Cabaret Voltaire (Contemporary Musicians)
Alternative rock band
An influence on many subsequent alternative bands, Cabaret Voltaire primarily used electronics and musical collage to create their high-tech sound. Originally, the group started as a trio of guitarist and synthesist Richard H. Kirk, singer and bassist Stephen Mallinder, and keyboardist and sampler Christopher Watkins. They got together in Sheffield, England in 1972, and named their band after a popular Dada hangout.
The Dada artists of the 1920s had invented the technique of collage as a form of chaotic artistic expression. Cabaret Voltaire infused their music with this influence by combining recorded samples of sounds, voices, and tape manipulations. Stephen Mallinder told Robert Payes in Musician that the band began with a desire "to annoy as many people as possible," and they have attempted to maintain that theme throughout their career. Jim Aikin and Kyle Kevorkian wrote in Keyboard magazine that Mallinder's vocals "vividly depict an age in which people are controlled by politicians, the media, and the military."
Cabaret Voltaire released its first recording in 1978, the EP Extended Play, on Rough Trade records. As the label's third single ever, Extended Play made both the band and the record company a popular success. The EP, which included a cover version of Lou Reed's song "Here She Comes Now," was described by a writer for The Trouser Press Record Guide as "unpredictable sounds and eerie, disembodied vocals manipulated over a very physical beat."
Expanded into Middle Eastern Influence
The following year, Cabaret Voltaire released two singles on Rough Trade, "Mix-Up" and "Nag, Nag, Nag." In 1980, the group put out a live record called Liveatthe YMCA 27-10-79, as well as three LPs: Three Mantras, The Voice of America, and 1974-1976.
The first full-length recording, Three Mantras, includes influences from Arabic and other non-Western music, while The Voice of America combines new and old material. The title track of the latter, "The Voice of America/Damage Is Done," incorporates taped samples and sparse electronic sounds to artistically depict both the repressive and libertarian aspects of American life. The LP 1974-1976, released on Industrial Records, includes a series of experiments and other material from Cabaret Voltaire's earliest days.
In 1980, Industrial released Richard H. Kirk's first solo LP, Disposable Half-Truths, beginning a series of side projects from the members of the band. Cabaret Voltaire continued their speedy recording schedule with three more LPs in 19813 Crépuscule Tracks, Live at the Lyceum, and Red Mecca. The two new recordings set a different trend in the group's sound, directed less toward art noise and more toward dance music. Red Mecca included a version of Henry Mancini's score for Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. Each of the other tracks featured a film title and played on the film noir theme.
One reviewer wrote in the New Statesman, "Cabaret Voltaire's Red Mecca is the first masterpiece of British electronic pop.... It's the pulse of Red Mecca that can't be taken for granted: the beat shifts from sound to sound and so changes the implicationow crisp, now lethargic. The band's tricks are in the backgroundnatches of conversation, radio talk, meanings to be reached through the agitation."
New Decade Resulted in Duo
By the end of 1981, Chris Watkins decided to leave the band to work on English television. From that time on, Cabaret Voltaire became a duo featuring Kirk and Mallinder. On the 1982 recording 2x45 featuring two 12-inch EPs, Kirk and Mallinder took the band's direction toward a more naturalistic sound with an emphasis on acoustic instruments like the clarinet and saxophone (played by Richard H. Kirk). The duo also produced Hai! Live in Japan on Rough Trade that same year.
Continuing with side projects, Stephen Mallinder put out his first solo LP, Pow-Wow, on Fetish Records in 1982. Cabaret Voltaire also played a show to raise money for the Polish Solidarity union. Due to contractual obligations, however, they released Live in Sheffield under the name Pressure Company. The following year, Cabaret Voltaire left Rough Trade for a new record contract with Some Bizarre, a division of Virgin Records known for its eccentric music groups.
Kirk and Mallinder came out with The Crackdown in 1983 on Some Bizarre/Virgin, it included the singles "Sensoria" and "James Brown." The same year, Cabaret Voltaire created its own label called Doublevision. They released the soundtrack for Peter Care's film Johnny Yes/No (recorded prior to Watkins' departure) and Kirk's solo album Time High Fiction on the new label.
Launched U.S. Success
The mid-1980s brought Cabaret Voltaire some popularity in the United States. After the release of 1984's Micro-Phonies, the group played their first East Coast show at the Ritz in New York in May of 1985. They went on to release Drinking Gasoline and The Arm of the Lord on Caroline Records the same year. The Arm of the Lord was reissued on compact disc as The Covenant, The Sword, and The Arm of the Lord, and includes the songs "I Want You" and "Motion Rotation." Mallinder also released his second solo album, Pow-Wow Plus on Doublevision.
Cabaret Voltaire's prolific output slowed after 1985, following the release of the EP The Drain Train. Richard Kirk began to spend more time on his side projects that year with two solo albums, Black Jesus Voice and Ugly Spirit. Kirk and former Box singer Peter Hope joined together to record Hoodoo Talk on Native/Wax Trax!, which didn't hit the stores until 1988.
In 1987, Cabaret Voltaire signed their first deal with a major U.S. label, EMI Manhattan records. The LP Code included the guitar contribution of Bill Nelson and a coproducer, Adrian Sherwood. Sherwood contributed some foundation and structure to Cabaret Voltaire's usually chaotic style. One reviewer for Musician wrote: "This is anything but machine music... cybernetic as the Cab's sound may be, their sensibility is surprisingly pop, pulling appealing hooks from the microchip throb of 'Here to Go' or 'Sex, Money, Freaks.'"
During the same year, Rough Trade released a compilation of earlier material called The Golden Moments of Cabaret Voltaire. This album heralded the band's first extended vacation. They had become frustrated with the corporate creative stranglehold they felt at EMI and left the label. Giant Records released another compilation in 1988 called Eight Crépuscule Tracks, consisting of three tracks from original versions, a few new singles, and a previously unreleased version of "The Theme from Shaft." In 1990, Mute-Restless reissued Cabaret Voltaire's back catalog all the way back to the Rough Trade days, along with a double album of rarities and unreleased material called Listen Up with Cabaret Voltaire and The Living Legends, which contained early singles from their history as a trio.
Cabaret Voltaire returned in 1990 with their first original release in three years, Groovy Laidback and Nasty on Parlophone. By this time, some fans had thought the band had called it quits. The LP included several backup singers along with a variety of collaborative coproducers. By 1992, the duo had signed a new deal with Instinct Records and released the first album of a trio titled Plasticity. Two discs in the collection, International Language and The Conversation, appeared in succeeding years. The latter returned Cabaret Voltaire to its earlier style by focusing more on pieces and textures than actual songs.
Always evolving and changing, the duo expressed their desire to remain innovative in Keyboard magazine. "As far as I 'm concerned, once things become mainstream, it's time to move on," Kirk told Greg Rule. "It's time to change what you do. That's basically what Cabaret Voltaire has been about. It's always nice to try and stay a little bit ahead of the game. It probably means you'll never be rich, but it's an interesting position to be in, just the same."
Extended Play, Rough Trade, 1978.
Live at the YMCA 27-10-79, Rough Trade, 1980; reissued, Mute-Restless, 1990.
Three Mantras, Rough Trade, 1980; reissued Mute-Restless, 1990.
The Voice of America, Rough Trade, 1980; reissued Mute-Restless, 1990.
1974-1976, Industrial, 1980.
3 Crépuscule Tracks, Rough Trade, 1981.
Live at the Lyceum, Rough Trade, 1981; reissued, Mute-Restless, 1990.
Red Mecca, Rough Trade, 1981; reissued, Mute-Restless, 1990.
2X45, Rough Trade, 1982; reissued, Mute-Restless, 1990.
Hai! Live in Japan, Rough Trade, 1982; reissued, Mute-Restless, 1990.
The Crackdown, Some Bizarre/Virgin, 1983.
Johnny Yes/No, Doublevision, 1983; reissued, Mute-Restless, 1990.
Micro-Phonies, Some Bizarre/Virgin, 1984.
Drinking Gasoline, Caroline, 1985.
The Arm of the Lord, Caroline, 1985.
The Drain Train, Caroline, 1986; reissued, Mute-Restless, 1990.
Code, EMI-Manhattan, 1987.
The Golden Moments of Cabaret Voltaire, Rough Trade, 1987.
Eight Crépuscule Tracks, Giant, 1988.
Listen Up with Cabaret Voltaire, Mute-Restless, 1990.
The Living Legends, Mute-Restless, 1990.
Groovy, Laidback and Nasty, Parlophone, 1990.
Plasticity, Instinct, 1992.
International Language, Instinct, 1993.
The Conversation, Instinct, 1994.
The Trouser Press Record Guide, Ira A. Robbins, editor, Collier Books, 1992.
Keyboard, February 1986, February 1988, April 1994.
Musician, September 1985, January 1988.
New Statesman, December 18, 1981.
Stereo Review, February 1988.