Cabaret Voltaire (band)

Cabaret Voltaire are an English music group formed in Sheffield in 1973 and initially composed of Stephen Mallinder, Richard H. Kirk, and Chris Watson.[1] The group was named after the Cabaret Voltaire, the Zürich nightclub that served as a centre for the early Dada movement.

Cabaret Voltaire
Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder, Chris Watson
Background information
OriginSheffield, Yorkshire, England
Years active1973–1994, 2014–present
Associated acts
MembersRichard H. Kirk
Past members

The early work of Cabaret Voltaire consisted primarily of experimentation with DIY electronics and tape machines, as well as Dada-influenced performance art, helping to pioneer industrial music in the mid-1970s.[2] Finding an audience during the post-punk era, they integrated their experimental sensibilities with dance and pop styles.[2][3] They are often characterized as among the most innovative and influential electronic groups of their era.[2]


By the early 1970s, Chris Watson of Sheffield, England, began experimenting with electronic devices to make "music without musical instruments." Inspired by the tech geekery of Brian Eno of Roxy Music, and helped along by his work as a telephone engineer, Watson's experimentation with tape loops evolved to include custom-built kit oscillators obtained by mail order by the time he met fellow Sheffield local and Eno devotee, Richard Kirk. Kirk and Watson began exploring the intersection of technology and music, producing tapes loops to generate sound collages and unusual sound structures. Kirk began to add traditional instrumentation including clarinet and guitar. In late 1973, they brought on Kirk's friend Stephen Mallinder to provide vocals and bass guitar.[4] Some of these early experiments were first documented on the Industrial Records cassette 1974-1976 (1980), then later on the triple album CD set Methodology '74/'78: The Attic Tapes (Mute 2002).

The band eventually turned to live performance, often sharing the bill with Joy Division,[5] though much of their earliest public performance tended more towards being unconventional and provocative stunts rather than conventional shows. The trio would deploy to various parts of Sheffield with their portable tape recorders and play their experimental compositions in places as diverse as public toilets and on the streets from loudspeakers on the top of a friend's van. This raucous and punkish attitude followed the band onstage to great effect; their first live concert in May 1975 ended in a fight between the band and the audience that sent Mallinder to the hospital.[4] In another incident, Mallinder was hospitalised with a chipped backbone after objects were thrown at the band. However, the arrival of punk rock brought a more accepting audience for their industrial, electronic sound and they were championed by Sheffield punk fanzine Gunrubber edited by Paul Bower of local band 2.3.[6]

In 1977, Watson financed the establishment of the band's own recording studio on the second floor of a building called the Western Works on Portobello Street in Sheffield. The "Western Works" studio served as the band's studio for many years as well as providing a social gathering spot for the local Sheffield scene. Western Works produced some of the earliest recordings of pioneering local bands including Clock DVA, The Human League, and New Order.[4]

In 1978, Cabaret Voltaire signed to Rough Trade Records. Manchester-based Factory Records had offered to sign the band, and Throbbing Gristle was also interested in signing the band to Industrial Records, but it was with an offer of a four-track Revox tape machine (in lieu of an advance) that Rough Trade secured the deal.[4] With Rough Trade they released several acclaimed musically experimental singles and EPs, including Extended Play and "Nag Nag Nag", and albums such as "Three Mantras" and The Voice of America in 1980, and Red Mecca in 1981.

In the 27 June 1978 edition of NME, Andy Gill said: "I firmly believe Cabaret Voltaire will turn out to be one of the most important new bands to achieve wider recognition this year. Wait and see."[7] Subsequently, "Nag Nag Nag" sold ten thousand copies, despite poor reviews, and reached as far afield as France and Belgium, while the debut album Mix-Up reached number 12 on the UK Indie charts. Their success continued with The Voice of America and Red Mecca, reaching number three and number one on the UK Indie charts respectively.[4]

Watson left the band in 1981 to work for Tyne Tees Television and went on to found The Hafler Trio with Andrew M. McKenzie before becoming a BBC sound engineer and then a soloist. On 25 June 1981, John Peel broadcast a session on the BBC, recorded previously by the band,[8] which included four songs: "Black Mask", "Greensborough", "Walls of Jericho" and "Jazz the Glass".[9]

During this time, Cabaret Voltaire toured Europe, Japan, and the United States without major record label support, releasing Hai!, a live album recorded in Japan, in 1982.

In late 1982, Cabaret Voltaire decided consciously to turn in a more commercial direction. Introduced by New Order to the American dance music producer John Robie, Cabaret Voltaire enlisted him to remix "Yashar", a track from their 1982 album 2x45. The 12-inch single was released by Factory Records in May 1983, and received extensive play in dance clubs. Also in 1983, Stevo Pearce signed the duo to his Some Bizzare label and leveraged a licensing deal with Virgin. The £50,000 advance from Some Bizzare allowed Kirk and Mallinder to significantly improve their operation at Western Works, but came with the stipulation of having to record their next LP in London and making certain production changes to their music.[4] In August 1983, the album The Crackdown was released on Some Bizzare / Virgin Records and reached number 31 in the UK Albums Chart[10] – over 60 places higher than their previous (and then only) chart placing. In 1984, the singles "Sensoria" and "James Brown" from the album Micro-Phonies (also on Virgin) charted on the UK Indie Chart, as well as getting play in the underground dance scene.

In 1987, the band released Code, on several tracks of which Bill Nelson played guitar. This was followed by the house-influenced Groovy, Laidback & Nasty in 1990. A series of completely instrumental works under the Cabaret Voltaire name was released on Instinct Records in 1993 and 1994. The last Cabaret Voltaire release to feature Mallinder on vocals was the Body and Soul album in 1991.

Since the mid-late 1980s, Kirk began a solo career under several names, including Electronic Eye and Sandoz, while Mallinder relocated to Perth, Australia and records with a collaborator under the name Sassi & Loco and, more recently, in another collaborative effort the Kuling-Bros. Mallinder also helps run his own Offworld Sounds label and contributed to synthesizer and programming on Shaun Ryder's solo album Amateur Night at the Big Top.

In 1996, Mallinder reported to Inpress magazine's Andrez Bergen that "I do think the manipulation of sound in our early days – the physical act of cutting up tapes, creating tape loops and all that – has a strong reference to Burroughs and Gysin; in terms of the Dada thing, there's a similarity between the Dadaists' reaction to the bourgeoisie and the war and our own position – we felt alienated from popular culture ourselves. I think those kinds of attitudes become embedded within you, but I'm not sure how it relates now..."[11]

Hopes of a Cabaret Voltaire reunion were raised when Kirk dropped hints in the late 1990s, the most significant being in the notes of a reissue of Radiation, but this never happened. In a special 'Depeche Mode/History of Electro-pop' edition of Q magazine, Kirk suggested he is still considering resurrecting the Cabaret name, but this time he plans to "Get some young people involved".[12]

In 2001, Watson appeared in the documentary film Made in Sheffield, where he discussed the early years of Cabaret Voltaire. Since that time, Kirk has resurrected the Cabaret Voltaire name and has released new albums with New Zealand band Kora called Kora! Kora! Kora! and Sheffield band, The Tivoli called National Service Rewind. The new material was recorded at Western Works studios.

The experimental 'Sensoria Festival of Film and Music' is named after the Cabaret Voltaire song, and has become an annual event held in Sheffield since 2008.[13]

In July 2014, Berlin Atonal reported that Cabaret Voltaire were to perform at the festival.[14] The performance – the first in twenty years – saw a set list of all new material performed by a line-up "consisting solely of machines, multi-screen projections and Richard H. Kirk", the lone remaining member of the 'group'.

In early August 2016, Cabaret Voltaire performed an hour long set of otherwise unreleased material at the Dekmantel festival in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.[citation needed]

In August 2020, Cabaret Voltaire announced their new studio album Shadow of Fear. Backed by the first single "Vasto," the album will be released on 20 November 2020. This is the first recording with Richard H. Kirk as the group’s sole member.[15]


New Order lead singer and guitarist, Bernard Sumner, said that Cabaret Voltaire influenced his songwriting, having helped him understand that one "could make music without guitars".[16] In Alan Cross's 2012 biography of Skinny Puppy, Cabaret Voltaire's "industrial-grade thumping and noise terrorism" was cited as an influence on the band.[17] Others who have cited Cabaret Voltaire as an influence include Horrid Red,[18] Fluke[19] and Front Line Assembly.[20] As well as helping pioneer industrial music in the 1970s,[2] Cabaret Voltaire have been considered influential on the industrial techno movement of the 1990s.[21][22]

Depeche Mode's Martin Gore once listed Cabaret Voltaire among his favourite bands.[23] David J of Bauhaus named the group as one of the "few bands on the [post-punk] scene at the time to whom we related".[24]

Band members

  • Richard H. Kirk – guitars, keyboards, clarinet, saxophone, tapes, sampling, drum machines, sequencer programming (1973–1994, 2014–present)
  • Stephen Mallinder – vocals, bass, keyboards (1973–1994)
  • Chris Watson – keyboards, tapes (1973– October 1981)


Studio albums

Soundtrack albums


  • Johnny Yesno Redux (November 2011)

Remix albums

  • Technology: Western Re-Works 1992 (June 1992)
  • Remixed (2001)
  • Kora! Kora! Kora! The Cabaret Voltaire Versions (March 2009)
  • National Service Rewind (May 2010)

Live albums

Compilation albums

Singles and EPs

  • Extended Play EP (tracks: "Talkover" / "Here She Comes Now" / "Do The Mussolini (Headkick)" / "The Set Up") (July 1978)
  • "Baader-Meinhof" / "Sex in Secret" on A Factory Sample (January 1979)
  • "Nag Nag Nag" / "Is That Me Finding Someone at the Door Again" (live 75) (April 1979)
  • "Silent Command" / "Chance Versus Causality" (October 1979) No. 10 UK Indie
  • "Three Mantras" (January 1980) No. 10 UK Indie
  • "Seconds Too Late" / "Control Addict" (September 1980) No. 8 UK Indie
  • "Sluggin' fer Jesus" / "Your Agent Man" (March 1981)
  • "Eddie's Out" / "Walls of Jericho" (July 1981) No. 6 UK Indie (initial copies included free 7" single "Jazz the Glass" / "Burnt to the Ground")
  • "Fools Game (Sluggin' fer Jesus Part 3)" / "Gut Level" (February 1983)
  • "Yashar" / "Yashar (alternative mix)" (Factory Records, FAC 82; May 1983) No. 6 UK Indie
  • "Just Fascination" / "Empty Walls" (July 1983) UK No. 94
  • "Crackdown" / "Just Fascination" (double A side 12") (July 1983)
  • "The Dream Ticket" / "Safety Zone" (November 1983)
  • "Sensoria" (October 1984) UK No. 96
  • "James Brown" (January 1985) UK No. 100
  • Drinking Gasoline (April 1985) No. 71 UK[10]
  • "I Want You" (October 1985) UK No. 91
  • "Shakedown" (March 1986)
  • "The Drain Train" (July 1986) No. 5 UK Indie
  • "Don't Argue" (February 1987) No. 69 UK[10]
  • "Here to Go" (September 1987) No. 16 U.S. Dance, UK No. 88
  • "Hypnotised" (December 1989) No. 66 UK[10]
  • "Keep On" (June 1990) No. 55 UK[10]
  • "Easy Life" (October 1990) No. 61 UK[10]
  • "Colours" (January 1991)
  • "What Is Real" (April 1991)
  • "Percussion Force" (September 1991)
  • "I Want You" / "Kino '92" (February 1992)
  • "Nag Nag Nag" (October 2002)
  • "Shadow of Funk" (February 2021)[28]

Selected compilation appearances

Related projects

See also


  1. Gimarc, p. 17.
  2. Bush, John. "Cabaret Voltaire". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  3. Bland, Benjamin (18 June 2014). "Cabaret Voltaire - #7885 (Electropunk to Technopop 1978-1985)". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  4. Reed, S. Alexander (2013). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 61–65. ISBN 9780199832583. OCLC 1147729910 via the Internet Archive.
  5. "Cabaret Voltaire – Band Profiles". Uncommon People. 2014. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  6. "Made in Sheffield: A decade of Documenting Sheffield Music: Gunrubber excerpts". Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  7. Gimarc, p. 144.
  8. In Session Tonight. BBC Books. 2005. p. 487. ISBN 0-87930-848-6.
  9. Gimarc, p. 197.
  10. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 89. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  11. Vintage Cab Sav, Andrez Bergen. Zebra, Inpress, 1996.
  12. "Smuggled Sounds: Cabaret Voltaire: The Three Mantras". 13 November 2006. Archived from the original on 30 November 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  13. "Sensoria 2010". Archived from the original on 26 April 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  14. "Cabaret Voltaire to play first gig in 20 years at Berlin festival". Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  15. "Cabaret Voltaire announce first album in 26 years, 'Shadow Of Fear'". 19 August 2020. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  16. Dax, Max (2 September 2012). "Max Dax interviews Bernard Sumner". Electronic Beats. Retrieved 14 January 2021. There's an element of Kraftwerk in it, for sure. But by the time I wrote 'Blue Monday', I had already done some gigs with Cabaret Voltaire as well... Once I had understood that you could make music without guitars, I felt like there were no longer any borders.
  17. Cross, Alan (2012). Skinny Puppy: The Secret History. HarperCollins. ISBN 9781927002124. Having discovered the industrial-grade thumping and noise terrorism of UK bands such as Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, and the moodiness of Bauhaus, Joy Division, early New Order and Depeche Mode, Key and Ogre set about creating their own brand of electronic attack.
  18. Litowitz, Drew (17 January 2012). "Horrid Red – Celestial Joy". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 14 January 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. "One Little Indian Fluke Biography". Archived from the original on 29 September 2006. Retrieved 14 January 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  20. Armstrong, Emily (1987). "Interview: Front Line Assembly". Lively Arts. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  21. Turner, Luke. "The new wave of British industrial techno … and you can dance to it". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  22. Finlayson, Angus (13 February 2013). "The industrial techno revolution". Resident Advisor. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  23. "Collect-a-Page (Martin Gore's questionnaire)". Look In. 12 December 1981. Archived from the original on 27 November 2008.
  24. David J. Haskins (2014). Who Killed Mister Moonlight?: Bauhaus, Black Magick, and Benediction. Jawbone Press. ISBN 9781908279675. There were only a few bands on the scene at the time to whom we related. Joy Division, Pere Ubu, Devo, Gang Of Four, Cabaret Voltaire, and The Pop Group come to mind.
  25. "Cabaret Voltaire: Announce first new album in over 20 years – SHADOW OF FEAR". Mute Records. 19 August 2020.
  28. "Cabaret Voltaire Shadow of Funk 12" Vinyl EP (Curacao Vinyl)". Elusive Disc. Retrieved 14 January 2021.

Further reading