In the late 1980s, a Canadian journalist asked Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H. Kirk if he felt his band had sold out to disco. As you can imagine, that hit a bit of a nerve.
“No,” he shot back. “Disco sold out to us.”
The question did not come out of the blue. The Cabs’ 12-inch Sensoria was a monster international hit. And unlike much of the Sheffield trio’s earlier work, it was clearly written for the dance floor.
The exchange has stayed with me all these years, in part because seeing Cabaret Voltaire play the Concert Hall, one of Toronto’s most loved venues in 1985, was the closest thing to a life-changing event the 18-year-old version of me had ever experienced. (You can find a recording of the set on iTunes.)
As rudimentary as the electronics were in those days, Cabaret Voltaire sounded impossibly futuristic to my friends and me. This was exactly the kind of aggressively alternative music we craved.
Looking back though, I realize it wasn’t just the fact that the music was electronic. Two key artistic decisions made Cabaret Voltaire (and the other industrial bands establishing themselves at the time) such a big deal – then and now.
First: repetition. Music snobs had complained for years about the repetitiveness of pop. The electronic music movement of the 1980s pushed that to its natural extreme, turning it into a virtue. Nightclubs employing the most creative DJs were inducing trances long before that word was ever used to describe electronic music.
Second: spoken word samples. We take them for granted now, but they blew a lot of young minds in the early ’80s. Not only did they sound like nothing we’d heard before, they dovetailed nicely with a key element of the previous decade’s punk ethic. If you couldn’t sing, you could splice tape together of other people singing, talking, whatever. All you needed was a tape recorder and a razor blade. (How much more punk can you get?)
Of course, we take all this for granted now because the techniques that emerged out of ’80s-era electronic music did in fact turn disco on its carefully-coifed head.
Some of what followed lacked imagination, certainly. But you can draw a pretty straight line between a lot of today’s best electronic music and Cabaret Voltaire, Kraftwerk, etc.
DJ Zevzek’s Dis Duzzit, released on New Jersey’s Sunset Music International Group, is a fine example. Dan Handrabur is a Romanian-born artist that produces imaginative house music that is both current and directly connected to the progressive origins of electronic music.
The 14-track album, realed back in 2015, is packed with highlights. “Hyperdiamonds” earned applause for its thumping beat and light techno touches. “In Dee Cent” has a similar feel, and is just as much fun.
In terms of raw, barebones electronics though, “Hypgnostiq” gets my vote. Its spare, minimalist sensibility is flawless.