What’s in a name

A child learns to communicate through inarticulate speech. It is the ultimate freedom of speech. The word “dada” characterises this freedom of speech. There are no limits – inner nor outer to captivate free thoughts, these are devoid of complex. That is the illogical beauty of the “dada” principle – the ultimate anarchy of words. You can think and you can say whatever you want, anyway you want in order to produce the sound, not necessarily the meaning. Dada is the true, free dialect. Phonetics at will. In 1916, Zurich was a safe haven for various art immigrants – whether the ones that fled the WW1-infested countries or the ones that fled the omnipresent standard art worlds. In 1973, Sheffield was a forgotten place on earth, with a group of youths that had nowhere to flee. What they had was this philosophy in the bedroom, started in the loft, then spread the word to a wider public – through toilets, small cafes… or the most bizarre places. The city sensored broadcasting these sounds.

For a place now spinning 40 into one’s living legend, Sheffield is still no ordinary machine. The noise continues to burst from this machine, still providing shades of grey about this place I’ve never been to. In 1985, I spotted an album cover with a blurred screen-generated image still, in a local record shop. It read “Cabaret Voltaire”. The visual link immediately pointed out something about it that was quite “electronic” by nature. At the time, it was already heavily stylish. Very slick. I hadn’t had a clue. But the sound of the very name was cool. So cool in fact, that someone even sprayed it on a local building wall in a park, not far from where I live – I swear, it wasn’t me. Not that long ago, I went to see if it’s still there, but this “Cabaret Voltaire” graffiti once gracing that wall has now perished under the test of time and new graffiti-sprayed nonsense, the new street-Dada – unreadable, but free. Authentic. Like some of the books – that are more bible than the bible itself.

Such was “The Graphic Language Of Neville Brody”, by Jon Wozencroft. A book about one man’s work, assembled by the other man’s thoughts, both of whom have had a considerable impact on my visual senses. By 1993, I only had that record featuring a blurred screen-generated image still. A copy of an album, as well as a photocopied b/w reproduction of it – from “The Graphic Language” book. Cabaret Voltaire turned out to be a significant part in informing some of my views of the world with that record. Apart from what turned out to be “The Covenant, The Sword And the Arm Of the Lord”, at the time I barely collected a TDK copy of “Micro-phonies”. Both are now considered “pop classics”. The triumph of Dada.

Cabaret Voltaire grew up with the likes of Tamla Motown and cherished disco in order to decontruct the notion of the beat. The concept of repetition and noise which was actually “hip-hop” years before the term was actually coined – the evidence of which is present in one of their earliest pieces, so tipically called “The Dada Man” (mind the amazing record scratching). Cabaret Voltaire’s mash-up of found music and authentic, extreme noise at this stage – made just for fun, in time had transformed into a scene. The scene that featured some of those silly little names that came along and contributed just as enthusiastically (now deservedly being part of the great establishment); The Human League, Clock DVA and Vice-Versa being part of the earlier generation of principle electronic merchants, all derived from Sheffield’s industrial obscurity, later to taste (independent and mainstream) chart-topping success. In recent years Sheffield’s treasure vaults were once again explored and properly presented – Eve Wood, a dedicated documentary enthusiast delivered two of the finest such stories; “Made In Sheffield” and “The Beat Is the Law”, covering most of the forgotten, lost, found, successful and the still-going… And Cabaret Voltaire remain the name respectively mentioned worldwide as an influence on many. Myself included.

For a long time there was this crazy idea to record a version of one of their pieces, as if it were both – a “remix” as much as being the actual cover – something close to what The All Seeing I did earlier, in the year 2002 for “Yashar”. But as Stephen Mallinder and Richard Kirk once said – life slips by, and this version somehow continued not to take place. Always “close, but no cigar”. Part due indecision, the reason for the cover version’s delay layed in the fact there are simply too many diamonds in the mine to choose from. And while among my favourite picks was undoubtedly “Spies In the Wires”, the challenge led to another one of personal favourites, and more open for exploring updates – “Seconds Too Late”.

The decyphering of the very lyrics, however, was impossible – earlier Cabs’ work was particularly abstract in lyrical content… so, recently I got into contact with Stephen Mallinder to help me out with the lyric sheet. Which he kindly did. Thank you Stephen. Thank you Cabaret Voltaire. So here it is – “Seconds Too Late”, forever for you.  Do right.

1/2, Nov ‘12

In 1973, Cabaret Voltaire were: Stephen Mallinder, Richard H. Kirk and Christopher R. Watson. “Seconds Too Late” originally released as a single on Rough Trade (RT060, 1980)


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: