TF Archives

Cabaret Voltaire

Author: Andrez
Sunday, January 1, 1995
The legacy that Cabaret Voltaire brings to mind is an inspiring albeit elongated one. From the grinding musical iconoclasm that represents albums such as ``Mix-Up`` and ``Voice Of America`` in 1979 to the avant garde techno philanderings of ``Plasticity`` thirteen years later, a lot has happened since three teenagers called Stephen Mallinder, Richard H Kirk and Chris Watson first dabbled with tape-loops and cut-ups of sound in the depths of Watson``s loft in Sheffield, UK, back in 1973. These days Stephen Mallinder resides in Perth, Australia, and his part of the musical journey continues as evidenced through the new ``Late Night Boulevard`` compilation available locally through MDS.

The concern facing me as I prepared to do an interview with Stephen Mallinder, better known as ``Mal`` to his friends, was where precisely to begin. A twenty-three year history of producing music makes for a lot of research, too many questions and a long-winded article; besides, I``d written my post-grad thesis on Cabaret Voltaire and there was a lot I wanted to know anyway. So I gave in to all these whims, and fortunately Stephen Mallinder turned out to be one of the more patient, entertaining and self-effacing interviewees I``ve interrogated this year. So now it``s your turn to bear with me.

In the beginning there was industrial music. Not the worn-out grunge-guitar industrial we``ve come to know in recent years, as produced by bands like Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy and Leæther Strip, but a genre of sound based around eclectic cut-ups and tape-loops and a mentality just as inspired by William S Burroughs as it was by Stockhausen and Dadaist ideals; it was in itself a reaction against the conservative rock music of the time. Industrial``s arrival pre-dated that of punk, and its active lifetime can be narrowed down to the period of 1974 to 1981; it was a constantly evolving phenomenon, so much so that by 1980 the music, direction and motivations of the protagonists involved was quite different from what they were in 1974. Primarily based in Britain and exemplified by bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and SPK, the musical aspect of the industrial genre brought to light many ideas which had already been floating around the performance art and mail art categories in the first half of the 1970``s; industrial music as a ``live`` experience was therefore often accompanied by other equally attuned means of communication such as visual slide-shows, record covers, live performance techniques, and cut-and-pasted ``subversive`` handouts.

Often ignored in favour of its better known sibling punk music, industrial could be seen as the direct genetic forebearer of techno. The same subversive elements applied as did the application of machine-based technology with loops of sound rewound, inverted and turned upside down.

It was in this scenario that Cabaret Voltaire first emerged in 1973. Drawing upon the diverse influences of electronic music pioneers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer and John Cage as well as Beat generation writers William S Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Cabaret Voltaire also plundered from the art styles of Dada and Surrealism - even taking their name from the Dadaist club established in Zurich in 1916 by German writer Hugo Ball. These ethics still hold true in Stephen Mallinder``s psyche in 1996: "Oh yeah, I``m still quite radical in my approach", he confirms, "even though maybe the bedrock of the things I do is quite musical I still like the thought of twisting things round. I think it``s a tradition that you can see in many other artists these days, like DJ Shadow for instance." He shrugs. "It``s just something that I do and I never try to define it too hard. Define it as art and you get too caught up in the pomposity of it all; music``s always been a working class thing afterall, which I kind of like as well. I``m a bit of both - I can be an arty wanker when I want to be, but I try not to be too muc