Martin Atkins believes he’s beginning a revolution. Fed up with traditional educational systems, believing academia doesn’t adapt quickly enough to properly educate students and challenge their minds, he’s bringing chaos into the classroom through his new school, launched last summer, Revolution Number Three.
Atkins is a music-industry veteran. A member of bands such as Public Image Ltd., Ministry, Pigface and Killing Joke, he’s also run his own independent label for two decades and has taught—most recently at Columbia College—courses on the behind-the-scenes aspects of the music business, like the logistics of touring. Last Spring Atkins helped re-brand Columbia’s student-run record label, AEMMP, the subject of a 2009 Newcity cover story.
Atkins is quick to note that he “doesn’t have all the answers. Teachers used to be, ‘I’ve got all the answers, let me regurgitate answers to you.’ But the Internet has taken away the need for that. Once you start to realize that we might not have all the answers, just knowing we don’t have all the answers, we’re so far ahead of traditional academia, which is still pretending that it does.”
Most of the “coursework” Atkins’ school offers focuses on different areas of the music business, like setting up concerts, mixing, editing video and even screen-printing for t-shirts, but his intention is to have each of his students “leave here with the beginning of a skill set.” Atkins works to give students marketable skills that can cross over into disparate fields.
“You map out a general direction, it’s our job to derail you. You want to be in a band? You want to have a hit single? We’re selling cupcakes. How do we start a marketing campaign for funerals? You break it down, all you’re doing really in marketing a band or a brand is coming up with an idea and communicating that idea. We’re dealing with the realities of it.”
There are no diplomas, no traditional course “credits.” Atkins and his staff take on a limited number of students at one time and provide a sort of radical life training, teaching you to think creatively. Listed among the “classes” offered on Revolution Number Three’s Web site is the following: “suggest and create classes and be as involved as they want in whatever else is going on here.”
Sound a little vague? It’s supposed to. A major part of Atkins’ plan is to not have a plan at all, to be open to new, immediate roads and abandon the rigidity of conventional teaching and coursework. Atkins’ enthusiasm for his revolution—helped by his humorous timing while speaking and his British accent—grows convincing after a while. When you tell Atkins that his school would be a tough sell to just about ninety-nine percent of the population, he says, “In this huge way, I agree with you that there isn’t a twenty-five-page brochure of what you can learn here. I think as soon as we make one, it would be out of date. [Most] schools can’t say that, and that kind of proves my point, I think. There needs to be a fluid curriculum, and we’re discovering what this is as we go.”
He continues, “Every piece of info you ever need as a band is on the Internet,” he says. “What you realize is lacking is a filter, delivery and voice. That’s what new schools need to be. Don’t know what’s gonna happen today but sure as fuck gonna keep up. The problem is, we’re trying to define a new direction, something that doesn’t exist yet.”
Atkins brings in field experts to lecture to his students, from Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot to, once, a sex therapist invited to discuss the emotional intricacies that break up bands. But perhaps the best way to get an understanding is to visit the school’s Web site, on which Atkins has posted various YouTube clips demonstrating what he’s done with his students, from road trips to video-editing breakdowns to, most entertainingly, the disassembly, modification and reassembly of an Xbox controller.
“I have four boys,” Atkins says. “They don’t care that I was in a band with Johnny Rotten, or played with Nine Inch Nails, or run my own label. You say you teach an Xbox controller-modification course, and each were begging to bring their friends. A lightbulb goes off for me.”
He continues, “That’s why I love the Xbox-hacking class, using it as a metaphor. It actually [can create] a legitimate revenue stream, it’s a door-opening device. It’s how you get on Slipknot’s tour bus. Knock on the door, tell them you’ve modified the controller, and they’ll kidnap you. If we can rewire a Microsoft product, we can rewire our own brains. We can do a system reset. That’s what I love about this, inventing classes to open doors, pathways and possibilities.” (Tom Lynch)
More information can be found at revolutionnumberthree.com