Words by: Sean Murray

The 10 best early ’80s productions that were ahead of their time, according to Trevor Jackson

With a near 30 year involvement in the music industry, Trevor Jackson has lived many musical lives. After gaining exposure in 1987 with his BITE IT! exhibition, Jackson's talent as a graphic designer allowed him to venture into other creative outlets, with remixing and record production his obvious next step. Using his THE UNDERDOG alias, Jackson cast his spell on Massive Attack's Sly as well as tracks by U2 and UNKLE before establishing his label Output Recordings in 1996. During this time, Jackson adopted the PLAYGROUP moniker as another musical project, and after releasing early works by Four Tet, LCD Soundsystem and Lisa Germano, he closed the label in 2006.

Though now he's associated mainly with a regular fortnightly DJ slot on NTS Radio, Jackson is still an in-demand art curator and producer. In recent years, he's released the much-loved Metal Dance compilations, and on October 2nd, he released 'Science Fiction Dancehall Classics', a compilation of tracks from Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound. "Adrian was and still is an amazing producer, and all these tracks sound timeless to me. They're completely relevant now, and that's the main reason I did the compilation," he explains. "For me, it's really important that a younger generation can discover his music. Everybody has an impression that Adrian's music is reggae or dub but it certainly wasn't. He's equal as relevant today as he was back then."

Before he talks about his selection, Trevor details why these ten tracks, in particular, are his go-to tracks when he thinks about the new ways the decade challenged notions of production. "I picked 1985 and earlier because I think the early '80s was an incredibly productive time – mainly because of the technology being produced," Jackson says. "At that point in time, there was a transition from modular and expensive synths to very expensive samplers but also cheaper gear. With some drum machines and 808s and other equipment that come out in the early 80s, you can't imagine now what it was like to pick up these inventions for the first time. 

"These people set the foundations for everything that came after. It was such as highly prolific time because of the technology and that it was technology driven. These people pushed things with their imagination to get the best out of their resources. You had such little sample time, so you had to be creatively quickly. Now, you can sample an infinite amount and take it anywhere."

01. Depeche Mode Are People People?

Trevor Jackson: "I picked this remix by Adrian because we couldn't licence it for the compilation. For some stupid reason, Depeche Mode wouldn't let us. Adrian did a remix of People Are People and completely deconstructed it. My introduction to Adrian was around this time and at the time Adrian was remixing industrial bands and weird shit. It's from a different planet and is so unrelated to the original that it's practically mayhem. It's really sad that it can't be on the compilation, but it's still phenomenal and still one of his best work."

02. John Rocca I Want It To Be Real (Dub Instrumental)

Trevor Jackson: "For me, this is one of the first British house records; considering everyone talks about Jesse Saunders in 1983 making the first house record ever, John Rocca was well ahead of his time. It was mixed by Arthur Baker and John Rocca used to be in the band Freeez where he was making big pop-electro records like I.O.U. John Rocca is someone that many people don't talk about, but he was hugely important. If you hear this record, it is a house record, even though it is from 1984. As a kid, I used to follow producers more than bands and Arthur was one of my heroes. I bought every single thing that had his name to it. I didn't necessarily realise how influential it was when it came out, but now you hear it, it's become a really important piece of work."

03. Godly & Creme Marchiano

Trevor Jackson: "Godly & Creme used to be in 10cc, and they were involved with I'm Not In Love. I assume that they had a multi-million-pound studio and they went in there got completely stoned and started making insane records. Marchiano is a b-side from one of their singles in 1980, which sounds like Carl Craig – crazy samples, synths, an utterly bizarre record for 1980."

04. Chris & Cosey Alchemy

Trevor Jackson: "Again, a really important artist/producer from that period. The track Alchemy appeared on an industrial VHS tape from 1983. It's a very early house/techno record that I wanted to licence for my Metal Dance compilation, but the guys themselves don't even have the VHS anymore! You can hear the roots of so much stuff in it."

05. Fashion Street Player (Zeus. B Held Remix)

Trevor Jackson: "Fashion were like an electro punk-funk band produced by Zeus. B Held, who went on to produce for Gina X Performance. I used to love this band; the visuals were beautiful, they looked amazing, all wore leather and created mad sex music with synths and live bass."

06. Haruomi Hosono Alternative 3

Trevor Jackson: "This guy was from Yellow Magic Orchestra and this track is from an album called 'S•F•X' from 1984. It's just Hosono playing around on a sampler and it sounds like Errorsmith but bonkers. Most of these tracks sound like the period Aphex Twin started, but it's hard to believe that they were made in the early '80s."

07. Human League You Remind Me Of Gold (Instrumental)

Trevor Jackson: "The Human League and Soft Cell were my favourite bands at that period, and Martin Rushent, who produced them, was similar to Arthur Baker and Adrian Sherwood. Again, he was another hero, and I bought everything he produced. It's a proto-house record that still stands the test of time. I know because I still play it out, and people go nuts for it!"

08. Yello Pinball Cha Cha (12")

Trevor Jackson: "For me, Yello was equal, maybe more important to me than Kraftwerk. Boris Blank as a producer is probably in the top three electronic music pioneers. Their music had such a sense of humour and sensual; Kraftwerk had a dry sense of humour but Yello were just silly. The track has the best burp you've ever heard on a track. I used to hear this record out all the time and when the burp comes in…[laughs] You'll understand when you hear it."

09. Grace JonesDon't Cry – It's Only the Rhythm

Trevor Jackson: "Trevor Horn was another production idol, and it's so hard for me to pick just one of the tracks he produced for Grace. I've put a couple of their tracks on previous compilations, but his works with The Art of Noise, etc., were genius pieces of music from which I learned a lot. Don't Cry – It's Only The Rhythm had the craziest sound that I still don't understand how they did it. If you listen to it, it sounds like a weird, subversive holographic sound. The early Grace Jones records are phenomenal but in terms of Trevor Horn, this track was pretty revolutionary."

10. Zazou / Bikaye / CY1 Mangungo

Trevor Jackson: "'Noir et Blanc' was released on Crammed Discs, which was a pretty exciting and important label. This album was a collaboration between Hector Zazou, Bikaye, an African singer, and CY1 a mystery guy that to this day I have no idea who he is. It's African music and electronics, and the whole album is fantastic. I'm pretty sure that Crammed Discs are going to reissue their back catalogue on vinyl, and this is bound to get one."

Trevor Jackson's 'Science Fiction Dancehall Classics' is out now On-U Sounds (buy).

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