Obituary of Richard H Kirk | Electronic music
Richard H Kirk, who died at the age of 65, has been a key figure in the development of British electronic and DIY music, from his co-founding of the Sheffield-based group Cabaret Voltaire in the 1970s to his recordings. from the 90s for Warp Records, and his subsequent solo work fusing electronics, funk and dub.
Cabaret Voltaire, formed in 1973 by Kirk, Chris Watson and Stephen Mallinder, preceded the famous “City of Steel” electronic scene which included Human League, Vice Versa (later ABC) and Heaven 17, and made an impact on the successes of Pulp and Moloko years later.
While early tracks such as Do the Mussolini (Headkick) (1978), Baader-Meinhof (1979) and the indie hit single Nag Nag Nag (1979) were extremely provocative, their production became more funky and began to infiltrate the more pointed dance floors of the clubs. After Kirk’s outings (with Richard Barratt) as Sweet Exorcist defined the “beep” sound of Warp, he subsequently amassed a gargantuan solo catalog under his own name and aliases such as Sandoz, Electronic Eye, Dark Magus and Frightgod, and his influence extends to techno. , electronica, hardcore, jungle and dubstep.
As a teenage Roxy Music fan, Kirk was inspired by Brian Eno’s statement that you don’t have to be a musician to make music. So, also influenced by the cut-up methods of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Cabaret Voltaire (the name coming from the Zurich-based WWI club of the like-minded Dada scene) made music using sounds found – everything from manipulated noise to snippets of radio broadcasts – years before the sampler trivialized such techniques. Their mix of abrasive vocals, tape loops and (initial) mixing of live instrumentation with electronics created a model for industrial music.
Fans ranged from electronic music stalwarts Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and New Order, the latter making their first recordings at the Western Works studio at Cabaret Voltaire in Sheffield, Canadian industrial band Skinny Puppy and Chicago house music producer Frankie. Knuckles. Big Black producer and founder Steve Albini said Cabaret Voltaire “shaped my aesthetic and my sense of self. They involved a new way of making music.
Kirk, who has lived his entire life in his hometown of Sheffield, has avoided the limelight and kept his privacy private. Born in the city, he once said that his ironworker father, an amateur radio operator, sparked his interest in electronics and, briefly, radical politics, taking him to meetings of the Communist Youth League.
From the age of 13, Kirk and Mallinder went to soul parties to listen to black American music. Kirk, who took a year-long course at a school of art in sculpture, began working with Watson, a GPO electronics engineer who played “the tape recorder and the oscillator,” in the attic of this building. latest. Initially, Kirk played clarinet and guitar, and Mallinder joined them on bass and vocals to form Cabaret Voltaire. They borrowed a VCS3 synthesizer from the University of Sheffield’s music department before Watson built his own.
Although he lived within earshot of the steelworks, Kirk denied that Cabaret Voltaire’s music attempted to replicate the sounds of heavy industry, considering it to be their escape into an alternate reality. He said that because there was so little music in the mid-’70s in Sheffield, they invented their own, absorbing influences from German experimental group Can and soul / funk stars James Brown and George Clinton.
The early performances proved controversial and confrontational, with local audiences confused by their uplifting esoteric sound. Their first gig, in May 1975 – after they mischievously described themselves as a funk band to book for a nightclub on Tuesday night – ended in a fight and sent Mallinder to the hospital. Even during punk, a performance supporting Buzzcocks at the Lyceum in London in March 1978 was cut short by the flying glasses thrown by the angry crowd. Gradually, however, supported by DJs such as Richard Tandy of Radio Hallam and John Peel of Radio 1, their ideas prevailed. After signing with Rough Trade in 1978 and setting up Western Works in the former offices of the Sheffield Federation of Young Socialists, the band released their debut album, Mix-Up, the following year. Following the success of Nag Nag Nag, albums such as The Voice of America (1980) and Red Mecca (1981) also ranked well on the indie charts, with the latter reaching # 1.
After Watson left in 1981, Cabaret Voltaire signed to Virgin, a major label that offered the kind of head start that allowed them to spend a lot of money. The Crackdown (1983) reached the Top 40 and more luxurious and clubbier tracks such as Just Fascination (1983) and Sensoria (1984) exerted their influence on the dancefloor. After a discouraging period with EMI, when they nevertheless worked with producer Adrian Sherwood and Chicago house DJ Marshall Jefferson, Cabaret Voltaire ceased in 1994, when Kirk was exploring the possibilities of dance music.
The 1990 singles of Sweet Exorcist, Testone and Clonk, on Warp, were among the first releases from the electronic label Sheffield, and their album CCEP / CCCD was the label’s debut LP, in 1991. Kirk subsequently recorded an extensive lineup. of outputs under different names. Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle reported that Kirk once gave them a bag of “absolutely brilliant dance pieces,” which all turned out to be his own.
In 2009, after turning down “a very large sum of money” at the Coachella festival to reform Cabaret Voltaire, Kirk generally perversely reactivated the name for some solo performances, but refused to play old songs, insisting on the fact that the public “could get the same mind”.
In 2020, he released Shadow of Fear, the first Cabaret Voltaire recording since The Conversation in 1994. The latest, BN9Drone, was released this year.
Mallinder described Kirk as “tough to live with but impossible to dislike.” Stubborn, no victim of fools, but insightful, spontaneous and with vision and under the shell bristling with a warm heart.
Kirk is survived by his wife, Lynne Clark.