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.”
And what kind of monsters would we be if we didn’t include Isaac Hayes’ indelible original here for your A/Bing enjoyment?
Sam Harmon makes lovely, lovely electronic music under the name Glacial23, and I owe him a solid for telling me this existed.