Billie Ray Martin interview: The Crackdown (2010)

Sarah Giddens , R.J. Preece (ADP)
artdesigncafé - design | 24 November 2010

With the The Crackdown Project, disco diva Billie Ray Martin referred back to two classic songs by Cabaret Voltaire, Crackdown and Just fascination, offering multiple versions and collaborations with DJs and video producers. The project’s influence has carried over to Art Design Publicity magazine at with The Crackdown Project’s general theme and experimentation in music and visual presentation. In fact, one video of Crackdown made the cover of Art Design Publicity as a point of inspiration.

To find out more about The Crackdown Project, we interviewed Billie Ray Martin by email. The following are excerpts of the exchange:

Sarah Giddens: We’re familiar with some of your different versions of Crackdown and associated videos, but could you please tell us, what exactly is The Crackdown Project?

Billie Ray Martin: I’d always thought of Cabaret Voltaire’s album The Crackdown as a milestone in electronic music and dance music. It bridged the gap between the two effortlessly. I felt it had not received the kind of praise it should have to this day. Also I had simply always wanted to see if there was anything I could add with my interpretation of the songs. So the idea had been in my mind for years to do a cover project of the main two songs from that album, “Just fascination” and “The crackdown”.

Billie Ray Martin. The Crackdown (Celebrity Murder Party MF Remix) by Billie Ray Martin ft. Stephen Mallinder. Video: Kieron B.

When I asked Mal (Stephen Mallinder) if he would feature alongside me on vocals he immediately said “yes”. I couldn’t believe it. He’s one of my heroes and I used to stalk the Cabs (Cabaret Voltaire) as a teenager!

Billie Ray Martin. The Crackdown (Light Programme Remix) featuring Stephen Mallinder. Protest music-journalism video art by Nick Guls of Digital Drift.

What I ended up doing is working with Maertini Broes and Lusty Zanzibar on my main interpretations featuring Mal, and then I got some amazing electronic producers to do their own interpretations. I didn’t give them any restrictions on styles, but asked for high production values. I wanted the vocals to be perfectly produced and the mixes must be “posh”, as I like to call it. I feel that each producer rose to the challenge in ways that I am still marvelling at.

The producers fit the songs and the songs fit their styles; it was a no-holds-barred situation for them. The songs have uncomplicated chord structures, so it’s easy for a mixer or producer to let ideas flow without feeling that they had to serve a pop song format.

Billie Ray Martin. The Crackdown (Original version) ft. Stephen Mallinder, Maertini Broes & Lusty Zanzibar. Video director: Ivan Larsen; video producer: Billie Ray Martin.

Sarah Giddens: To what extent do you see yourself as responding to the original Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire?

Billie Ray Martin: Mainly, I wanted to remind people of this groundbreaking album. Flood producing Cabaret Voltaire and creating dance floor hits was a big deal at the time. The Cabs were accused of selling out to disco but Mal always said that disco had sold out to the likes of them. So, in a way, my take on it was.... either way, so what? Let’s just do it and see what can be added to the story.

I also wanted to remind [people] of times when dance music still meant something, when musicians were still striving to break new ground, getting “machines” to make unusual music. I had always been very excited by and drawn to the Sheffield style, i.e. real songs, real vocals, cutting edge music. While the Cabs had always been on the outer edge of that, they still managed to expand their style and write some incredible songs on this album, whilst sticking to their guns and not in any way compromising their style.

Sarah Giddens: The editor of Art Design Publicity, R.J. Preece, has found Stephen Mallinder’s interaction to be very inspiring and dynamic as he’s working through different possible ways to bring the emotion and visceralness of music into the critical media, activist-oriented artdesigncafe project, which is text-oriented. What effect has Stephen had on you?

Billie Ray Martin: In addition to what I mentioned before, I find Stephen’s voice to be most hypnotic and dark, yet defiant, and his lyrics are almost like automatic writing in song format. Along with the music that was created by [the lyrics], I feel there was and is something truly revolutionary going on.

Billie Ray Martin. The Crackdown (Phil Retro Spector Mix). Video producer: Phil RetroSpector.

Sarah Giddens: Do you envision a set of song versions that people could apply to their own Crackdown concerns and videos?

Billie Ray Martin: Very possibly. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but it could be so. In fact it would be interesting to see what people would do.

Billie Ray Martin. The Crackdown (OICHO A/V remix). Video: OICHO.

Sarah Giddens: What is "Disco Activisto", your role in it, and its objectives?

Billie Ray Martin: "Disco Activisto" is my own record label. I have distribution deals worldwide in place, but my label [enables me] to not have to wait around for someone else to give me a seal of approval.

As a musician, I had to take charge rather than being a victim of the dire state of the music business, if you can still call it that.

Crackdown from the EP The Crackdown (1982). Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder, Alan Fish and Dave Ball. Produced by Cabaret Voltaire and Flood. Video edited by Peter Care.

Billie Ray Martin. Just fascination from the The Crackdown Project. Video shot and edited by Digital Drift.

Sarah Giddens: On your Facebook page you mentioned that you recorded a song that you want to benefit an organization that supports youth in the U.S. who are bullied for being perceived to be gay. Could you tell us about that?

Billie Ray Martin: Yes, we just only finished writing that. It wasn’t planned; it just came out one day. It’s a disco song with a message that made us all get very emotional in the studio when we recorded it. It’s called Soul defender, the perfect disco activisto song, I guess.

So far, the reactions to our song are very strong and I’m hoping either to just release it as soon as possible on a great label, or my own label, or to see if a charity would like to collaborate on this release somehow.

Sarah Giddens: What is your goal with the Crackdown Project? What is your dream that the benefit song would achieve?

Billie Ray Martin: The Crackdown Project was released in March, so I guess it did whatever it did. It got a great amount of attention from blogs, websites and the press. I also got a lot of press as I released some mixes though Mininova, the torrent site.

With the song Soul Defender, without wanting to seem pompous, the song seems to sum up my defiant mood: I want to make a small statement on defending what’s left of us and our dreams of making the world a groovy place to live in. It’s also put me in a mood where I won’t make excuses but charge forward and just get on with it now. And of course I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want the song to be a big hit and reach lots of people.

To hear clips of additional versions, search "Billie Ray Martin" at itunes.