Trevor Jackson/Various – Metal Dance: Industrial Post-Punk/EBM Classics & Rarities 80-88 review

Having previously mined the new wave vaults of Factory Records, the pioneering work of leftfield disco producer Bob Blank and the weirder fringes of New York’s post-punk club culture, Strut Records avert their gaze to the worlds of EBM and industrial. It’s a wise choice, not least because those genres – along with post-punk, proto-house and, arguably, the odder end of the disco spectrum – provided 1980s listeners with some of the most revolutionary, inspiring and downright strange music of the era.

To put together a truly definitive chronicle of such a fertile period is a tough ask, not least because the music itself moved in such a dizzying array of different directions. Many bands and producers thought little of fusing elements of post-punk new wave rock with dub, steel-plated industrial electronics, synthesizer funk, minimalist electro, synth-pop and even avant garde compositional techniques. Luckily, Playgroup man and former Output Records boss Trevor Jackson knows a thing or two about the era. On Metal Dance: Industrial Post Punl/EBM – Classics & Rarities 80-88, he more than proves up to the task of sifting through eight years of fruitful and sometimes forthright musical experimentalism.

For those who know little about the post-punk or industrial scenes, it should be essential listening. All the major players are present – DAF, Finitribe, Yello, Severed Heads, Cabaret Voltaire, Nitzer Ebb, Jah Wobble, former Buzzcocks man Pete Shelley (whose infamous 1981 Martin Rushent-produced proto-house classic, “Witness The Change”, still sounds far-sighted 30 years on) – alongside a smattering of names that will be new to all but a cluster of dedicated diggers and first wave fans.

Musically, there’s much to admire, from the electro-punk fury of Executive Slacks’ growling “The Bus”, to the clattering machine drums and alien synth melodies of Neon’s 1988 new beat classic “Voices”. There’s shuffling industrial disco from infamous British outfit Portion Control, pre New Order indie-dance bagginess from Stanton Miranda, a thunderous, industrial take on “I Feel Love” from Bristolian maverick Mark Stewart (the fantastic “Fatal Attraction (Contagious)” and a hard-as-nails dub of The Cage’s 1982 electro-disco collab with notable New York diva Nona Hendryx (“Do What You Wanna Do”). Oh, and a lesser-known cut from John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s sublime, synth-heavy 1981 soundtrack to Escape From New York (“The Duke Arrives”).

While Jackson has shied away from arranging the tracks in chronological order – perhaps wisely – it’s still possible to see how musical shifts within and outside the industrial scene shaped the music between 1980 and ’88. Contrast, for example, the murky minimalism of Cabaret Voltaire’s 1980 single “Seconds Too Late”, and the post-house work of Nitzer Ebb and Severed Heads – they’re simply poles apart.  While the work of the latter two artists still bristled with industrial intent, there’s an incessant shuffle and more rounded dancefloor groove that suggests a distinct Chicagoan influence.

It’s these subtle musical developments – the slow life and death of EBM, the post-house slo-mo synth oddness of nu-beat, the fusion of dub and post-punk rock – that make Metal Dance such a thrilling listen. Not all the music is brilliant, by any means, but the vast majority of tracks still sound alien, far-sighted and unashamedly confrontational. As an introduction to a whole era of leftfield dancefloor developments goes, it’s undeniably excellent.

Matt Anniss