How did you come
to play music, and who were your major influences while
By accident really. I was studying to be a painter at
Sheffield Art College, also, doing audiovisual installations,
but also I had been into the Beatles/Stones/beat boom
at quite an early age (about 6 years old!). My parents
bought me a guitar, which I couldn’t play, but
could make noise with. Later I got into soul, reggae,
funk, some better elements of glam rock, which is where
Brian Eno came in, then, in the sixth form at school,
whilst writing about pop art came the discovery of dada,
musique concrete, Cage, Stockhausen, etc...
How did you meet Stephen Mallinder and Chris
Watson, and how did you start Cabaret Voltaire?
I knew Mallinder from being young skinheads/suedeheads
in Sheffield city centre; it was the clothes and music
that attracted us. We avoided any racist elements. I
had lost touch with Mallinder, but was hanging out with
a gang called the Spiders, local to my area in Sheffield
(Pitsmoor). Again it was clothes, music (Roxy Music,
Bowie, Velvet Underground, soul and funk), and the idea
of creating mayhem here and there. Chris had been at
school with some of the gang, and had some basic sound
equipment. I had inherited a lot of old electronic gear
and bits and pieces from my father, who was into radio
ham/electronic projects. Along with a couple of the
gang, we started making basic sound experiments, including
a very weird version of Bowie's Five Years.
Various people dropped out along the way, but a chance
meeting with Mallinder at a Sheffield club called Shades
saw me inviting him to contribute some vocals (he didn’t
have a strong local accent, which was a plus, and he
was into some of the same music). This was 73/74. We
took the name Cabaret Voltaire (my idea I think, because
of the dada/art school connection) for the first live
performance in may 1975.
Your work either as part of Cabaret Voltaire
or solo has been highly influential in shaping up the
electronic scene of today. Were you ever conscious that
your music was pivotal to a whole scene?
It’s kind of bubbled under for the past 15 years
really, but only recently have the superlatives started.
Kind of sad that the last few Cabaret Voltaire concerts
only attracted 150 or so people back in December 92.
We could have done with the support then, perhaps the
project may have continued. But its not so bad getting
the recognition in retrospect. It means that there will
be more people interested in the upcoming Cabaret Voltaire
project. Hey, they may even buy some of my current CDs!
You worked with Marshall Jefferson on Groovy,
Laidback And Nasty. Did you have in mind a house-orientated
record when you started recording at the time, and did
it influence your later work either solo or with Cabaret
Well it was a pleasure to be in Chicago and meet all
the guys who had invented house. I think the end product
of Groovy… was more pop than house. It
probably suffered from major label lag, i.e.: if we
could have gotten the record out sooner (maybe 18 months),
it may have been more successful. I think the whole
scene had moved on by the time it came out. But it was
great working with Marshall, whose work we loved (and
a lot of Chicago house and Detroit techno as well)
How do you explain why so many electronic bands
of the late 70s early
eighties came from Sheffield?
Easy: the Cabs started the trend, all the others followed.
Also, Roxy Music were very popular in Sheffield, hence
the Eno effect.
You're probably one of the most prolific musicians
around. How do you find the time to record so much music?
Technology makes it easier to be prolific, plus that
working class work ethic: always good to be busy.
You have for years incorporated elements of
dub and African music in your work, which is rather
rare in electronic music. How did you come to be interested
in these styles of music?
Well, I kind of grew up around West Indian music because
of the area where I lived. It was really black music
that working class kids were into (soul, Tamla Motown,
etc…). The African stuff came later. The Cabs
always had the hots for Fela and Sunny Ade amongst others.
I took it further with my own work. Being able to travel
to West Africa, the Caribbean, etc… helped put
it all in focus.
Your work sometimes seems to have a political
theme. Is it important for you to get a message behind
Yeah, here it is. Fuck Bush, fuck Blair, get them out
before they destroy civilisation.
Do you think it is more difficult to convey
a message through instrumental music?
Music is an international language. It says things words
can’t. Emotions are universal and are carried
in music without words.
You release material through many different
labels and under a variety of names. Is this a way for
you to avoid people expecting too much?
It’s about survival more than anything.
With so many projects on the go, do you have
different way to approach each one? Do you work on one
project at a time, or do you just record and then put
tracks with similar feel together?
No set plan. Two projects can be on the go at the same
time, others can be done from start to finish in 3 weeks
(say, for instance Virtual State, or Sandoz’s
Chant To Jah), or can be ongoing for years,
like for URP Vol. 1 and 2.
Technology has moved on a lot since the early
days of Cabaret Voltaire. Has the way you work changed
a lot too?
As I mentioned before, technology can speed things up,
or in some cases (too many options with music software)
slow things down. It’s usually down to instinct,
which remains constant. The basic ideas still holds
You regularly collaborate with other musicians
on specific projects. Which one did you prefer and why?
Actually, I haven’t really worked with anyone
else this century, but I do occasionally remix other
artists, which is a form of collaboration. These days
I work mainly alone, more like a painter or writer.
Are there people you would like to work with
that you haven't had the chance to?
Yes, mainly African or Jamaican artists.
Is there someone amongst the electronic musicians
who have emerged in the last ten-fifteen years who you
really admire? If yes, who?
I’m sure there are, but I can't think of any right
now. I don’t listen to that much electronic music.
You and DJ Parrot were the first act to have
an album released on Warp as Sweet Exorcist. How did
you meet him and what made you decide to work together?
Parrot approached me once in a club back in the mid
eighties, and eventually I invited him to Western Works
to work on some tracks. Later, he asked me to help him
make Test One, which I did, and then we made
the CCEP. I guess a love of funk/dance music
was the common ground.
Do you feel you have a lot of musical connections
with the electronic scene and artists who have emerged
in the last 15 years?
Well I know many artists through their work, and some
personally, but, as I said before, I mainly work in
isolation from any scene.
Will there ever be a third Sweet Exorcist album?
Never say never!
Mute are releasing a collection of previously
unreleased material, and a version of the original Sandoz
album with extra tracks, and you've also recently released
the second volume of Unreleased Projects on
your own label, Intone. Why so many unreleased material
This is unfortunate timing. Whilst in archive mode with
Cabs material, I decided to put together the URP
series. I had the technology to edit and refine tracks
that I had recorded between 95/2000, and knew were good,
but some were maybe too long or needed fixing here and
there. With Sandoz’s Digital Lifeforms,
it had been unavailable for over 5 years, so I thought
maybe it was the right time to reissue it. The idea
is to have all archive material released and in the
public domain. Then, maybe when all the old tracks are
out there, and there is no more archive material available,
people might take more notice of new projects instead
of past ones.
Is there any more unreleased material to be
released in the future?
Well, I haven’t really started on the CV live
On the booklet for Earlier/Later,
you are quoted: 'It's important to go back in order
to go forward'. What did you mean by this, and is it
a principle that you follow in your work?
Well, sometimes you need to look at what you did before
to know what to do next.
On Earlier/Later, the two CDs sound
very different, giving an interesting view on your work,
with Earlier being much darker and introspective.
Do you think your work has become more accessible with
Yes, sometimes. However TWAT (The War Against
Terror, 2003) and Darkness At Noon (1999)
are hardly easy listening.
What are your thoughts on the electro-clash
Loved some, hated some. I hoped it would develop big,
but it doesn’t look that way now. It will probably
mutate into something else.
What's next for you?
I am releasing a new album later this year (September).
It’s called Richard H Kirk Meets The Truck
Bombers Of Suburbia Uptown. It features a new artist
called Pat Riot. A track from this will appear on 7inch
single on the white label alongside Ann Shenton (Large
Number), and Kings Have Long Arms. It will also be featured
on a compilation put together by Ann Shenton called
The Electronic Bible.
Over and out!
Email interview May 2004
Thank you to Richard & Laura