By James Currie
Chicago is a city known for its arts and culture scene. We have world class music venues, theatres and museums. Here’s a new one to add to the list the Museum of Post Punk & Industrial Music (ppim) – A proposed gallery of post-punk and industrial music scene relics, rarities and raucousness. This from a man who not only played a big part of those scenes, but shaped what it’s become today, Martin Atkins. With plans on opening sometime this year, Atkins is offering individuals a chance to become founding members, getting in on the ground floor of things before the general public.
I spoke with Atkins about this and hammered in a few nail-biting questions that would kill any joke about where this new ministry of counterculture will be housed and what it will become. Definitely not limited on content, this gallery will be filled with years of Atkins personal trinkets as well as other contributing members who created these genres decades ago.
For those who don’t know, Atkins is a pillar in the Post Punk / Industrial Music scene. He flourished with ex-Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten in the band, Public Image Ltd (PiL), bashed away at dueling drums with Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, ran with fellow British rockers Killing Joke and formed his own Industrial super group (now over 30 years) Pigface. And that’s just scratching the surface of his involvement and contributions to the music scene. I dig deeper.
James Currie: Hey Martin. Thanks for taking the time to talk about this new project. How are you doing?
Martin Atkins: Fucking pretty good. Yeah, thanks for doing this. I think we struck a nerve with this one. We’re getting some incredibly positive feedback from the kickoff campaign alone.
JC: Really!? That’s great! What’s happening?
MA: Well, just some really crazy stuff (when talking to friends in the business) they tell me things like, well I’m not in town, but when I get back and go through my storage of stuff I’ll dig it out and get it over. Like, next time I’m in town, all my Nine Inch Nails stuff is yours.
JC: So tell me a little about this “Museum of Post Punk & Industrial Music”. What brought this on?
MA: Well, this ideas been in my head for probably 10 years or so. Its years of collecting. This is a place where fans of these genres can gather, reflect and discover things new and old about this scene. A place where you can go through the entire museum in 45 minutes or spend an entire day deep diving into the archives. We’ll have large open spaces as well as small intimate rooms where someone could go in and, through an interactive TV setup, scan through archives of a specific date and time in an artists life listening to clips, watching videos and seeing pictures of what a day in the life of that band was like.
It feels like the mature thing in the development of an industrial post-punks life. The mature post-punk industrial scrapbooking. (laughter)
JC: Will this be a permanent gallery space or limited run? Where will it be?
MA: Yeah, it will be in our Bridgeport location. You’ve been there before. We’re converting up to 6000 square feet of space into the museum. 2000 square feet at first and going from there. I’ve got so much fucking shit I could fill the place with just my stuff and still not have enough space to show it all. But we’re going to try out some elements and work with the space. Getting a specialist to come in and work on archiving, or someone to give a class or just see where it can grow and maybe fill the entire space.
We did a traveling show before for Pigface and other exhibits in the past and I just like it. I like sitting next to the Fook backdrop and just looking up at it brought a calm to me.
But that’s not what this will be about. I mean, I will kind of kick this off with my things I’ve collected throughout 40+ years of being in the music industry but it will have stuff from many others. Somebody asked me, I have some things I can loan, but do they have to be connected to you? (laughing) And I’m like, no, it’s not going to be the “Martin Atkins Exhibit” of just my things, (ha). I’m working with others to bring in things from all over and many artists including a friend over in the UK that is a big post-punk collector that is coming over and will spend a month here setting up things.
They way I see it is, we’ll house the main collection that will be here all the time. We’ll host some guest exhibits from time to time. We’ll showcase some contributor and loan pieces and you know, grow from there.
Because of the history of the place alone has some sort of reverence. People have come from Canada, Mexico and the UK to be here for smaller one-time events so.
JC: I have seen first hand some of the parts of your collection and drooled over many pieces that are just mind blowing. How did you know to start saving things back then?
MA: Ha, yeah well I am just a pack rat. I don’t get rid of anything. I still have receipts for my first suits I had made from Sandy Powell! I mean, she’s a Hollywood icon in fashion design now, but not back then.
JC: Oh is she the one that started the flies on suits thing?
MA: No, no, that came much later, but she did help create an image for me. Oh, and I have meal ticket receipts from bands I toured with. Also, drawings for t-shirt designs for tours we did. I have drums that everyone in the band unintentionally pissed on when our tour bus had a leak in the floor and anytime anyone flushed the pipe was broken and it just went all over my kit.
JC: Oh man. That’s pretty intense. How did you manage to play the rest of the tour?
MA: Well I pulled out the kit, cleaned them up as best I could and just kept playing on them. At one point the stage lights were so hot my drums warmed up and started smoking. So I had this hazy, piss smoke smell coming up everywhere.
JC: I was gonna say, I know you want this to be an all inclusive and interactive gallery for all senses, but not sure anyone is ready for that. But, what I do want to see in this is the sights of a bloodied disco ball, to touch the infamous, In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up, Ministry cage and ok, the smell of the Pigface 1991 tour backdrop.
MA: Ha, oh yeah, we’ll have all that and more. I’ve got friends who’ve got one or two interesting things they’ve had for ever, clutched in their sweaty palms and just want to share it after all this time. They want it to be a part of something else you know.
JC: So when are you looking to open this??
MA: (snicker) Well, yeah, that’s in the works still as the building is in flux still. The hallways are very much tidied up and the place is cleaned up near ready to do something.
Putting something like this together is a bit like coming back from vacation and laying out all the cool things you got, pull out the ones you don’t want grandma to see, pull up a chair and have a cup of coffee and just smile and sit back and remember it all.
JC: Will it be 2021 or something we can expect in later years?
MA: Oh no, it will be this year. Sooner than you might expect. I’d say maybe some of the soonest things might start happening in the next 6 weeks or so. The Founding Members will be experiencing things first and we’ll go from there.
JC: Tell us a little about what we might expect to see their in that gallery space beyond Martin Atkins trinkets.
MA: So I have hand written lyric sheets from songs, tour cases, personal photos and videos, audio recordings of us talking about things back then, remixed unheard songs, instruments used on album and tours that you will be able to sit with a play and so much more coming in later this year from a variety of sources. Former band mates, friends in the industry and the likes.
JC: Will there be any performance art, live music or guest speakers? Any kinds of staging or recording space or will it become the new Double Door?
MA: Nah, no recording or main stage per se, but maybe a little pop up for recording tech talks or solo jams. I see it as a museum first, but yeah there’s plans for guest speakers for sure. What I’d like to do is get fellow musicians who I know that come through town to stop in and give a little talk or acoustic jam. We just invested in some new equipment in the studio and don’t want to take away from that.
JC: How do you see or envision it being set up as? A walking gallery exhibit space? Something open with halls and walls like The Museum of Science and Industry where you go through it at your own pace? Maybe more of a collectables on the walls as you walk by like Hard Rock Café’s? Or guided (personal or audio) tours with interactive stopping points like The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?
MA: Yeah, I think it’s going to be a mix of all of those things. There will be space for so much that you can explore on your own or maybe get a personal guide to talk you through for a more personal experience. We have things that, I think I can play and do, that others like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or Hard Rock can’t do because of their size or legal ties won’t allow.
MA: Well I have recordings of bands songs that have never been release or audio recordings of people who died talking about things happening back in the day that might be funny or informative and never known before. Or things like sitting behind one of my drums kits that we used to record an album and letting people bash out some beats on it, take a photograph with it.
Some of the things will be interactive where you push a button and follow along, there will be some slide shows to watch and some online content as well.
And the Founders will get to be apart of even more like special events, private talks, acoustic sets, circumvent how to work a keyboard. I mean, there’s just so much. All kinds of things can happen.
I mean, it will be a multimedia event like no other. It’s a starting point for some people. Or for others, an ending point. Like with a rare song that no one has heard yet. Like this one guy I talked to who said, I’ve got to hear this music before I die.
JC: I know things like that would be a huge draw for any genre or style of music history.
MA: Yeah, I think so.
JC: On a more serious note though, any concerns of opening this during a global pandemic? I’m guessing you have a plan of action to work within COVID-19 guidelines but how would this work today with all the hands on activities and social gatherings planned?
MA: We’ll we’ve already been doing that. I mean in the office and as a people we’re doing that everyday. The gallery would be a little different and we’ve been talking about that too of course. We might have guided tours only to start. Or limited capacity each day. Or scheduled appointments for the beginning. It’s definitely a concern and will be figured out. There are things that we can do to be smart about this stuff.
I mean, we had a Pigface drive-inn concert scheduled last year but had to cancel because so many concerns came up like people wanting to jam as many people into a car they could (cause we we’re going to charge $50 per car) so they thought they could save by carpooling with strangers. Yeah, that wasn’t going to work so we rethought it and just couldn’t come up with a safe enough way to make it happen. We cancelled it and will revisit something like that later.
JC: Maybe a timed event might work best.
MA: Yeah, or even maybe only allowing those people with vaccines to attend. You know like show your Vax’s card to get admission. We are also talking about getting students involved to help out. So maybe we could do personal guided one on one tours at first to kind of keep things in check.
JC: That seems to be the key for getting all our live events and social gatherings back on track. Waiting for those to get vaccinated and /or heard immunity to kick in. I know I can’t wait until we can all get together again for a concert and beer.
MA: Same. Yeah right.
JC: Well I know I’m looking forward to seeing what all you come up with for this. Chicago being the epicenter for Industrial music’s start alone will bring a huge drawl for this. Please keep us up with the progress and official openings.
MA: Of course. Nice to talk to ya. See ya.
For more information on the Museum of Post Punk & Industrial Music including becoming a Founding Member, click here