Style: Industrial, Electronic, Experimental.
Similar artists: Coil, Skinny Puppy, Foetus.
Recording year: Mute Records, 1980.
Though they're one of the most important groups in the history of industrial and electronic music, Cabaret Voltaire are sometimes forgotten in the style's timeline — perhaps because they continued recording long after other luminaries (Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, Chrome) called it quits. Also related to the fact is that CV rarely stayed in one place for long, instead moving quickly from free-form experimentalism through arty white-boy funk and on to house music in the late '80s and electronica the following decade. The band, formed by guitarist Richard H. Kirk, bassist Stephen Mallinder, and tape manipulator Chris Watson, were influenced by the Dadaist movement (whence came their name) and as such, came closer to performance art than music during many of their early performances. After several years of recording with no contract, the group signed to the newly formed Rough Trade label in 1978 and began releasing records that alternated punk-influenced chargers with more experimental pieces incorporating tape loops and sampled effects.
It would actually be more accurate to call this album 'Two Mantras,' given that it consists of two sidelong pieces, "Eastern Mantra" and "Western Mantra," which gives the still-then-a-trio a chance to expand its avant-electronic-grunge into trancier realms. Mallinder's abstract ranting is in full effect from the start of "Eastern," talking about bodies in the streets and the like, and from there things move into a rough realm of strange art, Voltaire-style. The combination of Kirk's guitar and Mallinder's bass work here is practically that of Krautrock/motorik, Mallinder playing a steady, quietly varying series of notes while Kirk throws in a variety of crumbling squalls. His work is sometimes vaguely Arabic in flavor, which combined with the length of the song, the hollow drum machine punch driving everything along, and Watson's piercing keyboards is not merely interesting but helps to demonstrate, in a subtle way, some of the future influences on artists like Muslimgauze. The alien feeling at the core of Cabaret Voltaire remains, though, strong and strange as always. "Western Mantra" has the basic trio, plus guests on percussion and found-sound tapes, doing something far more outre. A heavily-treated vocal loop underlaid by a subtle keyboard drone starts the song, interspersed with samples of Arabic and Israeli pop music and various bell sounds — the roots for Muslimgauze in particular really show here! Kirk's crisp playing floats in some time later, stepping in and out of the mix but never predominating, while Mallinder's bass is barely detectable. The occasional bursts of low, clattering pounding, with cymbals if not with drums in the background, combined with the continuing series of song samples, Arabic wind instruments and snippets recorded in a Jerusalem market, heightens the enveloping, striking feel of the piece and release as a whole.
Fields Of Haze... Underground for all.