Though they're one of the most important groups in the history of industrial and electronic music, Cabaret Voltaire are sometimes forgotten in the style's timeline -- the fact is that CV rarely stayed in one place for long, instead moving quickly from free-form experimentalism through arty white-boy funk and on to house music in the late '80s and electronica the following decade and switching labels too, which left them with little steady support.
"Initially a three piece, Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson began by playing around with recorded sounds manipulated by basic reel-to-reel recorders in Sheffield in 1973. "Way ahead of their time, these ideas culminated in 1975, when the three staged their first performance of these sound experiments and assumed the name Cabaret Voltaire, taken from the name of the club started in Zurich by the principals of the Dada art movement during the First World War. As part of the confrontational energy of punk, the early titles of the records didn't mince words - 'Baader Meinhof' and 'Do the Mussolini (Headkick)' were indicators that were bound to lead to a certain notoriety. To the press they appeared to be immersed in a world of paranoia fed by conspiracy theories, political control and the use of drugs to both free and inhibit the individual.
"The band began working with Rough Trade in 1978, producing the now seminal triumvirate of albums, 'Mix Up' (1979), 'Voice of America' (1980) and their most prophetic album 'Red Mecca' (1981), an album released to an excellent response from the music press. All these recordings were assembled in the seclusion of the band's own studio in Sheffield called Western Works. "Chris Watson left the group in October 1981 midway during the recoding of 2x45 and on the eve of an international tour to pursue a career in television sound recording. This departure left Kirk and Mallinder free to commit to a long-term struggle with the 'pop music' industry under the protection of Stevo's Some Bizarre label, via a Virgin Records distribution deal. By December 1982 they were in the midst of recording the 'Crackdown' album in Trident Studios, London with the producer Flood.
Cabaret Voltaire were always strongly rooted in the Dada-ist tradition and nowhere was this more evident than in their rare but much anticipated live performances, with their innovative use of film and video documented in the three live albums, 'Live at the YMCA' (1979), 'Live at the Lyceum' (1981) and 'Hai' live in Japan (1982), and the 90 minute video 'Doublevision Presents...'
Cabaret Voltaire moved to EMI/Parlophone in 1986 for The Code. Two years later, the band traveled to Chicago to record Groovy, Laidback & Nasty with Marshall Jefferson, one of the mavericks in the new house sound blowing up in the British charts. After another break of several years, the new-electronica label Instinct released a trio of CV albums Plasticity (92), International Language (93) and The Conversation (94). The results were quite startling and Cabaret Voltaire finally regained the attention they deserved. However, at the height of the trance/ambient wave, Kirk pulled the plug and erratic as always Cabaret Voltaire was no more.
While Mallinder went off to Australia to study, Kirk continues on with solo projects (Richard Kirk, Sandoz, 2 dozen aliases) Kirk has suggested he is still considering resurrecting the Cabaret name, but this time he plans to "Get some young people involved". In 2001, Watson appeared in the documentary film Made in Sheffield, where he discussed the early years of Cabaret Voltaire. Since that time, Kirk has resurrected the Cabaret Voltaire name and has released new albums with New Zealand band Kora called Kora! Kora! Kora! and Sheffield band The Tivoli called National Service Rewind. The new material was recorded at Western Works studios.
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It would actually be more accurate to call this album 'Two Mantras,' given that it consists of two sidelong pieces, "Eastern Mantra" and "Western Mantra," which gives the still-then-a-trio a chance to expand its avant-electronic-grunge into trancier realms. Mallinder's abstract ranting is in full effect from the start of "Western," talking about bodies in the streets and the like, and from there things move into a rough realm of strange art, Voltaire-style. The combination of Kirk's guitar and Mallinder's bass work here is practically that of Krautrock/motorik, Mallinder playing a steady, quietly varying series of notes while Kirk throws in a variety of crumbling squalls. His work is sometimes vaguely Arabic in flavor, which combined with the length of the song, the hollow drum machine punch driving everything along, and Watson's piercing keyboards is not merely interesting but helps to demonstrate, in a subtle way, some of the future influences on artists like Muslimgauze. The alien feeling at the core of Cabaret Voltaire remains, though, strong and strange as always. "Eastern Mantra" has the basic trio, plus guests on percussion and found-sound tapes, doing something far more outre. A heavily-treated vocal loop underlaid by a subtle keyboard drone starts the song, interspersed with samples of Arabic and Israeli pop music and various bell sounds -- the roots for Muslimgauze in particular really show here! Kirk's crisp playing floats in some time later, stepping in and out of the mix but never predominating, while Mallinder's bass is barely detectable. The occasional bursts of low, clattering pounding, with cymbals if not with drums in the background, combined with the continuing series of song samples, Arabic wind instruments and snippets recorded in a Jerusalem market, heightens the enveloping, striking feel of the piece and release as a whole.
Cabaret Voltaire - Three Mantras (80 Flac 228mb)
01 Western Mantra 20:39
02 Eastern Mantra 20:11
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This release comprises two recording sessions, one from October '81 (just before co-founder Chris Watson's departure) and the other from February '82. There's a definite difference of feel between each record, an example of just how fast the group was moving. Of the first three tracks on the first record, 'Yashar' is the standout track and to this day it remains one of the group's signature tunes. There's a strong Middle Eastern influence the winds its way through the track both in melody and percussion elements. Electronics and samples are downplayed somewhat in favour of pulsing hypnotic elements. 'Breathe Deep' has a faster dancier feel . The tracks on the second record, without Watson, are slightly more streamlined musically, Long-time collaborator Alan Fish takes care of percussion. On 'T.E.S. War Of Nerves', eerie spoken samples about methods of torture open up the track only to give in to the dark paranoia in Mal’s lyrics, his vocals are menacing and unsettling. The two last tracks, ‘Wait & Shuffle’ and ‘Get Out Of My Face’ have a dark, slightly more ambient and melodic feel, showing the Cabs shedding their earlier electro-terrorist noise . Clearly, the band were closing one chapter in their musical development and opening another. Their subsequent end with Rough Trade, which had signed them originally, and new arrangement with Some Bizzare also marked a change for the group.
Cabaret Voltaire - 2x45 (82 Flac 277mb)
1 Breathe Deep 5:19
2 Yashar 5:13
3 Protection 7:42
4 War Of Nerves (T.E.S.) 5:11
5 Wait And Shuffle 8:09
6 Get Out Of My Face 13:11
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1987's Code, co-produced by On-U Sound mastermind Adrian Sherwood, finds Cabaret Voltaire at their loosest and most accessible. Though its subject matter remains dark and paranoid, in sound Code is the closest thing CV ever made to a party record. Aided perhaps by Sherwood's rhythmic expertise, it achieved a genuine mechanistic funkiness.Which didn't necessarily endear it,to fans of the Cabs' harsher, more challenging material. To describe Code as lightweight is a big mistake because there's much to enjoy here. "Sex, Money, Freaks" answers the eternal question, "Trouble (Won't Stop)" dips one toe into the blues, with harmonica making a surprising appearance and Bill Nelson providing atmospheric guitar. Code's most memorable song, though, is "Here to Go," a hook-laden and bass-heavy track that offers the paradoxical advice, "Sharpen up, relax/ Lighten up, get serious/ Stick with it, sit back/ Live with it, commit yourself."
Cabaret Voltaire - Code (87 Flac 245mb)
01 Don't Argue (Feat.Bill Nelson) 4:27
02 Sex, Money, Freaks (Feat.Mark Brydon, Sim Lister) 4:59
03 Thank You America 5:21
04 Here To Go 5:10
05 Trouble (Won't Stop) (Feat.Bill Nelson) 5:07
06 White Car (Feat.Bill Nelson) 2:44
07 No One Here (Feat.Mark Brydon, Sim Lister) 5:00
08 Life Slips By 3:24
09 Code 4:08
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