Richard H Kirk, founding member of Cabaret Voltaire, dies at the age of 65 | Music
Influential British electronic musician Richard H Kirk, best known as a founding member of Sheffield Cabaret Voltaire, has died aged 65. Mute Records, who have released several Kirk solo albums and group albums, confirmed the news, describing it as an “imposing creative genius who has led a unique and motivated path throughout his life and his musical career”.
Robin Rimbaud, aka the electronic musician Scanner, paid tribute to Kirk’s work with Cabaret Voltaire: “Connecting the experimental side of Roxy Music with the cutting techniques of William S Burrough, their The Voice of America (1980) and Red Mecca (1981) remain today true gems of exploratory sound.
Kirk, along with Chris Watson and Stephen Mallinder, formed the group in 1973, taking their name from the Zurich nightclub that gave birth to the Dadaist movement and forging their sound through experiments combining music and technology. “Technology has always been a catalyst”, Kirk told the PRS in 2016. “It allowed you to do things, especially if you weren’t the best musician in the world.
They rose to prominence around Sheffield in the late 1970s for their provocative live performances and frequent support slots with Joy Division. Bernard Sumner of the latter, later of New Order, cited the group among his musical influences, and Depeche Mode and Bauhaus regarded them as peers.
They were absorbed into the emerging punk movement and founded a recording studio, the Western Works – a former cutlery factory – which served as the hub of Sheffield’s punk scene. Producer Flood made the first tracks there, and it was the site of New Order’s first recordings after Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis died.
Kirk once described his initial motivation to make music as a “boredom” resulting from the lack of distraction in the early 1970s in Sheffield. “You had to find your own entertainment, which turned out to be weird electronic music. “
The group signed with Rough Trade in 1978 and became well-loved by peers like Andy Gill of Gang of Four. Watson left the group in 1981 and Kirk and Mallinder spent the next decade moving from Virgin to EMI, exploring pop music, with hits such as Sensoria and I Want You, as well as house and techno, to varying degrees of satisfaction among the remaining members.
“After Chris Watson left, we continued in a totally different direction”, Kirk told The Irish Times last year. “A lot of people said it was rubbish. Fortunately, I think it has stood the test of time.
808 State tweeted to celebrate the diversity of Cabaret Voltaire and Kirk’s attitude towards electronic music: [Kirk] entered the club culture of the 90s without having to change his game much.
Kirk has maintained a prolific solo career alongside Cabaret Voltaire – once describing it as a combination of having too many ideas and “taking a lot of amphetamines” – using dozens of aliases such as Bit Crackle, Destructive Impact, Dr Xavier, PSI Punky Dread Allstars and Wicky Wacky. After Mallinder moved to Australia in 1995 and the band’s activity ceased, Kirk continued his solo career.
He relaunched the name Cabaret Voltaire in 2009 for a series of collaborations and live performances, and in 2020 released an album, Shadow of Fear, the first with Kirk as the only member of the group. He was adamant that this was not an exercise in nostalgia.
“I have been a huge Miles Davis fan for many years and he would never play anything from the past and the only time he did was before his death.” he told Fact magazine in 2017. “I just feel like, what’s the point?” … 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. What you might get is the same spirit.