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Music / Cabaret Voltaire

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The original line-up: Kirk, Mallinder, and Watson.

Cabaret Voltaire is one of the Trope Makers and Trope Codifiers of Industrial music and one of the most prolific and respected artists of 70s and 80s electronic music. They were formed in 1973 by Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson as a multimedia project, and they named the band after the famous Dada nightclub in Zurich. Come the Punk Rock explosion in the mid 70s, the band developed a sound combining harsh Suicide-influenced Post-Punk, instrument-and-voice effects processing, and tape manipulation that laid much groundwork for the nascent Industrial scene. Their single "Nag Nag Nag" is one of the defining tracks of early Industrial, and their albums Red Mecca and 2x45 are two of its most acclaimed albums.

Watson left the band in 1981, leaving Kirk and Mallinder to pursue a more accessible electronic sound, being a significant influence on Industrial's synth-dance subgenre, EBM. They incorporated such influences as Funk, Dub, Dance, and House, eventually morphing into a House/Acid House act before breaking up in 1994. Kirk kept busy with a wide range of solo and side projects, and Mallinder kept out of music before returning to it in the 2010s, forming the acclaimed electronic trio Wrangler in 2012.

Kirk resurrected the name in 2009 for collaborative purposes, then released new Cab material from 2020 until his death in September 2021.

Band members included:

  • Richard H. Kirk: guitars, keyboards, tapes (1973-1994, 2009-2021)
  • Stephen Mallinder: vocals, bass, keyboards (1973-1994)
  • Chris Watson: keyboards, tapes (1973-1982)

Key Discography:

  • Extended Play (1978, EP)
  • Mix-Up (1979)
  • The Voice of America (1980)
  • Three Mantras (1980, EP)
  • Red Mecca (1981)
  • 2x45 (1982)
  • The Crackdown (1983)
  • Johnny Yesno (1983)
  • Micro-Phonies (1984)
  • Drinking Gasoline (1985, EP)
  • The Covenant, The Sword, and The Arm of the Lord (1985)
  • Code (1987)
  • Eight Crepescule Tracks (1988, compilation)
  • Listen Up With Cabaret Voltaire (1990, rarities compilation)
  • Groovy, Laidback and Nasty (1990)
  • Body and Soul (1991)
  • Plasticity (1992)
  • International Language (1993)
  • The Conversation (1994)
  • The Original Sound of Sheffield '83/'87 (2001, compilation)
  • Conform to Deform '82/'90 (2001, compilation)
  • The Original Sound of Sheffield '78/'82 (2002, compilation)
  • Methodology '74/'78: The Attic Tapes (2002, demos compilation)
  • Chance Versus Causality (2019)
  • Shadow of Fear (2020)
  • Shadow of Funk (2020, EP)
  • Dekadrone (2021)
  • BN9Drone (2021)

This band provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: "Runaway" is the only song on Groovy, Laidback and Nasty with a rap segment.
  • Concept Album:
    • Red Mecca is essentially this, focusing the band's sound on the destructive politics of the Middle East during the 1980s, hence the name.
    • On a similar note, Three Mantras takes this further and has 2 full pieces dedicated to the West and the East. "Western Mantra" is a typical Cabaret Voltaire style industrial-electronic barrage with some slight middle eastern themes, while "Eastern Mantra" is a full on Muslimgauze-esque sound collage of traditional arab music and Eastern sounds.
  • Cover Version: Quite a few:
    • Their Extended Play EP has a cover of The Velvet Underground's "Here She Comes Now"
    • Their debut album The Mix Up has a cover of The Seeds' "No Escape".
    • Their '70s demo tape 1974 - 1976 has a cover of "She Loved You" by The Beatles, albeit a strange deconstruction.
  • Deconstruction: Most of their covers (see above) are literal examples of this, where they make strange music collages that are minimalist and very different from the source material.
  • Industrial: Trope Makers and Trope Codifier alongside Throbbing Gristle. Also an Ur-Example of Industrial's dance-based subgenre EBM.
  • House Music: Their output from Code through to their 1994 dissolution, evolving into Acid House.
  • Intercourse with You: "I Want You", in the form of masturbation.
  • Lead Bassist: Bassist Stephen Mallinder was also singer and co-songwriter during their initial run, often taking focus in their music videos.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Code marked their transition into a poppier style. The lyrics were not any less cynical.
  • Mushroom Samba:
    • "Heaven And Hell" from their debut album is a rather nightmarish take on this, talking about fatal drug overdoses.
    • "Bedtime Stories", from The Attic Tapes, has a part like this near the end, where the narrator hallucinates his friends being gorily killed.
  • New Sound Album:
    • 2X45 changes from their usual noisy Industrial sound to a more accessible and danceable sound inspired by Funk, hinting at the direction the band would take from The Crackdown-onwards.
    • The Crackdown transitions between their earlier Industrial output and their Synth-Pop/EBM era. Micro-Phonies begins their EBM era proper.
    • Code began the band's House Music era.
  • Non-Indicative Title: Three Mantras has only two mantras: "Western Mantra" and "Eastern Mantra". To further the confusion, the two are switched in the track listing.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: Possibly "Whip Blow"; the lyrics are so abstract it is difficult to tell.
  • Post-Punk: While not necessarily within the same category as Joy Divison, they are the more nosier and electronic variant of the genre.
  • Protest Song: "Drink Your Poison" was most likely meant as a song against the Jonestown mass suicide.
  • Sampling:
    • Recordings of TV presenters, religious clerics, televangelists and policemen appeared in their music as far back as The '70s.
    • Extensively sampled The Outer Limits (1963) episode "Demon with a Glass Hand", most notably in "Yashar".
      "There's 70 billion people on Earth. Where are they hiding?"
  • Synth-Pop: From The Crackdown through The '90s.
  • Word Salad Title: One of their songs is called "If The Shadows Could March?" (yes, with a question mark).