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Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H. Kirk dies, aged 65

Kirk formed the influential industrial group in 1973

Richard H. Kirk, the electronic musician best known as founder of pioneering industrial group Cabaret Voltaire has died, aged 65.

The news was confirmed in a statement by his label Mute, who said: “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.”

Kirk was born in Sheffield in 1956, and formed Cabaret Voltaire alongside Chris Watson and Stephen Mallinder in 1973. The group took their name from a Zürich nightclub, which had served as the epicentre for the early Dadaist avant-garde art movement. The trio were pioneers of industrial music, who used DIY techniques and the "non-musical" stylings of Brian Eno and Roxy Music to merge the sounds of electronic and pop with post-punk grit.  

Cabaret Voltaire signed to Rough Trade in 1978, and went on to release a string of successful singles and EPs such as ‘Extended Play’ and ‘Nag Nag Nag’ as well as early albums, ‘Mix-Up’, ‘Three Mantras’, ‘The Voice of America’ and ‘Red Mecca’. Voltaire would go onto release 14 studio albums in total, alongside numerous EPs, live albums and a soundtrack.

In 1981, Watson left the group, while Kirk and Mallinder took the project in an increasingly electronic direction. They became increasingly influenced by the sounds of house and techno coming out of America, which ultimately led to them travelling to Chicago to work with legendary house producer Marshall Jefferson on their 1990 album, ‘Groovy, Laidback and Nasty’.

After Mallinder’s departure in 1994, Kirk was sole remaining member of Cabaret Voltaire, though he never released under the title, instead opting to put out music under the aliases as a Sandoz and Electronic Eye, as well as under his own name. 

Kirk revived the Cabaret Voltaire moniker in 2014 with a string of live performances, including one at Berlin Atonal, and one at Dekmantel in 2016. 

In November 2020, Cabaret Voltaire released their first new album in almost three decades, ‘Shadow of Fear’, with Kirk as sole member. This was followed in 2021 by three releases: ‘Shadow Of Funk, ‘Dekadrone’ and ‘BN9Drone’

Tributes have been paid to Kirk on social media following the news of his passing. Listen to Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sensoria’ from their 1984 album, ‘Micro-Phonies’ below. Revisit Neil Kulkarni's 2013 interview with Kirk for DJ Mag here.