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Bloodshot Briefing: Professor of Punk

Back in the day, Martin Atkins was a drummer on the front line of the British punk invasion of America, playing with some of the genre's seminal figures, including Johnny Rotten.

After living in New York and Los Angeles, Atkins settled in Chicago in the late 1980s just as the industrial music scene was in its infancy. His first place was a 14th-floor crib with a rooftop view of Lake Michigan.

Now, Atkins, with the Windy City as his adopted hometown, is in his early 50s and he continues to add eggs to his basket. From punk drummer to record-label owner to worldwide lecturer, Atkins is a man with a wide tool belt with many loops. With his newest project Revolution Number Three staging one of its three-day educational weekends starting Friday, Atkins took some time from his Bridgeport base camp to talk to the Beachwood Music department about the road he's traveled so far.


Beachwood Music: You were born in England. When did you first come to the States?

Atkins: I first came in 1981. I came over here a few times before to tour in my punk days. But I always sent postcards and made calls back to my friends in the States. I just thought I should move here.

Beachwood Music: Where did you first land? Did you swim to the shore in a shark suit for camouflage?

Atkins: I went to New York City from London. I lived in Manhattan on 14th Street. I was quickly in and out from there. I then went to the Iroquois Hotel. It was kind of crazy. The Clash was there, so were other bands. Then I went to Los Angeles and then to New Jersey.

Beachwood Music: What eventually brought you to Chicago? Did Jon Langford win a bet?

Atkins: I was in Killing Joke, and we played a show in Chicago. We didn't fully get paid, so I came back to get the band our money. I fell in love with the city and found a beautiful apartment.

Beachwood Music: Chicago really cast a spell on you.

Atkins: I was attracted by the Wax Trax scene. It was powerful in the 1980s, and I was drawn to that energy. The other thing is I found this apartment on Granville and Winthrop on the 14th floor. It was 2,000 square feet with two separate roofs. The Jesus Lizard played a rooftop show, I think in 1989. I was arrested.

It was like living on the ocean, you know with the way Lake Michigan looked, especially in the winter. It was like living in the South of France. But Steve Albini said it was the murder corridor.

Beachwood Music: How did you wind up in Bridgeport? Sox fan?

Atkins: Initially, I came down there to go to Healthy Food, a Lithuanian diner. More and more coffee shops, galleries, printing companies opened up, bringing about a sense of community. Most people here were secretly making art, but now they can do it in the coffeehouses. Coffee shops are a great reverse periscope of the community. I like being down here. It's not too crazy of a neighborhood.

Beachwood Music: When you first moved to Chicago, which venues did you go to most often?

Atkins: With Public Image Limited, we played the Granada Theatre, which is now the Granada shopping mall. I played the Riviera, Metro, Vic, Double Door. One of the places I like now is the Hideout.

But I have four boys now. I don't go out at much at all.

Beachwood Music: You mentioned Jon Langford. He's a Chicago institution, much like yourself. He's also a Brit. Your relationship?

Atkins: I know Jon. Somewhere there's a picture of me and Jon and these bands from 1978 that sits in the back room of this pub in Leeds. Yeah, I've known Jon off and on for a while.

Beachwood Music: How did you transition from playing drums and giving the finger to the man to teaching the youth? You used to teach at Columbia College.

Atkins: It was an accident. I was doing these package tours where I put four bands together, trying to get the maximum bang for the buck. It reduced the chances of failing. I was doing 80,000 promotional postcards and CDs. It was a lot of work.

I went to Columbia College to try and get some interns to help me. They told me I should be teaching this stuff. Turned out, a class started three days later. It was a seven-hour class. It was during that first class that I realized the textbook we were using was from 1962. That's when I decided to present my own material.

Beachwood Music: You are on your own now, a freelance professor. You have traveled the globe. Based on your experiences, you created Revolution Number Three, an extended educational seminar that teaches multiple aspects of being an artist.

Atkins: I am on my own path to learn and teach useful skills to people. It's slowly coming. But the more we beat the drum, the louder it gets. There's something wrong in the education that is being sold to people. If it was a meal, people would send it back.

One of the things wrong in traditional education is that teachers think they know it all. In this day and age, that's impossible.

Beachwood Music: Among the many disciplines you offer, one is Xbox modification. Please explain. The last video game system I am familiar with is Sega Genesis. NHL Hockey '94 is the best game ever.

Atkins: It's a fun class. My 12- and 14-year-old sons love it. They tell all their friends about it. Hopefully, we get them to learn other stuff while they are here. The Xbox modification class is essentially a good exercise in circuit bending. I present it as a door-opening device. It's one way to get into Slipknot's tour bus. A demo isn't going to do it. If you know a language, know how to fix a vehicle, those are the things that will help you. It's no longer enough to be good at one thing.

Beachwood Music: Tell me about the significance of the name Revolution Number Three.

Atkins: The first revolution was punk rock. I was in a band with Johnny Rotten and we were thinking for ourselves. The second revolution was the industrial music out of Chicago, the Wax Trax label. You had all these amazing bands cross-pollinating and sharing members. That's also when computers became bigger and sampling became a part of music.

Applying all of those things into teaching is the third revolution.

Beachwood Music: I feel dumb asking this after you dropped so much knowledge on us. But I do this for the fans. You're not a drinker anymore, but it's late at the coffee shop. Perhaps there's no jukebox. But which songs do you ask the barista to play as you sip your final espresso.

Atkins: Wow. Wow. Wow. "Another Girl, Another Planet" by the Only Ones. "Typical Girls" by the Slits. Wow. Wow. Wow. Neil Young's "The Needle and the Damage Done." "I Might Like You Better (If We Slept Together)" by Romeo Void. Then, there's this band from China, Snap Line. "Nice Dreams." It's not even out yet. It wouldn't be on a jukebox.


Matt Harness brings you his Bloodshot Briefing every Friday. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on January 29, 2010

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