His head is not his memory.
Visions coming, one, two, three.
Trickle up, trickle down.
Wearily, we come unwound.
Richard H. Kirk, founding member of industrial icons Cabaret Voltaire and “contemporary techno’s busiest man,” has died at age 65.
His label, Mute Records, wrote in a statement:
It is with great sadness that we confirm our great and dear friend, Richard H Kirk has passed away. Richard was a towering creative genius who led a singular and driven path throughout his life and musical career. We will miss him so much. We ask that his family are given space at this time.
His former bandmate from Cabaret Voltaire, Stephen Mallinder made the following statement in response to Kirk’s passing:
“We were friends from the age of 14. He could be difficult but I loved him, he was a brother to me RIP Kirky”
New Order paid tribute to Kirk by noting that Cabaret Voltaire helped the former members of Joy Division “enormously” after singer Ian Curtis passed away.
“Richard and all of Cabaret Voltaire were good friends and very influential electronic musicians that made a big impact on the music of Joy Division and many other bands. They helped us enormously after Ian passed away when we collaborated with them for the first time in a studio without Ian. Richard will be sorely missed, he left his mark in music innovation and experimentation.”
Born and raised in Sheffield, Kirk’s star first rose in 1973 after forming Cabaret Voltaire, named after the Zürich nightclub that served as a hub for the Dada movement. Kirk’s background drew him to communist politics, Dadaism, and Roxy Music; he quickly became a devotee of Brian Eno’s unorthodox musical approaches. The band, in turn, took the relay baton from earlier Dadaists and incorporated their influence in their performance art, as well as Kirk’s wild experiments with electronics and tape machines. The group also explored sound collage with dramatic lyrics inspired by the cut-up techniques of William S. Burroughs. Their sensibilities, although similarly rooted in the chaotic energies of punk, circumvented other bands’ amateurish throwbacks and rocketed straight into the realm of electronica, using the hertz tone in place of smokin’ guitar licks and simple bass lines.
As the post-punk era dawned, Cabaret Voltaire moved their sonic experiments into a more commercial realm of dance and pop, innovating unusual hybrids with metallic flavour and occasionally a taste of the ultraviolence. Cabaret Voltaire’s performances, usually kamikaze guerrilla spectacles, often ended in fights between the group and the audience…which makes the cameo appearance of a Cabaret Voltaire poster in the classic John Hughes film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, all the more wryly funny.
With other like-minded outfits incorporating working-class backgrounds with art, theatricality, cacophonous sound and poetry, such as Human League, Throbbing Gristle, Fad Gadget, and The Normal, Cabaret Voltaire stood tall at the forefront of the UK Electronic Movement.
Kirk was also a prolific solo artist on the side, releasing Disposable Half-Truths in 1980. Cabaret Voltaire dissolved in 1994, reforming twenty years later with Kirk as the sole remaining member, continuing to perform and create new music exploring many types of EDM under comically expansive noms de plume.
In 2020, Cabaret Voltaire (Kirk acting solo at this point) released Shadow Of Fear, their first album in 26 years. Kirk reflected upon the ominous title: “The album was finished just as all the weirdness was starting to kick in…The current situation didn’t have much of an influence on what I was doing – all the vocal content was already in place before the panic set in – but maybe due to my nature of being a bit paranoid there are hints in there about stuff going a bit weird and capturing the current state of affairs.”
Two more Cabaret Voltaire albums, Dekadrone and BN9Drone, came out earlier this year. Ever the innovator of new sound, Kirk was unapologetic in his distaste for nostalgia and retreading old waters. “It’s nice that people appreciate what you’ve done in the past,” says Kirk. “But it’s a dangerous place to dwell.”
No word yet on his cause of death, but Kirk’s departure from this mortal coil will leave an immense void in the electronic world. May his legacy thrive ever onward and continue to inspire new musicians.