The Cabs

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, in the posing stakes, Cabaret Voltaire was unimpeachable.  I may even have “casually” carried this 1983 LP home on the ‘bus from school twice, for added effect, if the “right” people hadn’t seen me taking it home the first time lol:

The Crackdown, Cabaret Voltaire, 1983, Some Bizzare [sic] Records

Even those of your mates who “hated that New Wave crap” had, however grudgingly, to concede that, as with Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten, Cabaret Voltaire could not be dismissed as mere poseurs, devoid of substance. There was heart-felt intent, art-house intent admittedly, but authentic intent nonetheless, behind the wilfully recherché exterior. Influenced by communist politics, William S. Burroughs (inevitably) and Dadaist art, the band was named after a short-lived club, set up in Zurich (at No. 1, Spiegelgasse) in 1916 to promote Dadaism. (The <club>, currently being refurbished, was revived in this century.)

Richard H. Kirk of the band died recently.  I listened again to this single from 1979:

Nowadays, as <this lad notes>, ‘It’s hard to make it in music not coming from money’; that is, nowadays, the music business is closed to you if you’re working-class.

There were always plenty of middle-class types in popular music, but at least they then, like Joe Strummer or Mick Jagger, had the good grace to seek to disguise their privilege. Nowadays, it’s de rigueur  – pop music nowadays is a depressingly-respectable career path, where once it was a refuge for misfits and chancers. Punk / new wave / 2 tone opened a brief cultural door for the working class, for the outsiders, for women, for black people, for awkward people, for misfits, for the kids who skipped school; for all the ones who just didn’t fit, and for all those not lambasted by Chip Taylor & the New Ukrainians when he sang: “Fuck All the Perfect People“. 

Punk opened a door for Cabaret Voltaire too. Nowadays, nobody would touch them with a middle-class barge pole, not when there’s so much Ed-Swift-Taylor-Sheeran tofu to be sold to the leucotomised nod-alongers; but punk created a space for working class misfits like The Cabs, as Wiki notes:

By the early 1970s, Chris Watson of Sheffield, England, began experimenting with electronic devices to make “music without musical instruments.”  

The band eventually turned to live performance, often sharing the bill with Joy Division, though much of their earliest public performance tended more towards being unconventional and provocative stunts rather than conventional shows. The trio would deploy to various parts of Sheffield with their portable tape recorders and play their experimental compositions in places as diverse as public toilets and on the streets from loudspeakers on the top of a friend’s van. This raucous and punkish attitude followed the band onstage to great effect; their first live concert in May 1975 ended in a fight between the band and the audience that sent Mallinder to the hospital. In another incident, Mallinder was hospitalised with a chipped backbone after objects were thrown at the band. However, the arrival of punk rock brought a more accepting audience for their industrial, electronic sound.”  

I still rate the above track. And I still listen to music from the ‘90s, noughties and today, and think how lowest-common-denominator conservative, and safe, it is by comparison. Sure, there’s still good stuff out there, but you have to dig very deep to find it. It generally doesn’t infiltrate the mainstream too much.  The mass of popular culture is now full of healthy, resilient types with good teeth and better accountants, but no souls. If there was a Crackdown, and a Kim Jong-un came to power tomorrow, most people in today’s charts would be perfectly safe.

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