Musics Column 130

by Maxwell Williams

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Musics Column 130

A Colloquy on Metallic Interpretation with Trevor Jackson & Alessio Natalizia

Maybe it’s because Detroit has fallen, or because the transition to the Information Age is finally complete, but something about industrial music sounds just right these days. Strut Records is releasing a pair of disparate collections of unforgiving power music this fall. 

Trevor Jackson Presents Metal Dance 2: Industrial, New Wave, EBM Classics & Rarities 79 - 88

is a heinous mix of cuts as incisive as a drill bit exploring a trembling wound. The collection comes on the heels of last year’s brilliant precursor by the London-based Jackson, a veteran DJ and producer. Alessio Natalizia’s

Mutazione: Italian Electronic and New Wave Underground 1980 - 1988

is a different beast, capturing the Boot’s underage radicals in a moment after a period of political unrest. Both records are punishing, brutalist affairs, and might just kick start a whole new industrial complex. 

We spoke to Jackson and Natalizia about what made the ’80s so merciless, and how goddamn difficult it is to put a comp out these days.

Trevor, your compilation is a bit looser in terms of time and location than Alessio’s. There are bands from San Francisco, Tokyo, Edmonton, Düsseldorf, London, and elsewhere, and it spans 10 years. The first Metal Dance came mostly from a mixtape that you had made previously, but this one is a little bit more deliberate. Can you tell me what the criteria were that you were looking for in the Metal Dance 2 comp, and what the thread is that ties all of these songs together? Trevor Jackson: The criteria were simple: to make a compilation as good as the first one. But, seeing as how most of the tracks I wanted were on major labels—it’s pretty much impossible to get through the red tape and bullshit to get the tracks you want now. A few months into it I realized that over half of the tracks I wanted to have on it were impossible, because the labels were being so difficult. So, I had to reassess what I wanted to do, and I realized that, for mainly time and financial reasons, I needed to dig in a bit deeper. As wary as I am to give away some of my “secret weapons,” I decided that the time was right that I do that. So, the criteria were really to try to dig a bit deeper, a bit darker, and a bit weirder. Not that that was the first intention; that was just generally how it ended up being.

So, there’s no thread other than to get some great industrial songs onto a compilation? TJ: It’s a simple thing: at the end of the day, it’s my personal selection of tracks that I like. It’s as egotistical as that. My agenda was to put on a bunch of tracks that I really love, and hopefully they flow together. The bands are very diverse, but they fit together, and that just shows that at that point in time, there was synergy between all these different people in all different parts in the world. Many of them didn’t even know each other’s music, but there was a movement of sorts going on at that point in time.

And what sort of movement do you think that is? The compilation is quite dark and sinister. It’s, for lack of a better term, “metallic.” TJ: It’s non-compromising. Obviously—equipment-wise, now—every Tom, Dick, and Harry has access to every single drum machine and synthesizer ever made in a virtual version. Back then, you were limited by your own personal budget and what was actually available. There are a few artists on there, like Propaganda and Godley & Creme, that had access to [synthesizers like] Fairlight CMIs and Clavias. So, there were a few people on the compilation that had huge, huge budgets. But sonically the sound is probably connected by the technology that was available.

Alessio, my guess is that you didn’t grow up on the type of music that is on Mutazione. Did somebody turn you onto Italian minimal synth-wave and experimental music? Alessio Natalizia: I’ve been a fan of this period of Italian music for a long time. I think it was a friend of mine from Italy that—ages ago—introduced me to a song by Krisma. I started to research online, downloading stuff, and getting records from friends that were older than me and with better records than me. I agree with Trevor: I just wanted to do a compilation with some of my favorites. But, obviously, [Mutazione] is more about a particular period, and my interest was not just to do a compilation of Italian new wave from the ’80s, but to focus on the general sociopolitical environment that Italy was going on in these years, which were the years of the Anni di Piombo [Years of Lead]. The period that I was trying to investigate here was industrial, post-punk, and the most extreme side of new wave. It’s not really been released on a label like Strut; it’s always been released in a limited amount of copies.

Tell me a little bit about the Anni di Piombo. What were the circumstances that set up this musical movement? AN: The Anni di Piombo was a very intense period following terrorist attacks and political change in Italy. They were reacting to that by forming DIY labels and art collectives, and also it was the first time in Italy that bands were able to use electronic equipment. The Anni di Piombo is a period that lasted about 10 years from the end of the ’60s. On the 12th of December in ’69, a bomb exploded in a large square in Milan killing about 20 people. It was Fascists and Communist terrorists doing crazy bomb attacks all over Italy and it kind of ended with the kidnapping and homicide [by a Communist paramilitary organization] of Aldo Moro, the leader of the Christian Democracy, which was the main political party in Italy in those years. What Moro wanted to do was called “Historic Compromise.” He wanted to have the Christian Democracy start a dialogue with the Communist party, which had never happened before. In fact, the phone call in which the Brigate Rosse called Aldo Moro’s assistant explaining where he could find the body of the politician is sampled in one of the songs on Mutazione. That’s the track called “Niccolai.” The name of the band is Laxative Souls, which is a terrible name [laughs].

All these bands were political. Can you talk about that? AN: The thing is, all these bands were young, so no one was really that into politics. All of these guys were about 16 years old, maybe 18. They just wanted to react to what Italy had happening in the previous years. Italy had been a republic for about 20 years. They were reacting to the suffering from the war and the terrorist attacks from the Anni di Piombo. I wouldn’t say they were proper political bands. It was more a way of creating their own politics was playing in DIY bands, and forming art collectives.

You didn’t shy away from well-known groups like Skinny Puppy and Propaganda. Why is that? TJ: See, they’re well known to you. This is the thing: for the first compilation, I thought long and hard about things like Cabaret Voltaire. These are tracks that I’ve played for such a long time. I’ve played them to death.
I thought people were going to be like, ‘Oh my god, it’s the same old shit. Trevor’s putting out a compilation with stuff we’ve heard.’ But there were so many young kids that hadn’t heard Skinny Puppy before. I really don’t give a fuck about popular and unpopular. At the end of the day, this is what I’m all about. If Lady Gaga put out a good record, I’d play it. I don’t give a shit who she is. I care about good music; I’ve never cared about who makes the music. All of the bands on Metal Dance 2 have put out interesting records. They’re very diverse—you couldn’t get more polar opposite than Godley & Creme and Test Dept, and yet they somehow work together. That’s been my whole ethos for my music throughout my life. That’s part of what I do as a DJ. I’m a music curator, and I think I do it well.

Alessio, were the bands on Mutazione listening to music from outside of Italy? AN: I interviewed some of the guys for the compilation, and they all mentioned Suicide, Cabaret Voltaire, This Heat, and The Pop Group…all this stuff coming from the U.K. and America.

You say you interviewed some of the groups. What do they think about this compilation? AN: They were extremely excited about it. They can’t believe, 30 years later, someone would do a compilation about them. These bands have never been successful. Some of them never even did an album. They’re all really happy about it, and extremely proud of what they’ve done, and they love the fact that people now can go and discover all the singles they released.

Trevor, did you start a relationship with any of the people on Metal Dance 2? TJ: That’s part of the fun of it, getting to speak to some of your heroes. Just getting in contact with someone like Vice Versa who were ABC’s first incarnation—ABC, when I was a teenager, was one of my favorite bands. I feel lucky to get to speak to some of these people. The rest of [putting a compilation together] can be a right pain in the ass, but that’s one of the joys of it. From the first compilation as well, I’ve had kind messages from people who are very flattered that I’ve selected their music.  It’s a good feeling.