Skip to main content

Richard H. Kirk - An Obituary

Richard H. Kirk – Electronic musician and composer

Born March 21, 1956; died September 2021 

 

Richard H. Kirk, who has died aged 65, was a pioneer of British electronic music. This was the case both as the only constant member of Cabaret Voltaire, the Sheffield sired group he formed in 1973 with Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson, and with a plethora of solo and collaborative works. Kirk’s prolific output saw him record both under his own name and a role-call of more than forty aliases that included Sandoz, Electronic Eye and Sweet Exorcist. 

 

Naming their group after the Zurich based Dadaist nightclub that opened in 1916, Kirk, Mallinder and Watson initially produced sonic collages that drew from the cut-up aesthetic of novelist William Burroughs. They fused primitive tape experiments and samples with psych garage, dub, funk and German kosmische influences. 

 

With Kirk adding treated guitar, clarinet and saxophone to the electronic stew, the band’s early experiments were at times discomforting deconstructions that gradually translated into great pop singles such as the now classic Nag Nag Nag (1979) and Silent Command (1980). As provocative as their dissections of power and paranoia were across albums such as Mix-Up (1979), The Voice of America (1980), and Red Mecca, (1981), a rhythmic charge was a constant behind the sonic sludge. This gradually evolved into a machine age proto techno that caught the groove of developing 1980s club culture. 

 

With Cabaret Voltaire by now a duo of Kirk and Mallinder, for all the funkiness of singles such as Yashar (1983) and major record label backing, the sense of experimentalism never stopped. Kirk’s influence was at the heart of both periods, and continued when the duo returned to independent releases. 

 

Mallinder’s departure saw Kirk plough his own very singular furrow, and he found 

a natural home among a new underground electronic scene. His numerous collaborations and nom de plumes on solo material saw him operate in a near samizdat fashion. This saw his ever-expanding canon sit on the cutting edge of electronic sound alongside a younger generation of  musicians. As one half of Sweet Exorcist with DJ Parrot, Kirk released Testone (1990), the third ever single on Sheffield’s Warp record label. Sweet Exorcist also released Warp’s first album, Clonk’s Coming (1991).

 

The last decade saw Kirk reignite the Cabaret Voltaire name as a solo project. Shadow of Fear, released on the Mute label in 2020, showcased the first original material to be released under the band name in a quarter of a century. As with the mountain of records produced by Kirk since the original Cabaret Voltaire’s final release, The Conversation (1994), the new material sounded as urgent as anything that had gone before.

 

Kirk had initially revived the band name in 2008, as its sole member. He remixed New Zealand band Kora on Kora! Kora! Kora!, and worked with Sheffield band The Tivoli on their National Service album. The same year, Kirk played Edinburgh at a night run by Sheffield nightclub, Sugarbeat. The show was for both the night and the host venue’s third birthday. The fact that the Blair Street club was called Cabaret Voltaire was an in-joke that recognised the influence of their guest artist’s former band. It also demonstrated how the future Kirk was forever pushing beyond was at last catching up with the sonic revolution he had helped set in motion. 

 

Richard Harold Kirk was born in Sheffield, where he lived all his life. His father was a steel worker, whose hobbies included tinkering with radios and electronics. Kirk inherited an attic load of his father’s ephemera, including practical electronics magazines and a Super 8 camera. It was a short step for Kirk to experiment with short wave radio sounds and film. He did a one-year foundation course in sculpture at art school, but it was more the influence of David Bowie and Brian Eno era Roxy Music that marked out Kirk’s future creative path. 

 

In 2014, Kirk played as Cabaret Voltaire at the Berlin Atonal festival of sonic and visual art, presenting brand new material in a set up ‘consisting solely of machines, multi-screen projections and Richard H. Kirk’. Kirk performed a similar set as Cabaret Voltaire two years later at the Dekmantel festival in Amsterdam.

 

Reclaiming the Cabaret Voltaire name was far from an exercise in nostalgia. Kirk stubbornly refused to play greatest hits sets, and was only interested in pushing things forward. Despite this, Shadow of Fear sounded as current in its concerns and as intensely oppositionist as anything produced by the original band during the politically reactionary late 1970s and early 1980s.  

 

This was evident on two archive collections, 1974-1976, and Chance versus Causality, both released by Mute in 2019. The former showcased some of Cabaret Voltaire’s earliest experiments, while the latter contained a hitherto unreleased soundtrack to a 1979 film by artist Babette Mondini.

 

Several other Cabaret Voltaire records followed Shadow of Fear. An EP, Shadow of Funk (2021), was followed by two drone-based works, Dekadrone, in March this year, and, in April, BN9Drone. Kirk’s prolific output saw him cut and paste a multitude of influences to help redefine the possibilities of sound. As he took the avant-garde onto the dancefloor while retaining its edge, the vast body of work he created remains a vital force of British electronic music.

 

He is survived by his partner, Lynne.

 

The Herald, October 8th 2021.

 

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug