Richard H. Kirk, who stretched the limits of electronic music with his work in Cabaret Voltaire, is dead at 65.
The news was corroborated by Mute Records on Twitter. “It is with great sadness that we confirm our great & dear friend, Richard H. Kirk has passed away,” the label wrote. “Richard was a towering creative genius who led a singular & driven path throughout his life & musical career. We will miss him so much. We ask that his family are given space.” The cause of death has not been made public.
Kirk founded Cabaret Voltaire with Chris Watson and Stephen Mallinder in Sheffield, UK, in 1973. The group took its name from the Zürich nightclub that birthed Dadaism, the anti-capitalist avant-garde art movement that emphasized nonsense and absurdity as a reaction to the horrors of World War I. With Mallinder on bass and vocals and Kirk providing the songwriting thrust, Cabaret Voltaire brought this energy to their early live performances, playing tape recordings in the streets of Sheffield and occasionally performing in public toilets. In 1975 these provocations resulted in a fight with the audience that sent Mallinder to the hospital.
Via The Guardian, Kirk described his driving artistic impulse as “boredom” from living in Sheffield. “You had to find your own entertainment, which turned out to be making weird electronic music.”
The group eventually signed to Rough Trade records, and in 1979 released their debut album Mix-Up. This was followed by The Voice of America (1980) and Red Mecca (1981), considered by many to be early classics of the industrial movement. In 1981 Watson departed the band, and Kirk and Mallinder explored a more danceable, radio-friendly sound. They achieved their first conventional hit with 1983’s “Just Fascination,” and as the decade progressed, Kirk ventured into house music and techno.
“After Chris Watson left we carried on in a totally different direction,” Kirk said in an interview with the Irish Times last year. “A lot of people said it was rubbish. Fortunately, I think it has stood the test of time.”
Kirk kept up a furious recording pace — which he had said was partially the result of “taking a lot of amphetamines” — and at different times he released solo music under the monikers Bit Crackle, Destructive Impact, Dr Xavier, PSI Punky Dread Allstars, and Wicky Wacky.
In 1995 Mallinder moved to Australia, and the Cabaret Voltaire project went on hiatus. Kirk continued recording solo music, and he would eventually revive Cabaret Voltaire as a solo project in 2009. Last year, Cabaret Voltaire released its final studio album, The Shadow of Fear.
Throughout his long career, Kirk was adamant about looking forward instead of back. “I’ve been a big fan of Miles Davis for many years and he would never play anything from the past and the only time he ever did that was before he died,” he said to Fact magazine in 2017. “I just feel like, what’s the point? … I always make it really clear that if you think you’re going to come and hear the greatest hits then don’t come because you’re not. What you might get is the same spirit.”
His passing was mourned by many fans and musicians. The electronic artist Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, wrote, “Farewell to Richard H Kirk (1956-2021) of legendary Sheffield band Cabaret Voltaire. Connecting the experimental side of Roxy Music with William S Burrough’s cut up techniques, their The Voice of America (1980) and Red Mecca (1981) remain utter gems of exploratory sound today.” Revisit some of his work below.
It is with great sadness that we confirm our great & dear friend, Richard H. Kirk has passed away.
Richard was a towering creative genius who led a singular & driven path throughout his life & musical career.
We will miss him so much.
We ask that his family are given space. pic.twitter.com/Ok8u3dNx3T
— Mute (@MuteUK) September 21, 2021
Farewell to Richard H Kirk (1956-2021) of legendary Sheffield band Cabaret Voltaire. Connecting the experimental side of Roxy Music with William S Burrough's cut up techniques, their The Voice of America (1980) and Red Mecca (1981) remain utter gems of exploratory sound today. pic.twitter.com/TxWXE99wSyAdvertisement
— Robin Rimbaud – Scanner (@robinrimbaud) September 21, 2021