Cabaret Voltaire
ZigZag, September 1978

by Chris Westwood

Never much of a dilettante meself, mind ... I always reckoned Picasso's paintings were a load of messy scribble (couldn't grasp the MESSAGE, see) and decided ages ago that classical muzak was for either hi-fi buffs or people who were dilettantes.

Musically, at least, I've far more time for the dadaist (anti-art) school than all that boring virtuoso-crap they call "art rock" ... which means I rate the likes of Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire and Clockdva despite the offputting amount of h-y-p-e that has and will continue to surround 'em. But can music of this type truly be hyped? Course not - it's commercial possibilities are well limited ... which is the real pointer to the validity of this form.

A tape and covering note from Clockdva arrives through the post complete with "Anti-Art Industrial Fun" logo and a track called "Dadaists and Arthur Cravenists", while Cabaret Voltaire's approach seems similarly pre-insured against commercial exploitation. Now whilst TG operate primarily from the metropolis (thus finding media-exposure none too difficult to come by of late) the Sheffield bands are little known - except to the fortunate few - and as such have remained free from the pressures of mass-expectation (which, it must also be said, TG have also managed to do).

More of Clockdva some other time, hopefully, but for the present ... it's the Cabs, who are four years old and comprise: Richard (guitar/clarinet), Mal (bass/vocal) and Chris (keyboards/tapes). By the time this hits print, an EP should have emerged on good ol' Rough Trade records - a fair reference point for the band's music, which can be taken on two levels:

(a) an amlgamation and presentation of absolutely ALL elements, a re-assembly of everything you ever heard, saw or experienced;

(b) the absolute contrary - something utterly unique in every sense...

True perspective, methinks, lies somewhere betwixt the two extremes - I, for one, detect certain facets of Cabs-music which could be paralleled with The Residents or Hawkwind's "Space Ritual" era: to be frank, however, the strongest link I can offer up is that of the gonzoid distortion-cum-powerdrive throttle that oozed through "White Light/White Heat": in fact, it happens that they've carved out their very own cover of "Here She Comes Now" - an alternative as brilliant as it is nauseous, and which would no doubt cause Uncle Lou to turn in his crypt.

Enough of the shady (and questionable) comparisons, 'cos Cabaret Voltaire, make no mistake, are running their own ball-game here, and running it with a fair degree of precision and zest. They refuse to comply or to sell out, and - like I said - their very approach directly implies in-built anti-exploitation devices.

The drastic non-exposure these guys've suffered meant that I entered the, uh, "interview" situation with little/no prior knowledge of them or their music, and consequently found myself limping cagily into a somewhat disconcerting confrontation, searching lamely for basic info, throwing out an assortment of fair "obvious" questions, but finally emerging with suffice dried goods to zap out this very piece.

Chris, Mal and Richard turned out to be refreshingly pleasant persons, which probably made the task lighter work, and the interview took place in their workhouse/rehearsal room, which is on the upper-block of an ex-derelict office just off the city centre ... the place is in fact shared with 2.3 and a bunch of Pakistanis who've moved in downstairs (and who hammer on the ceiling every time anyone turns the amps up).

We kick off with the inevitable (boring) environment-and-its-bearing-on-da-music type question/answer session that seems to manifest itself in most discussions on experimental music these days ...

Mal: "I don't think it's a direct influence on us ... I think it's industrial, yeah, but it would've come out if we'd lived in a rural area. We never set off with the idea of becoming 'a band', with a sort of close, predetermined idea ... though we've developed in that way - it's inevitable."

Richard: "We just set out with the idea of doing something different - as opposed to a rock 'n' roll band ... presenting an alternative to that."

Surprisingly, gigs outside of Sheffield's introspective quarters have been forthcoming without too many problems, despite the fact that CV are one of many manager-less Sheffield combos currently biding time. Outside of Sheffield, it seems that crowd reactions have been suitably variable - there were rumours that ya got bottled off stage at the Buzzcocks' gig ...

Richard: "We didn't get bottled off stage ... we stuck it out. We got things thrown at us, fair enough, but we expected it ..."

Mal: "I think that can be taken out of context 'cos all the bands got glasses and bottles chucked at 'em - in fact we got the best reaction 'cos the audience was less pissed ... it was earlier on. The Buzzcocks got an iron bar chucked at them, so ..."

Cabaret Voltaire are currently dipping into a sound and vision trip, employing film/projections in unison with their music, something I've yet to witness ...

Richard: "It's designed to complement the music."

Mal: " It's not something we want to be tied to - but it's something to experiment with ... it's another field that fits in with our music."

Are the visuals tailor-made, edited down for specific numbers?

Richard: "No. It's a random thing, a chance thing ... if something does happen to compliment it's really coincidence. We had one bloke who watched one of our early gigs and said it was like watching a bad acid trip."

Mal: "Once we had a really bad gig and the film came out really well ... and nobody got bored 'cos they all watched the film!"

Now then, Jim, you probably noticed how attitudes towards TG have, in some cases at least, represented a greater understanding or acceptance quotient, brought about - presumably - by increasing press coverage. Maybe ya saw Savage's Cabs lowdown in "Sounds" some weeks back ... and maybe that article could've sparked off a similar reaction.

Like Mal points out, "a surprising number of people are stupid enough to believe what they read in the press, and they think if you've been in the press then you've got credibility ... but you haven't, their reaction is according ..."

Chris, who says little throughout, but listens studiously, chips in here and there with the odd considered comment: "The whole thing is quite predictable in that once people have heard you a few times ... they're either not gonna come or they're gonna throw less. It's a kind of logical progression."

Mal: "I think we've been a catalyst in Sheffield. I'm not saying that people ARE ripping us off, but we're providing an incentive to those who couldn't or didn't want to express themselves in a totally conventional way. I can think of about five or six bands in Sheffield who don't use a drummer."

Much of the tape ended up untranscribed, since recording quality was hardly supahi-fi, whilst much of the content is fairly routine jive anyhow. So, dear reader, from hereon in ... back to the actual music (and the reason you paid the admission fee in the first place, wot?). To this end, the demo-tape-cum-generally-circulating-cassette comes in handy. To the best of my knowledge (which don't say an aw-ful lot) this sites the band's recorded progress during the past twelve months or so: there's the afore-hailed "Here She Comes Now", the curioso "Do The Mussolini (Headkick)" which, from all accounts, centres on the notion that cuddly ol' Benito's dormant corpse was kicked and pummelled by paranoid wops rejoicing in his death - an image, I think, extracted from one of those age-old war-tragedy extravagonzoid documentaries they manage to fish out from time to time to remind all and sundry of the "good old days" ... then there's the simultaneously haunting and addictive pulsating overdrive of "Talkover", plus four newies. There's an additional take listed as "Baader-Meinhoff" (wonder what in the name of Ezra Pound that could be about ...) as well as some eerie object.

The nearest I've gotten thus far to actually seeing the Cabs live was when I caught 'em beaming through "Lifetime" and "No Escape" at the workshop, a few minutes before I split for the last train outta Sheffield: believe me, the relentless intensity of it all - even via a meagre two numbers - was something quite staggering to say the least.

Chris stresses that, working from their own mistakes and gear limitations, they've been able to utilise a very individual (nay, unique) recording process. The sound they produce is often surreal, a plethora of "treatments" on voice and instruments hitting the listener full in the jugular and refusing to (gnnurggh) let (aaarrgghh) go ...

There may be something remotely dadaist about it all, but, frankly, that needn't bother us here, especially when armed with the knowledge that CV smoke, breathe, get drunk like all good layabouts, and care enough to have maintained a constant level of activity for these past four years.

If there IS a Sheff-Rock boom, I hope Cabaret Voltaire remain at the helm (where they belong), and I hope unfeeling press-hype don't kill it, a la Akron. Anyhow, this is more diverse, more important than Akron: Sheffield stands alone, that's all, so don't neglect steelsville no more...

Digital assistance and credit: Simon Dell

© ZigZag, 1978