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  • Andy Skinner


Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Martin Atkins has so much good post-punk and industrial-rock karma, he needed a museum to store it all. Not really: He’s well-aware the genres are much bigger than him. That’s why the drumming polymath is ready to unveil The Museum Of Post-Punk And Industrial Music...

By Jason Pettigrew

Martin Atkins of the Museum of Post-Punk And Industrial Music
Martin Atkins

This year, rock ‘n’ roll had its 70th birthday. We feel confident saying that despite the success of Nickelback, rock wasn’t the cultural anomaly that was going to destroy mankind. But rock’s ability to mutate from other genres, embrace technology and/or assimilate cultural stimulus from other sources (literature, film, art et al) has given it continued life, resonance and purpose. In the realm of contemporary rock music, the subgenres of post-punk and industrial mutate significantly to create something new out of a rapidly changing musical landscape. Clearly, there’s a lot going on. And there really should be a dispensary to catalogue this history and knowledge while aiding in the genres’ futures.

Because that’s what Martin Atkins was thinking. In his myriad roles as drummer, author, producer, teacher, mentor and mad conceptualist, he’s been there, done that and sold the shirt on eBay. Well, not all of them, actually. That’s why he decided to pool his significant personal archives out of boxes and into a space dubbed The Museum Of Post-Punk and Industrial Music. Located in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, the facility contains various artifacts, art pieces, documents and other tchotchkes from his extensive archives in the post-punk realm. Armed with a CV that includes assorted bands’ halcyon eras (Public Image Limited, Killing Joke, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and various iterations of his ad hoc noise-rock committee Pigface), Atkins’ bona fides are certainly in order.

More than just a stroll through Atkins’ personal effects, PPIM shines a light on the rich history of two significant genre fulcrums. But like the DIY mentality those scenes fostered out of necessity, visitors can get caught up in the jet stream. You want to try to pound out the intro to “Four Enclosed Walls”? Atkins’ drum set is set up there for you to have a go at it. Fancy remixing/mashing up some of your favorite industrial tracks? There’s a studio facility with an engineer at the ready. If you’re genuinely fascinated by the very thought of a mound of laminated and cloth backstage passes of tours gone by, he’s got you sorted. “Really,” Atkins reveals, “I’m just starting to see what happens when you connect all of these things and go someplace else.”

There’s most assuredly going to be more than a few middle-aged/elderly types rocking faded Wax Trax! artist shirts lurking in the rooms of PPIM. But there’s also a forward-paying aspect that’s very much in play. The operative nature of post-punk is to constantly ask “what’s next?” While PPMI should sate longtime listeners who were actively participating in the early manifestations of the culture, the venue also acts as a clearinghouse of possibilities allowing succeeding generations to borrow-to-remold or straight-up steal from. (Because at some point, we all fall prey to the syndrome of tabula rasa).

The day after his birthday, Atkins spoke with Indy CD & Vinyl about the m.o. behind PPIM with equal parts enthusiasm, pragmatism and what could best be described as practical dadaism. (Seriously, have you ever booked a salon appointment in a museum?) At 62, Atkins continues to flex both his brain and his heart over the potential combinations and permutations to convey and enrich post-punk’s history. “I don’t know what it is,” he says when asking to describe PPIM. “But it’s awesome!”

After all, it’s not like anyone is expecting him to slow down. “I don’t know that there’s any retirement in DIY,” he quips. “Is there?”

I understand you are taking gradual steps for security and safety purposes.

MARTIN ATKINS: We’re doing soft opening events. We did one a few weeks ago for the anniversary of [the Public Image Limited LP] This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get. We had 150 people on Zoom, 20 people at the museum in person and vaccinated. Then one weekend we’re doing “Days Of Sweat And Madness,” which was a Killing Joke event. Same deal: 20 people, 150 on Zoom. We gave the address out to those people as a soft opening.

It sounds trite, but what the hell: You have all this documented history and some familiar objets d’art that belong in a museum on their historical significance. How do you bring them into the 21st century? Where’d you learn how to create a museum?

Just put everything on a slide show and have smoke bombs go off, you know? [Laughs.] But no. I’m already seeing three things. One is all of this in a room visible. I’m ADHD, so if things are in boxes, they don’t exist yet. So I’m feeling a two-fold, strange calm surrounded by stuff, but also a very dangerous, “Ahh, fuck off. Anybody can make anything happen” kind-of vibe. And if I don’t believe myself sometimes—oftentimes I don’t believe myself, you know, as many of us don’t—all I have to do is look around and go, “Oh, OK.” The evidence proves that I can make things happen.

It sounds like you’re cultivating imposter syndrome.

Oh, I’m sure. So there’s that. But then there’s the effect this is having on everybody else. Which is massively unexpected. That ranges from people flying from Denver, driving from Akron and flying from L.A. We’ve had one-and-a-half open house events and nobody’s walked in and [demanding tone.] “Can I have some water? I’ve fucking flown in from L.A.” People are like, “I flew in from L.A. Thank you so much for doing this. How else can I help?” You know, that’s a huge surprise and kind of humbling and amazing. But then people are donating some really miraculous things. We just unpacked one of Ogre’s Skinny Puppy suits. I’m not sure of the date on it, but it’s covered in paint and shit. You know, the person who had that in their closet loved having it. But they have way more love by not having it in their possession, having me send them pictures of [photographers] Bobby Talamine and Jodi Sargent taking pictures of the suit on a mannequin in front of the FOOK backdrop from ’92. They’re already thrilled that their baby, their child, their pet Ogre suit is rubbing shoulders—not literally, because that would be an archive issue—with a piss-smelling Killing Joke backdrop. I just found Al [Jourgensen’s] welders’ glasses that he gave me that I think he’s wearing in a Ministry promo picture that I also found.

Your personal contribution to the underground music canon is undeniable. And on the work ethic side, you’ve always made a lot of your colleagues look like slackers. It’s obvious that you would start with your personal archive. Which in turn, could trigger the cynical accusation of PPIM being “The Martin Atkins Museum.” How do you address that?

I do say to people a lot, “Look, this is not the museum of me.” I’ve done a lot and I’m old. all right? So it just seems like an unfair advantage [to be] blighted with this hoarding gene. I can cover PiL, Killing Joke, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Pigface—which leads to Genesis P-Orridge and Psychic TV, Ogre and Ritalin. I produced Skinny Puppy. I made scenery for Test Department: I signed them to my label and released a few albums. Sheep On Drugs, same thing. I signed so many artists to my label. I had suits made by Sandy Powell [from the early days of Brian Brain]. I could have just called it “The Martin Atkins Gallery Of Fuck,” you know? But rather to use it as a starting point…

You’re seeding the process.

“Seed” is not the right word. It’s more like a sugar cube you put down on the patio when you know you’ve got ants. And you have to have that sugar cube magnetized to attract whatever. [Former PiL manager] Larry White just sent me a Bellevue Hospital gown that John [Lydon] wore onstage: We just got the photographs of that. Betsy Sherman just sent me a PiL raincoat she painted in 1980. There’s a fantastic picture by Phil N. Flash—a Boston photographer who’s now in Chicago—of John helping her into a taxi in a very Benny Hill-kind of way. So I sit in front of this stuff. Sometimes it puts me in two moods, kind of a reverie. Not melancholy, it’s like thumbing through my greatest hits in a way I like. And then it feels like it’s fueling the next thing. And maybe the next thing is the museum. It kind of feels like that. A couple people have asked, “Well, is this the last thing you’re doing?” I’m like [adopts worried tone] “Fuck…”

Well, if it is the last thing you do, it’s a massive undertaking. What essentially is the mission statement? To document the history of the post-punk aesthetic continuum? Or just a section or historical period of it?

It also documents a different kind of creative process. And the mission statement for that is: We should do something with this. What could it be? And then putting things up on the wall.’s constructing a space to experiment, to see what happens in it. And, yeah, there’s a ton of amazing stuff on the walls. But then, what can you do in the rest of the square footage? And of course, I can’t wait to do a screen-printing workshop, marketing, merchandising, entrepreneurial bootstrapping workshop, which ties in with that DIY punk, don’t-ask-for-permission mentality. I’m sure somebody has started a museum and they had two years in the development phase where they are working on a mission statement and budgets and an advisory board and all this stuff. And two years in, it’s like, “Steve, we’re ready to launch! Tell everybody we baked a cake and we’re going to launch!” I’ve done it exactly the opposite. I put stuff on the wall and said, “You know what? This is the museum. Who’s in? Who wants to help?” Molly [Compton, Atkins’ assistant] who works with me, said, “Yes, there’s great stuff on the walls, but it feels like a museum of process.” Not just how my Newcastle Brown And Bottlecap shrine, made when I stopped drinking the first time became part of an album cover, which then became this huge backdrop that Pigface played in front of with Tool’s Danny Carey—that kind of process. But it’s also a process of starting something in a different way outside of normal channels. I guess at some point, you know, a year from now, I might have Museum Smart, as my latest book. [Laughs.] We could be doing things differently. And I’m thinking about that.

Inside the Museum of Post-Punk And Industrial Music
Inside the Museum of Post-Punk And Industrial Music

Are you done unpacking things?

I thought I was a few weeks ago, and then I found some more stuff, so we put them up and we bought some more frames. We put something called temporary shipping frames while a couple of framers came in to let us know what we’re dealing with. I opened up a box yesterday and there’s all of this Swans stuff I’d forgotten about. So every day I feel like I reach into a box and some amazing stuff comes out. Today, for instance, I thought, “Well, there should be an area for tour passes.” Because they are the currency by which professionals and professional hangers-on measure their success, right?. So as I’m going through this, honestly, mountain—two file boxes full—of laminates, I found a backstage pass for Blondie in slightly curled but mint condition. And it’s like January 21st, 1980. And I think, this is the pass that {Blondie guitarist] Frank Infante gave me because [PiL] had two sold out shows in Paris and Blondie had one. Well, why is this pass randomly there? So I put that over in a pile. Then I saw this other extremely flat, mint backstage pass, a Killing Joke Astoria 1991 pass that was my very last show with them. There was so much depth. I’m just starting to see what happens when you connect all of these things.

Are you actively buying pieces and acquiring appropriate items?

I bought one piece, but I’m sure I will buy more or people will lend us small pieces, that seems to be what’s happening. But I want to acquire more because of my fascination with packaging, which started with PiL’s Metal Box. That includes people like Moldovar with his light-sensitive theremin CD box, the Damage Manual limited edition CD, scratch and sniff blueberries sleeves of seven-inch singles. I bought a copy of Durutti Column’s Return Of The Durutti Column…

With the sandpaper cover?

Yes! I wanted that because I talk about it in my packaging and marketing lectures. I’m looking forward to pointing out things on walls instead of showing people slides. And I wanted people to touch it. I want people to touch the Durutti Column album sleeve. I love the passive-aggressive “Rust Never Sleeps” quality of gradually destroying the album to the left and to the right of it when you take it off of the shelf. But it turns out Guy DeBord did exactly that in 1959 with his book memoir. We could sit here and I’m sure there would be people going “Fucking hell, the Durutti Column? That cover is fucking amazing!” Yeah. Yawn. It’s actually been done before. So you can stumble into reversing what a museum and education is, and finding different levels of creativity standing on the shoulders of what’s come before. As much as I enjoy that, I’m going to enjoy the fuck out of putting on workshops and having all the people who don’t ever want to come to a museum come. Maybe the word “museum” is a turn-off for some people. I wanted to use it because, of course, we’re going to slightly destroy it.


I think we’re going to have some dinners in the space. I’ve obviously talked to Dirk [Flanagin, esteemed chef and member of early iterations of Pigface] about cooking something ridiculous. Dark Matter will supply the coffee and the chocolate. We will have our own whiskey through the 18th Street Distillery. So I love this subversive idea of, “You don’t want to come to a museum? That’s fine, does this menu interest you?” [Laughs.]

That’s some engaging marketing right there!

[Laughs.], “OK, come to our restaurant.” A person will come in and say, “Oh wow, I like your wallpaper.” [adopts mock anger] Well, that’s not wallpaper. That’s 40 years of fucking cutting-edge, improvised, DIY post-punk industrial music, you fuck.” But if it’s wallpaper to somebody, that’s fine, too. [Laughs.]

Your assistant is describing it as a process. So is the idea to be a museum as a Swiss Army knife? You have all this history on the wall, but then you fly some laptop genius from Sweden for a special one-day only ambient set? Is it essentially an umbrella?

The museum is a museum, but it’s not about how can you do a museum of

post-punk and industrial and the first marketing campaign is “Please visit our museum before [Chicago industrial rock-fest] Cold Waves.” Our marketing is going to be “Please come for a haircut.” [Chicago stylists] Gil Castro and Erandi Tovar are going to be cutting hair in the middle of it.

So I can get a skinhead like that girl in Ministry’s “Stigmata” video while I’m there? [Laughs.]

Yeah! I don’t want you to think I don’t have a strategy and I’m just winging it. It’s still a museum. We’re being helped by the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, the Robert Rauschenberg Museum in Florida and so many museum professionals. Mark Davidson was in charge of the Bob Dylan archives. A huge music fan. He took my students on a tour of the Dylan archives. So there are some very experienced professional people guiding us with this other aspect, the archival aspect. You know, I just bought a 6500 dpi scanner. We’re looking at the archival process and being advised on that, because up until now, I just thought, “what the hell am I doing with this? I can’t believe this. ticket from the Paris Metro has survived since 1980,” but now it’s down to professionals to make sure it’s in a professional, acid-free archival environment so these things stick around for a bit longer.

A museum is a serious undertaking. I understand you have a board of directors.

The stage of the process is waving the flag and doing it. And then we’re about to begin the 501(c)3 not-for-profit process. That requires an external board of directors. So that is about to happen. I need to call an informal advisory board because it’s not the formal 501(c)3 advisory directors, but there are about, I will say 60 people on the advisory board right now. And that ranges from [LCD Soundsystem’s] James Murphy, who was my first intern when he was 15, helped me screen print some Steve Albini posters in ‘86. Lee Renaldo from Sonic Youth, Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I’m particularly proud of the composition of the advisory board because there are people from fashion. Drew from 18th Street Distillery is just a kickass entrepreneur and business person. I’m happy to have him on the board as well as Jesse from Dark Matter and Fallon Bowman. Of course, there’s a little bit of a Pigface overlap because that’s where my Rolodex begins. But there are some really great people on the advisory board [including Indy CD & Vinyl owners Annie & Andy Skinner].

Is there anything that you don’t want the museum to be?

Well, that’s an interesting question…

I have a friend who owns a record store. One night, he was doing a club night in one of the art galleries in the building where he has his store. He had Veronica Vasicka from Broken English Club DJ at the event. She mixes new underground electronic post-punk and classic Wax Trax/Play It Again Sam sides. The young fans are like, “Wow, this is really cool” and all the guys who are long in the tooth are like, “Holy shit. Was that Neon Judgment she just played?” It was a great night. Obviously after getting her there, promoting the show, getting her expenses, my friend lost some money. But he said that he would rather lose money than get $2000 from Red Bull to put a sign behind her essentially saying “Everybody drink Red Bull because it’s fucking cool.”

So [he] just raised a bunch of things. Number one: Fuck, yes. Is she available to do that here? Because I want to do it. I want people to come and experience this stuff.

Number two: I’m still a marketer and a promoter. Hypothetically, if the pie shop next door becomes more popular than Public Image, I’m going to ask them to make their special “veal and ham Public Image pie” with a free entrance to the museum. Yes, you will get some people saying, “We came in for the pies. What’s all this shit?” [imitates tour guide spiel.] “Well, you know, 40 years ago this happened…” Blah, blah, blah. However people stumble into this and however they find it and absorb it, that’s a win to me. I’m not one of those people that are strictly “you should listen to the album by the songs in the order that I envisioned.” Whatever, play it at a different speed, if that’s what speaks to you.

Number three: I like the idea of a different audience coming by, as evidenced by the idea of having dinner there with some fine wines and all the rest of it. I want people to have haircuts there. That’s a line from Silence Of The Lambs. “We cover what we see every day, Clarise.” So sitting in front of some of these huge Newcastle Brown air bottle caps or dot screen madonnas or Skinny Puppy artwork or listening to music that’s playing over the speakers. How do ideas become absorbed only to surface again? So I like all of this.

Where I think my response might be different is whether we would say “fuck Red Bull” as Red Bull or just as a general sweeping corporate entity. I’ve seen some of the things that people do with the Red Bull Music Academy, and I think that’s fucking amazing. Free of charge. People get to spend like six days in a different country with the people who made Michael Jackson’s album followed by this person or by that person. Just amazing stuff that that changes the course of people’s lives. But I think there is sufficient weight behind either what I’ve done or what the museum is doing that I would suspect I’ll be able to tell Red Bull “Fantastic. We love the fact that you’re paying for this and this and this and this and your logo will be on the other side of this thing. And that’s how you get to participate. We’ll put your logo on the floor as people walk in—if it’s right. If it doesn’t feel right to have a Red Bull logo in between two people reciting a poem, then I think I’m sensible enough to not do that. But if Doc Martens wanted to put a shoe store in the museum? Bring it on: I’ve been wearing Doc Martens since 1977!

I think this also goes to the long strategy. I do realize that I have not put myself in the position of hoping someone is going to let me do this. I mean, this museum is real, it exists. You could fly out, we’ll go there tomorrow and there is a substantial insane amount of stuff visible and four times more coming down the pike without anybody giving me permission to do it. And I think that changes how I deal with other entities that don’t want to be involved. So I don’t have to make a compromise with a corporate entity to be allowed to do this. It’s happening with or without your help if you want to be involved. We would so appreciate your support and help. And this is how we see this being a win-win for both of us. It’s a very different dynamic than if Red Bull give me permission that I can go ahead and do this.

It may or may not be important for me to say. But I’m not saying this because saying it sounds like a threat, but this is happening... We don’t have to talk about doing it—we’re doing it. If you want to come and sit on a couch in amongst it and have a coffee…That’s been the tremendous luxury to have meetings with people in it, not at Starbucks going, “Here’s an artist’s rendering.” Downstairs is where I mixed the China albums and a couple of Pigface albums. Snapline came from Beijing to work here. Upstairs is where Gravity Kills stayed when I made the last album with them, you know, I mean, it’s authentic.

You’re seeing PPMI as a launch pad for a lot of different things. In addition to history, will there be an art space aspect? Are we going to see one-time only performances, similar to, say, the near Velvet Underground reunion at the Warhol Museum?

Maybe six times a year we’ll do a dinner for 40 people. We’re going to do this pop-up. We might do some coffee pop-ups obviously with Dark Matter. I think I’d like to see some fashion stuff going on. A lecture series. A workshop series. I did an event in 2009, I think it was called “Welcome To The Music Business, You’re Fucked”. People flew in from Mexico, Norway, Washington, D.C., North Carolina. I wouldn’t mind doing one of those. I’m doing a reading with Steve Silver in about 10 days’ time. Steve is working on his second book. He used to do security at Exit in Chicago and tour managed Killing Joke. And he’s just got some insane stories.

I have a focus because I have four kids. It will be kids, the next generation moving the ideas forward, paying it forward. But there needs to be a reverence for the past. Because there are people’s memories attached to this stuff. Somebody will bring up a show and I might think, “That gig was shit.” But [someone will think] “Yeah, but that was the last gig I went to with my brother” or “That’s where I met my wife” or “that’s when we conceived our child that night.” There were other things going on in other people’s lives that some of this stuff was fortunate enough to literally be the backdrop for, musically, visually or both. I feel as though I can bring the understanding and reverence to anybody who stops by and is triggered by a flood of these memories. You know, I mean, it was strange for me today to find the Ministry goggles, the Blondie stagepass and the pass to my very last show with Killing Joke. These things vibrate for me. The vibration is crazy. Real. These things vibrate and then have an energy to them. I hope I’m creating a really respectful aquarium to float all these things in while I carefully monitor the pH and the water temperature.

Has there been any type of pointed criticism about this? Has anybody ever sincerely told you, “Martin, that’s ridiculous. That’s impossible. Shut up”?

I think people know not to say shit like that to me. Not like “how dare they criticize my drumming.” That’s just fuel for me! That’s just the way that I work. If somebody tells me there’s “really no way” to do something, I’m like, “Well, let me show you five different fucking ways and I’ll send you a postcard.”

Memorabilia from Public Image Ltd inside the Museum of Post-Punk And Industrial Music
Memorabilia from Public Image Ltd inside the Museum of Post-Punk And Industrial Music

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