Richard H Kirk
Life’s a cabaret
Neil Cooper talks to Richard H Kirk as he gears up to play Cabaret Voltaire, the club named after his former band
Richard H Kirk is talking about how his old band inspired the names of not one, but two clubs. The fact that Cabaret Voltaire, the electronic pioneers formed by Kirk in 1970s Sheffield with Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson themselves took their name from the Zurich speak-easy opened in 1916 as a hotbed of Dada activity, adds even more weight to their avant-hedonist credentials.
CV’s best-known work, the primitive bubblegum garage band squelch of ‘Nag, Nag, Nag’, became the unlikely anthem of London’s Wednesday night beautiful people’s hang-out of the same name. With a DJ set by a one-time member of Cabaret Voltaire (the band) being something of a conceptual gag, not to say coup, for the third anniversary of Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire (the club), the rest of the world, it seems, has finally caught up with Kirk.
‘We did our bit,’ he says of Cabaret Voltaire’s influence. ‘It was a bit of a challenge, but it’s nice that people remember. We were ahead of the pack, to the extent that our first ever live show in 1975 got quite ugly, and ended in total mayhem. That’s when we knew we were onto something.’
Cabaret Voltaire were founded on a Burroughsian cut-up aesthetic applied to repetitive beats long before mainstream sampling utilised the same sense of pick’n’mix collage for the dancefloor. As arthouse-experimental and grim-up-north intellectual as they were mean-and-moody, euphoric, paranoid, funky and sexy-as-hell, often on the same track, CV’s extensive back catalogue can now be seen as the missing link between Can, Kraftwerk and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry on the one hand, and Chicago and Detroit house and techno meisters such as Marshall Jefferson and Derrick May, who adored them, on the other.
‘A lot of people were quite snobbish about dance music,’ Kirk remembers. ‘But we couldn’t see any point in repeating what we’d already done. We could either go up our own arses and become more esoteric, or else open up and become more accessible. Chicago and Detroit were looking to that, which helped evolve what became house music.’
Since CV’s mid-90s demise, Kirk has operated under 30-odd aliases on twice as many releases. Soul Jazz Records released two albums of reggae-inspired digi-dub under the Sandoz name, while, as Sweet Exorcist, Kirk’s 1991 CCEP album was the first long-player released on Warp.
These days, Kirk releases material solely through his website, www.richardhkirk.com. His most recent outings, ‘Burning The Words Part 1 and 2,’ were released under his Vasco de Mento disguise, while three albums are pending. For a hint of where Kirk’s head’s at just now, he confesses a penchant for the back-alley after-hours dubstep of Burial’s recent album.
‘We were all big fans of dub,’ says Kirk of his former band’s influences. ‘All this stuff based round a monstrous bassline. But people shouldn’t expect me to play four to the floor stuff or minimal techno or any of that. At my age it’ll be hard enough not being mistaken for an off-duty copper.’
Richard H Kirk at Cabaret Voltaire/Sugar Beat’s joint third birthday, Fri 29 Feb.