By Sheikh Ahmed & Philip Raffaele
Remixer to the stars and an accomplished producer in his own right, Trevor Jackson has consistently maintained output of a high quality. We caught up with him as he unleashed his Playgroup project to a wider audience.
Sheikh: Thanks for taking time out to talk to us, Trevor. Where did you grow up and what were you listening to in your youth?
Trevor: I grew up in North West London, Edgware. Still got friends in Hendon and Willesden. So I'm pretty familiar with that whole area. I even lived in Cicklewood for a while, but i didn't like it there. Err, I grew up listening to a mix of electronic pop like the Human League and Soft Cell as well as New Order. I was initially into producers like Trevor Horn and Martin Rushent. Rushent especially, as he was amazing. Working within the pop framework but experimenting with these wild electronic sounds.
Also a big fan of Cabaret Voltaire. But I was mainly into the British Electronic pop scene, but eventually American hip-hop took over and I was also getting into the Electro scene as well. Things like Marley Marl and Afrika Bambaataa and early New York Electro producers like John Robie and Arthur Baker.
S: What prompted you to start producing or creating music?
Well I was studying graphic design at Barnet College and for some reason I knew that I wanted to design record covers and music was a great passion of mine. The early records by people like Trevor Horn were large expansive productions and I never thought that I could do anything like that. It was only when iI heard the first Run DMC album, that was my first import. It was basically a drum machine and rapping and I thought, "I could do that!", so that's where it started.
S: How long has the Playgroup project been in the works?
From initial conception in my head, to finish, about two and a half years total.
Philip: We're obviously big fans of your work throughout your career, from the early material with The Brotherhood to the current Playgroup material, but I'm not alone in saying that we'd love to hear new Skull material. For me personally, that was kind of my first exposure to you, from 'Destroy All Monsters' and 'Crash' on the 'Headz' compilations.
To tell you the truth, I've got about 150-200 unreleased tracks just sitting at home, most that aren't finished. The thing is, with that type of material, you can never tell if there are people that want to hear that stuff. So if there is a demand for it, I'd love to be able to put more Skull tracks out. but I never really got any feedback on those early Skull tracks, believe it or not.
S: The Underdog remixes you've done, have become reknowned as being typically dark, gritty compositions for the most part. The Playgroup project seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum, very light and 'up'. was this intentional?
Well, in a way yes, it was intentional, a way to relax from the serious, dark pieces....with Playgroup it was a way to escape this in a way and focus on a different area of music-making. A lot of the Underdog stuff just ends up being too underground, and we definitely wanted to try and make an epic mainstream record.
S: But couldn't accusations of creating something epic means it becomes almost self-indulgent?
I disagree. I mean if someone sticks strings on a record then it's called 'grandiose'. I've been through my prog-rock phase, but I just want to create something that's large and expansive without sounding self-indulgent.
S: I don't think many bands are doing that these days and getting away with it. except Spiritualized maybe.
You guys like that stuff?
P: Definitely, a lot.
Err, I bought that album because the packaging was so cool, but I didn't really listen to it. Radiohead is the only band like that I really like.
You don't like Radiohead?
P: Its not that I don't like them, I grew up really into 'Pablo Honey' and 'The Bends', its just that my interest, I guess my passion for them has waned with their last two albums. That's not to say that I don't dig what they are doing, in terms of really experimenting, and running the risk of really alienating their fan base, and the fact that they took Anti-Pop Consortium on tour with them.
S: They definitely know their shit, and listen to good music. Up until now you've been a faceless producer, how do you feel with your face on the cover of the album?
It was all intentional, and a bit tongue-in-cheek, but a lot of my early work just hasn't gotten the credit that I think it deserves. It just got to a point where i felt that the work I was doing was just as good as say, Dan the Automator, or Luke Vibert, if not better.
P: In the same way, I think your career has followed the same path as say, James Lavelle.
Yeah, but James has his way of doing stuff, and it's become that James Lavelle is Mo'Wax, and I don't want it that way, I want Output to be the bands on it, not just me.
P: But it still sucks that you're not getting the same recognition for your work, which is certainly on par with some of the names you've mentioned. Is this because you have a certain attitude towards doing press, and having your name out there? I think that your work is sort of like an art house film, where it becomes critically acclaimed, and those 'in the know' are down with it, yet it falls short to reaching a general mainstream audience.
Snd thats what we're trying to reach with this album. Thinking in terms of an 'up' album. Like, the Quasimoto album ('The Unseen' - on Stones Throw) iIkeep going back to, it just feels good, you know?
P: Funny you say that, I've got it here on MD right next to me...that being said, albums like (Cannibal Ox's) 'The Cold Vein' are very dark, atmospheric hip hop albums....
And that's a good album, but how many times are you going to go back and enjoy it? Its good, but not as 'up' as Quasimoto. And we definitely tried to make an 'up' record with Playgroup.
P: That being said, are you hoping that the recent success of this project will reflect back on your older work and Output?
Definitely. we used people from Output on the album: 7hurtz, Gramme. Hopefully people will enjoy that, and go back to see what else they've been doing.
P: Why did this record come out on Source? why not on your own label Output?
Couldn't afford to do it. Couldn't afford to pay the musicians, etc. See, with the Underdog tracks, and the Skull tracks, I could do them in a day, I worked at my own pace, using my material. I've never used the same kick drum twice on any piece. So I could structure them the way I want and have them done. Here, you have to sync up the vocals with the backing, it takes time to do it.
P: 'Could' it have come out on Output, if you did have the money to do it?
I don't think so. I think I ran the risk of alienating some of the people that like Output and my work as it is with this, I don't think that it could have. It also would have overshadowed all the other artists on Output whom I regard as equal.
P: You're the guy who released the first Lewis Parker 12's, and 'Elementalz' (The Brotherhood) is considered a seminal hip hop album for the UK. How do you feel about the current state of UK hip-hop?
Roots Manuva. without a doubt he's one of the only ones holding it down. I can go out and DJ, and play all American hip hop, and that's the only record I can drop that's UK. I think garage has become the extension of hip hop here, groups like So' Solid Crew.
P: That's right. I forgot, they did a remix of 'Number One'. Seems kind of strange to me?
Have you heard the So' Solid album?
Some of it is really intense. One track is simply amazing! Sounds like black electro bass. Getting past the fact that they spit "My n*ggaz and bitches, get you wit my gat" some of their stuff is really good. It's just a different direction of hip hop I suppose. Yeah, as opposed to all that Anticon shit, I just dont get it, I don't understand the appeal.
P: It's funny you say that, as thats been a hot topic for me lately, I share your opinion, and find nothing of value in it.
S: Any chances to see Playgroup live?
Yeah I was just practising the other day with members of the group that appeared on the album. Luca, Edwyn (Collins) and also members of Gramme, Luke and Leo and 7-Hurtz's Laschells. It sounded really far out and trippy, not prog rock or anything. But was taking things to another level. Just see where it goes really.
S: You are also known for your graphic design work, who influenced you on that front?
The work of Neville Brody and also Peter Saville really had an affect, 'cos they were also doing records as well. Rhe stuff he's done for New Order recently was great.
S: Do you see Playgroup as something long term or is this a one-off project?
Dunno, just see where it goes, really. I'd like to see it progress. Just like all the other projects I've done.
P: So whats up for Output in the coming year?
Lots of stuff. New Black Strobe album, new 7-Hurtz album which is sounding fucking wicked! New vocalist that Kieran (Four Tet) and I are producing. Ater a quiet year this year, I'm really stepping up activity on the label.
P: And the website? Sam Jeffers (Fridge) is designing, right?
Yeah, should hopefully be done soon.
P: I see you'll be doing a Solid Steel set on December 17th, any live dates for Playgroup planned, or DJ dates?
Eh, DJ'ing I'm not so keen on so much. But as I said before, we've been talking and getting together this week about playing live. I think it would just be great to get it out on the road. You've gotta realize that ninety percent of the album is all live, so i think it would come across really well.
S: Well, thanks for talking to us Trevor, it's been great to finally meet you.
P: Yeah, cheers.
Pleasure! No problem!
"Phil was more aware of Trevor's work at the time than I was. It was only when I got hold of the astonishing Playgroup album that I started to take notice. His NTS radio shows are a thing of beauty."