Martin Rev

Martin Rev talks about his recent work and the reissue of his first solo album

Left: Cover of Martin Rev (1980). Right: Martin Rev. (Photo: Fabrizio Zampighi)

Martin Rev is a New York–based musician and the instrumentalist in Suicide, one of the most celebrated electronic protopunk bands. His debut solo album, Martin Rev, which he recorded in 1980, has been recently rereleased for the first time on vinyl through Superior Viaduct. Here he speaks about what it feels like to have it reissued, his ongoing work with Suicide, and his recent collaborations with French artist Divine Enfant.

I’M BASICALLY A ROCK ’N’ ROLL BORN AND BRED PERSON. But in 1970, when I started Suicide with Alan Vega, minimalism was the general atmosphere; Stockhausen and German electronics were, as we used to say, “in the air.” There wasn’t much precedent for electronic American rock. In my music, I started simplifying things more and more, trying to find out what we were really looking for: our own electronic sound.

I discovered electronics in the Museum of Living Artists, a cooperative gallery loft on Waverly Place and Broadway, where I used to rehearse at night. I ended up doing two shows there and that’s how I first met Alan. He was experimenting with the feedback of tape recorders with visual artist Paul Liebgott, who was himself experimenting with feedback on guitar. Electronics were just what was most available to us. Alan and I kept on running into each other too. It was like we were the last two ships out at sea. If we didn’t do something about it, the opportunity would have sailed us by.

So I brought a keyboard that I had down to the museum one night and started experimenting with these little electro-harmonic boxes, putting them in different series with an amplifier, to create music. These boxes became a minimalist drum kit by way of their electricity, which is still around today. People have since asked me if the Europeans who were really into electronics at the time influenced me—bands like Can, Tangerine Dream, and Klaus Schulze. But they were more tech-oriented, robotic even, which was interesting in its own way. We were coming from another place. Alan, in echoing Iggy Pop’s performances, would instigate audience anticipation by also expressing anger in a kind of living theater, its illusion being something we both embraced in our performances. In retrospect, it’s like we wanted to make electronic music seem more human. Our first album, Suicide, was released in 1977. The critics at the time were pretty baffled when I released my solo album because it was so soon after the first record and right around the time when Suicide’s The Second Album was on its way.

Martin Rev and Divine Enfant, Asia, 2012.

Now, I’m kind of accustomed to rereleases in general. But what makes the reissuing of Martin Rev interesting to me is the response it will generate by posted reviews on the Internet, something this work hasn’t seen before, a completely different type of feedback. Recently, I’ve been creating music videos with the visual artist Divine Enfant. We shoot the video first, then she adds a track I’ve already worked on. They’re incredible LED experiences that remind me of the solo performances by choreographer Murray Louis. We’ve posted quite a few of these videos on YouTube. The more I do them, the more I realize they could look great as a gallery installation. I could do a live performance with Divine’s projections.