Interview with Martin Atkins about The Museum of Post Punk and Industrial Music (and album covers, naturally!)
An ACHOF Special Report by Mike Goldstein
Posted May the Fourth, 2023
Introduction – Why do people collect? It’s a question that has challenged marketing professionals, medical/psychological experts and many, many journalists over the years and, as such, many scientific studies have been done and theories have been proffered, and still there are many questions that remain unanswered, including “does collecting help us document the special moments of our lives?” or “can collecting help us reduce stress and increase our pleasures?”, etc. Scientists will geek out about the production of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure response) and a human being’s need to somehow preserve (or conserve) things that solicit fond memories of things we’re passionate about, while marketers and advertising pros in every segment of the product/service promotional world do their best to help us all collect souvenirs, memorabilia, fine art, stamps, sneakers, wine, wristwatches, fond memories of unique experiences and everything else that fulfills our needs in this area.
Where is the fine line between simply gathering a few of these desirable items and obsessively collecting thousands of them at great cost? Each of us surely has a story…
A recent article I read on the Club Enologique site for dedicated wine collectors (https://cluboenologique.com/story/the-psychology-of-the-collector/) included some interesting data from Shirley M. Mueller, MD taken from her book Inside the Head of a Collector: Neuropsychological Forces at Play on the topic of how we might better approach collecting, noting that “Collecting objects gives enormous pleasure to approximately one third of the population, providing such benefits as intellectual stimulation, the thrill of the chase, and leaving a legacy. On the other hand, the same pursuit can engender pain; for example, paying too much for an object, unknowingly buying a fake, or dealing with the frustrations of collection dispersal.” As I’ve been working the past several years to reduce the amount of art and ephemera that I’ve gathered over the years – much having to do with my careers in music, technology and multi-media development and production, and the rest coming from my art collection and remnants from my art gallery business – it occurs to me that the last item mentioned (“the frustrations of collection dispersal”) resonated with me greatly as I’d often considered, over the years, to put my stuff on display to both share their beauty and educate viewers about their histories. Of course, for reasons including laziness, lack of resources and the fact that many galleries, museums and other venues had (collectively) most of the same things in their respective collections, the Album Cover Hall of Fame/Mike Goldstein museum never came to be, so it was with great interest – and just a touch of jealousy – that, earlier this year, I learned about a new(ish) museum (opened in 2021), “located in an undisclosed, non-descript building – one that used to be a funeral home – on the South side of Chicago” and called The Museum of Post Punk and Industrial Music. Birthed and curated by musician/artist/designer/collector Martin Atkins (of Public Image Ltd., Ministry, Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails and the supergroup Pigface), the collection is built predominantly from memorabilia he’s collected over the past 40+ years working in the music business. Atkins moved to the Chicago area in the late 1980s – as he considered it to be the home of industrial music – and launched his own record label, Invisible Records and then Mattress Factory Studios in 1996. Over two plus decades, Invisible has released over 350 albums and has had its music featured in placements spanning from the original Miami Vice to Showtime’s Queer as Folk to Robert Altman’s The Company. In addition to working like a maniac to launch his museum, Atkins shares his extensive experience as a touring musician with his students at Millikin University, where he teaches courses on a variety of music industry-related topics, and as an in-demand speaker at music conferences world over. He’s written three books on artist/tour management and is hard at work on a new book where he’s going to share stories from his time in and around and out of PiL.
The 1200 Founders of the Museum have been the principal source of funding for the museum’s efforts so far, and you can become one to when you purchase a “founder’s pack” ($125.00) that includes a “Founders Edition” Museum of Post Punk and Industrial Shirt (sizes S to 4XL), a signed letter and numbered pass that “gives you lifetime access to the museum (by appt.) invitations to exclusive events and more. The package was recently expanded to include a 24″ x 36″ PPIM Poster as well, so if you’d like to support their efforts, please visit – https://martinatkins.bigcartel.com/product/founders-edition-museum-of-post-punk-and-industrial-shirt
I recently reached out to Martin – Chicagoan to Chicagoan –and asked him to join me in a couple of Zoom-based interview chats (see photo, above) so I could present my readers with more about the man and his efforts to share his knowledge with the public and he graciously accepted, so I am now happy to be able to share an edited transcript of those chats to you now.
Interview 1 took place 2/17/23 via Zoom –
After exchanging pleasantries, we dove right into our conversation…
Mike Goldstein – so, where are you in Chicago?
Martin Atkins – 35th and Halsted, down by White Sox Park.
Mike G – That’s in Bridgeport, right?
Martin A – Right, we’re in Bridgeport. The museum is at Lituanica and 33rd.
MG – I’d read a bit about how you ended up in Chicago, but how did you choose where in the city to live?
MA – We sort of stumbled into places. In the 1990s, we had a big loft at Wabash and 18th street – 9000 square feet for less than $1000 and, after that place, we bought an old funeral home at 33rd and Lituanica that has 2000 sq ft per floor, high ceilings – its just fantastic.
MG – So since we’re short on time today, if you don’t mind, we’ll just go on down the list of questions I’d sent you to think about…So it seems that you’ve always been an enthusiastic collector of music memorabilia – since you’ve got enough to fill a museum!? Did you start the collection before you became embedded in the music business – as a fan, before you began your career as a touring/working musician?
MA – I was just looking at this piece yesterday – it’s a cup from the BBC Maide Vale studio…a paper cup…we did the John Peel Sessions in 1979 and it says “please dispose of this in the proper receptacle” and I didn’t. How punk is that? I wasn’t saving the cup to put in a museum 30, 40 years later. I just don’t think I believed that I was doing this stuff – from the cover of Melody Maker, playing on The Metal Box, John Peel, Old Grey Whistle Test, an American tour. I just kept everything, like my plane ticket to Paris for the first show I did which became the Paris au Printemps album. You know, I just kept everything and I just kept doing stuff. My dad said to me “you do this music thing and you’re going to have two good years and then you’re going to end up down the pit” – meaning the coal mine – and I go “OK, thanks Dad” and so it made me think that maybe I should save these fine things.
So, the collection at the museum…I first used my ridiculous collection, which was additionally fueled by being in Killing Joke, touring with Nine Inch Nails, starting a band called Pigface – with 600 members – and running the tours, so there’s all this bureaucracy of the music business on display – everybody’s signing for their laminated passes, everybody’s signing for their meal money, their per diems – so I just have all of this stuff. So that alone would have been good, interesting, but also slightly sad – you know, “the museum of Martin Atkins”, so I said to people two years ago that you could become a founder by buying this t-shirt package for $125, or, you could go to this Google doc and suggest an item you want to donate. It’s weird – I was trying to give people an alternative to parting with the money – not everyone has money – but some people became founders, bought the shirt and then sent me a box, and then sent me another box… One amazing guy from Chicago – Paulie Gladden – walked in with 30 t-shirts in two bags – any one of which would have been sufficient – and he said “no, no, these belong here”. People were tired of having stuff in their closets, and now the collection is about 60% mine, 40% everybody else’s. Maybe 50/50. There’s a huge pile over by the door that we need to go through. Somebody just sent me a Pigface test pressing from 1991 – people just keep sending me amazing stuff.
MG – wow…it’s interesting how these things get started. A friend of mine has been working for years to start a hip-hop museum in New York – UHHM.org, if you want to go and read about it – and just recently he and the city of NY came to terms, donations have come in and the museum is going to be a reality in the next year or so.
MA – Well, we sort of did it in reverse. We did it in a punk way, without a business plan. April 21st two years ago, I said “were doing this”. I was in the basement of my building – this big funeral home – 2000 sq ft on the first floor rented out, a 4-bedroom apartment on the second floor, rented out, and I was doing Zooms and I put something – a piece of Killing Joke scenery that I’d made – behind me and other objects – a Ministry thing and a PIL thing – so I end up with all these bits and pieces around the basement and I said to myself “if I don’t take these things out of boxes and put it on the walls of the first floor, it will never be easier for me to see if this could fly. And so I announced it, and before we were even in the space, we started getting support. Patricia, our first founder – #0001 – I tease her “what were you doing?” – we were in a basement and she believed in it and she’s coming out two weeks later to do an overnight at the museum…so we did it in an opposite way than your friend has – but it sounds like they’re doing OK!
MG – Well I know that he worked hard for it. It took many years and although he had some notable people on his board – since he was one of the original DJs and promoters in the area, so he knows everybody – you know that ultimately it was going to have some value. Now he’s building a place on the Bronx river that’s a combination 500 unit affordable housing development and the museum is going to be 50,000 sq ft on the ground floor of that.
MA – That’s great.
MG – I’m excited to see it launch next year and I’m awaiting my invitation…so, sorry for getting sidelined a bit – let’s move on to question #2, which you’ve already answered partially, but I’d like you to dig back a little further because, you know, collectors have this weird gene and I think that we’ve both got that (points over shoulder to Jamie Reid print on wall behind me) 14:32 [grab screen shot] – you recognize this Jamie Reid print, right? Did you ever meet him?
MA – No, I never did, but Bob and Maureen certainly did (Editor’s note – Martin is referring to Bob and Maureen Tulipan. Bob is a concert producer and former manager of PiL and was a partner in the Artificial Gallery in NYC. Artificial published an entire series of Jamie Reid prints in the late 1990s that were sold through their gallery, and it was a few years later – in the mid-2000s – that I met Bob and worked with him to sell some of his prints through the gallery I ran at the time. Bob’s the one who introduced me to Martin – thanks, Bob – and Maureen is a successful producer and noted photographer of great talent herself).
MG – So to finish setting up the question and prove my contention that record art collectors catch the bug at an early age, my first record that was collected just for its cover was the Sir Douglas Quintet’s debut album The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet. This was in the mid-60s and the cover showed all of the bandmembers in shadow, sporting Beatles haircuts, so of course I thought that they were from England when, in fact, they were from Texas, so they created this persona to help sell albums to a public that was snapping up anything that looked like it was British. So, along the same train of thought, when did your love of music and music-related art – in the form of posters, record sleeves, t-shirts, etc. – first manifest itself? Did a certain record’s cover or a certain band’s promos poster grab you and get you started down “the collector’s rabbit hole”?
MA – Well, the first batch of records that I bought were Led Zeppelin III with the rotating cover with the wheel that spins around; Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Uriah Heep Live, Deep Purple Live In Japan… I listened to that one thinking one day I’ll go to Japan, which of course we did in ’83. But then punk hit – I think that I had “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones – a 7 inch EP which was packed in a hand-folded poster because even though John Peel had paid for their studio time, they couldn’t afford regular sleeves, so I got into that whole DIY thing and made my own “Brian Brain” single cover using a passport photograph booth at Willesden Green train station. I recently saw James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem wearing a t-shirt with that design on The Tonight Show in November…
I don’t think that I was crazy about packaging or album covers until I played on The Metal Box with Public Image. That was 1979 – I joined just in time to co-write and play a song called “Bad Baby”. It’s the first take and its my first six minutes with the band and I honestly didn’t know what they were talking about – the whole idea of a 12-inch single! John was involved in the dub coming out of Jamaica, so the idea of three 12-inch singles in a metal container, it was fascinating to me. Now, it was supposed to be sealed with PiL sticky tape, which I still have a little bit of, but some boxes were damaged, and Richard Branson refused to pay the upcharge. That is, we bought the PiL logo tape, but he refused to pay the upcharge to seal the units. I think that he would have sold another 10,000 units immediately – one to play and one to keep…
MG – Well, he seems much more interested in outer space these days.
MA – In the old days, he was just sitting in the office. He was always in the office when we went there. In any case, so you see good reviews and bad reviews, some mediocre reviews for PiL at that time, but then one day I saw these punks, they’d been arrested after there was a fight in the streets They were cooking hash brownies in the lid of the album and got into a fistfight over who got the piece in the middle – where you’d find the PiL logo – and I just thought that while we just used to think about “how does the music sound” or “is this a good song”, the marketing advantage that the packaging gave us, it just put me on a path of being fascinated with that stuff.
MG – Great packaging is meant to help build a stronger connection between musicians and their fans, but that was a pretty powerful example, no? Let’s move on so we can learn more about the museum, and while I’ve read that your museum’s original collection was based mostly on the things you’ve collected over the years, it’s expanded to now include a lot of items donated by other people. You explained that some folks just showed up and gave you things as a donation, but in the back of your mind are you trying to find things in particular categories, hopefully expanding into one area or another?
MA – No. I’m just letting it grow organically. So, I put a couple of things on a wall and boom! I’ve done some work with (Nivek) Ogre – the singer from Skinny Puppy – he came out on tour with Pigface and sang “Suck” live with Trent Reznor in Pittsburgh and there are some great photographs of that show, plus signatures, hand-written lyrics, etc. Now here’s the suit he wore on tour in 2015, signed. Here’s the Skinny Puppy eyeball that Capital Records made as a promotional paperweight in 1987. Here’s the lighting plot from 1990, with a story from the lighting designer. Here’s this mask that was given out at these shows. Here’s a poster and here are some promotional photographs. Here’s a bootleg video and here’s a latex thing made by special effects master Tim Gore, who went on to do eight seasons of “Walking Dead”. Through my label, we worked with Einsturzendeneubauten, Psychic TV, Genesis-P-Orridge, of course, Test Department, Sheep on Drugs, Ministry, Dead Voices On Air, Cynthia Plastercaster – if I just had a section for everybody that I worked with who has been on my label, it would be extensive.
I was just contacted by Justin Pearson from Three One G Records in San Diego, and I did a track with him – he had a band called The Locust – and they all played in these leather locust insect suits. I’ve seen him a few times – a really interesting guy – and their drummer Gabe Serbian passed about a year ago and, in consultation with his widow, they sent me his locust suit to put in the museum. So there’s some heavy stuff – it’s not just t-shirts and fun, so this is a heavy thing and they were inspired by all of these bands that I’ve been a part of that were part of the industrial movement, so it just keeps connecting and growing and resonating.
MG – So I’m going to be unfair then and ask you whether you have favorite pieces in the collection? You’ve named a lot of intriguing items, but are there things that you’re just so happy to have?
MA – I’m going to mention a few and then I’m going to set fire to that list: Trent Reznor’s passport photos for a Pigface collage photograph. The skull from a Ministry mic stand from 1993, picked up in Hawaii and which sat in a closet for 35 years – somebody flew it up to us. Killing Joke bongos and original lyrics from a Killing Joke song called “Age Of Greed” with everybody’s handwriting all over it and changing the original lyrics. Original scenery for Test Department and lenticular photographs with people who are no longer with us. It’s all great. Throbbing Gristle buttons that were given to Billy Haddock – the song “United” was written about him and somebody gave the buttons to Billy in ’76 and he gave them to somebody in ’82 and then they sent me the buttons for the museum. I thought that they were sending me a photograph of the buttons, but they sent me the actual buttons! A smashed microwave from the Gang of Four along with a postcard from (Gang of Four drummer) Hugo Burnham from 1981 and a postcard from (new Gang of Four guitarist) David Pajo from two weeks ago – great bookends.
So, there’s stuff that I obviously love, but sometimes I just keep my mouth shut. For example, Wendy Day, who was responsible for Eminem getting signed – she’s rap royalty – came in and visited and I’m showing her around and telling her “here’s my drum kit from the ‘Head Like A Hole’ video, here’s this, come and look at this and I notice that she’s just like over in the corner. So I continue on like “anyway Wendy, there’s something over here, don’t miss this thing” and I noticed that she was just frozen looking at this piece of paper. It was something that I’d torn out when I was on the Ministry tour and we played Les Foufounes Electriques in Montreal and here was this sort of Chinese graphic from an ad for the show and she tells me “I was at this show in 1990!”, so you just kind of learn that as a museum guide, sometimes you just leave people alone.
Another similar example happened very early on when I was showing somebody a “look at this and this” when, on the way out the door, this guy stops and goes “whoo, whoo”…on the side of a bashed up flight case that we were using to keep some boots in, there’s a sticker for 91X, a radio station – it might be Detroit or Toronto…
MG – Southern California and Baja!
MA – …and it’s smashed and mostly peeled off and he’s again making the “whoo whoo” noise – it was the wildest thing. He sat there for 10 minutes, looking at it. And so you very quickly become less opinionated, more humble and, if you are going to be a proper tour guide, you don’t want somebody to miss out on the “James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem helped me print out this Steve Albini t-shirt” . Of course, you want to point out some of that stuff, but at the same time, it’s good to keep your mouth shut sometimes.
MG – How do you keep track of what’s in the collection? Do you have everything cataloged in some way?
MA – Well, that sounds like a good idea. Well, no – there’s a catalog, but that’s more like a souvenir magazine. It’s gorgeous, 112 pages and comes with a free flexi-disc that’s slipped in a hand-screened signed and numbered sleeve. I’ve logged all of the donations that have come in, because that makes someone a founder and they get their name on the founder’s list in the catalog.
As I’ve said, we’ve done things backwards. Now, this is a fantastic place with a great Marzocco espresso machine and our own brand of whiskey. It’s a place now that you might want to go and sit and spend 15 days cataloging half of it, rather than being in the basement, not feeling great, not feeling triumphant, not feeling inspired. So, again, we’ve really have done things backwards.
MG – Are there things that you feel you really need for the collection now…in order for you to feel that you’re really representing yourself and putting out things you really want to show folks?
MA – I think that there are areas that present themselves. I have a friend called Brenda Siegelman who used to do the lights for The Clash – we all stayed at the Iroquois Hotel in New York, which has changed a bit since 1982 – so I have some nice Clash pieces, but that area needs to be fleshed out. I’ve bought a couple of pieces – I bought the Durutti Column sandpaper album from 1980 (The Return of Durutti Column) because I thought – you know, you put your album in the stack and you take your album out and it destroys the albums on either side. I just thought that was so passive aggressive and punk, but it also reminds me that Guy Dubord did that in 1959 with his book and memoir (Memoires, co-authored with Asgur Jorn) so that’s the great educational thread in the museum. I bought a few Wax Trax! pieces because we’re in Chicago – I had some conversations with Jim (Nash) and Dannie (Flesher) – I bought The Black Box (Wax Trax! Records: The First 13 Years) in the square metal case – and its signed by both of them. I thought that was important, and I think that things here and there present themselves as being part of a thread.
MG – You’ve highlighted a sort of educational component to what you’re doing, so are you thinking of ultimately putting together anything more formal, to maybe to be able to go into a class? I’ve taken a presentation about album covers to art groups before and people kinda dug it, so are you thinking of doing anything similar?
MA – Yes. I’ve been teaching and speaking for a while. I’ve done screen printing workshops, packaging workshops – all of my classes and curriculum I use for teaching down at Millikin University in Decatur (IL). I’ve done After School Matters (https://afterschoolmatters.org/) events here in Chicago at the museum, and I’ve done workshops for Guitars Over Guns (https://www.guitarsoverguns.org/) and The Haven (https://havenchi.org/) , which has a studio run by ADD-2. Instead of just showing slides, I get to stand in the museum and go “that’s a one-screen scenery and I wouldn’t sell you a piece of that for $500 now, while the huge piece behind me is 14 screens and took two days to make” ..you know. To stand there and show these kids my C-/D+ report card and tell them “I now have my master’s degree, I’ve written three books, I’ve been teaching 20 years and I put this fucking museum together…I think that there’s a weight to that. If I can do this – it’s not like a Disney movie telling you that “you can do anything” – I’m saying, if I can do this, you can do this and anybody can bloody well do anything. So, yes to all of that.
MG – Since our time on Zoom is limited today and I keep seeing blinking warnings that our time is short, let’s agree to get together again and just skip ahead…since I have my newsletter coming out in a couple of weeks, can you tell me whether you have any upcoming exhibitions or special events that I can promote for you now?
MA – Yes. So, I’m speaking at South By Southwest and we’re working with Threadless here in Chicago they’re launching five or six items – like a backpack and a coffee mug and some other cool stuff.
MG brief pause – I then proceeded to spend a moment – actually, quite a few moments getting lost in long and cumbersome discourse about ACHOF and why it is what it is – until I finally got back on track to ask the very patient Mr. Atkins about whether there’s anything he is seeing out there that is keeping him excited about the visual aspects of the music business?
MA – Well, there are some artists who I can tell you about. There’s a guy called Harrison Riddle – he’s a gallery-represented fine artist and he’ll release twenty (lathe cut?) 7-inch singles and he will hand-make all of the sleeves himself. I know that game and, even though I know that game, I’ll buy six – I’m the mark, I’m the target (laughs). So, to me, many things have gone tiny and interesting and non-efficient, and I love that. It almost feels that the stuff that interests me now is more punk than when punk was punk. When punk was punk, it was just like “oh fuck off”, but now people are really spending some time saying, “fuck it” and differentiating themselves and, to me, that’s been a constant. The formats have changed, the genres have changed, the expression has changed but people finding the ability to do things differently – you know, that’s difficult and it excites me and I always want to support that.
Interview #2 took place 2/24/23, again via Zoom –
MG – Hello again – it’s a though you never left! Did you have a good week?
MA – Yes, I just had a visit from Smashed Plastic – it’s a Chicago record pressing plant – and a visit yesterday from Ivan (Julian), Richard Hell’s guitarist and cofounder of the Voidoids. He stopped by with the guy from Pravda Records – Kenny – and then this morning, three people from Google – we get along really well with the people from Google. They brought two people from American Afrorack (a Chicago-based audio arts organization that provides access to synthesizers and other technology) – one’s from London and one’s from Portland, I think. Basically, at risk kids, instead of going out and – I don’t know…So, they went to Moog and asked “would you give us some synthesizers?”. You know, these kids are used to being given things that don’t work – used, broken things – and now here’s a new synthesizer, let’s go! You know, I love the museum, but it’s the networking that it makes me do a lot of what I do, it’s been great. How was your weekend?
MG – Well, you know its tax season, and as I was gathering things together, I noted that I hadn’t updated entries in some of the categories in my financial software since June, so I spent the weekend doing data entry and cursing myself for being lazy about it. In any case, I got it done and zipped it off to the accountant.
So, I don’t want to take a lot more of your time today, and there were a few questions we didn’t get to last time but, first, I do want to ask you something about the museum. Right now, if you want to tour the museum as a regular member of the public, how do you do that?
MA – So, that’s a good question. For a founder – somebody who buys the $125 package that includes the t-shirt and a letter from me and a little pass, I make efforts to accommodate them by appointment. You can donate an item – there’s a sheet – it’s a Google doc (all of the links are at linktr.ee/marteeeen79) – and you say “I have this thing I want to donate” and I go “that looks cool – bring it with you and that will make you a founder”. But then, of course, everybody thinks that this is some sort of exclusive club – this isn’t punk, or post-punk or industrial. So, we do open houses – there’s actually an open house on Sunday at 2pm. We can only fit about 25 people and it’s free for founders and anyone who wants to stop by, it’s $25 for a non-founder. And that’s a couple of hours of me guiding you through on a tour. I can tell you a story about every single thing that’s in there, so it gets a little bit dangerous. It’s quite an emotional thing, but we do that.
I’m getting my sea legs back after my recent surgery – I feel much better than the last time we spoke – so that makes it easier for me to schedule another two-hour open house and to make sure that people are getting to visit. My experience is that, even though you might come here on the $25 ticket, the moment you’re done with the tour, you’re going to become a founder, so I want to be sure to do as many of these events as I can, because people post pictures on Instagram and talk about it and tell their friends.
MG – Do you have any upcoming in the Spring? If so, let me know and I’ll share it in my next newsletter.
MA – Yeah. I’ll have Rebecca send you the information (Editor’s Note – you can see when the next open house events are scheduled online at https://ppimchicago.com/ppim-newsletter/upcoming-open-houses/).
MG – Great, thanks. So, here are some of the more-general questions I ask just about everyone I interview. Since my site is about album cover art – and the people that make it and the wonderful work that they do – and so while the articles and interviews are illustrated, I’m trying to give people a chance to meet the artists through my interviews. I ask folks about art and art history and music history…Album covers to me are like songs that bring back memories. When you put up a picture of say Dark Side of the Moon and then ask people of a certain age what they were doing when that album came out and when they bought that album, most everyone will remember…
So, last time we started to talk about an artist named Harrison Riddle and his hand-made records – you know, people who are doing something interesting to you – and it makes me wonder in a more general sense whether there are people or labels or musical acts…there are obviously a number of musical acts that seem to care a lot about the visuals and how they package their retail products and the things that they do to promote themselves. Are there things that you’re seeing that are impressing you – people that you think are doing it right?
MA – Well, you mentioned Harrison Riddle, then there’s Marble Teeth who split a 7″ with him, and a woman called Molly Compton (https://mollycompton.bandcamp.com/) – her label is called Ur Mom Records – she’s an old student of mine – and she makes a point of bringing an artist she’s working with over to the basement over at the museum and involving the artists in the creation of their own seven inch sleeves. Painting, screen printing, whatever they’re doing.
I don’t think that you can ever do shitty artwork – on a cassette, 8 track cartridge or anything – and hope that it would do anything good for you, but I think now, every piece of work you’re presenting has to resonate with gravitas, importance – and I don’t mean in a slick way. I like the hand-made things – those that show me that you’re prepared to spend five nights in a basement, losing your fingerprints because you’re rubbing whatever you’re doing and getting paint on your pants. If this isn’t that important to you, why should it be that important to me as a consumer? I’m seeing that the zenith of mass-produced coolness – there’s a release by Tool – I forget the name of it (Editor’s note – Martin is referring to 10,000 Days, with artwork by Alex Grey, which won a 2006 Grammy Award in the “Best Recording Package” category for the work. In another show of innovative album packaging, Tool also worked with Grey to create a package for their 2019 release Fear Inoculum that came with a built-in hi-res video screen via which they delivered a video of some pretty trippy animations – see video, below) – where the box becomes a stereoscopic viewing device and the eight cards in the sleeve become the viewing slides that you look through. I would say that that’s really cool, but that is more the triumph of mass production and quantity over anything else. “Well, we’re going to make a million – what can we do? Instead of just getting the price down at the record plant, what can we do? Can we do binoculars? Yeah, they’re going to be really expensive for a hundred, but how about for a hundred thousand?” I like the flashing light in the Pink Floyd album (on the Pulse box set) – that’s a triumph. You have to want to do it, and then apply the business case to do it. That, and then the hand-made, hand-stamped, “show me that you’ve used a pencil or a stamper or a wax thing” – I want to know that you’ve burned your hand on making the wax to make the stamp. Those kinds of things fascinate me now.
MG – You know that I’m a judge for a packaging awards competition, and last year I saw a lot of things that I’ll just call “fancy”, but not everyone can afford to buy “fancy”. You get some packages that are $900 or $1000 for 37 CDs and special colored vinyl and books and bookmarks – everything you might throw into a custom box that looks like an old vintage amplifier. I find it all fascinating, but as long as they realize that this is all done for a very limited audience.
Look at the packages from Third Man Records. Some of their vinyls have liquids like those you find in Lava Lamps in them – I think that’s cool. It shows that they’re thinking a little bit.
MA – I told you that we had these pressing plant guys come out and I don’t think that they expected to have been hit with so many questions and ideas! You might know that I pour water on my drums when I play, and the problem was that we then needed to buy new microphones before playing because we’d destroy the venue’s microphones with water. Then our tour manager suggested that we put non-lubricated condoms on the drum mics. It wouldn’t sound as good, but I could then go crazy with the water. After the show, he would take the condoms off the microphones, grab my set list that was on the floor and then put them in an envelope, and I still have 15 of these packages of what looked like used condoms wrapped in water-laden set lists from 2003, so I think that I’d love to see a picture disc with three of these condoms and a piece of the set list floating around in them. That’s a great illustration of something we couldn’t make very many of – maybe we’d make 20 – but they’d be priced at $150 each then, so maybe this balances out the “free music” aspects of the business – just maybe.
MG – True fans are always looking for something unique, and that would certainly fall into that category! So, a more philosophical question for you goes as follows – Do you think that album cover art and music industry promo imagery helps us document modern human history? Have you seen things that, to you, help represent an era and help you organize your memories of your life, via album cover images?
MA – I think that successful album covers, paired with their music, become these shorthand memory prompts. I’m trying to think of things in this direction… logo styles on electronic music packages, for sure. Those albums that the job of the cover was to generate a feeling. Then, I would go to – there’s a band called Sheep On Drugs and, somewhere in the museum, there’s an example of an album we did with them that had a newspaper inside of it – this full fold-out newspaper – but nobody bought it because the newspaper was inside and you couldn’t see that from the outside, which was a packaging problem. But somewhere I have envelopes full of the hand-typed, cut and pasted, enlarged and reduced Xerox art – they were way ahead of their time. They were using the old Dymo printers – remember the Dymo labels that granddad used to label his screws in their jars? It was so un-hip and shitty that it was brilliant, and then you start to see it – examples of things that bubble up through music into the mainstream and advertising.
MG – It was a great tool and a music industry staple, for sure. So you know, every time I get to this next question, it reminds me that I’m an older person – at least someone who has seen a lot – because when I first got started in the computer-slash-music business, I worked for Commodore. Remember them?
MA – Yeah, I had a 64!
MG – That was a great machine! So when we went from analog to digital, it freaked a lot of people out but, at the same time, it gave a lot of people great opportunities if they put their minds to it, while over on the retail packaging side of the business, everyone was saying that album covers were going to die and nothing will ever be the same, because who wants to look at a thumbnail on your iPod and nobody’s going to invest in art at that size but obviously, at least to a certain extent, they’ve been proven wrong. I’m curious what you, as someone who is both a musician and someone who appreciates the imagery related to the music business, think about how and whether musicians invest in their own visuals and how important or unimportant it is when you take into account that most distribution these days is digital?
MA – Well, the last part of what you said is an argument for “well, fuck it then, let’s just put my name on it as big as it will go!”. I just had this release in my hands – it’s from an artist called Shogun Kunitoki. They’re from Denmark, I think.
[Editor’s Note – in fact, the band is from Finland – visit their label at – https://fonal.bandcamp.com/. To learn about their recent record, please visit – https://fonal.bandcamp.com/album/vinonaamakasio and to watch a YouTube video of their spinning record with strobe applied – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj8bhdBdjLE ]
MA (Cont’d) – It’s an album – kind of a picture disc with dots in it, and it comes with a build it yourself, hand-held, battery powered strobe light kit. So, you’ve got to build this thing and then attach its nine-volt battery and then you put the album on, hold the light over it and the dots sort of start to come off of the vinyl. On the one hand, your reaction to it is immediate – when you press a button, if you like this then you’ll like that – it demands kind of a frictionless interaction but, on the other end of the spectrum, here’s the bag you get with all of the electronics in it, then make sure that you have a soldering iron, a cup of tea and a decent light and an old-style square nine volt battery, because this is going to be a commitment of at least two hours. Oh, and don’t forget to get some Band-Aids because you’re going to burn your fingers, so it’s the complete opposite, but once somebody has been charmed, as I was, to spend $70 on that – I haven’t made the strobe light kit yet – but I think that mentally and emotionally, once I’ve built the strobe light, I’m going to be in no position to intellectually tell myself that I didn’t like the music.
So, I think that it is so important that – there’s another guy I want to mention to you – you might want to talk to this guy in New York called Moldover…
MG – Not the country near Russia…
MA – Not, not the country. He has an album where the back of the CD jewel case – the insert – is an electronic circuit board and the song titles are written in circuitry. That’s really good but wait – there’s also a circuit in there that makes the CD case a light-sensitive Theremin.
MG – Oh, no!
MA – Right, you move it closer to the light and it changes the tone and there’s a little tiny button you can press where you can go “deet dee de deet; doot dee dee doot” and there’s a headphone jack out. I went around the world twice, going “this guy’s a genius” and then somebody asked me “well, what’s his music like?” and I said “I have no clue… I don’t care what his music is like!”. After a couple of years, I listened to it, but it was almost a point of pride to me that I had admired this guy’s genius so much that I didn’t care what his music sounds like. And then one day I called him up and said “Hey, how’s it going?” and he was freaking out that day. There were like 300 people who’d ordered this damn thing. And if you logically think this through, how do you deal with a response like that? As long as you say “allow four weeks for delivery”, now you’ve got $20 grand to build these things and his brand and his network, with a bunch of people (FANS?) who sat around a table building these light-sensitive theremins for this lunatic who bought them pizza and beer and told them some stories…
MG – I’ll find him, and if I need an intro, I’ll let you know (Editor’s Note – I found him – https://moldover.com/shop/moldover-remastered-light-theremin-edition/). So, allow me a brief intro the last question. When I started in the computer music/music TV world, you had all of the people surrounding you – the accountants, the lawyers, production types who were used to only thinking of things in one particular way – when you started to tell them that things were going to be a bit different in the digital world and online and they’re ultimately going to need to expand the ways they think about their work in ways that they never had to think about before, some managed the transition better than others. Now that I’ve been interviewing people from the industry over the past 10 years or so, I’ve noted that people on the creative side have taken one of two approaches to looking at their intellectual property – they’re either like The Beatles or Springsteen and have a tech team and lawyers scouring the web looking for things that were used improperly, so they’re going to go sue them, or there are people who just say “I don’t care”. For me, I’m in the middle because I think that people who are creative ought to get paid for being creative and making people happy but, at the same time, we’re seeing people Chat GPT and the people like them that think that everything is free and as long as they modify things a little bit, it’s OK for us to steal someone’s work in order to feed my machine. So, of course I’m wondering, since you’re a guy who earns and pays royalties and are still creating new things all of the time, how do you feel about the whole intellectual property discussion that’s taking place and particularly as it relates to visuals that help you promote your own products?
MA – Well, the easy answer has to do with drum machines starting in the 70s. Everybody said that that would be the end of drumming then and it wasn’t – it was just the end of shitty drumming. You know, there’s been poster templates, art templates, logo templates, you know…I think that I’m starting to get used to seeing this kind of “logo puke” where you just type in the name of what you want, and it gives you a hundred ideas and everybody else is getting the same hundred ideas. It makes some people lazy, but the effect of that is that it makes the really interesting stuff stand out.
But honestly, I got upset with Supreme who trampled all over Barbara Krueger’s work – just the Supreme logo – they stole that from her very famous billboard work. I had a picture of a PiL raincoat that my friend made in 1980 and then I see Supreme drop the same raincoat – it just says “this is not a love song” underneath and its almost the same picture. But then I can respond and go over to the Supreme store in Chicago and wheat paste museum posters all over their windows – everything is an opportunity. I think that its a little bit different for me because I’m always creating stuff – I was spray painting some things this morning on Chinese Cultural Revolution posters folded into 7-inch sleeves, with a two-color spray-painted logo on the front. If I’d done some stuff and was just looking back at that, it might be very different, but I’m always doing new stuff. I’m not sure if that answers your question, but it’s all changing constantly and an ongoing experiment.
MG – Well, it seems clear that you have a firm grasp on what makes sense for you and your clients and your creativity and your fans. Once again, I want to thank you so much – I think that I have plenty to work with here. And I do have some “punky” things that I might be able to donate, so I’ll do my best to get down there soon.
MA – It’s been a pleasure, and please come and visit.
About our guest, Mr. Martin Atkins (bio info provided by Martin) –
Born in August, 1959 in Coventry, England, drummer/producer/documentary film-maker (and “bad DJ”) Martin Atkins is the definition of entrepreneurial activity in cultural arts endeavors. His 40+ years in the music business spans across genres, borders, and industries. He was a member of Public Image Ltd (1979-1985) and Killing Joke. He founded industrial super group Pigface, The Damage Manual, and Murder Inc., and has contributed to Nine Inch Nails and Ministry during their most celebrated periods. He is the owner of Invisible Records (est. 1988) and, in 2021, founded the Museum Of Post Punk and Industrial Music in Chicago.
He’s also the creator two custom coffee roasts with Dark Matter Coffee, the first called “GTFOOB coffee” (named after a rather-astute quote of his – “To get ahead in life, you have to GET THE FUCK OUT OF BED!”) and the second, a soon-to-be released blend called “PPIM: DARK MATTER MUSEUM SANDPAPER BAG COFFEE” which comes packaged in a double-layered, signed sandpaper bag – one which “celebrates the museum, Durutti Column and French situationist Guy DeBord – unreleased at this moment”.
Martin is the author of three well-received books on the music business, including Tour:Smart. Band: Smart, and Welcome to the Music Business…You’re F***ed. He also serves at the Coordinator of Music Industry Studies at Millikin University in Decatur IL. Atkins earned a Master Of Arts degree, Professional Practice – Creative Media industries, at Middlesex University, London, after earning Associate of Applied Science and Bachelor of Science, Entertainment & Media Business degrees from the Madison Media Institute, Madison, WI, USA.
He’s also a husband, father of four children and, from my recent interactions with him, a very busy, dedicated and knowledgeable individual. Whatever the future of music is, you can pretty much bet that he’ll be in the middle of it!
Special Thanks –
I’d also like to thank Rebecca Mendenhall for coordinating these discussions and, once again, Bob Tulipan, for introducing me to Martin so that these interviews might take place.
Yours truly – Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
Unless otherwise noted, all text and images included in this article are Copyright 2023 Mike Goldstein (AlbumCoverHallofFame.com) and Martin Atkins – All Rights Reserved. Photos and images used to illustrate this article are properties of their owners and were used by permission. All of the trade names mentioned in these summaries are the properties of their respective owners and are used for reference only.