Tag Archive: Cabaret Voltaire


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I’ve been a fan of Factory Floor since discovering them back in 2009 when The Quietus began championing their cause. Since then the trio have collaborated with the likes of Simon Fisher Turner, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, released a series of astonishing 12” singles and remixes and stunned many a gig and festival audience. All this has lead to one of most highly anticipated albums of the year and it doesn’t disappoint.

The album opens with ‘Turn It Up’ which sets the scene for the rest of the album perfectly. It opens with electronic percussion that’s swiftly followed by a bass drum, processed male vocals and intense electronic cowbell. Nik Colk’s vocals join the male vocals and the track starts to feel like a minimal Arthur Russell production but more industrial in feel. Chattering techno hi-hats cut in upping the tension. The vocals get increasingly more processed and alien as the track progresses recalling those of Laurel Halo circa ‘Logic Hour’. Next up is ‘Here Again’ which begins with a synth arpeggio that fades in and out of view. Live drums kick playing in a breakbeat style and female vocals echo out. The track reminds me of Chris & Cosey who Factory Floor have collaborated with. There a great clap that comes in around two minutess in. Another arpeggio comes in to play counterpoint to the original in the third minute. the second half of the track is dominated by lots of descending delay effects, rolling toms and chattering hi-hats Colk’s vocals hovering just above.

The single ‘Fall Back’ combines a thumping acoustic bass drum, throbbing synth arpeggio and slap in the face electronic snare and toms during its intro. Colk’s vocals cut in coated in  thick effects (pitched shifted, with maybe some reverb). The chattering hi-hats kick in around 2 minutes in and give the track extra forward momentum and a faster feel. I love the way the intensity builds and when the acid bass that kicks in part through with its great spluttering, squelchy sound. ‘Two Different Ways’ is an great track that shows off the band ability to make you dance as it does their industrial intensity. It starts off with electronic bass drum and snare, backing huge synth arpeggio, toms roll in and out and hi-hats tease, the female vocal drops in coated in reverb. Wood blocks kick in with a funky rhythm around three minutes in. Wet, gloopy delay effects drip over the mix around the four minute mark, then the track finds yet more momentum with the synth bass arpeggio growing stronger and stronger as the track progresses.

The album finishes with the one-two punch of ‘Work Out’ and ‘Breathe In’. The former picks up where ‘Two Different Ways’ left off as electronic drums and percussion thump and patter while a stabby bass synth plays over the top. Tom-toms fall all over the place. Colk’s vocal echoes out creating a harmony. In second half there are more delay effects and an arpeggio that add variety and intensity, as does noise mixed in with the hi-hats and synths. A funky more resonate synth enters around 5 minutes adding extra movement and impetus to the track. The latter is the perfect end to the album and strongly recalls Cabaret Voltaire in their mid 80’s electro prime.  A thick bass synths starts things off before being swiftly joined by a tough acoustic four to the floor beat and intermit processed vocals. The vocals are used as samples rather than typical use of lead vocals.

All-in-all Factory Floor have created a great debut album that both lives up to the four years of hype that preceded it and is also surprisingly accessible compared to what I (and most critics) had expected. Go out and get yourself a copy of “Factory Floor” you won’t regret it.

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‘Ersatz G.B.’, The Fall’s 29th album spends most of its time battering the listener around the head with snare drums, heavy bass, guitar and Mark. E Smith mostly incoherent vocals. The rest of the time it takes the opposite approach and doesn’t manage to impress then either with tracks like ‘Happi Song’ and ‘Laptop Dog’ sounding like pale jangly and barely there indie. The one track that does rise to the occasion is ‘Monocard’ which with its Corroded guitar riffs, heavy bass and a synth that goes whistling to resonate reminds me of Mogwai’s excellent ‘Rano Pano’ from earlier in the year. Try harder next time, please Mark E. Smith and co.

Though “Tragedy & Geometry” the new album from Steve Hauschildt doesn’t compete on the same level as his main project Emeralds, it not without its moments and has enough quality tracks and variety to keep most synth enthusiasts happy. Though the base elements (warm pads, twinkling melodies and more arpeggios than you can shake a stick at) remain more or less the same throughout the entirety of the album. There’s a good selection of moods on offer ranging from mellow to happy, dark and edgy to spacey sci-fi lullabies. This album should be enough to keep Emeralds fans going until the band return next year.

It’s difficult to describe Chris Watson’s new album ‘El Tren Fantasma’ and really do it justice thought this review by The Quietus does a pretty good job. Without any musical instruments involved describing what I hear makes it sound boring. “El Tren Fantasma” is far from boring it’s an atmospheric journey full of peaks and troughs, loud and quiet, mellow and unsettling moments. Watson manages to place you in the centre of his journey as venture across Mexican through different terrain taking in all times of day and types of life, a fascinating experience. Before hearing this album I’d only heard Watson’s brilliant “Stepping Into The Dark” album, “El Tren Fantasma” shares the same ability to switch from heavy and dark sounds to light and airy sounds and find different moods and atmosperes to match. However the new album feels more musical, which seems an odd thing to say about two albums completely made of field recordings. But thats what I hear and much of Watson’s work with Cabaret Voltaire blurred the thin line-up between musical and non-musial sound. I’d throughly recommend “El Tren Fantasma” as an experience that should be tried at least once, it won’t be for everyone but I think it will surprise many people.

“Replica” the new album by Oneohtrix Point Never (OPN) is a transitional record that sees Daniel Lopatin attempting something new for him. This album doesn’t contain the slowly evolving and enveloping synth drones of his early work or the dense computer edited sound of ‘Returnal’, it’s heavily focused on vocal snippets and percussive sounds and textures that recall the Fourth World music of Jon Hassell and Brian Eno. At the same time the noise that had previous encroached on the edges of Oneohtrix Point Never sound now plays a much more central role. For reverb soaked synth or piano melody there is either subtle hum or overwhelming thickets of noise to counter act them. This may sound off putting, like Lopatin is sabotaging his own perfectly good tracks, but it never feels this way, he gets the balance right and knows what works when. He creates tension and release, whereas previous he only created one or the other in a single track. This twinned the brevity of many of tracks points to a move towards ‘pop’ music, admittedly its ‘pop’ at its most abstract and it in no-one way represents modern pop music the genre its self but OPN has never attempted to do so much in so little time. Lopatin is no longer allowing sounds to just natural drift and resolve themselves he’s using all his old tricks and elements with new ones that both compliment and contrast with them. The percussion instruments and micro edited percussive vocal sounds give a new purpose to his music and place it firmly in its own unique place. I feel there’s plenty more to be discovered and will revisit it in a one-off post in January next year.

Spotify playlist:

November playlist

Coming up in December on Sonic Fiction:

Sonic Fiction Writer’s Top Ten Album’s of Year and Observations 2011

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Pere Ubu – “The Modern Dance” (Radar Records, 1978)

This month’s selection for Classics Critiqued is similar to April’s Classics Critiqued choice “Y” by The Pop Group. Like “Y”, “The Modern Dance” is an album that regularly receives critical praise (it has been featured in 24 different critics’ charts) but it and Pere Ubu still seem in the shadow of their more accessible peers. “The Modern Dance” was the début album by Pere Ubu who had formed out the ruminants of Cleveland, Ohio garage rock band Rocket from the Tombs in 1975. Ubu founders David Thomas (vocals) and Peter Laugher (guitar) (replaced by Tom Herman when he died of drug and alcohol abuse in 1977) were joined by Tim Wright (guitar/bass) (replaced by Tony Maimone (bass/piano) in 1977 after he left to form no-wavers DNA), Allen Ravenstine (synths) and Scott Krauss (drums) in the band’s original line-up. Together they “combined art and garage rock – synth whines, cut-up tape loops, atonal howling and chronic distortion”. They released their first three singles on Thomas’ Hearthen label between 1975 – 1977.

These quickly established the band as one that was difficult to pigeonhole. They were instantly “recruited to ‘punk’ then gathering momentum as journalists continued to talk up the CBGB scene while monitoring the early stirrings of insurrection in London.” All this despite the prog rock like structure of “30 Seconds Over Toyko” and Thomas’ assertion that “our ambitions were considerably different from the Sex Pistols”, he saw punk as puerile and destructive, “Pere Ubu didn’t want to piss on rock music; they wanted to contribute to it, help it mature as an art form”. By 1978 and the release of “The Modern Dance” the band were primed to show the world they weren’t part of the reductive punk movement but closely related to their early ’70s inspirations such as Roxy Music, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Neu!, The Stooges, Brian Eno and The Soft Machine as well as their current peers The Residents, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, A Certain Ratio, Scritti Politti, The Pop Group and Public Image Ltd.

An important thing to remember when listening to Pere Ubu is that they formed in Cleveland, Ohio, which was in the ’70s a shadow of its former glory as a giant in the iron industry. This permeates the music with a strong sense of solid concrete and a metallic feel. The band described their music as “industrial folk” and like their peers in Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool their music spoke of the landscape in which they lived without actually referring to it lyrically. The harshness of Ravestine’s synths, the razor-sharp, mechanical riffs of new guitarist Tom Herman and the motorik rhythm section all added to this feeling of industrial buildings and decay as a back drop to their music. The band “waxed lyrical about the area in their first interviews: ore-loaded barge floating down the Cuyahoya; steel foundries pounding flat-out night and day; the glare from the blast furnaces bruising the night in hues of green and purple; belching chimneys and lattices of piping silhouetted against the sky.” “We thought it was magnificent … like going to an art museum or something” recollected singer David Thomas 20 years later.

The band saw music as multi dimensional and used Ravenstine’s synth and tape loops to invoke images in the mind’s eye. “I’ve always been into music more on a visual than aural level.” David Thomas said of Ravenstine in a NME interview in 1978, “He’s at the core of Ubu, I suppose. He’s a very unusual synthesizer player. He’s very purist with it, and he doesn’t even have a keyboard – instead he has a touch tone dial. He doesn’t want to combine anything musical with the synthesizer, because he feels – and rightly so, I think – that it’s a new instrument and should be treated as such.” Drummer Krauss agreed “He’d make a noise like a five-pound can with a whole bunch of bumble bees inside” said “Krauss then he’d change the wave form and it’d sound like a beach with a load of people on it. Ten seconds later, it’s flip to a freight car noise. The imagination-activating level was absolutely amazing.”

However, the music wasn’t all doom and industrial gloom. The Cleveland sense of humour came into play in the band’s lyrics. “Thomas is more of an ‘actor’ than a musician for whom surreal lyrics and student humour attenuate the dramatic force of the performance. Within the sound there is also a feeling of resigned fatalism, collective madness and rational fear.” Thomas’ vocals aren’t that a typical rock front man he “wails, yelps, gargles” and exploits the full gamut of human vocal sounds to enhance and underline the emotion he’s expressing. “Thomas never got “the modern dance”. The emotions were real, but everything else was a joke, just like the music which has a good laugh as well with, skipping along amid the destruction and anxiety as the singer asks to be humoured – “it was just a joke mon.”

All this combined to make an album that from the opener ‘Non Alignment Pact’’s “furious, deafening bacchanal of cryptic slogans, ungainly vocals, discordant strumming, electronic distortions and primordial pulsations”, through the title track’s sound “of primordial organic funk…which evokes the smoke of factory chimneys and the ordered structure of the production line”, the sweeping menacing winds of ‘Street Waves’ evoking the miasmic gust after a nuclear explosion, propelled at supersonic speed by a stop-start rhythm and invoking a prophetic vision of the apocalypse. Finally finishing with ‘Humor Me’’s jangly jesting undercut by the lyrics and atmosphere of despair.

For such a complex album that combined the world’s art and garage rock or as the band punningly put it “avant-garage”, it has gone on to be a direct or indirect influence on many bands and artists since. The most obvious of these would be the Pixies. Their sound, surreal lyrics and the appearance of singer Black Francis all echo Pere Ubu. It’s unlikely that the earliest works of TV on the Radio would have been the same without a trail having been blazed for them and modern underground rock bands like Liars and Oneida plough a similar furrow to that explored on “The Modern Dance”. Cult rocker Julian Cope also covered ‘Non Alignment Pact’, which seems to be an acknowledgement of the band’s importance by one of their post-punk peers. Like “Y” by The Pop Group mentioned at the start of this column, “The Modern Dance” tests the very boundaries of what music, particularly rock music, is capable of before it becomes a tuneless mess. It won’t be the easiest listen ever but “The Modern Dance” will reward those who stick with it and consume all of its intricacies.

You can listen to “The Modern Dance” here.

October was dominated by Bjork’s return after a four year break and the exciting news that her album “Biophilia” would be released with imaginative, synaesthesia-inspired iPhone/iPad apps. New Polish production duo Viadrina released their club-orientated “Bodymind” EP. The EP is a three-track collection that gives tech-house a new twist and the title track features one of the best vocal performances of recent techno releases:

Unfortunatly I was unable to listen BNJMN’s “Black Square”.

Here’s a round-up of last month’s recommendations.:

Zola Jesus – “Conatus”

This is a disappointing album so I’ve only presented the highlights. Second track ‘Avalanche’ has its foundations in “Stridulum”. The moody atmospherics and deploring vocals link to “Conatus”’ predecessor while the softer use of these elements bridges us to the album’s overall sound. The strongest track is ‘Vessel’ which recalls “Homogenic” or a gloopier ‘Enjoy’ from Bjork’s “Post”.

‘Ixode’ features an infectious 4/4 electro beat and synth pop pulses amid Jesus’ indecipherable, layered chanting then there’s a fantastic octave leap that pins you into your seat as a thwacking bass drum hits you. From ‘Ixode’ we segue into ‘Seekir’, which sees an ecstatic Zola Jesus raising her arms in a moment of victory as the bubbling bassline calls you to celebrate on the dancefloor before we are pulled into the dull murk of later tracks.

“Conatus” is imbued with crisper production and benefits from having the same-y claustrophobia and high drama that made up “Stridulum” dialled down. Yet if listened to in one session the album flags and suffers from repetitive tempos and themes. Her voice remains a force of nature but there is something lacking in this release. All of Zola Jesus’ songs share the same DNA: a high percentage of woe, a percentage of industrial clangs, a percentage of gloomy chords and a percentage of either hope or desperation. “Conatus” is more enjoyable if a few key tracks, such as ‘Vessel’ and ‘Seekir’, are downloaded and consumed in small bites. Despite Zola Jesus’ clear talent “Conatus” unfortunately seems destined to be broadcast over the system in Urban Outfitters.

Bjork – “Biophilia”

‘Thunderbolt’’s malevolent bass line and electronic drums provide a wild, tense energy underneath a female choir that flock around Bjork’s half sung, half spoken questioning of the human tendency to wish for miracles and plea for universal understanding. First single ‘Crystalline’ recalls the intimacy and fragility of “Verspertine” and once again demonstrates Bjork’s innate use of beautiful harmonies. ‘Crystalline’ is filled with the delicate, glassy timbres courtesy of a bespoke gameleste and fizzing electronic drums before a jungle breakbeat unexpectedly explodes out of the ether in proud celebration of Bjork’s return. The breathless swell of ‘Cosmogony’’s chorus conveys in one track the album’s overall sense of childlike wonder felt when considering the universe’s incredible creation and vastness. Bjork creates an uneasy balance between unsettling and calm in ‘Hollow’. Lulling vocals and a dreamy choir are interrupted by horror-film organs and staccato, digitalised drums. Crashing into life after the tender beauty of ‘Virus’ and ‘Sacrifice’ is the confrontational “Homogenic”-like ‘Mutual Core’, which could easily be the voice of Mother Nature scolding her selfish inhabitants or a song for the heartbroken.“You know I gave it all/ Trying to match our continents/To change seasonal shifts/ To form a mutual core//You know I gave it all/Can you hear the effort”  she admonishes as bass sounds and furious beats roll and thunder around her in thrilling bursts.

“Biophilia” has links with her 2007 album “Volta” and 1997’s “Homogenic” but where “Volta” bursts at the seams with sound, “Biophilia” is, for its endeavour to correlate science and nature with the patterns and structure of music, a restrained and spacious listen. Her voice and words anchor emotions to the science and the thread of innocence and wide-eyed fascination that runs through her celebration of the universe prevents any feeling of pretence or aridity. Even after a four year hiatus “Biophilia” underlines how greatly superior Bjork is from the majority of popular music and, regardless of the way the album has been delivered, she continues to electrify and surpass.

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/looping_state_of_mind/embedded

The Field – “Looping State of Mind”

‘Is This Power’ opens with krautrock drums and a gorgeous, ecstatic loop that could be enjoyed for hours build and build into a thrilling drop after 5 minutes. Breaking down to an arpeggiated bass line, resonant melody and shuffling drums The Field the expertly pulls the main loop back in and the track endlessly continues. Techno DJ and producer Marcel Dettmann remarked that if you “composed a loop that you could to listen to repeatedly then it’s a good loop”; ‘Is This Power’ embodies this statement. Next track ‘It’s Up There’ recalls his début album “From Here We Go Sublime”. Live drums push through liquid, slowly evolving synths and as with the previous track this song drops at 7 minutes to a dancing bass line and percussion to evoke the grooves of LCD Soundsystem’s “Sound of Silver”, making ‘Its Up There’ the funkiest thing Axel Willner has ever produced.

Techno in its simplest form is music that can built using just a few loops and The Field expands on this method effectively; multiplying shimmering loops of vocals, synths and drums into one luscious, infinite circular track. The layers on ‘Arpeggiated Love’ develop into a vast wall of sound where each instrument feels knitted together until a twinkling synth indicates a quick release and we are left with a singular voice calling out. Feeling the most loose and organic of the release, title track ‘Looping State Of Mind’ is a new direction. Balearic house and smooth guitars interlace with rushing percussion and synth drones that drop in and out in unexpected ways. ‘Then It’s White’ comes as a relief after the frenzy of the title track. Marrying human fluency with technology the track creates a strange combination of bliss and sombre. The piano and mournful, computer-warped voice subtly calls to mind Apparat while confirming The Field’s expanded production ability.

The Field has returned with his third album for Kompakt. “Looping State Of Mind” neatly builds on the landscapes of his previous releases “From Here We Go Sublime”,  a collection of icy yet deeply affecting techno tracks, and “Yesterday and Today”, which covers a warmer krautrock-indebted area, to merge the best of both into a beautiful seven track blend of warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that  Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping.

Spotify playlist:

October playlist

Recommendations – November

Tresor Records – “20th Anniversary” (7th November, compilation mix, Tresor Records)

Two decades ago Tresor and its founder Dimitri Hegemann cultivated an essential Detroit-Berlin relationship, giving an important platform to techno and thus many heralded Detroit DJs and artists. This “20th Anniversary” compilation, mixed by Mike Huckaby, surveys the label’s expansive and integral Detroit-Berlin catalogue with 22 tracks from techno luminaries such as Robert Hood, Drexciya, Jeff Mills, Surgeon and Cristian Vogel.

Oneohtrix Point Never – “Replica” (7th November, Software)

Oneohtrix returns with the follow-up “Returnal” (2010) the winner of my Album of the Year 2010 on his own Software label. Though I’ve already listened to the album a couple of times I’ve yet to form any solid ideas about it. However I do think its a confident stride forward into a more overtly ‘pop’ (in the loosest sense of the world) direction. It still sounds like OPN but is possibly his most varied and upbeat collection to date.

Cabaret Voltaire – “Johnny YesNo Redux (Boxset” (14th November, Mute)

I’ve been a fan of the Cabs for many years but my rediscovery of them earlier this year has forced me to reassess their importance and the brilliant music they made. In addition to this they also released several videos via their video label DoubleVision. “Johnny YesNo” was the most famous of these and has now been reissued with a new version of the short film short in L.A. and a new soundtrack from Cabs founder Richard H. Kirk plus a CD of additional unreleased material in addition to the original film and its soundtrack.

Marcel Dettmann – “Conducted” (14th November, mix CD, Music Man Records).

Berlin-based DJ and techno producer Marcel Dettmann has gathered the work of his contemporaries Morphosis, Redshape and Shed and two of his all time favourites tracks ‘Sundog’ by Reel By Real  and Cheeba Starks to create only his second commercially available mix to date, following the lauded “Berghain 02” from 2008. According to the distributors, the mix is being sold as an “extensive package”, which will include an “extensive booklet” boasting sleeve notes, two accompanying 12”s and interviews conducted by Marcel Dettmann.

Check out this interview with Marcel Dettmann:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCGVV_ywnTg&feature=player_embedded

The Fall – “Ersatz G.B.” (14th November, Cherry Red)

The 29th studio album from Mark E. Smith and co., there’s no clue in the press release as to how it will sound but one we can rely on is the how John Peel once described the band “always the same, always different”.

Steve Hauschildt – “Tragedy & Geometry” (14th November, Kranky)

The new solo album from Emeralds synth player Hauschildt comes out on Kranky and will be his best distributed solo release to date. I have to honest, I haven’t heard any of Hauschildt’s previous releases but suspect it’ll be heavily influenced by the ‘kosmische musik’ of Tangerine Dream, Cluster and Ash Ra Tempel.

Chris Watson – “El Tren Fastasma” (14th November, Touch)

Not the sort of release that generally excites, the new album from sound recordist and ex-Cabaret Voltaire member Chris Watson promises much. Made up of recordings on the now retired Ghost Train cross-country route in Mexico ten years, the pre-release track ‘El Divisadero’ has proved more musical than you’d imagine and along with a recent interview on Pitchfork has wetted my appetite ahead of this release.

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.

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Cabaret Voltaire

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