Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cabaret Voltaire: Drinking Gasoline/The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord

Top: the 1985 EP, Drinking Gasoline and, bottom, the album,
The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, also from 1985.

It might seem surprising to follow a post on John Coltrane with one on the electronic group Cabaret Voltaire, but, for this listener, these (and CVs Richard H. Kirk and his solo work) have been the reliable mainstays on his playlist over the last 20 years (and in the Cabs' case, 25 years.) 

The common link is a total commitment to the vision embodied in the music.  This will hold true for all of the great musicians and bands discussed in this blog, whether commercial success came or not.

The Cabs started as a true DIY trio (Kirk on guitar and wind instruments, vocalist and bassist Stephen Mallinder, and Chris Watson on a variety of electronics) in 1973 concocting dense layered processed sound, "found sound" from television, radio and other audio and video sources and barked, shouted and whispered vocals with topical references to religion, authoritarian organizations, and other modern concerns from a primitive loft studio in the decaying British steel town of Sheffield that led to a Rough Trade Records contract and several intriguing albums after 1978.  After Watson's 1981 departure, Kirk and Mallinder stripped down and cleaned up the sound into a more accessible, even danceable, one, albeit with the edge intact through a trio of albums and an EP on Virgin Records to 1985.  A brief, largely unhappy stint with a major label (EMI) in the late 1980s (though 1987s Code was played almost non-stop by YHB) was followed by a return to the earlier aesthetic, though updated in approach during the early 1990s "golden age" of IDM (so-called Intelligent Dance Music) and other forms of electronic music.

After 1994's impressive The Conversation, the group went into hiatus, while Kirk continued a staggeringly productive solo career, under his own name and an inexhaustible supply of aliases and nom-de-plumes.  Watson is a sound recordist for television and has made fascinating field recordings for Touch Records, while Mallinder occasionally made music in Australia before returning to England for a PhD and an academic career in popular culture while also continuing involvement in recording.  In the last few years, Kirk has revived Cabaret Voltaire by working, so far, with remix projects (for the New Zealand band Kora and England's The Tivoli), though he intends to do some original work, as well.

A concert review from late 1985 stirred an interest in exploring CV and led to the purchase of the 33-minute EP, Drinking Gasoline, recorded in late 1984  It took several weeks and listenings to finally "get" what the Cabs were doing, but the emphasis on the dynamics of sound over song did finally get through.  The subsequent album, The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord, from 1985, deepened the interest in the work of this influential group and its long, diverse catalog of releases, including longform videos that were among the first of their kind when they appeared in the early and mid-Eighties.

From there, CV became a clear favorite and has remained such for a quarter century.  More will be included in this blog about the Cabs and Richard H. Kirk's work.  Here is a site that probably has the most online information on CV.  The Wikipedia entry can be found here.

Drinking Gasoline

1.  Kino
2.  Sleepwalking
3.  Big Funk
4.  Ghostalk

The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord

1.  L21st
2.  I Want You
3.  Hells Home
4.  Kickback
5.  The Arm of the Lord
6.  Warm
7.  Golden Halos
8.  Motion Rotation
9.  Whip Blow
10. The Web
11. Sleepwalking (Bonus track, CD version)
12. Big Funk (Bonus track, CD version)

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