Archives: Cabaret Voltaire reissue campaign

While on the reissue theme this week the most important could well be recently started re-evaluation of Cabaret Voltaire. Especially right now, when the current crop of techno-obsessed noise and avant-rock heads reign supreme (Prurient & Co) and dance music producers/labels use post-punk aesthetics to add an edge to their work (Blackest Ever Black, Regis, Powell). The market is apparently ripe and well-prepared with the new generation raised on industrial techno and noise hybrids. The timing could not be better.

As is the case with a lot of art and creativity nowadays, the current trend for harsh sounds has been pre-designed and well-travelled by a lot of post-punk era musical dissidents. Most influentially by the Sheffield's trio of Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder & Chris Watson. Their catalogue traverses so many "en vogue" sounds and themes it's hard to believe that it's been roughly 35 years since their first release on Rough Trade. There have been studied, but righteous Dada and Burroughs-inspired "avantgardisms" and sonic cut-ups of their early stuff, the molten sound-lava of dissonant, politically confrontational, ill-atmosphered and most innovative late 70's run of albums, electro and synth-pop stylings of mid-80's New Order'ism and final attempt at re-connecting with underground through the burgeoning dance culture of early 90's rave scene in UK. Not to mention Richard H. Kirk subsequent foray into techno resulting in it's first distinctly Briitish incarnation also known as Bleep. The style is also known to provide the mission of intent for initial programming choices on the soon-to-become ultimate electronica staple Warp.

Mute had a precedent embarking on the expansive reissue program of their industrial-leaning back catalogue through The Grey Area sublabel. That's how the first wave of CV represses came into being in the early 90's coinciding (probably not by accident) with their ultimately unsuccessful attempt at producing acid-house-inspired album "Groovy, Laidback & Nasty" under the supervision of Chicago house pioneer Marshall Jefferson. 

This time Mute unchronologically started with Cab's notoriously difficult and sketchily recorded 3rd album "Red Mecca", which has more than a few parallels with Brian Eno & David Byrne's widely-acclaimed sampledelia of "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts" released the same year. Both have angular awkward funkiness, weird timbral textures, almost danceable rhythms, oblique ethnographic borrowings and the general sense of malaise. Both are influenced by it's immediate surrounding of global political disaster. 1981 was the year of unrest and riots in Thatcher-led Britain, US hostages in Iran, Afghanistan, evangelists' shows on american TV and the variety of other unpleasant things. TV-derived religion and/or politics-tinged "found sound"-style samples ended up gracing both works. The only difference is the method of assembly.


Cabaret Voltaire "Black Mask" (Taken from "Red Mecca" Rough Trade, 1981) 

While Eno and Byrne used primarily samples to arrive at their aimed sound, Cabaret Voltaire employed more intuitive approach formed through extensive live performances and absurd overuse of FX. "Red Mecca" ended up sounding alien and futuristic even by today's standards, using ridiculously distorted mix of drum-machines and live percussion, intricate basslines, metallic webwork of Kirk's reverb-drenched guitar-figures, woozy synths and trademark disfigured vocals of Mallinder. To top it off there are random horn and clarinet bursts in seemingly random acts of madness.

Needless to say that we are dealing with stone-cold classic righlty-considered the best that Cabs had to offer during their most prolific and creatively-charged period. Reissue improves on and cleans up the impenetrable sound-soup of the original master. The majestic sleeve design and typography seals the deal.

Later this year Mute is going to continue their CV-related schedule with November-penned release of mega-plush box set of Cab's work during their Some Bizarre period. Infamously that was the time when Stevo (head of the label) was literally using major labels money to fund his beloved ex-industrial collectives' excursions into crossover territory. With a very varying degree of success.


The aforementioned box-set is going to include all 4 of Some Bizarre / Virgin recordings: glorious electro-pop of "The Crackdown", most popular of the bunch "Micro-Phonies" (the music video for album's single "Sensoria" is still part of the permanent collection in MoMA), extended single "Drinking Gasoline" and less-loved "The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm Of The Lord". As part of the package lucky owners will get 6 CD's of all of the above plus 12"s remixes and unreleased soundtrack to equally unreleased movie Earthshaker, DVDs containing live performances (supposedly coinciding with the period covered by the albums) and hyper-extended 40-page sleeve notes.

According to the Cabaret Voltaire Official Fan Page (yes there is one now), the resurrected CV is from now on the solo operation of Richard H. Kirk with imminent release of new material.

To wrap it up I highly recommend an in-depth analysis of Cabaret Voltaire heritage and audio documents conducted by Pere Ubu's Keith Moliné for September 2013 issue of Wire magazine.