Tag Archive: Breton


Some Releases we missed in March

Unfortunately we were unable to listen to some of the releases we recommend for March those releases are Mi Ami’ “Decade” album, the self titled début albums from Geoff Barrow (Portishead) side project Quakers and Voices From The Lake plus King Felix (aka Laurel Halo) “Spring EP”, which I believe may have been put back to the 9th April. But now its time to discuss both a release we missed out of our recommendations and then are recommendations. Let us know what you think of the releases we talk about in the comments or via our Twitter.

Andrew Bird – “Break It Yourself” (Bella Union)

Though this is the first Andrew Bird album I’ve listen to properly I’d always been intrigued by his music since seeing him supporting The Handsome Family in the early ‘00s. I was prompted to check out “Break It Yourself” after enjoying his brilliant contribution to the “Congotronics vs. Rockers” compilation from 2010. The first that struck me about the album was it aesthetic similarities to his Bella Union label mate Peter Broderick both share a love of creating unique sonic married with traditional song writing and play violin though Bird utilises his in many more ways than Broderick. On repeat plays I noticed the album divides into three distinctive types of song one is the more country influenced songs, the next the indie rock tracks (the most disappointing category lacking the imagination and lightness of touch evident elsewhere) and the soundscape based epics/interludes. The highlights of the first type include the strummed acoustic guitar, shape shocks of violin, shuffling beats of ‘Danse Carribe’, the unpredictable ‘Give It Away’ and the sparse ‘Lusitania’. The second type features the album few let downs including ‘Eyeoneye’ which I’m perplexed as to how this song has gained so much acclaim and attention to maybe the single but it’s the worst song on the album. Many of the soundscapes appear towards the end of the album creating a natural climax the best of these is the epic ‘A Hole in the Ocean Floor’ which I’m lost for words to describe though Pitchfork got pretty close with “majestic” “fever dream”. Overall “Break It Yourself” is an excellent addition to Bird’s highly acclaimed back catalogue.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Breton – “Other People’s Problems” (FatCat)

The biggest disappointment of the month is the debut album from London based collective Breton, who Sonic Fiction first tipped for big things back in 2011. Breton combine post-punk sounds and aesthetics and sounds with those Dubstep and Electro over the course of their previous three EP’s had produced mixed results but I still had high hopes for this album. However, the album fails on all fronts lacking in both melody and imagination, on paper (and the earlier releases) the combination of sounds is exciting but the problem is that the sounds are generic rather than mould breaking and the unique combination doesn’t make up for this. This is compounded by the singer’s flat and monotonous vocals which quickly grate as the album progresses through it first few tracks. I’m not some who demands that singers/vocalists are able to sing five octaves above middle C, in fact some of my favourite singers struggle to hold a note at all. But Breton’s singer doesn’t have the vocal personality to make up for his lack of singing ability. Breton could be so much more, a Cabaret Voltaire for the 21st Century (they work in both music and video) but they fall well short on this album.

Grinderman – “Grinderman 2 RMX” (Mute)

Last year’s “Grinderman 2” album was one of the biggest disappoints of 2011, the band’s debut album had reignited Nick Cave with its complete abandonment of his usual writing methods and the effect was felt on the next Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album “Dig, Lazarus, Dig” the second album was set-up to repeat the trick. However, what we got was a lot of lumpen and unsubtle music that seemed to fall victim to the clichés the debut had avoided. This new remix album goes some way to right the wrongs of “Grinderman 2”. The highlights including Nick Zinner’s remix of ‘Bellringer Blues’, Barry Adamson’s cinematic take on ‘Palaces of Montezuma’, Cat’s Eyes version of ‘When My Baby Comes’ (featuring a fantastic shoegaze inspired second half), Factory Floor noisy dancefloor take on ‘Evil’ and the bass heavy version of ‘Heathen Child’ by Andrew Weatherall all share a subtle the original lacked while also delivering the visceral punch the track demand. There are a few interesting remixes that caught me out, I wasn’t expecting Josh Homme to deliver such a dynamic and ethereal version of ‘Mickey Mouse…’ here re-titled ‘Mickey Bloody Mouse’ or the yearning violin and noir country stylings of Six Toes and Matt Berninger intriguing take on ‘Evil’ all of which expand the emotional and sonic palette of the original. There are a few tracks that complete miss the mark too UNKLE produce a dull dirge for their version of ‘Worm Tamer’ (‘Hyper Worm Tamer’), A Place to Bury Strangers & Micheal Cliffe unconvincingly tack on cosmic synths to ‘Worm Tamer’ & ‘Evil’ respectively and Robert Fripp adds unnecessary fret-wank to ‘Super Heathen Child’. Grinderman’s swansong does have some great tracks that make-up for the disappointment of “Grinderman 2” but it’s still a 60/40 split that doesn’t fully convince.

Yeti Lane – “The Echo Show” (Sonic Cathedral)

I only heard of Yeti Lane after reading a review of ‘The Echo Show’ in Uncut magazine so I can’t comment on the progress they’ve made on their second album. However. I can say that it’s an album that lives up to the hype of the positive reviews it’s been receiving. The duo strike a balance between the space-rock of Spacemen 3 and the dream-pop of the likes of the Cocteau Twins, while their synth sounds recall krautrock acts like Harmonia. The album bursts into life with a wall of feedback guitar riffs and synths that set the tone perfectly. The album continues into the warm and more spacious with the focus on electronic sounds though they are offset by twanging guitars. This is followed by the first of four interludes which acts as segues or palette cleansers and help glue the album together. ‘Logic Winds’ (8-bit video game style synth and guitar chime in harmony) and ‘Alba’ (slowly unfurling cosmic dream pop) demonstrate Yeti Lane’s ability to keep things interesting. The album ends with the Twinkling synth arpeggios, twanging guitars, churning synths and hurricane of guitar effects outro of ‘Faded Spectrum’ and the gentle fourth interlude that round out the album perfectly.

Carter Tutti Void – “Transverse” (Mute)

This live collaboration brings together Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle/Chris & Cosey/Carter Tutti fame with one of their direct descendents Nik Colk Void from dance floor noiseniks Factory Floor. Unsurprisingly the overall sound is raw and chaotic featuring no post-production touches, however this adds to the appeal rather than decreasing it. Carter provides most of the rhythmic sounds via a selection of drum machines, Korg Monotron micro synth and various effects devices, its Tutti and Void who provide most the harmonic and melodic content, though the sound rarely touches on conventional harmonic or melodic sounds/ideas. They provide these sounds through another Korg Monotron, laptop with various pieces of software and heavily processed guitar, Void even uses a drum and violin bow to create sounds and textures with her guitar. In a recent interview with FACT magazine Carter observed that “You can sense on the recording how we got into the groove, so to speak. We began to lock together more, and figure out what we were doing as the set progressed” and is the feeling you get across the four long form tracks. The grooves improve, the interaction between the sounds seems more responsive and the trio know when one of them should drop out/play more gently to let the others shine. By the last track ‘V4’ the trio are locked a hypnotic groove which pulls the listener in and keeps them locked in even in the tracks most chaotic moments. Overall the album is a great success and while fitting into the lineage of Carter and Tutti’s career. It’s also a unique document in its own right that demonstrates what can be achieved by experiment electronic music created in a short time with a few choices piece of gear. It’d great to hear these three work together again live or in the studio and even better if the other two members of Factory Floor were involved.

Mirrroring – “Foreign Body” (Kranky)

Mirrroring is a collaboration that was bound to happen sooner or later between Liz Harris aka Grouper and Jesy Fortino aka Tiny Vipers whose individual styles are so obviously complimentary it was only a matter of time before they worked together.  “Foreign Body” is the breathtakingly beautiful result of said collaboration and brings together the transparent drones of Harris’s songs with the picked acoustic guitars and soft vocals of Fortino. Their sound is both gentle and yet thoroughly engaging, it may be lighter than much drone music but it isn’t light-weight. The dynamics employed across the album are one of the most striking things about it and demonstrate these are skilled artists able to exercise control while never strangling the life and emotion from a musical idea. The two best examples of this are ‘Cliffs’ which builds to a peak at the halfway stage before repeating an even better version of the song for its second half and ‘Mine’ which starts with a simple drone and acoustic guitar combination builds to a peak and then gradually twists itself into ever more complex shapes. It’s difficult to find the words to describe this astonishing album, it has to be heard to be believed.

Thee Satisfaction – “awE naturalE” (Sub Pop)

In “awE naturalE” Thee Satisfaction have delivered an energetic album filled tracks that both provide amply bounce need for a hip-hop jam but also manages to subtly subvert both traditional methods of creating sounds and challenge the overly simple ‘soulful’ vocals used so liberally in hip-hop music. It refreshing to hear an act pushing the limits of hip-hop while still managing to make music that moves your body. The fact that these tracks are stuffed to the gills with soulful vocals, jazzy tunes and an expressive emotional palette makes an engaging and entertaining listen. The half an hour run time demands that the album be played again immediately and is the album is equal satisfying and reveals more of its charms with each repeat listen. Never out staying their welcome and yet able to go distance on the longer tracks Thee Satisfaction will be a welcome addition to your music collection.

Various Artists – “Stellate 1” (Stroboscopic Artefacts)

Stroboscopic Artefacts’ signifier is dark, abrasive and heady techno and “Stellate 1”, the first of a new series of conceptual releases, features Lucy, Borful Tang, Perc and Kevin Gorman who contribute two tracks each.  Fitting for Stroboscopic Artefacts’ brutal minimalist sonic and visual aesthetics, this is dark, uncompromising music made up of the deep textures and emotive, immersive atmospheres that typically sit underneath deep bass drums. Lucy’s opening tracks ‘Estragon’ and ‘Vladimir’ are brief, delicate pieces of melodic ambient music. Borful Tang’s two contributions are sinister noise excursions while Perc’s desolate ‘Paris’ and ‘Molineux’ twists swells and grainy textures into bleak soundscapes. Kevin Gorman’s ‘Frequency Phase’ in three parts delivers a melodic phrase played through a delay that builds on itself again and again. As the processing swallow the tune, it produces elegant tones that surpass the seemingly simple use of effects. “Stellate 1” promised to be an intellectual release that would tap into the places where electronic music began and by delivering eight unique and accomplished tracks from some of the leading names in present techno, this new series justifies and fulfils its aim and existence; creating anticipation for the next instalment.

Symmetry – “Themes for an Imaginary Film” (Republic of Music)

On ‘Themes for an Imaginary Film” Symmetry aka Johnny Jewel and cohort Nat Walker (of Chromatics and Desire) cover a huge range of emotional and musical ground utilising banks of synths, drum machines, guitar, piano, orchestral percussion, Bassoon, Cello and Viola. Despite the vast array of moods and instruments on show the duo create a cohesive and impressive album that wastes non of its 2 hour running time. Though some of material and sounds used recall Johnny Jewel’s many other projects there much evidence of his application of more compositional techniques found film scores and he weaves this into this ambitious album with aplomb. From the song titles to some the sounds selected the album screams film score however this no mere pastiche, more a humble doffing of the cap to the many great score composers that have gone before. In addition to this is the fantastic sound design which ranges from lush, warm and beautiful through to cold, spiky and dissonant, Symmetry and their equipment can feel you with dread, put a smile on your face and everything in between. “Themes for an Imaginary Film” is an amazing achievement that could have so easily failed to live in to its ambition but instead goes above and beyond simply being a tribute to soundtrack music as it captivates and thrills the listener in equal measure. Two hours of instrumental music (with the exception of the last track) won’t be for everyone but it’ll be worth it for those who stick with this incredible album.

Top Release of the Month

Julia Holter – “Ekstasis” (RVNG INTL)

The first thing that strikes me about the new album by Julia Holter is the brightness of its sound, gone is the shadowy and foggy atmosphere’s of last year’s excellent “Tragedy” replaced by a sharp and incisive production job to revival today’s most intelligent pop stars. Ok, so Holter’s not going to be the next million selling pop star but this album’s production is almost the opposite of “Tragedy”’s. Then there’s the effortless feel of a lot of the music, despite many of the tracks being over 6 minutes in length. There’s no feeling of over indulgence even when a saxophone rears its head on ‘Four Gardens’ and ‘This Is Ekstasis’ everything here earns its place and makes sense within the context of the songs. It would be tempting to compare Holter to her many contemporaries within the hypnogogic pop genre especially her friend and collaborator Nite Jewel. Though her use of delay and reverb create similar feelings/images the musical content aims instead to transport the listener further back than the 1980s and into the ancient world which Holter is so interested in. With “Ekstasis” Holter has created her own sound world that combines the elemental, experimental and electric with the ancient (sounding), accessible and acoustic. An artist who can switch with ease between different sounds and sections without breaking a sweat or alienating the listener, Holter is an artist with a bright and long future ahead of her.

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Recommendations for March

Julia Holter – “Ekstasis” 5th March (RVNG ITNL Records)

Holter follows up last year’s excellent “Tragedy” with an album that preview tracks suggest it trades the shadowy and foggy atmospheres of “Tragedy”  for a bright production that reveals her musicality and skill in writing catchy yet innovative melodies. Released  through RVNG ITNL the same label as last month’s brilliant album by Blondes this promises to be just as good.

Yeti Lane – “The Echo Show” 5th March (Sonic Cathedral)

Yeti Lane’s second album sits perfectly between the repetitive drone based rock music of Spacemen 3 and shoegazers such as Ride and My Bloody Valentine and a poppier version of the music of synth pioneers like Jean Michel Jarre, all underpinned by motorik rhythms inspired by Neu! Sounds like a great combination!!!

Grinderman – “Grinderman 2 RMX” 12th March (Mute Records)

Last year’s “Grinderman 2” album was one of the biggest disappointments for me. However, this remix album sounds promising with contributions from amoungst others Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s), UNKLE, Andrew Weatherall, Factory Floor and Barry Adamson.

Symmetry – “Themes for an Imaginary Film” 12th March (Republic of Music Records)

Originally released in January via iTunes this album from Johnny Jewel (The Chromatics/Glass Candy) features music original destined for the soundtrack to last years hit film “Drive”. However, the studio overruled director Nicholas Winding Refn and leading man Ryan Gosling and went with the experienced Cliff Martinez. Undettered Jewel simply sequenced the material into this epic and ambitious piece of work.

Various Artists – “Stellate 1” 15th March (Digital only)  (Stroboscopic Artefacts)

The Stellate Series is a new project for the Stroboscopic Artefacts label that takes a conceptual approach to curation. In their words, “Stellate 1 taps into the place where electronic music-making began. It delves into a liminal Post-War atmosphere where the very fabric of society was being completely re-thought and composers dug into dissonance to explore the essence of ‘making it new’.” Each of the Stellate Series will bring together two tracks by four artists who fall within Stroboscopic Artefacts’ brutal minimalist sonic and visual aesthetics. SASTE001 comprises the visions of Lucy, Borful Tang, Perc and Kevin Gorman. Fitting for the label, this is dark, uncompromising music made up of deep textures and rumbling bass lines and emotive and immersive soundscapes with brooding atmospheres.

Voices From The Lake –“Voices From The Lake” 12th March (UK)  (Prologue)

Voices From The Lake is a project by Italian DJ/producers Donato Dozzy and Neel. Following on from last year’s beautiful, calm “Silent Drop” EP, the self-titled album extends and deepens their ambient techno explorations with an emphasis on the ‘techno’ component.  Listening to the preview tracks from “Voices From The Lake” is an immersive experience, as the textured beats and unhurried rhythms have a deeply hypnotic effect with a natural progression and flow. The sounds develop and unfold at their own pace, creating a potent sense of tranquillity. Album opener ‘Iyo’ imposes scattered hats and delayed percussion against a humid backdrop. Its synth drones leads us into the next track ‘Vega’, which introduces a 4/4 bass drum underneath a soothing synth pad and layers of tiny hits of percussion. Rhythm, texture and atmosphere are the key components of this album, creating an enveloping physical presence that asks for intense concentration; a meditative state of listening. Using ambient techno’s characteristically sparse elements, Donato Dozzy and Neel have created a unique album that proves the art of creating an after-hours LP is still strong.

King Felix – “Spring EP” 19th March (Mute/ Liberation Technologies Records)

Back in January Mute Records announced the launch of a sub label called Liberation Technologies and its first release was to be an E.P. by Laurel Halo under the moniker King Felix. Rory Gibb of The Quietus described the E.P.’s sound as featuring “hazy melodies and club-driven percussion are a little reminiscent of the saturated tones of classic Detroit techno and electro, and far more dance floor driven than anything she’s done before. However, their very fluid approach to rhythm feels rather more modern, bringing to mind everything from the manic patter of Chicago footwork to the submerged disco of labels like Hippos In Tanks (who released “Hour Logic”) and Not Not Fun. The “Spring EP” will be released on 12″ vinyl and digital download.

Mi Ami – “Decades” 19th March (100% Silk Records)

We’ve bearly got to grips with Ital’s “Hive Mind” and Daniel Martin McCormack is at it again as part of duo Mi Ami with their third album “Decades”. The band have always combined post-punk and dance music influences and pre-release track ‘Time of Love’ shows that this continues with a particularly strong dub influence. You can listen to ‘Time of Love’ here.

Mirrroring – “Foreign Body” 19th March (Kranky Records)

Mirrorring is a collaborative project featuring Liz Harris aka Grouper and Jesy Fortino aka Tiny Vipers, it seems that the two parts of this project come from similar background to the members of A Winged Victory for the Sullen e.g. one members makes ambient music and the other modern classical  music. As A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s album impressed us so much last year, we look forward to hearing this.

Breton – “Other People’s Problems” 26th March 2012 (Fat Cat Records)

Following on from the 3 EPs they’ve released in the past 12 months Breton are releasing their début album. The band blend dubstep and post-punk influences into a potent and creative combination.

Carter Tutti Void – “Transverse” 26th March (Mute Records)

A unique collaboration between Chris Carter, Cosy Fanni Tutti (ex-Throbbing Gristle) and Nik Void from Factory Floor, created especially for the legendary Short Circuit  festival presented by Mute records at the Roundhouse, London in 2011. The tracks were prepared in the studio and then performed and recorded live in front of an audience. Outside of the trio, these recordings were unheard prior to the festival and the popularity of the performance left many being turned away at the door.

Quakers “Quakers” 26th March 2012 (Stones Throw Records)

Despite his comments in 2011 that a Portishead album was a long way off Geoff Barrow looks like having a busy 2012. In addition to running his Invada label, there’s a new Beak> album due and this from a 35 strong hip-hip collective featuring Barrow, Portishead studio engineer Stuart Matthews and the Australian DJ Katalyst. Guest rappers include Dead Prez, Prince Po and Aloe Blacc.

Thee Satisfaction – “awE naturalE” 26th March (Sub Pop)

Thee Satisfaction are an avant soul duo who featured on Shabazz Palaces album “Black Up” last year. They release their début album on Sub Pop in March, check out “Queens” here for a taste of whats to come.

This is a new quarterly column that will reassess the reputations of artists and address whether they are underrated or overrated. First under the microscope is Sheffield post-punk group Cabaret Voltaire.

The group were one of the original industrial bands that formed in the mid ‘70s and were a seminal post-punk band during the movement’s conception. However, when they attempted like many of their contemporaries to infiltrate the mainstream they struggled to gain a foot hold. In this article I will look at possible reasons why this happened, compare the band to their contemporaries and reassess their position in the late ‘70s and ‘80s musical landscape.

Taking their name from a Zurich nightclub that was central to the 1910s Dada art movement, Cabaret Voltaire had been an ever changing group of friends from 1973 who settled on a permanent line-up and become a serious operation in 1975. At this point the line-up featured Richard H. Kirk (clarinet and, later, guitar), Chris Watson (organ, homemade oscillator) and Stephen Mallinder (bass, vocals). The Dada movement was a big influence on the early material and attitude of Cabaret Voltaire (known affectionately as the Cabs). Their motto was ‘no sound shall go untreated’; everything was fed through a combination of oscillator, ring modulators, distortion, delays and anything else that could be acquired cheaply and this created a sound that was closer to the musique concrete experiments of Morton Subotnik than any of the rock and pop music being played by other bands at the time. Further to this the band adopted the mantra of ‘We are not musicians’, an idea that Watson and Kirk had heard in the records and lectures of their hero Brian Eno. A third important formative influence was that of William Burroughs and Bryan Gysin’s cut-up techniques which informed the group’s love of re-editing speeches by anyone from politicians to pornographers and the ever constant concepts of control (see song titles “Your Agent Man” and “Kneel to the Boss”) and paranoia that pervade their lyrics and sound.

In 1977 the band’s sound and confidence had developed enough for them to send a demo to Richard Boon at New Hormones. As he could not afford to release their material he gave them a support slot for the Buzzcocks at The Lyceum in London. By this point they also moved into a rehearsal and recording space called Western Works where the band installed a multi track tape machine and mixing desk which allowed Cabaret Voltaire to make and release high-quality music for the first time. The early Western Works recordings got them signed to Rough Trade and the band quickly released early singles ‘Nag Nag Nag’ and “Silent Command’ and established their combination of fuzz ridden itchy punk-funk guitar, organ stabs, sticky synth lines and tumbling electronic drums all fighting for attention with Mallinder’s processed vocals, which was described as: “like molten glass being blown into distended shapes.” They followed the success of the singles with debut album “The Mix-Up” which while not as vital as the band’s subsequent releases showed that they could last the distance on an album and demonstrated huge potential for the band to develop.

After their first trip to the US the trio returned to Western Works “fascinated by America but aware of its darker side”, as they sensed the tension just before Reagan’s  election and became entranced by televangelist Eugene Scott who the band sampled for the “Sluggin’ For Jesus” single. Their second album “The Voice of America” (1979) may have focused strongly on the US in its lyrics and sample choices but its sound combined Cabaret Voltaire’s trademark scathing sound with an explicit dub influence that had only previously been implied by the infrequent use of a dub delay. The dub music influence was now central to their drum machine rhythms and Mallinder’s impressive bass playing and deep tone. “The Voice of America” was the high point of this period of the Cabs, finding a balance between their diverse influences without compromise.

Their next album releases ‘Three Mantras’ (1980) and ‘Red Mecca’ (1981) looked at the parallels between fundamentalist Islam and born-again Christianity in America. The albums took very different approaches to these subjects. “Three Mantras” featured two side long tracks. The first song, “Western Mantra”, blends Neu!’s motorik rhythms, Mallinder’s subtle bass variations with Kirk’s Arabic sounding guitar squalls and piercing keyboards from Watson to mesmerizing, propulsive effect. “Eastern Mantra”, the second side, loops a vocal sample over a drone and Arabic and Israeli pop music flashes in and out of the mix, later Kirk joins in with some crisp rhythm guitar. Arabic wind instruments and found sound from a Jerusalem market complete the package and make for an incredibly evocative release that utilises its sources well without falling foul of cultural tourist clichés. “Red Mecca”, though a very good album feels like a step back to  the sound of “The Voice of America” yet it doesn’t quite have the same punch. It comes as no surprise that Cabaret Voltaire felt they had done all they could with their current sound by this point.

Another crucial element that the band used, was slide and cine projectors that were utilised to create sensory overload for the audience. Like their peers Throbbing Gristle the Cabs saw themselves as reporters operating in ‘the information war’. “The film projections were part of this counter-propaganda, working as a kind of anti-TV. Hence their non-judgemental stance, appropriate to the neutrality of the good reporter.” This stemmed from both the influence of Burroughs and his theories about control and “[t]he hard, unblinking, amoral stare of J.G. Ballard’s fiction as it surveyed the contemporary mediascape” was another huge influence. The band were keen observers of what was happening around them: urban riots in the UK in 1981, the situation in the Middle East and tension present in pre-Reagan America and were able to subtlety articulate this in the mood, tone, lyrics and samples present in their music and visuals.

Cabaret Voltaire’s next release “2 X 45” comprised of two 12” records which feature guest drummer Alan Fish of Sheffield experimentalists Hula and the last three songs recorded with Chris Watson who departed the band in October ‘81 for a career in television sound recording. The second record includes their first recordings as a two piece with guests Nort (drums) and Eric Random (percussion/guitar). Though it is correct to view “2 X 45” as an transitional release it seems there is a transition within the record itself. Watson’s input and influence is definitely reduced and keeps reducing across the three tracks as if he is moving towards the exit as they record. The second half of the record sees the band really start to push towards the dance music direction they would incorporate for the remainder of the ‘80s; the 12” format is also a clue to this new direction. “War of Nerves (T.E.S.)” would be a typical Cabs track but instead it is the rhythm that dominates, “Wait and Shuffle” is as close to upbeat reggae as they ever reached and “Get out of My Face” is driven by Kirk’s relentless yet fun rhythm guitar.

In 1981 Stephen Mallinder and Richard H. Kirk were invited to watch Soft Cell’s performance of “Tainted Love” on Top of the Pops by Stevo the head of Some Bizzare management/record company. Stevo was making a name for himself as an electronic and avant-garde music DJ and someone who could sell new acts to major labels and re-launch the careers of established acts like the Cabs who had reached an impasse. At the meeting Stevo discussed his idea of “conform-to-deform” which struck a chord with the group. He gave them £5000 to buy a video duplication machine for their video company Doublevision, allowing the band to be autonomous and able to produce small runs of video via mail order. Stevo also paid for the recording of the next album “The Crackdown” (1981) and in return the band stripped down their sound to make it more accessible and pushed Mallinder’s vocal central in the mix. This created a shift for his and Kirk’s roles as Mallinder was now becoming the front man and occasional bassist with Kirk taking on other musical roles.

The result of this was a sound that attempted to blend their post-punk paranoia with the electro sound that was emerging from New York simultaneously. As with their friends and peers New Order, who recorded part of their debut album “Movement” at Western Works, Cabaret Voltaire were trying to combine white angst and black groove, though New Order’s was an emotional angst and theirs was political. One of the fateful events that lead to the Cabs’ adoption of electro was Kirk who was blown away by Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’ which he heard at The Hacienda (the Cabs had also played at the Manchester institution’s opening night) He later remarked, “it was like Kraftwerk only funkier”. This epiphany and (co-composer of “Planet Rock”) John Robie’s electro remix of ‘Yasher’ from “2 X 45” convinced the band on their change of direction and how to create a dance floor suited version of their sound. Cabaret Voltaire undertook this direction change with help from co-producer Flood, Soft Cell keyboardist Dave Ball and all the latest dance music technology of synthesisers, a sequencer, a Roland 808 drum machine, harmonisers and the electro staple, the Claptrap.

With Malinder now the front man the duo relied less on voice recordings from television programmes but were still intent on spreading a complex, ambiguous political message while attempting mass communication. This is a reason why the band are commercially disappointing when compared to New Order. The Cabs attempted to communicate both present and recent political past, their music rich with data and meaning, gleaming with the same number-crunching technology of the bankers and investors who inhabited Thatcher’s Britain. New Order conversely dealt in the universal emotions of yearning, love and death therefore their music was instantly relatable and thus climbed the charts. Cabaret Voltaire’s material was akin to “a night spent channel-hopping on TV, tuning through the shortwave radio dial or watching a sequence of advertising hoardings from the window of a speeding car could ever be”. There was no one subject. “It was more about creating atmosphere.” Kirk commented on the duo’s “cut-up method of setting voices snatched from the mediascape against Mallinder’s vocals”.

“The Crackdown” also signalled another important development. Cabaret Voltaire signed a record deal with Virgin on the proviso that they be allowed to put out 12” versions of album tracks. The duo left behind the scratchy, lo-fi sound of the 7” associated with punk and Rough Trade for the high end “seduction of the club sound system” and the lifestyle of excess that accompanied it. The 12” is synonymous with the 1980s and the circle that the Cabs moved in from the decade’s early electro scene through to the beginnings of rave music appeared in their sound. The album has a new “rhythmic certainty” and a feeling of “space, order and purpose” where previously there was chaos and claustrophobic. Dissonance, however, still remained but this could be blended seamlessly into the streamlined sequencer music.

They continued to pursue success and the harmonisation of man with cutting edge machinery with 1984’s “Micro-Phonies”. For this release Cabaret Voltaire employed an E-mu Emulator – a sampler keyboard that allowed Kirk to place samples where needed. The keyboard elevated the level of complexity that the Cabs were able to achieve, which was exemplified by the 12” mix ‘Sensoria’ from the album. The 12” “presented Redneck America’s party line on clean living, lifted from a television documentary on the Ku Klux Klan. Set against it, to deepen the conceptual irony further still were the chants of Zulu singers.”

Conversely their visual feature managed to directly mass communicate free of limiting censorship, certification and copyright law. Until the moral panic caused by video nasties which lead to the introduction of the UK’s Video Recordings Act 1984 Cabaret Voltaire were able to assemble cut-ups of hardcore porn, anatomical surgery and CCTV into their videos and could sell these to fans via mail order with no interference from Virgin. They were also able to experiment with all the possibilities of the format with typical video promos, their own Wipeout T.V. magazine show and Johnny Yesno, their film and soundtrack from 1983. In this respect the duo were forerunners to great Audio/Visual innovators like Coldcut and VJs (Visual Jockeys) who were inspired by rave era music are indebted to the Cabs’ pioneering music and visuals.

By the release of “The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm of the Lord” (1985) Kirk had bought a sampler (the E-mu Emulator had been hired due to its prohibitive price) and explored the techniques associated with it. Some of the sampler techniques on display in this release are the same that are used in hip-hop and their beloved electro. The band went a step further than on previous albums that had virtually avoided the traditional emotional palette of pop music. This typical subject matter is subverted on “I Want You” with “…words that once formed the basic unit meaning for just about every pop song in existence…skilfully exposed as the utterance of a TV preacher calling his faithful viewers to prayer.” The Cabs’ explicit, as opposed to earlier, implicit, subversion ended hopes of commercial success.

Another important factor in Cabaret Voltaire’s failure to achieve the commercial and dancefloor triumph akin to their contemporaries New Order, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and Heaven 17 et al is that club music changed direction and attitude in the mid 1980s. In the early ‘80s post-punk innovators had lead the way and found an audience willing to follow their most daring experiments yet only five years later the times had changed. Conservatism took hold in music with most audiences disliking challenges and debates. Despite the similarity of the Cabs’ music and subject matter to the acts on the On-U Sound label (Tackhead, Mark Stewart, Gary Clail), they now overtook Cabaret Voltaire’s level of attention and popularity in clubs, though they too rarely entered the charts. House and techno DJs and producers grew increasingly popular and people did not want the Cabs’ technological chatter. Though they became unfashionable Cabaret Voltaire exerted a large influence on the development of techno and electronica. Derrick May has stated “Everybody from Frankie Knuckles to Ron Hardy, young black DJs in Detroit, and Richie Hawtin, loved Cabaret Voltaire.” The duo were also educated enough in dance music technology to meet with house and techno producers and share ideas. They also influenced the artists involved in Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series and important early ‘90s labels R&S and Plus 8 owe Cabaret Voltaire a great debt.

More recently their authority can be heard in new bands like White Car (the title of a Cabs track from “C.O.D.E.”), Factory Floor, Breton, Suuns and the reactivated Blancmange. It is odd that a band with this level of reach and whose fans regularly bemoan their underrated music are so consistently overlooked. Some of their Virgin albums are nearly impossible to purchase which should be addressed as it was with earlier albums. They should work with Richard H. Kirk to re-master, remix and re-release the later releases. If contemporaries like Nizter Ebb, Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey can experience a resurgence of interest then why not Cabaret Voltaire? They are a band that consistently created fresh, different and worthy albums from 1978 to 1987 yet they have not received the same reappraisal as others, which needs to be rectified.

Spotify playlist:

Cabaret Voltaire

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