Richard H. Kirk was a British music giant whose influence spanned decades and genres. The pioneering electronic artist, whose death at 65 was announced yesterday via his label Mute, has done everything from post-punk to acid house, techno and electronic dub, often before anyone else. His first musical project, Cabaret Voltaire, formed with Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson in Sheffield in 1973, helped define industrial music, merging tape loops, samples and electronics with live instruments and a confrontational attitude. True tinkerers, they made music without any training – a forerunner of punk and later producers of dance music.
âWhen we started, we were massively influenced by [Brian] Eno’s ideas that you don’t have to be a musician to produce sound, “Kirk told Neil Kulkarni for DJ Mag in 2013. aftermarket.”
The band helped put Sheffield on the map as an electronic music hub, inspiring everyone from the Human League to Warp Records, while their debut single ‘Nag Nag Nag’ became a cult hit and spawned the early 2000s electroclash club night of the same name. While their albums were cut and paste, sampladelic affairs, with excerpts of speeches and found sounds, tracks like 1984’s “Sensoria” mixed New York disco dubbed with spiky guitars, anticipating the baggy sound of Happy. Mondays of Manchester, while ‘Crackdown’ was another favorite of the electronic dancefloors.
While his first solo release was in 1980, it was Kirk’s move to house and techno that would define his own sound for many DJs and fans of electronic music. If 1986’s “Hipnotic” was a tantalizing mix of house and electro, and Cabaret Voltaire’s “Groovy, Laidback And Nasty”, performed with Marshall Jefferson, was an authentic deep house LP (later disowned by Kirk as ” watered down “), it was The surprisingly bizarre 1990s club hit,” Clonk “on Warp, would cement its legend. Performed as Sweet Exorcist alongside DJ Parrot (Richard Barratt), this sparse and skeletal house track, with its abstract metallic blips, human sighs, and sub-bass waves rumbling through the rib cage, sounded truly foreign and would come to define the beep ‘n’ sound of bass dance from Sheffield, Leeds and beyond, later proving to be immensely influential in British genres like hardcore, jungle and dubstep.
In addition to other Sweet Exorcist classics like ‘Testone’, with his eerie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind beeps, Kirk went on to record a large number of singles, EPs and albums under countless aliases, ambient experiences of Electronic Eye to Wicky Wacky’s breakbeat acid to Trafficante electro, often on his own labels Intone and Alphaphone. Kirk has also released several highly regarded and eclectic albums via Warp, “Virtual State” by 94 and “The Number Of Magic” by 95, although it was his Sandoz nickname that proved the more radical departure. Driven by reggae basslines and mystical synth work, he gave in to his deep love of dub and appeared everywhere from Soul Jazz Records to Mute and Touch.
âSandoz was my idea to travel to the places that had made this music that I had listened to all my life,â Kirk told Kulkarni. âI’ve been listening to Jamaican music since I was 14, but I was only able to go to Jamaica in the 90s and for the first time, I wasn’t traveling for work, but for my own pleasure. Being exposed to the amount of music that is part of the bloodstream in Jamaica reminded me of being at Shebeens and seeing these guys setting up these speakers made from wardrobes! Just a dedication and fascination with sound and volume. I got a lot of interest in dancehall too, how those beats are made, and then I came back to Sheffield and did the Sandoz albums.
Kirk has remained very prolific throughout his career, reviving the Cabaret Voltaire moniker in 2014 with a series of live performances, including one at Berlin Atonal and one at Dekmantel in 2016. In November 2020, Cabaret Voltaire released its first new album in nearly three decades. , ‘Shadow of Fear’, with Kirk as the only member. This was followed in 2021 by three releases: ‘Shadow Of Funk’, ‘Dekadrone’ and ‘BN9Drone’
Tributes have been paid to Kirk by many electronic music players following the sad news of his passing.
Chris Smith, boss of the Sheffield CPU label, lamented Kirk’s death on Twitter. âRIP Richard H Kirk,â Smith tweeted. âThe most influential musician for me. I have had the opportunity to chat with him over the past few years, which was a dream come true. He will be sorely missed. “
Optimo’s JD Twitch tweeted: âHeartbroken to hear about Richard H Kirk. He’s been an imposing presence for most of my musical life and innovating until the end. Sensoria was my 1st Cabaret Voltaire purchase; I’ll never, ever get tired of it (it’s still one of the best videos ever made). â
Nik Colk Vacuum from the factory floor said: âI am so sad to hear that Richard H Kirk has passed away! A legend of endless electronic personalities within the same soul, inventive and free. We will miss you! RIP Richard.
Stephen Mallinder, Kirk long-time partner of Cabaret Voltaire, added: “I am broken. My Cabs musical partner, and often sparring partner, difficult to live with but impossible not to love. Stubborn, does not suffer from fools, but insightful, spontaneous and with a visionâ¦ and under the spiky shell of a warm heart I am truly devastated RIP Kirky.
âThe way forward is to keep trying new things,â Kirk told FACT Magazine – and he never stopped until his death. One of the true greats of British music, his passing is a huge loss.