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Trevor Jackson Presents Metal Dance 2 Ben Graham , October 10th, 2013 09:59

Loop that beat. Apply the filter. Cut. Rewind. Turn it up and start again. If DJ/producer/graphic designer Trevor Jackson's first Metal Dance collection, released last year, re-introduced today's club kids to such important early electronic artists as Cabaret Voltaire, Nitzer Ebb, 23 Skidoo and, yes, Alien Sex Fiend, then Metal Dance 2 goes deeper and darker. For though a couple of names recur - Italian darkwave cultists Neon, and 400 Blows, albeit in a mixing capacity - Metal Dance 2 is far from a re-tread of the previous compilation's territory. As before, two CDs give you a brilliant night's worth of hard-edged, unsentimental dance music. But what you also get here is a beat-driven alternative history of the 1980s' cultural landscape.

Writers and historians naturally favour one smooth, over-arching narrative when recounting what happened, culturally, over any given period of time. It began here, they will tell you (conveniently on the cusp of a decade); it developed like this, absorbed this influence, resolved this conflict, achieved this impact and ended here (oh look, another decade begins). At best there might be one counter-narrative, for contrast, but real life is rarely so neat, and the wrinkles, rough edges and ambiguities are often lost in the final edit. In this sense, history is a chart-topping remix; but here are the demos, the dubs and the b-sides that tell a different story.

Diving straight into the middle of disc one, Skinny Puppy's abrasively minimal 'Deadlines,' from their 1985 debut LP Bites (as remixed by 400 Blows in '89) almost defines the industrial EBM electro-punk sound of the late eighties; reeking of amyl and strychnine-cut speed sweat, and causing the lights in your flat to start violently strobing of their own accord. The soundtrack to the original tattoo and fetish scene, of Modern Primitives and Torture Garden when it was still cutting edge and dangerous, 'Deadlines' transports you immediately to a darkened squat party in urban interzone, with Ogre's vocals alone stripping the paint from the walls. All well and good, but the real story perhaps is between the tracks; how Jackson then takes us seamlessly into '(The Echo of) Frozen Faces' by Propaganda, evoking a very different side of 1980s musical culture. Labels like ZTT made high concept club records quoting JG Ballard on their sleeves, using the cut-up, smash and grab processes of studio-produced dance music to apply the Situationist / post-modern theorising of punk intellectuals in a way that a three minute guitar charge never could. But while avowedly left wing, it was an aesthetic that was also spellbound by the idea of modernist high society, and the Thatcherite / Saatchi mythology of conspicuous consumption, the iconicity of money, the joy of aggressive marketing, corporate culture, art sold via brand recognition and advertising as art. This dichotomy was never really resolved, and in chart terms at least guaranteed a built-in obsolescence; but the result was a handful of great records like this one- here presented in a glorious ten-minute twelve-inch mix- charged with crazy ambition and a bold intellectual vision rarely seen since.

This Fitzgerald-like fascination with the world of the very rich, viewed from the gutter of London's post punk squats, first flowered into the early New Romantic movement. They took the mod ethos of self-betterment and style in the face of adversity to new levels of dandyism, but their radicalism was eventually watered down by the media, and again confused with Thatcherite notions of upward mobility. Visage were arguably the most authentic representation of the New Romantic / Blitz kid scene (if authenticity isn't an entirely un-new romantic concept), being formed by club / self- promoter Steve Strange, Blitz DJ Rusty Egan, and a shifting line-up of star players drawn as much from the club scene as the pool of available musicians. Here, 'Der Amboss' (an instrumental remix of 'The Anvil') emphasises the song's black American funk roots without detracting from its minimal, proto-gothic icy English bleakness, while Egan's version of the Twilight Zone theme would find a more natural home at the Batcave, London's original gothic rock club which Egan - who had previously played drums in Glen Matlock's post-Pistols glam-punk band The Rich Kids - co-founded, alongside Specimen's Olly Wisdom.

The gothic scene, too, would quickly become simplified and narrowed down by media representation, and acts like early Batcave regulars Test Dept would soon be written out of the story. Closer to a UK Einsturzende Neubauten or Laibach, Test Dept were properly industrial rather than gothic as we now know it, making music from factory machinery, scrap metal and tape collages and moving swiftly towards an incendiary mix of visceral heavy dance music, revolutionary polemic and high art. 'The Unacceptable Face of Freedom: face 3', was part of the band's coldly furious response to the recently-ended miner's strike, and the NUM's crushing defeat at the hands of the triumphal Thatcher government. Its title is a then-infamous quote from our Maggie, isolated to highlight its neo-fascist overtones at a time when Britain really did feel like it was sliding into a nominally-elected, right-wing dictatorship.

Metal Dance 2 also features representative tracks from nearby nations - Italy and Spain - where experience of a genuine fascist government was all too recent, and where a thriving electronic / industrial underground was a direct response to continuing political turmoil (Italy was just emerging from the terrorist-dominated "years of lead," while post-Franco Spain experienced an attempted military coup in 1981). 'Necrosis En La Poya', by Madrid's Esplendor Geometrico, is great; unhinged moaning electro, all punk provocation and spare, metallic echo, while Florence's Neon contribute their distinctive brand of Italian gothic on 'Lobotomy'.

Elsewhere, Rene Bandaly Family's explicitly political 'Tanki Tanki' (AKA 'A Tank at a time', 1982) as re-worked by Rabih Beaini, aka Morphosis, is jaw-dropping, incredible Lebanese techno minimalism, with ominous bass pulses over clapping electronic percussion and twisting, hypnotic Arabic-sounding riffs, similar - to my ears - to the sound Andrew Eldritch conjured on the Sisterhood's Gift LP. Over in Berlin, Liaisons Dangereuses' 'Etre Assis Ou Danser' is a prime slice of punishing Neue Deutsche Welle from Chrislo Haas (DAF) and Beate Bartel (Einsturzende Neubauten). As with so much of this stuff it's almost comically homo-erotic; muscular beats are toned to glistening perfection and stripped down to a shiny black leather synth undercarriage, while an excitable saxophone probes every sweaty nook and crevice, and stentorian barking keeps matters in strict order. Haas and Bartel turn up again with the CHBB cassette rarity 'Ima Iki-Mashoo.'

Back in Blighty, Vice Versa are usually written off as being merely an early incarnation of ABC, but in fact they were very much their own entity. Their sole single, 1979's 'Riot Squad' is charmingly lo-fi and obviously inspired by the Normal's 'Warm Leatherette,' but swapping Ballardian fantasy for South Yorkshire police state musings, and a fascination for low brow pop art that was shared by fellow Northern electronic pioneers the Human League and Soft Cell. Here the reference is to the Incredible Hulk, then coming to the end of his headlining run in cheap UK reprint title The Mighty World of Marvel; also recently departed from MWOM incidentally was UK editor Neil Tennant, on his way to Smash Hits and thence his own synth pop career. And the still ground-breaking Carter Tutti turn up in their younger, less formal days, as Chris & Cosey, with 'Driving Blind' from 1984's Songs Of Love And Lust album. Experimenting with dark, unsettling melodic pop after the all-out assault of Throbbing Gristle, 'Driving Blind' could as well describe the duo's experimental, open-minded approach to composing - no overt influences, no preconceptions, no restrictions - as an ambiguously sexual, sinister narrative tale. Needless to say, this track could be released next week and still sound like the future.

The album ends on a somewhat surprising note, with the smart, tailored electro-pop of Godley & Crème's 'Babies'. It's a real find though, and apt to prompt a re-investigation of the ex-10cc duo's back catalogue. In particular, Kevin Godley's dry, northern-accented spoken word delivery- deadpan, tongue-in-cheek, understated but blatantly filthy ("I'm not a building, but you erect me") – suggest he's really Jarvis Cocker's dodgy uncle, and not just because of this track sharing a title with Pulp's breakthrough single.

Subterranean connections abound; the beat goes on. The mix never stops.

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