When they formed in Sheffield, however, the trio of guitarist Richard H. Kirk, bassist Stephen Mallinder and tape manipulator Chris Watson were closer to performance art than music. Influenced by the Dadaist movement (whence came their name) as well as musical figures Brian Eno and Can, Cabaret Voltaire began recording as early as 1974 but released nothing until their 1978 appearance on Manchester's Factory Records compilation A Factory Sampler. Later that year, CV signed to the newly formed Rough Trade label and released the Extended Play EP. The record was an insightful, far-seeing release, alternating punk-influenced chargers like "Nag Nag Nag" with more experimental pieces.
The debut Cabaret Voltaire LP Mix-Up was just that -- an assemblage of driving industrial funk laced with tape loops and sampled effects. The group's intensity helped put them on Britain's independent singles charts (thanks to tracks such as "Silent Command," "Three Mantras" and "Seconds Too Late"), and the release of several live shows proved that Cabaret Voltaire was able to re-create many of their experiments in a concert setting. By the beginning of the 1980s, the trio began to diversify by working on film music, collaborative releases, and solo albums -- one each for Kirk (Disposable Half-Truths) and Mallinder (Pow-Wow). The CV album Red Mecca showed them working with Arabic elements as well. Watson's departure (for a career in television, and later, the Hafler Trio) provoked Kirk and Mallinder to replace him with Eric Random.
Cabaret Voltaire left Rough Trade in 1983, and inaugurated a new contract with Some Bizzare [sic]/Virgin by shifting their sound, away from raging industro-funk and towards a more danceable form. Keyboard player Dave Ball (Soft Cell) joined the fold, and CV's 1983 LP The Crackdown finalized the change. Dividends were quickly paid, as the singles "Sensoria" and "James Brown" (both from Micro-phonies) hit the indie charts during 1984. Except for 1985's The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm of the Lord (which harked back to the late '70s), Cabaret Voltaire were, with New Order, on their way to a stylish, increasingly commercial hybrid of post-punk, art-funk and the emerging house music scene.
After the simultaneous release of two Kirk solo albums (Black Jesus Voice and Ugly Spirit) in 1986, the group moved to EMI/Parlophone and worked with Bill Laswell and Adrian Sherwood for their 1987 LP Code. The sound of Chicago house had recently blown up in London during 1986-87, and Cabaret Voltaire traveled to the Windy City to record with one of the style's mavericks, Marshall Jefferson. The LP Groovy, Laidback & Nasty was the fruit of that intriguing union, and the single "Hypnotised" made the British pop charts, though it also showed CV -- for the first time in their 15 years -- reacting to the trends instead of creating them.
The group's pioneering work was hardly over, though, as Kirk began working with a new generation of electronic experimentalists based in CV's home of Sheffield. Rob Gretton's Warp Records -- which later released work from the cream of Britain's intelligent house/techno crop (Aphex Twin, Black Dog, Autechre) -- debuted with Clonks Coming, an LP by Kirk's Sweet Exorcist project.
Kirk's increasing devotion to solo work and side projects proved to be the undoing of the group, however, as Groovy, Laidback & Nasty was their last album for EMI. During 1993-94, the new-electronica label Instinct released a trio of CV LPs -- Plasticity, International Language, The Conversation, -- in the U.S. (licensed from Plastex), after which the band's future appeared cloudy. Kirk continued to record (as Electronic Eye, Sandoz and himself) while Mallinder moved to Australia, where he has recorded as Sassi & Loco. ~ John Bush, All Music Guide