- If Kraftwerk inaugurated popular electronic music by showcasing the utopian claims of modern technology, by the '80s their musical offspring had found a much emotionally darker place to inhabit. A broad swath of this shadowy realm is deftly gathered by Trevor Jackson here in a two-disc comp for Strut called Metal Dance. Metal, not as in Metallica or Megadeth, but the sound of metal: ringing, clanging, scraping, exploding, rendered into rigidly danceable grooves.
Appropriately enough, Metal Dance comes right on the heels of Factory Dance, Strut's recent collection of edgy, rock-tinged club cuts from the legendary Factory Records. But where Factory Dance was limited to the Factory discography, Metal Dance is bound only by the curatorial taste of Trevor Jackson, as he picks his way through the electronic '80s underground, nipping tunes from post-punk, industrial, EBM and Belgian New Beat, and placing them in a spectrum that ranges from the brutally rhythmic to the icily melodic. Jackson's cred as selector is already well in place: in addition to his now-defunct and highly influential Output Recordings, you'll want to check his 2002 DJ Kicks entry as Playgroup, in which Jackson deftly assembled a primer to weirdo leftfield disco just as The Rapture were cresting with "House of Jealous Lovers." While the historical aim of Metal Dance might seem a bit diffuse, the two discs of tracks hang together remarkably well, and the neat balance of classics and rarities allows the compilation to function as both a primer for newcomers and treasure trove for diehards.
At its most extreme, the Metal Dance sound—edgy, sinister and uncompromising—often reflects obsessions with fringe lifestyles and takes influences from science-fiction, totalitarianism, sadomasochism and fascist chic, brewing a potent mix of fear, lust, angst, and will-to-power. Its predecessors include industrial godfathers Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, but also ruthlessly experimental writers like William S. Burroughs and JG Ballard. It's a world where human-ness often undergoes extreme changes at the hands of technology: it can be strapped into a leather harness, brainwashed, cross-bred with a robot, or crushed beneath a tank tread.
It's hard to overlook the heavy Germanic role here, whether played by actual Germans like Einstürzende Neubauten and D.A.F., or faux-krauts like the Australian outfit SPK, who took their moniker from a group of Baader-Meinhof era radical Marxists called the Sozialistisches Patientenkollektiv, and Nitzer Ebb, whose name sounds German but means nothing. Nitzer, like several other outfits here, adopted the cultural stereotype of Germanic discipline in their music and imagery, mixed in with additional visual references to art movements like Russian Constructivism and Futurism. With its snarled vocals and lean, steel-stiff synths, the group's menacing "Control! I'm Here" functions as a convenient entry point: try comparing it to countless mainstream club tracks that are about losing control, being free, going wild. There's none of that here, just clenched fists in leather gloves, experiencing the Sadean pleasures of order and dominance. I don't even want to touch the lyrics of the track that follows, DAF's echoey "Brothers," which cajoles "let's play….let's play like brothers do"—somehow I feel like that kind of brother play does not involve Nintendo or water guns.
Jackson balances these Berghain fuck-room nightmares with some comparatively light fare. Check the dub mix of former Buzzcock Pete Shelley's post-punky "Witness the Change," and the excellent, haunting "Je Suis Passe" by Hard Corps—with its goth-y female vocals and cold wave atmospheres, "Je Suis" sounds like the lovelorn children of New Order who've gone astray in a Northern European ghetto. And don't forget that the comp opens with the jarring, bizarro pop of The Bubblemen, a one-off side project from members of Love and Rockets. These more friendly-sounding selections don't just contrast with the doom and gloom of Nitzer and Neubauten, they also underscore these bands' implicit investments in ironic humor and even (gasp!) a good time. After Metal Dance you might find that the meaning of "Einstürzende Neubauten," ("Collapsing New Buildings") ultimately sounds just as fun as it does destructive.
01. The Bubblemen - The Bubblemen Are Coming
02. 400 Blows - Pressure (Club Pressure)
03. Cabaret Voltaire - Seconds To Late
04. Neon - Voices
05. Pete Shelley - Witness The Change (Dub)
06. Shock - Dream Games
07. Executive Slacks - The Bus
08. Analysis - Surface Tension
09. Nitzer Ebb - Control I'm Here (Clouston's Controlled Edit)
10. DAF - Brothers (Mix Gabi)
11. Portion Control - Divided
12. Stanton Miranda - Wheels Over Indian Trails (Dub)
13. Jah Wobble - Invaders Of The Heart (Exotic Decadent Disco Mix)
14. SPK - Metal Dance
15. Fini Tribe - Die Testimony (Collapsing Edit)
01. Alien Sex Fiend - Ignore The Machine
02. Hard Corps - Je Suis Passe
03. Naked Lunch - Slipping Again
04. Secession - Touch (Part 4)
05. Severed Heads - Dead Eyes Opened
06. The Cage Feat Non Hendryx - Do What Ya Wanna Do (Dub)
07. Yello - You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess (Uk Promo Mix)
08. Ledernacken - Amok!
09. Nash The Slash - Womble (45)
10. John Carpenter & Alan Howarth - The Duke Arrives (Extended Version)
11. Diseno Corbusier - Golpe De Amistad
12. Schlaflose Nachte - Move
13. 23 Skidoo - Coup (In The Palace)