I just got the terrible news that Richard H. Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire had died today when Gavin Brick informed me a few hours ago. It’s always saddening to see a favorite musician die, but we really needed Kirk, especially now. Last year, he reactivated the Cabaret Voltaire name to apply it to his latest work. The name Cabaret Voltaire has always stood for a vigilant deconstruction of the Control Process that saw them predict, with soul-deadening accuracy, the directions in which human society was definitely moving. Control. Surveillance. Propaganda. Psy Ops. And we were the targets.
The roots of Cabaret Voltaire went back to 1973 Sheffield where electronics/Eno fan Chris Watson met fellow teenage malcontent Rickard Kirk who began constructing rudimentary oscillators and making experiments in sound, enlivened by their fandom of seminal Beat writer William S. Burroughs. Then, amid the stack heels of the Glam Rock movement, the duo linked up with bass player/vocalist Stephen Mallinder to form a power trio of a different kind. One which tore back the Veil of Maya to reveal power structures. Not construct them.
The band were pivotal to energizing and supporting the growth of the Sheffield music scene in those early years. They were the slightly older, wiser band that showed upstarts like The Human League how it could be done. They defined the indie furrow that others would plow more successfully in their wake. The also defined a technological Funk that was largely unprecedented.
While their early work was experimental and Dadistic cut-up music, there was always the hint of the dance floor to it all. They liked their Art, but they were not snobs. Their seminal single “Nag! Nag! Nag!” sounded like Daleks fronting The Seeds [while taking black beauties]. [Editor’s Note: When I wrote this description, a few days ago, I had not noticed that their 1979 debut album, “Mix-up” in fact contained a cover version of The Seeds “No Escape” from their classic eponymous 1966 album!]
1978 saw them signed to Rough Trade records for their fertile trio period. It was in 1980 when I heard tracks from “Voice Of America” on WMNF-FM in Tampa and I made a strong note of this band though the actual records had not yet filtered into my sleepy hamlet. It was a year or two later when I saw the “2×45” release and the adjacent “Eddies Out” 12″ [complete with bonus 7″] at Crunchy Armadillo and bought them. This was fascinating work on the cusp of noise but with hints of Funk beneath the surface. Then, about two years later, I saw this.
After seeing the “Sensoria” video on Night Flight, I immediately started collecting Cabaret Voltaire. I worked backward and moved forward. I got their latest album, “Micro-Phonies,” which featured the song below as a succinct précis of their ethos. I bought everything but everything was possible to buy, as the band’s records were widely available. Obviously, I was not the only one listening.
As the band had moved from Rough Trade to their more commercial Virgin Records period where Stevo was managing them, they eventually moved to EMI in 1987. At first the music was brighter and cleaner, if slightly sterile, but the same values were obviously present. Then the late 80s manifested and house music was sweeping through the UK music scene, and the album the band made in Chicago [“Groovy, Laid Back And Nasty”] was an experiment that lost my endorsement. Afterward, the band linked up with Les Disques Du Crépuscule for an transitional techno album that saw the contributions of Stephen Mallinder minimized severely. The album that followed this seemed to be mostly Kirk making the music, and then Mallinder was gone. This period did not stick with me, and 1991’s “Body + Soul” remained the last new CV album I would buy.
Richard Kirk released an abundance of solo projects under his name as well as the following list of aliases via his Wikipedia page:
|RICHARD H. KIRK||LIST OF KNOWN ALIASES||+ OTHER BANDS|
|Acid Horse||Extended Family||Reflexiv|
|Agents With False Memories||Frightgod||The Revolutionary Army (Of The Infant Jesus)|
|Al Jabr||Future Cop Movies||Richard H Kirk And The Arpeggio 13|
|Anarchia||Harold Sandoz||Robots + Humanoids|
|Biochemical Dread||International Organisation||Sandoz|
|Bit Crackle||King Of Kings||Signals Intelligence|
|Blacworld||Multiple Transmission||The Silent Age|
|Chemical Agent||Nine Mile Dub||Sweet Exorcist|
|Cold Warrior||Orchestra Terrestrial||The Third Man|
|Dark Magus||Outland Assasin||Trafficante|
|Digital Terrestrial||Pat Riot||Ubu Rahmen|
|Dollars And Cents||Port Au Prince||Vasco De Mento|
|DR Xavier||The Pressure Company||Wicky Wacky|
|Electronic Eye||PSI Punky Dread Allstars||XON|
All of this [with the exception of Acid Horse and The Pressure Company] is unheard by me as it represents an almost crushing amount of music to absorb. Cab Volt’s imperial period was already so fecund that I could just about keep up with the ceaseless array of 12″ singles and albums. In the 21st century, I’ have soaked up many of the compilations that collected both the band’s 12″ single material as well as the plethora of unreleased tracks and mixes that were shelved but not forgotten and ignored, thankfully. In the last 20 years, I have bought an additional eight CDs worth of vital archival material over five releases; much of it previously unreleased, that has a cachet with me akin to Prince fan’s relationship to The Vault material. If I was not getting new CV material of interest then this certainly made up for it.
And last year after years of teasing and even playing new concerts under the Cabaret Voltaire name, Kirk released the first new Cab Volt album in 26 years, “Shadow Of Fear,” A more Cabaret Voltaire name for a release I cannot imagine. I had wanted to buy this, but purchases in the pandemic environment have been much more scarce and that’s not changing any time soon, as we discussed yesterday. But I will still have an interest in getting that album, and one day, possibly years down the road, it may happen. As I might investigate the dozens of solo projects he’d released over the years that kept me at arm’s length due to his late-period Bill Nelson-like levels of productivity. When I look at the stack of Kirk releases in my Record Cell below, I am surprised but pleased by their large number. For me, Cabaret Voltaire was a Core Collection band who were seminal in their ability to hybridize an Industrial approach that gave Funk an eerie kind of menace that suited the zeitgeist. It was the sound of a resisting spirit that spoke to me. Now, more than ever.