I met Jane coming back from the Death in June tour in September 2013. My pal Jeff and I had finished up the tour, I had recorded a few songs at Heaven Street, and Sean and Erik had had us over for a really excellent cocktail as we watched the second to last episode of Breaking Bad so we had pretty much done all that we had wanted to do. But Jeff said we needed to visit Tesco Jane and David E. Williams when we were out there and I'm glad we did.
First of all, there are a lot of ducks in that house. I mean a LOT of ducks. David is more than a little of a fan, I would say, and I think he's kind of got the right idea. It's a bit of a contrast to the World War II artifacts and Tesco USA room, which rendered me a bit sublime, but it creates this wonderful feeling of whimsical uncanny - sort of like if there were a comedic poltergeist lurking in the temple of doom.
It was actually a bit of a transformational experience for me, both the tour and meeting Jane because Jane is an incredible teacher, though I doubt she'd characterize herself as such. Bear with me. I see music as sort of the Zen path. The curious listener kneels to the teacher and asks for knowledge, sort of like when Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins traveled the South to find folk songs. They had to meet people who had knowledge of this oral tradition and learn from them. Today, we can use the internet, but the internet is a cold, depersonalized world that sometimes can destroy the mystique of music. It should be used as a resource, rather than a teacher. Jane and Jeffrey were absolutely instrumental in my discovery of industrial music and culture, but like the best professors, they never acted above me in their teachings - rather, they were (and continue to be) guides for me. I think the experience is worth mentioning because Jane talks about her process of getting into industrial music too and THAT is where the magic behind music is. The connection process can be really strong and it's really wonderful to be able to share it.
Anyway, as you may know, Jane runs Tesco USA, which is a very important distro for American fans of industrial. It's the inlet to bands like Anenzephalia, Genocide Organ, Blood Axis, Sonne Hagal, and Der Blutharsch, and is really great if you don't want to pay international shipping to the Tesco mothership. Jane is also a DJ extraordinaire and I often listen to her playlists to both discover new tunes and simply enjoy myself.
Here's the interview! I'm super excited to publish this! Thanks Jane!
Jordan Reyes: What was your first experience with industrial or noise music? Can you think of anything specific?Tesco Jane: I was in my late teens when I first heard the term "industrial music." A friend played me Front 242 and I asked why it was considered Industrial. He said it was because it sounded like a factory, and proceeded to show me his Roland R-8 drum machine. I really liked the sound, and ended up getting pretty into EBM as a result, but there was something left unresolved, because it really didn't sound like a factory at all. It was merely a clean, digital facsimile of a factory - refreshingly cold and dark, but still dance music at the end of the day. Shortly after that, I saw Einstürzende Neubatuen - Strategies Against Architecture II at Tower and decided to buy it, but in Goldilocks fashion, this kind of industrial sounded way too much like a factory. It was like when you start a really good but heavy book, and you know you aren't ready, mentally, to read it yet - I didn't get rid of it, just shelved it.
TJ: A few years later, I was visiting San Francisco for work and ended up meeting a bunch of folks with very sophisticated taste in experimental music. They would spend their lunch breaks poring over the latest catalogs from RRR and others, carefully planning out their orders, discussing the special packaging, the inserts, the limited editions, etc. Up to this point, I had plenty of friends who were record collectors, but not really to this extent and of something so obscure and artsy. I had never really thought about music beyond the content, the medium, or the live experience. Needless to say, my goth club-level musical intelligence was considered very pedestrian.
TJ: But I felt compelled to ask a particular friend if he would play me some things from his collection, because I was confused about what I had always known as industrial music. He was gracious about it and explained about Throbbing Gristle - how they were around at the time when synthesizers were being developed, and instead of going in the direction of Tangerine Dream, they messed around with the insides to make them sound different than intended. He explained that Industrial Records was the label they started, and he told me about noise music, which was sort of like when you have your TV on the wrong channel. The aural version of a Pollack. I still use these analogies when speaking with people who aren’t familiar with experimental music at all.
TJ: The latest time was actually at Sean Ragon’s wedding this past summer. Some of the guests were curious about the officiant, who happened to be Genesis P-Orridge. It made me really happy when Sean’s mother started nodding along and filling in details of the history of industrial music, because it had been explained to her in a similar way, and she remembered it all.
TJ: Anyway, my friend back in SF put on a Whitehouse record and said, "I really like the sounds underneath, but I can't stand the vocals." That was an a-ha moment for me, because those vocals reached out, grabbed me by the balls, and I loved it! He was super into Muslimgauze, too - the name took time to make sense of (muslin-what?), but I was fascinated not only by the music and the rhythms, but the fact that the artist was so prolific and completely unwavering in his chosen theme and style. But it was Merzbow’s Music For Bondage Performance 2 that really made me a believer. It wasn’t just random “noise” - I could understand and enjoy it as a composition - the sound became visual, bringing me back to a strange, abstract recurring dream I had as a child. From then on, I was perfectly content with a night in, staring at the wall, listening to everything I had never heard of, enveloped in a soundtrack for my own imagination.
JR: There are a lot of books and articles that talk about industrial music and culture. I look back and see that "The Industrial Handbook" affected me personally. Did any such piece of writing influence you?TJ: The Industrial Culture Handbook, as well as some others in the RE/Search series (Pranks, Incredibly Strange Films), did have an effect on me, but in the case of the ICH, it was more aesthetic. I don't think I ever sat down and read it from start to finish, but rather, at a time when I was very much into listening, learning and exploring industrial music, I was also learning to build websites. My first, noiseindex.com, was very much patterned after the Industrial Culture Handbook - the design of it, the lists - books I was reading, music I was listening to, and plenty of selfies in military-style garb. Once I started DJing, I posted mp3 mixes there, optimized for 56k dial-up. I didn’t really care if anyone saw the site - it was fun for me, and ended up opening a lot of doors.
JR: How long had you known the folks at Tesco before opening up the branch in the United States?TJ: We didn't know each other at all, actually. My friends on the west coast were more into Japanese noise and academic experimental, so I didn’t learn about the Tesco label until after I moved to NYC in the late 90s. I got the idea to go to London to see Whitehouse for the first time in 2001, with Anenzephalia and Con-Dom as the opening acts. The promoter was very gracious and let me stay with her, and soon after I arrived at her flat, there was talk of “the Tesco boys” arrival. This was before there was so much information on the internet, and it was my first time seeing them live, so I didn’t really know much about who was actually involved with these labels and projects - it was all rather mysterious. But we ended up having a marvelous time and got to know each other over that weekend. At some point, Klaus from Tesco Germany asked me what my dreams were - what I wanted to do in life. I told him that I wanted to have my own business, he said he had an idea, and that’s how Tesco USA was started.
JR: Are there any particular words or ideas you'd use to describe industrial culture?TJ: Uniformity.
JR: I know you DJ (and have some pretty incredible playlists). Could you do a fake playlist for an imaginary wedding for a gay couple who are lawyers, but have a dual life as a BDSM performance group? The only thing is that their parents don't know about the dual life so you have to tread lightly.
TJ:Bram Stoker's Dracula (Ceremony)
ABBA - Gimme, Gimme, Gimme A Man After
AC/DC - Back In Black
Aretha Franklin - Chain of Fools
Björk - Human Behaviour
Blondie - One Way Or Another
Bobby Darin - Mack the Knife
Cardigans - Love Fool
Chris Isaak - Wicked Game
Culture Club - Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?
Depeche Mode - Strangelove/Master and Servant
Devo - Whip It
Divinyls - I Touch Myself
Donna Summer - I Feel Love
Duran Duran - Hungry Like The Wolf
Echo and the Bunnymen - People Are Strange
Ennio Morricone - Gringo Like Me
Erasure - Chains of Love/Love to Hate You/Victim of Love
Eurythmics - I Need A Man
Frank Sinatra - I Get A Kick Out Of You
Gap Band - You Dropped A Bomb On Me
George Michael - Father Figure
Hall and Oates - Maneater
Harry Nilsson - Everybody's Talkin'
James Brown - I Feel Good
Johnny Cash - Hurt
Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
Judas Priest - You’ve Got Another Thing Coming
Korn - Freak On A Leash
Lady GaGa - Poker Face
Madonna - Justify My Love
Marty Robbins - I've Got No Use For The Woman
Michael Jackson - Beat It
Ministry - The Nature Of Love
My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult - Leathersex
New Order - Bizarre Love Triangle
Nine Inch Nails - Closer
Oingo Boingo - Private Life
Pet Shop Boys - Opportunities
Q Lazzarus - Goodbye Horses
Queen - Another One Bites The Dust
Ramones - Beat on the Brat
Rick James - Super Freak
Rihanna - SOS
Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock - Joy and Pain
Rod Stewart - Do Ya Think I’m Sexy
Salt ‘N’ Pepa - Push It
Sam & Dave - Hold On, I’m Coming
Scott Walker - The Rope And The Cell
Soft Cell - Sex Dwarf
Sonny and Cher - The Beat Goes On
Stevie Nicks and Don Henley - Leather and Lace
Stevie Wonder - Uptight (Everything's Alright)
Temptations - Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
The Police - King of Pain
The Weather Girls - It's Raining Men
Traci Lords - Control
Velvet Underground - Venus In Furs
Village People - YMCA/Macho Man
Warren Zevon - Lawyers, Guns and Money