Playgroup: DJ Kicks

Mark Desrosiers


DJ Kicks

Label: !K7
US Release Date: 2002-08-13
UK Release Date: 2002-07-01

Trevor Jackson has been buzzing the periphery of funky music since the late '80s, when he kick-started his feckless career by designing record sleeves for Eric B. & Rakim and the Jungle Brothers. Since then he's dabbled in hip-hop word-slinging (the Brotherhood), mysterioso remixing (as the Underdog) and music entrepreneurship (via his aptly named label Output). After years of slumming, spinning, wheeling, and dealing, he finally shot himself into the musical troposphere with last year's self-titled Playgroup album. The disc was all post-ironic disco, new wave, and punk but with liberal chunks of politics and enthusiasm (evidenced by guests Shinehead, Kathleen Hannah, and Edwyn Collins) dosing the mix.

Now Playgroup has returned to contribute Trevor Jackson's funky musical world view to !K7 Records' DJ Kicks series. Trevor churns up a mix that's both weird and feverish, an odd dinky-eighties beat-happy new-wave aesthetic which makes you wonder whether George Clinton ever existed. But hell, if God can make waves in backyard pools, then Trevor can roll out some new-wave riffs to blow the cobwebs out your bedroom at dusk. Only the most well-heeled cognoscenti will recognize most of the artists here (exceptions: Human League, Flying Lizards, KC Flightt, Material, and maybe Metro Area), but the (presumably) rare grooves he digs up sound uniformly like they've got the jowly ghosts of Reagan and Thatcher frowning over them. This is new wave clawing itself out the retro grave, and for Numan's sake some of this stuff apparently first hit the clubs during the late '90s!

"We" is the opening track, a communal title and a percolating choral butter-churn by Baltimore spinner (and former Whodini collaborator) Maurice Fulton. You get some dinky synthesizers, some odd medieval-sounding vocal samples ("we" is what they sing), and even a bit of funky flute that sounds like it wandered out of an old Gil Scott-Heron record to nestle itself in this digital company. Well, from that curious beginning Trevor spins a variety of moog-and-syndrum tunes that are punctuated occasionally by deadpan vocals or rhyming divas. The I:Cube Remix of Ana Rago's "You're God", for example, will hook you in with the retro mystery of its sound, but you'll get spooked by the alienating vocals which proclaim (rather unconvincingly) that "you're god". Then you get trapped into Material's "Ciquri", which drones politely like HAL and prickles your ears until some funky sisters add a smokescreen of lust to the Harlequin Fours' "Set It Off". At this point, you're either dancing or bobbing your big head to the earphone groove rippling your tympanic membrane.

The highlights of the mix include a deadpan recitation of "Tainted Love" by Impedance (twice removed from the soulful original by Gloria Jones), a chilly nuevo-new-wave groove by Random Factor called "Broken Mirror", Wanda Dee's righteous rap "Gonna Make You Sweat", the Rapture's plaintive and chaotic "House of Jealous Lovers", and an odd peeled-and-eaten mix of the Flying Lizards cover of "Money". Along the way you'll also discover some fascinating groovy stuff like Smith'n'Hack's give-us-a-hug paleo-beat "To Our Disco Friends" and the so-bad-it's-good Human League dub remix of "Do Or Die".

Most of these beats have that odd '80s metronomic feel -- all synthesizers, bleeps, and wee drones. But every now and then a polyrhythm creeps up like James Brown's nurse tapping him on the temple. And you'll dig it. I especially recommend Zongamin's "Tunnel Music", Metro Area's "Caught Up" (a Millie Jackson tribute?) and Ralphi Rosario's "Get Up Get Out" for this effect.

Trevor Jackson has an oddball aesthetic to sell us, and it's pretty easy to take him up on it. He's not interested in the usual ghetto-America funky-rare-groove stuff that all those other UK DJs nursed themselves on. He's looking down at the island dirt under his own feet, rather than the grungy record bins across the pond, and he also digs the way Europeans frost the pared-down beats with their own little Moogs and moods. It's hard for me to tell what subculture Playgroup is playing to now, but if the jittery subtle synth explorations of 1983 really pump your nads, you'll dig this frigid'n'fun mix all the way down to its utopian-android core. Once again, form triumphs over content.





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.