18 May 2004


"I look at Reynolds’ “feeling/really feeling” lists on Blissblog and they just give me a headache – Christ, MORE stuff to take into account; can musicians be forcibly banned from making or recording music for five years to give the rest of us a chance to get our breath back? "

Yeah, ain't it a bitch? To free up more head-space, I'm actually trying to reduce the amount of 'old' music I listen to, so I can spend the time more profitably listening to the LATEST, Bang!-up-the-minute shit I can lay my hands on. Avoiding buying re-issues and anthologies where possible (apart from Cabs/RH Kirk, of course!). I went through a phase where I was buying and trading LOADS of old shit, but NO MORE! One new Golden Rule is to not bother checking out anything else Pre-Punk. I reckon I've got about as much '60s and early-mid '70s stuff as I'm ever gonna need. To hell with the rest; it's all OLD NEWS, baby. True, there are a few gaps to fill in my post-punk knowledge and I am looking forward to the Metal Urbain and Factrix CD-Rs that are coming my way shortly. A few ravey/jungley things from the early '90s that I wanna track down too. But generally speaking, it's about focusing on the present and future. It's the only way to keep on top of things, or at least keep one's head above water...

Re: Marcello and Matt's general feeling that blogging sucks. C'mon, guys - lighten up! Maybe I just got into this blog thing with less expectations (zero expectations, actually) but I just think this is a fun thing to do. I believe the technical definition of a blog is 'online diary' and I'm just documenting all the random stuff that excites, annoys and fascinates me. The fact that other people read, appreciate and sometimes empathise still amazes me. It's great! Maybe I just don't get enough people slagging me off?
Thanks to Diego in Spain for alerting me to this.
Happy 1st Birthday to K-Punk. I shall dust-off my old cassette copy of Whitehouse's "Dedicated To Peter Kurten - Mass Sadist And Slayer" and play it at intolerable volume in honour of that first post....

16 May 2004

Random bitz...

Apparently, Hydrogen Dukebox artist Technova is actually David Harrow, who used to be On-U Sound's chief techno-boffin back in the day. The man responsible for the brilliant digi-dub backing track on "These Things Happen", one of my favourite Mark Stewart choons. His new album "Electrosexual" out anytime now.

Miss Kittin's first solo album proper, "I Com" is apparently very good, but early reports suggest that Felix Da Housecat's new album is a bit dodgy. More soon...

Although I haven't followed their work since "Snivilisation", Gutterbreakz would like to pay respect to the mighty Orbital, who have officially split-up. Seventh and final album the "Blue Album" out on 21st June. I met Paul Hartnoll once. Very nice man...

Another act who I haven't followed for years are The Orb. But I heard a track from their new album "Bicycles & Tricycles" on Peel's show this week which really impressed me. Maybe it's time to give Dr. Alex and his chums another chance...?

Another cool track heard on the radio was this funky lil' number with samples of Charlton Heston in "Planet Of The Apes" (still one of my favourite films). Turns out it was from the new Wagon Christ album. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about Luke's recent 'disco-kitch' Kerrier District project, but I've got a really good feeling about this new one...

Also heard a cool Scisser Sisters dance mix that even K-Punk might like! Don't remember what it was called though. Sorry.

Ecstacy users (past and present) beware. Apparently there are long-term problems with 'disturbed sleep'. Source: DJ Mag.

15 May 2004

As a footnote to my previous post, apparently Italo-Disco pioneer Alexander Robotnick has a mix CD released called "The Disco-Tech Of Alexander Robotnick". Although I haven't actually heard it yet, judging by what I've read I'm probably familiar with at least 50% anyway. Intrigingly, Robotnick has included early '80s tracks such as Visage's "Fade To Grey", John Foxx's "Underpass", OMD's "Enola Gay", mid-80's stuff like Yello's "I Love You" and New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle", mixing them seamlessly with more recent electro tracks by the likes of Miss Kittin & The Hacker. By joining the dots in this way, Robotnick presents a distinctly Euro-centric perspective on Dance Culture evolution, which should serve to remind us of New Romantisism's crucial role in it's development. Watch out for it...

14 May 2004

Anyone out there who still reads The Printed Word might find the latest issue of Record Collector worth a peek. If you can get past the cover photo of Bob Geldof, this "80's Special" has some quality entertainment value, on account of the heavy emphasis on the New Romantic era.

I sometimes wonder what it is that still attracts me to this essentially ludicrous genre. In his opening essay, Joel McIver suggests that the demograph for appreciation of New romanticism is "people aged between thirty and forty and with a vague interest in fashion and electronics". Well that's me bang-to-rights. My conscience is clear. Lots of stuff on Human League, Flock of Seagulls, Culture Club and even my old faves Blancmange (who I wouldn't consider to be New Romantic in the slightest - their earthy sound and straight image completely at odds with the genre in my view.)

Former Sounds writer Betty Page recounts her early encounters with Spandeau Ballet and Duran Duran. Betty (now known by her real name Beverley Glick) highlights the surprisingly visionary stance of the early Spandeau, who's manager Steve Dagger said at the time: "It's not your Marquees, not your polytechnic gigs, nothing is created there. It happens in the clubs. Left to it's own devices, rock music becomes very boring". extraordinary prescience there...still a valid standpoint even now, in my book. Present day, John Foxx chips in with talk of the era's "total technological takeover" and of "the scene unknowingly headed toward acid and house music". Even Kajagoogoo's Limahl gets in on the act, with his outlandish and slightly improbable claim that his group were "very avant-garde with influences like Robert Fripp and Devo". And then, when discussing their big hit "Too Shy", Limahl's tech-talk of "the warm synth pad with the oscillator envelope thing opening slowly was the whole foundation/basis of the song" had me rummaging through my wife's 'Hit's of The 80s" compilations in order to reassess this seemingly misunderstood masterpiece. The 8-bar intro was quite sexy actually, but I remain dubious about the rest. If there's anyone out there who could convince me of Kajagoogoo's greatness, I'll be very grateful.

However much emphasis you place on New romanticism's role in the history of Dance Culture, one thing is certain. They looked great. One of the few drawbacks of post-acid, post B-boy Culture is the crap, loose-fitting sporty fashion that it spawned. I know it makes sense to wear tracksuit bottoms and trainers when you're dancing all night at a sweaty rave, but the knock-on effect has been over ten years of the most boring-looking people ever. Fashion has only started recovering in the last couple of years, with a gradual return to some good ol' 80s trash-glam action. And I know I'm a total hypocrite, 'cause I'm Mr. Casual and am too fucking cowardly to express myself through my appearance. Perhaps that's why I admire those early-80's fops like Steve Strange so much. They had more balls than I ever will, dressing up like that.

12 May 2004

SANDOZ - DIGITAL LIFEFORMS REDUX (objective views of a fanatic)

"I went to Haiti in 1991, which was a stupid thing to do. It was quite a scary experience because it was just before they had a revolution. Maybe I got possessed there or something but ever since then I started using a lot of African voices and rhythms. It was so uplifting, I wanted to graft some of that onto what I was doing."
Richard H. Kirk, The Wire, March 2000

Kirk had probably been harbouring fantasies of an African/European alliance through electronics for some time prior to that. Witness the spooked-out exotica of "Haiti", a brief instrumental on 1983's "The Crackdown" LP. Whatever, by 1992 (with the Cabs embarking on their final phase in the rarified orbit of Electronic Listening Muzik), Kirk's next bid for dancefloor acceptance appeared in the form of three 12 inch singles under a new guise, Sandoz (named after the Swiss acid lab.) Subsequently collected on CD by Touch as "Digital Lifeforms" and now re-issued by The Grey Area Of Mute with an additional CD of rare/unreleased cuts from the same period, these early Sandoz excursions remain some of the most accessible, funky, melodic and downright enjoyable tracks in the vast Kirk back-catalogue without resorting to the overtly Popist stance of the Cabs' EMI period. But it's difficult for me to put into words just why this collection is worthy of your time over ten years later. It's hard to find an angle on it. There's a politeness about this album that makes it, as Eno might say, "as ignorable as it is interesting". "Digital Lifeforms" occupies a zone of equal light and shade that neither repels nor excites. It simply exists...and makes a nice groovy noise.

Opening track "Armed Response" sets the tone perfectly, fusing tuff Techno drum programming (dig those snare rolls!), breakbeat shuffle, latin percussion, dub bass, breathy woodwind swoons and catchy keyboard hooks. "Human Spirit" overlays African voodoo chants against a serene Deep House backdrop. After a portentous intro of ambient synth sweeps, "Limbo" develops into an irresistible marriage of cold electro beats and mesmerising tribal percussion. "Zombie Astral" ups the tribal pressure levels further, giving a taste of mantra-induced frenzy without actually taking you to the point where your eyes start rolling back in your head; it's tasteful hints of African spirituality firmly grounded by European coffee-table chic.

Disc 2 provides the more interesting option for Kirk die-hards like myself, as it features much never-before-heard Sandoz offcuts, of surprisingly high quality. "Tribal Warfare", with it clunky electro beats and bulbous sinewave bassline isn't a million miles from Wiley's finest Eskidubs. One of only two tracks to have been previously released (on a New Electronica compilation), "Ocean Reflection" is a gorgeous, pulsating web of bleepy riffs and shimmering sustained timbres that predicts the oceanic vistas of "Closed Circuit" (Kirk's superb 1994 album as Electronic Eye). Overall, what we have here are the first blossoming foundations of Kirk's most seductive, user-friendly period that lasted roughly from 1992-95. The sort of material that you can play when you have guests in the house without upsetting anyone. No adrenalin-rush or dread paranoia here....more like a sustained plateaux of good vibes, infectious grooves and dreams of faraway places.

06 May 2004


...gradually returning to reality after immersing myself in the musical garden of unearthly delights that is Richard H.Kirk's bumper crop of Mute releases. I knew I was in for a thrilling ride in the first few seconds of track 1, disc 1 of "Earlier/Later", which sounds uncannily similar to the intro to Model 500's "No UFO's", which wouldn't be so remarkable if not for the fact that this track, "Never Lose Your Shadow", was recorded a good two years prior to Juan Atkin's landmark Techno template. Created sometime around '82/'83, "Shadow" is a far more austere offering than the complex clatter of sensation usually associated with the Cab's output from this period. Held together by a simple metronomic kick/snare pattern, occasionally dubbed-up with that distinctive reverse-reverb effect used so effectively by 'Magic' Juan on "UFO's", augmented by crystalline sequencer and portentous clarinet calls. There's so much space in this groove - a perfect example of why some of the stiffest rhythms are the most funky. Perhaps most surprising is Kirk's vocal - though inflected by that typical European-industrial 'deadness' of the era - it sounds as sensual in it's blankness as Atkin's intonation, which was itself perhaps inspired by the European electronic new wave. It's hard to reconcile "Shadow"s obvious pioneering vision of future-funk with the fact that it has until recently only been heard by Kirk himself (and possibly a few close associates). Clearly, it's way ahead of the game, yet has had no direct influence on the course of electronic music. This feeling could be applied to much of disc 2's material. "Earlier" charts Kirk's solo experiments from '74/'75; splinters of sound-matter running adjacent to his Cabs work documented on last year's "Attic Tapes" box set. Literally 'home recordings', these pieces were not created at Chris Watson's loft, but at Kirk's parent's house in the Pittsmoor area of Sheffield. I find material like this utterly fascinating...like John Cale's New York demos from the '60's or Suicide's First Rehearsal Tapes from '75, these recordings exist in a creative bubble - private research that appears to have no direct ancestors nor any influence on future generations due to it's complete non-existence in the outside world. Out of time. Beyond time. Time-less. How the hell Kirk even thought to conceive tracks like "Hell In Here" at such a young age is beyond me. Whether or not he was already well-versed in Stockhausen, Reich, Cage, Riley et al is a moot point. As far as I know he was still listening to Roxy Music at that time and even Eno had barely begun to explore the boundaries of creative recording processes then. In just under six minutes "Hell In Here" single-handedly invents the distressed sound of Throbbing Gristle's "Second Annual Report" and, by association, the 'industrial' genre as a whole. Through a heat haze of tape hiss and mains hum, spectral waves of white noise interlock with fragments of half-heard dialogue and baleful clarinet squall, punctuated by savage pause-button edits, finishing with a fragment of what sounds like Ron Mael's opening keyboard arpeggio from Spark's "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us". I shudder with awe at the primal attack of this piece which hits you in the guts far more effectively than the more academic tape music that was in existence at this time. Kirk was literally swimming through oceans of sound, limitless possibilities; conquering new frontiers without a map, in a way that would be impossible for any youngster today. The spiritual link with Cale's earlier demos is reinforced by "Concerto For Damaged Piano" on which Kirk hammers out a brief, spirited tune on a rotting piano in the family's shed, echoing Cale's "(Untitled) For Piano" on which the Welsh wizard also found sonic possibilities in the workings of an abandoned/damaged piano. Kirk returns to the piano for "Solar Defiance", using a single low sustained note (looped and augmented only by some muffled audio artifacts - like a hand brushing against the microphone) to create six minutes of zen-like spiritual contemplation. Even better, the final cut "Cosmic Overide 2" takes a loop of what sounds like run-out groove static, adds the merest hint of echo and let's it run for five minutes. The effect is bewitching. It's ominous-yet-gentle repetition is a balm for the soul, and is an unusual move for Kirk: to set up a process and let it run with minimum interference from the creator, similar in concept to that employed by Eno on "Discreet Music" a year later.

Of course, some of these early examples are somewhat meandering, directionless jams, but when Kirk hits the spot (sometimes midway through a track) you can almost feel the the sensation of revelation, as the ideas coalesce into sharp-focus. After several plodding drum machine warm-ups, "Lost rhythm Of Life" suddenly seduces with it's fragile surf-guitar melody (a sonic template for the intro to the Cabs' '81 single "Jazz The Glass") and haunted delay effects.

There are several tracks from the '81 period, which have strong similarities with the style employed on Kirk "Time High Fiction" collection. Indeed, part of the fun of this CD for serious Cab-heads like myself is spotting the sonic thumb-prints that carbon date each track. For instance, "On Fire" can immediately be identified as a '84/'85 track, as it sounds like an outtake from "Drinking Gasoline", all pile-driving machine beats, Loud As Fuck snare drum, and distinctive keyboard sounds that are so evocative of the era.

It's great to see the 12 inch mix of "Martyrs Of Palestine" included (the only track to have been previously released, in '86). Originally taken from "Black Jesus Voice", an album I love so much that one of it's track titles is now the subtitle of this blog. At the time, "BJV" was like an addendum to the Cabs' "The Covenant, the Sword And The Arm Of The Lord", full of similarly intense 'hit-you-over-the head' beats, dynamics so violent that they literally drained you, the most Exciting Sound On Earth as far as I was concerned around 1985/86. I can see why this track was considered worthy of re-appraisal. It's theme is totally bang-up-to-the minute in 2004 and the production is inspired, re-tooling the original album version's clumpy electro-punk-thrash with a wicked dancefloor undercurrent that should have set dancefloors alight at the time. Maybe it's time is now? The additional 12 inch-only "Detonate/reworks" EP sees Kirk remixing "Martyrs" in a 2004-stylee, but don't expect any kind of concessions to current club trends. That would be too easy. Instead, Kirk injects it with a new 909 drum pattern that only a masochist could groove to. "Detonate" is the buzz-word here. This beat doesn't inspire jacking, moshing or even frugging. The only possible physical response is a whip-lash inducing spasmodic jolt every time the kick drum hits on the first beat of the bar. Each of the three mixes becomes increasingly more 'difficult', as Kirk takes some wild chances (at one point in the third mix the rhythms seem to be going out of sync with each other, only adding to the deranged, Fatwa-like assassination of the original track). Obviously not interested in making any new friends, eh Richard? Of course, I LOVE it!

Okay, so Kirk & Co.'s legacy, pre-House, is pretty much beyond dispute. Yet although they switched-on to the fresh sounds emanating from Chicago and Detroit very early on, the initial results inspired by these new influences were curiously inconclusive. During Dance Culture's "Year Zero" (1988), the Cabs were taking a gap-year to work on solo projects. Mal had his short-lived Lovestreet collective (with Robert Gordon and Dave Ball) and Kirk almost released his most pop-orientated material ever, the aborted "Let's Get Down", as Wicky Wacky. Then in 1989, Cabaret Voltaire returned with their second and final EMI album "Groovy, Laidback and Nasty", a record that still polarises opinion among Cabs fans to this day. Part of the problem was perhaps the fact that they bought into the whole luvved-up, E-friendly vibe a little too thoroughly, adding a light, pop-flavoured positivity at the expense of those elements that had defined their approach for so long. Although tracks like "Hypnotised", with it's "Are You Afraid" samples, bore some of the trademark paranoia, most of "Groovy" simply sounded ordinary. As Simon Reynolds remarked at the time (when reviewing Mute's first batch of Rough Trade-era re-issues), without their "stilted strangeness", the Cabs had become "just another House combo".

It's from this troubled period that several solo Kirk tracks on "Earlier/Later" originate. One of the first of these, "Numero Uno Baby/Information", takes "Code"-era textures and harnesses them into a solid House groove, adding "found" voices, B-movie dialogue etc. A pleasant enough romp, yet strangely sterile. Although the dialogue samples are typical (patented?) Cabs-fare, the effect is more 'novelty dance tune' than synapse-stimulating cut-up theory. "Do As I Do" works on almost the same principles; film dialogue superimposed against workman-like House tempos with the addition of smooth keyboard textures that hint at "Groovy.."'s poptone-palette the following year. Perhaps part of the problem here is that much 'first-wave' House music sounds, in terms of texture and production, a little 'bland' by today's standards. The best stuff (like "Can You Feel It")is inspired and timeless, but many tracks simply sound dull in 2004. Perhaps the most successful of these late-80's Kirk tracks is "Digital Globe", where ethnic vocal samples are chopped-up to create a shimmering flutter of rhythmic crosstalk that most accurately predicts his future solo direction. "One Three Fourgasm" and "Latin/MYBM" are further respectable blueprints for the '90s, yet I find it curious that Kirk's earliest home recordings should resonate more powerfully in my psyche.

Post-"Groovy", post-EMI, Cabaret Voltaire slammed on the brakes, regrouped, went back underground, emerging with "Body And Soul", the most stark, un-produced Cabs album ever. Then heavy-duty Techno side-projects/collaborations Sweet Exorcist and Xon showed that Kirk was starting to find his feet again. But it was the Intelligent Techno/Artificial Intelligence explosion around '92/'93 that really created the right environment for Kirk to flourish once more. The turning point was the 1992 Cabs album "Plasticity". Mal's decision to abandon vocal duties was a sad though inevitable development: the wide-screen, multi-textured mood muzik that AI introduced rendered his voice unhip and redundant and provided the perfect environment for the Cabs to focus on the more abstract (dare I say 'ambient') elements of their muse. Free of all pop and dancefloor constraints, the album-orientated electronica of AI sustained the Cabs through their final phase that saw two further albums, "International Language" and "The Conversation", after which Mal headed into the sunset for a new life in Australia. But the precedents set by Cabaret Voltaire's final "Ambient Trilogy" provided the springboard for Kirk to develop his solo career...