t listen to Bob Dylan. I wasn’t interested in music from that era. I wasn’t interested in old man’s music. I wanted to listen to the future back then.

I’ve got to say though, there were quite a number of people before me doing 80s inspired things. I have to think about I-f and Viewlexx stuff. They were doing more electronic stuff, but they were really picking up on that sound again, quite a bit before me.

My thing was thinking about “live dance music”. I got lumped into that whole electroclash thing when I really didn’t have anything to do with that sound at all. For me, I just thought I wanted to see live dance music. I went to see Earth, Wind & Fire also when I was a kid, and I listened to the bands that made great live dance music. Not like guitar music, but like Pigbag and people like that. And there weren’t any bands really doing that at the time of Playgroup. The only band was Jamiroquai. And I haven’t got a problem with Jamiroquai, but when I made my first single “Make It Happen”, I wanted to make a live dance track which was inspired by that earlier “live dance” period.

I’m verging off the subject. Haha! But the 80s was an inspiring time equally as much the 60s and 70s because there was so much great music there. I mean, it becomes sort of a cliche. There’s a lot of people that want to be cool and trendy and they think the 80s are cool and they jump on the bandwagon and do that stuff. You know?

Ultimately, it’s hard to answer for me. It’s hard to talk about because I’m in my 40s now. And the 80s were my youth. I’d be interested to speak to 20-year-olds and ask why they like that era so much.

It’s also weird for me to think that when I started clubbing as a teenager, I was listening to what we called “rare groove” which was like James Brown records and stuff. This was in like ‘84 or ‘85, and those records were only 10 years or 12 years old we were dancing to. Now, in clubs people are dancing to records that are 25 years old. It’s crazy. Those records stand the test of time.

Reminds me of Simon Reynolds' 'Retromania' book...


As a graphic designer and longtime artist, did the artwork on these “dance” and “industrial” records of the time have any effect on why you might have liked them in the first place, or why you chose them for this comp?

No effect at all. Nothing. I mean of course they are important, but those records were big records. They were important to me. You know, there is Veronica [Vasicka] at Minimal Wave that releases fantastic stuff from that era - but it’s more obscure stuff. And this project to me was about releasing music that was kind of big. Around 80% of the stuff I put on there were big records in the clubs I went to. They weren’t songs they played at the beginning or end of the night - they were big themes, you know, anthems. I mean, of course I like some of the sleeves, but ultimately this compilation is about the music.

Trevor Jackson speaking during the 2010 Academy in London

During the lecture you gave at the Academy in London, you talked about getting fed up every decade with music and going back to basics. It’s been about 10 years now since you put out your ‘DJ Kicks’ compilation. Do you think making this comp fulfills that “back to basics” approach?

Well, in a way, yeah. A compilation is a very simple way to re-introduce yourself back into the public eye. And by some strange coincidence again, I’ve got new music ready this year, so hopefully I’ll be putting that out as well. And this kind of helps me dip my toe back in the water and see if anyone’s still interested in what I have to say. And then, you know it’s fun at the same time. It’s not my music. I’m not getting judged for anything. But the 10-year thing, yeah, I think as you get older, it turns to five. I’m always getting bored. I’m always trying to do new things. But it is kind of ironic that that was 10 years ago now. Crazy.

The thing is, also, I felt like now is the time for some of these kinds of records to be out there. I wouldn't have chosen these records to put on a compilation 10 years ago. I don’t think people would have been interested. A lot of these records I put in my DJ sets anyways, but the more I’ve been playing out lately, the more I noticed people are more interested and more open for this kind of music. And also, I can hear this kind of music inspiring people more and more based on the records people are currently putting out.

This kind of music on ‘Metal Dance’ was very dependent on the technology of the sound equipment at the time.


Which is different now.

Very different.

If you could pick one piece of equipment, be it drum machine or synthesizer from that era that speaks to you most, what would it be?

I think that’s the nerdiest question I’ve ever been asked - in a good way. You know that? Haha. On a more general point, I started making music with more analogue gear, then I went to laptops like everyone else. I was happy to shout to everybody how great great virtual instruments were and how wonderful it was to work with a computer. And then I had one of the worst laptops I’ve ever had in my life over the past couple of years and it basically put me off using a computer entirely. So I stopped making music that way, and I pretty much make music purely from analogue gear now.

I got most of my equipment out of storage, sold some of the gear, and got some new things. I pulled out my Roland TR-808 drum machine... And an 808 is probably the greatest drum machine of all time, be it in early hip hop, or house, or Chicago Trax records. The 808 is just an incredible machine. It’s got so much character and personality. I‘ve said it before in other interviews, I sit there alone working with my machines, but it’s not like I’m by myself. They all have different personalities. They are all doing amazing things.

I could understand now if I was a kid and didn’t have any money, I’d work with what I had, a computer or whatever. But for me now, the process of making music is really important for me. It’s not just about getting the result, it’s about enjoying the process. I didn’t enjoy making music for such a long time, and I’m enjoying making music again. I’d say that’s solely down to the equipment I use.

Are you enjoying the constraints?

No, not necessarily the constraints. I enjoy the physicality of it to start off with. I enjoy the fact that most of these things look beautiful. Aesthetically, I want to have nice furniture, I want to have nice art, I want to have nice clothes, I want to have nice things around me. Well, nice is the wrong word... I want to have products that are functional and look beautiful at the same time. And that applies to the musical equipment I use as well. The synthesizers and drum machines I’ve got are just gorgeous to look at. I would much rather look at them than look at a screen. They are works of art in their own right. They are beautifully designed objects, and I get enjoyment just looking at them, let alone playing with them. And I don’t get that opening up any soft synth.

And the unlimited possibilities of soft synths can bog down the process as well.

You need constraints, yeah. If I’m honest with you, I’ve got a few bits of gear and I’m trying to make music with a really select amount of things and not have too many distractions. I only want to have things around me that are essential. And that is a far better, more focused way of working.

Last question. Bauhaus or Tones On Tail?

Trevor Jackson: I think Bauhaus probably. When I was younger, I didn’t even know who Tones On Tail were. It’s not fair. I can’t go on record.

By Red Bull Music Academy on January 20, 2012

On a different note