Artist's Statement: Jeremy Deller talks about his industrial revolution-themed jukebox

Jeremy Deller interviewed by Mark Sheerin | 22 October 2013

Artist’s Statement: Jeremy Deller talks about customizing a vinyl jukebox in line with his new show about the industrial revolution...

Colour photo of an artist leaning on a jukebox
© Stuart Sam Hughes
“This is a jukebox for vinyl and in it, instead of pop songs, are mainly sounds of industry. So from mines, from the steel industry, from mills, and also glassmaking.

And also there are some work songs, people at work singing and then songs about work, songs about the industrial revolution, songs about the labour disputes and so on, so it’s really an industrial jukebox.

We just got the seven inches made. They can get made for a nine quid. It’s a lot of work getting all these made, I can tell you. People are encouraged to use it, to put some sounds, on. They’re quite loud some of them; they’re there to be used.

It’s just a slightly unusual thing to have. but it makes a point quite neatly, in quite a contained way, and also around it you have a big painting of what makes it look like the jukebox is giving off a lot of heat, like it’s a block of steel, there are sparks and light coming off it. So it’s quite a dramatic part of the show.

I thought it was a good way of making a point about sound in the industrial revolution, the way sound is everywhere and how it influenced people, and about how maybe it had a direct influence on music.

Sounds were quite easy to get hold of. I’d be lying if I said it was difficult. We went to the North West Sound Archive, where they have a lot of industry sounds. And I went to Roy Palmer, who’s a folk singer, and he gave me a CD then we found other CDs and records of songs, specific folk songs we were looking for.

And then the British Museum Archive, the British Library Archive had these incredible sounds of men singing at work, quarrymen in Portland, breaking stones, but singing and keeping a beat for breaking the stones.

So that’s really my favourite thing, because they sound very American as well, like spirituals, like songs you’d hear in the South, almost prison chain gang songs. That’s very surprising. But the sounds of industry...some of them are great rhythms, with real almost beats to them.

I don't feel that nostalgic. I’m glad I didn’t have to work in a factory, very, very glad. I’m glad that I’m an artist. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity 100 years ago. God knows what I would have done.

Obviously it’s part of our identity and it’s still part of our identity to live in that world created by the industrial revolution, to live in the cities and go on the trains and the train tracks that were from there and we can look at the buildings still around

So it’s a world that we created, but we still live in, physically as well as mentally we live in it, partially. It’s about that really, but I have no nostalgia for heavy labour or working in a mine or anything like that.

But that common identity has really been taken over by popular culture. So instead of talking about work or saying work defines us, we’re more defined by what we buy and the TV shows we watch and who we support, rather than the culture of work, which was all encompassing. So that’s changed.

That’s what the miner’s strike was about really. It was about destroying that culture about breaking it, humiliating them publically so people wouldn’t feel proud to be a worker like that anymore. They were publicly humiliated.

Yes, we’ve lost that definitely, but we’ve lost other things which is pretty good."

The British Library recording mentioned comes from the Peter Kennedy Collection and can be heard on the British Library Sounds website.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Visit Mark Sheerin’s contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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