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As Mute releases a collection of unreleased material covering a fifteen-year period, and re-issue the seminal first Sandoz album with additional tracks, Richard H Kirk, undoubtedly one of the most prolific artists around, agreed to take a bit of time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for themilkfactory. Here, he talks about the genesis of Cabaret Voltaire, how he realised that his work had influenced younger artists, his passion for African/Caribbean music and his forthcoming project.

How did you come to play music, and who were your major influences while growing up?
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 Voltaire?
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 your work?
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 good now.

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 at once?
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 archive yet!

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 the years?
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 scene?
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

Discuss this in the forum

Earlier/Later: Unreleased Project Anthology 74/89 / Digital Lifeforms Redux
02'02 Afrocentris
03'01 Subduing Demons (In South Yorkshire)
08'00 LoopStatic
03'00 Neurometrik


Richard H Kirk
The Greedy Eye
Brainwashed/Cabaret Voltaire
Warp Records

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