The Haçienda opened its doors on May 21, 1982, and the very next day Cabaret Voltaire played its first gig there.
A year later, in August 1983, Cabaret Voltaire released The Crackdown, which is arguably their strongest LP (either that or Red Mecca), and the band did a brief series of gigs in the U.K. to support the album. As you can see from this marvelous full-page ad that appeared in the NME, the Haçienda was the first stop on the tour. (The two dates featuring Einstürzende Neubauten as openers are totally mouth-watering, no?)
The Haçienda show took place on August 11, 1983, and it was documented on video.
The greatest musical act in world history to take its name from a Swiss Dada touchstone, Cabaret Voltaire announced earlier this week that it intends to play its first U.K. show in 25 years when it takes the stage at Derbyshire’s The Devil’s Arse Cave on April 29.
In an odd bit of phrasing, a poster released by the band asserts that the show is “billed as a performance consisting solely of machines, multi-screen projections and Richard H. Kirk,” and if you’re wondering, it seems that the surmise that Stephen Mallinder will not be involved is correct. (By the way, they used the exact same odd phrasing in press releases for their 2015 shows.)
In the 1970s Cabaret Voltaire was one of the pre-eminent pioneers of industrial and electronic music, generating albums as sinister and funky as Red Mecca and The Crackdown; it’s safe to say that anything under the banner of Cabaret Voltaire is worthy of interest by definition.
It’s true that Cabaret Voltaire played gigs all over continental Europe in 2015 and 2016, but Kirk and his doodads neglected to hit the British Isles. The useful website setlist.fm includes information on a 2011 show in the Horse Hospital in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, but that was actually a screening of the 1982 movie Johnny Yesno, a movie for which Cabaret Voltaire did the soundtrack. The last Cabaret Voltaire show in the U.K. before that was at the Gardner Center in Brighton on November 29, 1992.
The more interesting news is that Kirk has recently made a commitment, in an interview with FACT, to keep upcoming CV shows devoid of old material:
It’s totally new, I don’t play anything from the past. I think being 60, it feels more dignified than a band full of old guys wobbling about on a stage. I’ve been a big fan of Miles Davis for many years and he would never play anything from the past and the only time he ever did that was before he died. I just feel like, what’s the point? It’s not going anywhere, who wants to be playing stuff that you did 30 years ago and constantly repeating yourself? I always make it really clear that if you think you’re going to come and hear the greatest hits then don’t come because you’re not. What you might get is the same spirit.
Chris Watson is the coolest. He’s most famous as one of the three founding members of Cabaret Voltaire. Since leaving the Cabs in ‘81, he’s continued to make experimental music (see, for instance, his wonderful 2005 collaboration with KK Null and Z’EV), but he’s best known for his field recordings. BBC Radio 4 has a whole page dedicated to programs that feature Watson and his work; if you’re not careful, you can lose yourself for hours there listening to stories like “Wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson presents the crested tit.”
Richard H. Kirk is, of course, the longest-lasting (and sole remaining) member of Cabaret Voltaire, but I wonder if it’s significant that Watson’s name got top billing on the back cover of the Cabs’ firsttwo albums. Watson’s attic was the band’s practice space from ‘74 to ‘78, and Kirk credits his distinctive guitar sound on the first records to a fuzzbox Watson, then a phone engineer, built for him. (Check out the Burroughsian news cut-up Watson contributed to a 1981 tape compilation released by Jhonn Balance.)
When Watson quit Cabaret Voltaire in ‘81, it was to take a job with Tyne Tees Television, where, he says, his career in sound recording began. Since 1996’s Stepping into the Dark, a collection of recordings of “the atmospheres of special places” inspired by T.C. Lethbridge, Watson has released a total of six albums of his field recordings. Each is organized around an idea or story. El Tren Fantasma (“Ghost Train”) is an audio trip across Mexico on the old state-owned railroad, which no longer exists, thanks to the economic miracle that is privatization. His latest album, In St. Cuthbert’s Time, documents what Eadfrith of Lindisfarne would have heard while he was creating the Lindisfarne Gospels.
If you’re looking for someone to put together a killer mix, you could hardly do better than Stephen Mallinder, pioneer of industrial music and co-founder of Cabaret Voltaire. Although then again, it’s a little strange to seek out a dance mix from a man who once adhered to the forbidding watchword “We will not allow any dancing.” But Mallinder is surely comfortable with ironies of that sort.
Two years ago Mallinder put together a mix called “Before Electricity” for FilthyBroke Recordings, based in Providence, Rhode Island, and just this week he dropped what they’re calling “Part Two,” which has the title “Wonk.”
In 1976 Cabaret Voltaire put out a truly limited edition cassette called, er, Limited Edition that had a run of 25. “Wonk” has already gotten wider distribution than that, having been played by 171 people (including me).
Put “Wonk” on at your next party and then when people ask who’s responsible for those arresting beats, just say casually, “Oh yeah, that’s Stephen Mallinder, you know, of Cabaret Voltaire. He dropped this mix the other week…..”
Listen to Mallinder’s “Wonk” mix after the jump…...
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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