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3 September 2010

Cabaret Voltaire - 'Mix-Up' (Rough Trade)

It's nice to transition from the Buzzcocks to Cabaret Voltaire, though I wouldn't normally make any connection between these artists. But it's a good transition: alphabetically from B to C, and geographically from Manchester to Sheffield, but approximately contemporaries, right? And both artists persevered where so many of their brethren hung it up after a few records. Listening to early Cabaret Voltaire, especially after the explosion of the "noise" underground, is a bit revelatory. For one thing, these guys are mostly into hi-fidelity recording, so the dictaphone-recorded basement jams are nonexistent. There's a bit of hiss present from the tapes, but even that's pretty mangeable, and when it layers up against whatever unorthodox recording techniques are being used, it makes a destructive futurescape that feels like it's pulling itself apart. Apart from the jammy live track 'Eyeless Sight', this is a beautiful, strange studio record that worships slow, searing electronics. They take their time to build up slowly in a few places - 'Heaven and Hell' is one such example. And while that's just a sketch as far as traditional songwriting goes, it's a good statement of purpose: electro-acoustic dualism, loaded with attitude and edge, with harsh, dissonant details. There's a lot of rhythm on Mix-Up but it's either synth bursts or tape loops. Chris Watson's loops are the smirking antithesis of Martin Swope, more foundational and less reverb-laden -- even when they're actually quite sparse. 'Photophobia' is one such example, a lengthy spoken piece that holds to a center, accelerates into unsettling territory, and leaves a spooky film. The Seeds cover ('No Escape') shows their roots, unless this was meant as mockery. 'Fourth Shot' has a guitar line that is searing and bright, which is why Cabaret Voltaire have always felt closer to a band like Suicide than to their fellow Sheffieldians, Throbbing Gristle. There's a liberal use of what now sounds to me like Casio beats, such as on 'Expect Nothing', though I'm sure it was sophisticated technology for the time. It actually injects a nice bit of twee into the car crash of audio. These guys play it slow and let things unfold, knowing that's where true horror comes from -- when the drums do become the main focus ('On Every Other Street') it actually get a bit scary. The cover is a blurry Max Headroom/white noise photo that doesn't really indiciate their Dada influence, or is that just in their name? I remembered this as being a patchy record but now, this sounds like a band with a vision.

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