Cabaret Voltaire To Drop Rare Reboots

Cabaret Voltaire To Drop Rare Reboots

U.K.'s electro-industrial godfathers inspire Boomer-proof nostalgia.

U.K.'s electro-industrial godfathers inspire Boomer-proof nostalgia.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

The ignominy of this summer’s Woodstock 50 failure, not to mention this horror show, has proved Boomer nostalgia to be a risky business. But Plan K, now on the eve of its 40th anniversary, is not your parents’ overdone, probably-not-that-fun music festival; in addition to notorious guest of honor William S. Burroughs, Plan K has the distinction of effectively kickstarting electronic music. As such, the multidisciplinary arts fest, which unfolded on October 16, 1979, in a decommissioned Brussels grain refinery, is due some fanfare: On August 30, Mute will do the honors by delving into the archives of Cabaret Voltaire, Plan K co-headliners and godfathers of electro-industrial music. 

Plan K Brussels flyer

Defined by improvisation and non-musical sampling, and source-cited by everyone from Soft Cell to Aphex Twin, Cabaret Voltaire’s sound is an unlikely link between Burroughs-esque nonconformity and subsequent musical movements. “We never called it ‘music’ back in those days. It was just sound experiments” says Kirk, now the band's sole active member. “No one in Cabaret Voltaire was a fantastic musician [laughs]. But we did get a lot better as we progressed forward.” 

Recorded in the attic of band-member Chris Watson’s parents, 1974-76 reflects Cabaret Voltaire’s earliest efforts at sonic arrangement—complicated, or aided, by a total lack of formal training among Watson, Kirk, and vocalist Stephen Mallinder. “[Eventually] Chris built a synthesizer [out of] a kit he got from a magazine, and I bought a home-made guitar off some guy at my art school for, like, three pounds,” Kirk recalls. 

Richard H. Kirk (Courtesy: Richard H. Kirk)

Now demigods of the electro genre, but then emergent sound artists, Cabaret Voltaire didn’t hesitate to oblige when no-wave filmmaker Babeth Mondini approached the band, on-site at Plan K, to contribute the soundtrack to her film, Chance Versus Causality. “We were totally open to things like that; we were young,” says Kirk, who later lost track of the namesake, seven-part record. “To be honest with you, I am not sure how much of the soundtrack was used on the film, [because], unfortunately, I have never seen the film and I don’t know anyone who has!” 

Besides defying modern music-licensing best practices, that zen-like detachment may be just the antidote our nostalgia-obsessed culture needs. But it also reflects the original dynamic of Plan K—one of free-flowing creativity among like-minded expats. “It was really anti-establishment, anti-war, and basically taking the piss out of Bourgeois traditions,” says Kirk. “It was about insulting and causing trouble to the powers that be. As a young, rebellious person, it was very appealing.” 

Cabaret Voltaire; Left to right: Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder, Chris Watson (Courtesy Mute)

While they also shared Plan K billing with a pre-breakthrough Joy Division (who, legend has it, debuted "Love Will Tear Us Apart" there) no band embodies the Dada odysseys of first-wave electronic music better than Kirk and company. Since their beginnings as a misfit trio in Sheffield, U.K., the band attracted fellow latent iconoclasts—including seminal London post-punkers Throbbing Gristle, who signed Cabaret Voltaire to their label Industrial Records after a chance encounter in England's north country.

"The first time we met [Throbbing Gristle], they were playing a technical college, in a small city maybe 20 or 30 miles from [us]. We saw them play and then [introduced ourselves] afterward. There weren’t many people around doing [our] kind of sound," Kirk recalls. "We must have gotten along well enough because they gave us a lift back to Sheffield in their van, all of us piled in the back... It was [just as] unglamorous as it sounds, but from then on we were allies."

Cabaret Voltaire's Chance Versus Causality and 1974-76 on vinyl will be available, for the first time ever, on August 30 via Mute

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