Richard H. Kirk, post-punk pioneer of industrial music, dies at 65


Richard H. Kirk, founding member of the English group Cabaret Voltaire and a major figure in the creation of the post-punk style known as industrial music, has passed away. He was 65 years old.

His death was confirmed by his former record company, Mute, in an Instagram post on September 21. The publication did not say when or where he died or cite the cause.

Mr. Kirk formed Cabaret Voltaire in 1973 in Sheffield, England, with Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson. They borrowed the name of the Zurich nightclub where Dada, an artistic movement that responded to the ills of society with irrationality, was born in the early years of the 20th century.

“When we started out we wanted to do something with sound, but neither of us knew how to play an instrument,” Mr. Kirk said in an interview for a 1985 New York Times article on industrial music. “So we started using tape recorders and various pieces of junk and gradually learned to play instruments like guitar and bass.” Despite his pretension, Mr. Kirk was initially a clarinetist, and he developed a strumming and cutting style as a guitarist.

The members of Cabaret Voltaire created the model for what would become industrial music: harassing chants, mechanical rhythms, fragments of recorded speech torn from mass media, conventional instruments made alien with electronic effects.

On recordings from the early 1980s like “Three Mantras,” “The Voice of America” and “Red Mecca,” the group adopted the literary cutting techniques of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, the dystopian provocations of the British author JG Ballard and the abrasive of punk rock. position. Musical influences included Brian Eno, German band Can and Jamaican dub.

Mr. Watson left the group in 1981, and Mr. Kirk and Mr. Mallinder pursued a more commercial direction which brought them to the dawn of mainstream success. Cabaret Voltaire disbanded in 1994, after which Mr. Kirk pursued a bewildering array of solo projects and collaborations. He relaunched Cabaret Voltaire as a solo effort in 2009, focusing exclusively on new material, and released three albums in 2020 and 2021.

Mr. Kirk was born March 21, 1956 and raised in Sheffield, a steel town. “You looked out into the valley and all you could see were blackened buildings,” he told author and reviewer Simon Reynolds in an interview for his book “Rip It Up and Start Again” (2005 ), an authoritative post-punk story.

Sheffield was a stronghold of Labor and radical leftist politics, and as a teenager Mr Kirk was a member of the Young Communist League. “My dad was a party member at one point and I wore the badge when I went to school,” he told Mr. Reynolds. “But I never took it really seriously.”

Mr. Mallinder, in a 2006 interview with the Red Bull Music Academy website, said he and Mr. Kirk had been drawn to black American music from a young age. “We used to go to soul clubs since we were 13 or 14,” he said. “We were both working class children; we grew up with that. And whatever was in our world at the time, it didn’t really matter to us.

But local performances by Roxy Music, then a promising art-rock group that included Mr. Eno on primitive synthesizers and tape effects, suggested new possibilities.

“People like Brian Eno had a huge influence on us because he actually incorporated things that weren’t musical and that we liked,” Mallinder said. “We didn’t really want to be musicians. The idea of ​​being technically proficient or learning a traditional instrument was kind of anathema to us.

Mr. Kirk attended art school and completed a one-year program in sculpture. He joined Mr. Mallinder and Mr. Watson, an avid Dada telephony engineer, at Cabaret Voltaire, which was initially an amorphous and boundary-pushing workshop project based in Mr. Watson’s attic.

“We went there studiously on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week and experimented for about two hours, during which time we had maybe put three or four compositions,” Mr. Kirk told Mr. Reynolds. Less musicians than provocateurs at first, the members of Cabaret Voltaire were quickly drawn into the English punk-rock revolution. In 1978, the group established Western Works, a rehearsal and recording studio based in what was previously the offices of the Sheffield Federation of Young Socialists.

“Western Works gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted,” Kirk said. An advance from independent label Rough Trade helped the band outfit the studio with a four-track recorder and mixer. Rough Trade went on to release some of the group’s most influential and enduring works.

After Mr. Watson left the group, Mr. Kirk and Mr. Mallinder increasingly turned to unambiguous dance floor beats, lush drum machines and synth sounds, scoring underground hits like “Sensoria”, “James Brown” and “I Want You”. A contract with a major record label with EMI resulted in a collaboration with influential producer Adrian Sherwood on the group’s album “Code” (1987) and a collaboration in 1990 with Chicago house music producers, “Groovy , Laidback and Nasty ”. But public indifference and growing indebtedness led to the band’s disbandment four years later.

Mr. Kirk has immersed himself in an array of side projects and pseudonymous collaborations. Playing with Richard Barratt (aka DJ Parrot) in a duo called Sweet Exorcist, he was among the first artists documented by the young label Warp. He had another powerful collaboration, with Sheffield sound engineer Robert Gordon, as a techno duo XON.

Information on the survivors was not immediately available.

Mr Kirk has rejected lucrative offers from festivals like Coachella to revive the original Cabaret Voltaire. “Some people might think I’m stupid for not taking the money, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it,” he said in a 2017 interview with Fact magazine. “Cabaret Voltaire has always aimed to innovate and move forward. “

He reinforced this impression by refusing to interpret any older material from Cabaret Voltaire. “I always say very clearly that if you think you’re going to come and hear the biggest hits, then don’t come because you aren’t,” he told Fact. “What you could get is the same spirit.”

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