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When Joy Division met William S. Burroughs

When you consider all of the famous and infamous people who William Burroughs met in his lifetime, maybe the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game should be adapted for the late Beat author. I’d have a “Burroughs” of one, as I met him (briefly) in Los Angeles in 1996 at his big art opening at LACMA.

At the Reality Studio blog, there’s a fascinating tale, told in great detail, about the time Joy Division shared the same stage with Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Cabaret Voltaire in Belgium. Ian Curtis was an avid reader and favored counterculture fare like J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and Hermann Hesse. William Burroughs was one of his biggest heroes.

Joy Division was given its first opportunity to play outside the United Kingdom on 16 October 1979. That alone would have distinguished the gig for the band, but of special interest to Curtis and his mates was the fact that they would be opening for Burroughs. The avant-garde theater troupe Plan K, which had made a specialty of interpreting Burroughs’ work, were founding a performance space in a former sugar refinery in Brussels, Belgium. The opening was conceived as a multimedia spectacle. Films were to be screened — among others, Nicholas Roeg’s Performance (starring Mick Jagger) and Burroughs’ own experiments with Antony Balch. The Plan K theater troupe were to perform “23 Skidoo.” Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire were to give “rock” concerts. And Burroughs and Brion Gysin were to read from their recently published book, The Third Mind.

Before the evening’s events, Burroughs and Joy Division gave separate interviews to the culture magazine En Attendant. Graciously provided to RealityStudio by the interviewer and the organizer of the Plan K opening, Michel Duval, these have been translated from the French and are reproduced here for the first time since their publication in November 1979. You can read the French original or the English translation of Duval’s interview with Joy Division, as well as the French original or the English translation of Duval’s interview with William Burroughs.

After Burroughs’ reading brought the opening of Plan K to its climax, Curtis attempted to introduce himself to his literary idol. This meeting, like so many things about both Curtis and Burroughs, has already become legend — which is another way of saying that its factual basis may have receded into darkness. If you search around the internet, you’ll see sites describing the encounter in terms like this: “Unfortunately when Ian went up to talk to him the author told Ian to get lost.” And this: “Burroughs probably was tired and bored with the concerts and when Ian went up to talk with him the author told Ian to get lost. Ian got lost immediately, not a little hurt by the rebuff.” Chris Ott’s book Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures repeats the story, and Mark Johnson’s book An Ideal for Living asserts that Burroughs refused to speak to Curtis.

More after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Can ya dig it? Cabaret Voltaire’s insane version of Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme from Shaft’
09:13 am


Cabaret Voltaire

By forming in 1973, Cabaret Voltaire managed the neat trick of embodying and codifying many of the aesthetic tropes, sounds, and strategies of post-punk before punk existed in the first place, serving as an indisputable influence on both the industrial noise and industrial dance scenes. A 1981 break with founding member Chris Watson saw the band turn away from difficult-but-rewarding noise to embrace New Wave accessibility. Remaining original members Stephen Mallinder and Richard Kirk continued to make excellent records through 1985, but by 1987’s Code the band had been far surpassed by its own imitators, and soon they’d be nakedly trying to retain relevance by glomming on to acid house. Watson went on to work as a recording engineer and make strange music with the wonderful Hafler Trio, a project that long remained as archly experimental and fascinating as CV were in the beginning.

But before Watson left, and while CV were still about utter disregard for pop norms, they recorded a warped and delirious version of Isaac Hayes’ theme song from the film Shaft. Session details aren’t easy to come by, but it was recorded sometime during the Voice of America/Red Mecca era, 1980/81ish. It wasn’t released until 1988s excellent Eight Crepuscule Tracks compilation, which collected early CV work recorded for the Les Disques du Crépuscule label (“Twilight Records,” roughly), a still-extant Belgian imprint once associated with Factory Benelux.

The song indulges in some cheeky humor not typically associated with the often rather grim early industrial scene. It’s almost entirely built on samples, looping the song’s distinctive guitar intro, horn, and flute themes for just about ever, and piling snatches of film dialogue atop that bed, forecasting by almost a decade the short-lived House fad for novelty tracks built on movie dialogue samples. The result is at once ominous and darkly comical.

The remake was later included on the 1991 album Moving Soundtracks Volume 1, a terrific Crépuscule compilation of film music covers made by its associated artists. It’s hard to come by; the easier-to-find 2008 reissue, disappointingly, does not include “Theme from Shaft.”

For your enjoyment, Isaac Hayes’ indelible original after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘TV Wipeout’: Cabaret Voltaire’s rigorously post-punk 1984 video compilation resurfaces

John Coulthart has unearthed an utterly marvelous find from the early days of mass-produced video music content—Cabaret Voltaire’s TV Wipeout, a “video magazine” that was released on VHS in 1984. Watching it today, TV Wipeout is an excellent approximation of late-night avant-garde music programming from the early 1980s like Night Flight, albeit less scattershot and more rigorously postpunk in perspective. Of course, Cabaret Voltaire were often featured on Night Flight themselves.

TV Wipeout, videotape cover
As Coulthart explains, “This was the fourth title on the Cab’s own Doublevision label which was easily the best of the UK’s independent video labels at the time.” The compilation has plenty of gems. TV Wipeout features an interview with David Bowie on his latest movie, Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, excerpts from two Andy Warhol movies (Heat and Flesh), concert and documentary footage from the Fall at their creative peak, a video by Residents discovery Renaldo and the Loaf, footage of Marc Almond covering a Lou Reed song, and excerpts from cult classics like Plan Nine from Outer Space and Eating Raoul.

The footage of the Fall was taped at the The Venue in London on March 21, 1983. Their rendition of “Words of Expectation” is interrupted by an astonishing clip of the Fall’s manager, Kay Carroll, tearing the Factory’s Tony Wilson a new asshole for using some Fall music on a video without their permission.

(Click for a larger version)
On the next-to-last video, Marc & The Mambas cover Lou Reed’s “Caroline Says II” off of Berlin. For the first half of the song, Marc Almond is holding Genesis P-Orridge’s infant daughter Caresse in his arms until she starts to cry.

Coulthart also found a pretty hilarious interview in which Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder had the following to say about TV Wipeout (source: Cabaret Voltaire: The Art of the Sixth Sense by M. Fish and D. Hallbery):

Q: The next Doublevision was the TV Wipeout video which was a sort of disposable magazine compilation. It contained a fairly wide variety of contributors, from people like The Fall and Test Dept to some more mainstream groups like Bill Nelson and Japan.

Mallinder: The point was that Virgin Films were quite happy to work with us; they even gave us money in the form of advertising revenue for using some film clips from the Virgin catalogue. We were then able to camouflage them into the whole set-up and make them look as if they were part of the whole nature of the video compilation.

Q: One of those clips was a particularly inane interview with David Bowie. Was its inclusion merely a selling point?

Mallinder: Yes, it was purely that. There are a lot of people who will buy anything with David Bowie on it. So we said “Fuck it, why not use that as a selling point!” Actually the interview is appalling, it’s terrible. Our including it was almost like a piss-take. We were saying “you really will buy anything with David Bowie on it if you buy this”.

Coulthart asserts that some clips of Cabaret Voltaire and Japan are missing from this playlist, but I think that’s not right, at least if the list posted above is right, it’s just the Japan track that is missing, and you can find that one here.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘We use the music as an exorcism’: Cabaret Voltaire takes over ‘Night Flight,’ 1985
11:49 am


Cabaret Voltaire
Night Flight

For many ‘80s teens, the dearly beloved USA Network program Night Flight was a gateway to a whole wide world of cool shit that wasn’t being played anywhere else. There were definitely plenty of Friday or Saturday nights I spent gaping at J-Men Forever or a full Neil Young concert. In some ways Cabaret Voltaire was a perfect Night Flight band, both finding inspiration in European experimental art of the early twentieth century: Night Flight was named after an Antoine de Saint-Exupéry book, and Cabaret Voltaire was named after a legendary dada nightclub in Zurich.

On this particular summer night in 1985—the commercials for John Candy’s Summer Rental and Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II indicate the timing—Night Flight turned over a half hour of programming for what it called an “exclusive documentary” about the Sheffield postpunk masters.

Truly, hats off to the people at Night Flight for executing this in a way that the band itself might have dreamt up. The interview portions consist entirely of footage of Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson speaking to the camera—there’s no stilted Q&A with a network stooge, it’s all suffused in an ashen b/w mode that is entirely in keeping with the videos we see, of “Just Fascination,” “Crackdown,” and “a special 8-minute version of ‘Sensoria’.” (I’m not sure, but I think this is the 12-inch version that was later included on #8385 Collected Works (1983-1985).)

In the interview bits, Mallinder says, “If we tried to be straightforward and direct, then it would be contrary to what we are as people, and music’s just an extension of what we are as people,” later saying, “We use the music as an exorcism.” Cabaret Voltaire was never a cheery bunch, and if you’re not into postpunk this entire half-hour will seem not much different from a dreary Sprockets imitation. If so, your loss, dummy!

Also heard during the segment are chunks of “Nag Nag Nag,” “Seconds Too Late,” and “Diskono.”


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Cabaret Voltaire to perform live for the first time in over 20 years
10:45 am


Cabaret Voltaire
Berlin Atonal

The massively influential Sheffield industrial/dance band Cabaret Voltaire—or at least one of them—will play their (his?) first gig in over two decades this summer at the Berlin Atonal festival.

Berlin Atonal is delighted to announce that it will host the very first Cabaret Voltaire live performance in over 20 years. Cabaret Voltaire’s blend of dance music, techno, dub, house and experimentalism made them, without a doubt, one of the most influential acts of the last 40 years. With a line up now consisting solely of machines, multi-screen projections and Richard H Kirk, the first Cabaret Voltaire performance of the 21st Century – featuring exclusively new material and no nostalgia – promises to be formidable.

By forming in 1973 and making music that was unquestionably industrial, Cabaret Voltaire managed the interesting feat of forming an influential post-punk band before punk existed. Like Suicide, they were noted for combative and baffling live performances that could lead to audience violence against the band, but when their notoriety led to a deal with Rough Trade Records, they broadened their sound, releasing albums like Red Mecca, a prescient concept album on which the band compared the rise in Christian extremism to the rise of militant Islamism (this in 1981!), and Micro-Phonies, whereon they tamped down on the dissonance a bit and made music for the dance floor, which strongly influenced Ministry’s turn towards the aggressive on Twitch. In the late ‘80s, they toyed with EBM and house, but by then they were behind the curve, not ahead of it.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Do It Yourself: The Story of Rough Trade

Yet another essential recent BBC music doc, this time a fascinating glimpse into the history of the seminal indie label/empire Rough Trade. More beloved late 70’s post punk records are touched upon than would be wise to list, but I was particulary awestruck to see footage of the original lineup of Scritti Politti sitting in a dilapidated bedsit earnestly hand-assembling the epochal “Skank Bloc Bologna” single. Founder Geoff Travis comes across as a passive aggressive faux-naif with faultless taste and a talent for the elusive right place/right time nexus. Watch, learn and listen.
above photo : Genesis P-Orridge delivers the 2nd Throbbing Gristle L.P. D.O.A. to Geoff Travis @ Rough Trade HQ, 1978



Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment