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Richard H Kirk: Cabaret Voltaire’s Singular Star ::

Reported by Trackitdown TID on March 28, 2006

“There are many situations where having money would be bloody useful, such as for traveling, but it’s a bit late for me now to say I’m going to start knocking out pop tunes. I don’t deliberately set out to be not commercial.”


30 years after he helped invent today’s electronic music scene with his work with Stephen Mallinder as Cabaret Voltaire, Richard H Kirk remains both underground and to some extent unrecognized, certainly by the general public, despite his best intentions.


“Basically most of the stuff that I do is based around rhythm and that’s a very communal thing,” says Richard, “Whatever else is going on in a piece of music, if it’s got a compelling rhythm then I think people would be drawn to it. But that’s about as near as it gets in terms of trying to be accessible and commercial.”


Though his artistically uncompromising approach has failed to bring him riches, it’s certainly brought him respect and recognition from a who’s who of house and techno pioneers, including many who publicly endorsed him on the Cabs retrospective compilation that came out three years ago on Mute.


“CV are without exaggeration the un-acclaimed uncrowned originators of British electronic experimental dance music,” said Soft Cell’s Marc Almond on the CD’s sleevenotes, echoing similarly euphoric shouts from Derrick May, New Order and Kraftwerk though three years later, Richard admits his diary remains surprisingly free.


“I’ll give you an idea of my live schedule; last year I played a benefit gig for the Tsunami, in Sheffield, back in February, then in September I played a club called ‘Raver Stiletto’. After that I went to Madrid to play in October and that was it,” he reveals.


“Occasionally you get the odd offer, but not quite as many as you would perhaps imagine. There are always some people who make the occasional offer for Cabaret Voltaire to play live, but I just tell people it’s not possible at the moment, which is the truth.”


While he’s been quiet on the touring front, he’s been keeping himself busy producing music, whether through his parallel dub project Sandoz, his unreleased compilation series URP ( Volume 4 (Expresso Electro Congo) is out soon) and brand new EP Fear No Evil, a 4 track vinyl release just out on Dust. 



Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How do you generally create your tracks, do you sit down with an idea in your head or do you play around in the studio and wait until something pops up?


Richard H Kirk: “A bit of both really. I wrote the first track Toned and the other more techno sounding track BN2, for a performance in Berlin at a festival called Shrinking Cities a couple of years ago. It was in the old Eastern European government headquarters, the Palace Of The Republic and they staged some events there to try and stop it being demolished. There was a split between people who wanted to see it flattened because of all the bad memories and others who wanted to preserve it and use it as an arts venue. It was a weird concrete monolithic 1970’s building and I must say I found it quite spooky in there. I can imagine that there may have been a few people tortured in there and suchlike, under the old regime.


The other two tracks Casa De Dada and Fear (No Evil) were written for a show I was doing in Madrid last October, where I played live at an experimental club/festival type event. That’s how the tracks came about, they were written for live performance, but seemed to work pretty good on their own.”


Skrufff: On your website’s news section you displayed the phrase ‘Better to die standing than to live on your knees’ and the EP title Fear No Evil seems laden with symbolism, what do you make of the world today?


Richard H Kirk: “We have been living in violent times, since the whole 9/11 thing kicked off and that phrase you quoted was actually said by Che Guevara in the sixties, but one could almost apply that to some of the activities that some of the radical Islamic groups are taking. It’s basically pointing out that they are prepared to die for what they believe in; whether what they believe in is right or wrong, it’s just that kind of total commitment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not aligning myself to any of those people and if I did I would fucking get in trouble anyway. But it’s just that sort of attitude I’m talking about; that  ‘take no prisoners’ approach and I try to keep to that philosophy in the work that I do. In other words, moving forwards, regardless of whether anyone is listening or not, these days.”


Skrufff: Last time we spoke there was a flood of Cabaret Voltaire reissues coming out. How much has that changed the way people perceive you? Has it brought a new audience?


Richard H Kirk: “No I don‘t think so. I don’t know how well those things sell. I do my bit by compiling them and getting the whole thing together and going through the archive stuff, but I put that on hold to do some of my own archive stuff.”


Skrufff: I would have imagined all that media coverage would bring another wave of offers and opportunities . . .


Richard H Kirk: “Unfortunately, no. I’ll give you an idea of my live schedule, last year I played a benefit gig for the Tsunami, in Sheffield, back in February, then in September I played a club called ‘Raver Stiletto’. After that hen I went to Madrid to play in October and that was it. Occasionally you get the odd offer, but not quite as many as you would perhaps imagine. There are always some people who made the occasional offer for Cabaret Voltaire to play live, but I just tell people it’s not possible at the moment, which is the truth.”


Skrufff: When you play live yourself, do you need to bring loads and loads of equipment or are you now using a laptop?


Richard H Kirk: “No, I don’t own a laptop, I’ve got a Mac G4 with some music sotfware that I use mainly for post production and editing, and maybe sometimes I’ll create tracks in that, but for live I’m using a scaled down version of the studio. It’s pretty old school, I use a mixing desk on stage with banks of effects, then stuff on DAT and mini disc and some live keyboards. It’s like a live dub, more than a live concert. Basically mixing two or three different sound sources, then using processing. It’s very old school, it’s not automated and it’s not run from a laptop. What I tend to do when I play somewhere is get the equipment hired in. It’s very basic, it’s not expensive to hire, but obviously at some point I may change that and start using a laptop with a mixing desk.”


Skrufff: Are you actively resisting new technology?


Richard H Kirk: “No, on the contrary I use plug-ins and have ProTools though I’m still using an Atari 1040ST and a program called Creator which is from 1989, I think. I’m still writing on that and using midi, running a lot of old analogue synthesizers, a couple of samplers. It’s very basic but it seems to work for me, so I’m sticking with. Having the Mac and ProTools and other processing adds another dimension, if you like, so you can start to f++k around with it. I’m trying to keep the best of both worlds.”


Skrufff: I remember on the sleevenotes of one of the compilations, you had characters like Derrick May and Marc Almond paying tribute to you being a pioneer of electronic music, are collaborations something you’ve ever considered?   


Richard H Kirk: “From time to time, but I don’t get asked that much and I don’t run into many people either; I’m not out there networking or actively looking to collaborate. I’m meant to be doing a track with Genesis P Orridge, which I hope will still happen but I know he’s been very busy, because Throbbing Gristle has been active again as has Psychic TV, I played alongside them out in Spain last year. I do remixes from time to time; I just remixed a band from Sheffield called ‘The Lovers’ quite recently. Things crop up from time to time and if someone comes along and there’s an interesting project or possibility, I’d certainly be into doing it. It’s easier now, where you can just exchange files, you don’t even need to be physically together in the studio somewhere. That’s something that technology has enabled to a large extent.”


Skrufff: You’ve always pursued a very singular uncompromising path throughout your career, have you ever had moments of doubt, or been tempted to try and make an out and out commercial record?


Richard H Kirk: “I don’t know because ever since I started making music, money and commerciality were never really motivations. When we started Cabaret Voltaire, never in a million years did we think ‘this is going to make us rich or we are going to get signed up to a label’ It was done just because it was fun to do, we were very, very into music. Obviously when you are young you don’t really give a fuck  and you don’t have bills and mortgages to pay and all this shit that you get landed with later. Having money would be very useful because I’m a little frustrated that there are certain technologies that I can’t afford, for example I’d like to update my visuals, the films that I do for live performance.


Skrufff: Do you have children?


Richard H Kirk : “No. None that I’m owning up to anyway.”


Skrufff: Phil Oakey was telling me that the two of you used to bump into each other quite a lot around town. Do you bump into him still very much?


Richard H Kirk: “Yeah, sometimes though I don’t really go out very much, I’m 50 this year. The whole clubbing, nightlife thing feels a bit odd to me now. I only like being in a club environment really if I’m working, if I’ve got a reason to be there, certainly in this country. In Europe or elsewhere you find a much broader age range in clubs, for example at the event I played at out in Madrid. It was like a cross between a gallery event and a concert and they had different rooms with different things going on and people there ranged in age from 16 to their 50s and it didn’t seem odd at all. Whereas in England it tends to be either  that you are in a gallery or in a club and the two don’t tend to mix so much as they do in Europe. Occasionally I go out and bump into Phil, he’s usually out on Thursday nights around Sheffield, going to various bars, so we do sometimes cross paths. You asked about collaborations; I did suggest maybe I should write something for Phil but he’s not taken me up on the offer yet.”


Skrufff: Back in the seventies when Cabaret Voltaire started was beginning, did you go through that ultra extreme dressing up phase that Phil Oakey did?


Richard H Kirk: “I was perhaps a little bit more subtle than Phil, but basically I used to make my own clothes and print fabrics and customize things. A lot of it was about being on the dole (unemployed) or at school and not having the money to buy designer fashions, instead you could buy stuff from second hand shops or army surplus stores and customize or paint them. That was very much part and parcel of Cabaret Voltaire, the whole confrontational thing about dressing in a manner that is going to be provocative to people, but you are running a fine line between being provocative and getting the shit kicked out of you by football hooligans or whatever monsters were running around Sheffield town centre in the mid seventies. It was a challenge to see if you could go out in a strange manner and survive it.”


Skrufff: Did you get beaten up much in those days?


Richard H Kirk: “No, though I remember getting punched right in the face once outside a nightclub by some people from Rotherham. They asked me to name the Rotherham United football team and I couldn’t and it was like boom, but one of my mates got the guy that got me. Then I had to go home and tell my parents I’d walked into a door otherwise they might not have let me out again. There were the odd scrapes but thankfully I never got a serious kicking.”


Skrufff: What do you make of the youth of today with their hoodies culture?


Richard H Kirk: “They seem like an alien species to me they even talk strangely, don’t they, in this really fast weird cut up, young persons’ language. I don’t really know that many young folk. I think with technology and computers people are different than they were when I was young, back in my day swapping cassettes was as techno as it got. I also worry a little that younger people are too conservative, I always thought a young persons job was to be rebellious and challenge the system.


I’m also a bit disturbed by the level of crime amongst young people though I can understand it more from the young kids in bad areas. Back in my day, the way out poverty was that either you became a footballer or a pop musician whereas now it seems you either deal crack or you’re into some other scam. Everything seems a bit vacuous, such as this obsession with celebrity, I find it a bit sad that this is what we’ve come too. It would be nice to see another punk revolution. I’m sure a lot of people my age you hear them going on about that because it almost seems like things need to be shaken up again. Culturally, I find it all a bit bleak.”


Skrufff: Do you think another punk revolution is likely?


Richard H Kirk: “Probably not. Not unless it’s started by old people though I hope I’m proven wrong. What I find is that people don’t seem to know anything about the history of anything, anymore. Everything is soundbites, everything is condensed down to the lowest common denominator. That’s kind of worrying, everything seems very disposable. It is a very Warholian world. Old Andy, he was a genius. He saw it all coming.”


Skrufff: The world seems increasingly Orwellian too. . .


Richard H Kirk: “Very much so. The internet is almost perfect for spying on people. That’s why it was invented, because if we get everyone using this it’s very easy to keep tabs on what people are up to.”


Richard H Kirk’s compilation of unreleased projects between 2003-2005: URP Volume 4 (Expresso Electro Congo): is out shortly followed by a new album under his alter ego of Sandoz in April or May (on Soul Jazz Recordingss). Fear No Evil is out now on Dust.