Saturday, November 22, 2008


Chapter 9


Cabaret Voltaire Human League Sheffield

(chapter 6 in the US edition)

Page 150

>grappling with synths

A good example of a punk-inspired Sheffield group who eschewed punk's guitar/bass/drums for electronics was Vice Versa, the group that would mutate into ABC

>Ten minutes drive from the peak district
Parts of Sheffield are dotted with parks and really rather pleasant. Andy Gill, NME’s Sheffield correspondent then: “If you look down on the city from the moors you can see there’s huge parks dotting the city. Over on the West side of the city where the university was, it’s beautiful--old stone houses, you’re in the countryside virtually. Sheffield was called the Rome of Britain because like Rome it was built on seven hills.”

Andy Gill’s September 9th 1978 NME piece on Cabaret Voltaire was titled, “Sheffield – This Week's Leeds” (Leeds, if you’ll recall, had been hyped earlier in the year as “this Week’s Akron”).

Page 151

>The commitment to state ownership
Clause 4 of the Labour Party’s constitution--the commitment to common ownership of the means of production--is what Tony Blair (in)famously managed to persuade the party to drop, thereby, some say, ensuring Labour’s re-electability in the late Nineties.

>flew the Red Flag
I was also struck, visiting Sheffield to interview Phil Oakey and get a sense of the city (R.H. Kirk kindly took me on a walking tour of postpunk landmarks, although most had now gone or been repurposed), by the fact that the town hall has a plaque commemorating the local volunteers who died fighting for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War

>Hard left politics is an everyday backdrop

Sheffield, in this respect, resembling Milan or Turin or other heavily industrialised cities in the North of Italy, where the Communist Party was actually in charge of local government.

> Steadily rising unemployment
A world slump combined with the uncompetitive malaise and low productivity that affected Britain’s nationalized industries did create steadily rising unemployment and factory closures through the Seventies; the real crash though came with Thatcherism and the removal of subsidies and government support.

>A Clockwork Orange

There was even a Sheffield postpunk band, Molodoy. whose entire shtick was based around A Clockwork Orange: the singer wore the clothes and make-up styled after Alex and his droogs in the movie, while the posters used Nadsat lingo. “There music was very angular and stern, tightly repressed, no release at all,” says Andy Gill, saying they had a certain something in common with Wire.

>Walter Carlos’s score

According to Adi Newton, for the strongest dose of abstract electronica you had to get the “Complete Original Score For A Clockwork Orange": “This album should not be confused with the Motion Picture soundtrack with its truncated versions and omission of “Timesteps” and "Country Lanes ". These influenced and inspired my desire to create experimental atmospheric soundscapes.”

Page 152


“To be honest, we were a 70s group; we came out of progressive," Phil Oakey confessed to the Guardian in 2001. In another interview, source unknown, he declared: "It's funny that people call us an Eighties group when in fact we were a Seventies group. Our influences were massively progressive. I loved King Crimson, I loved The Nice. We so liked Genesis. But the band we really cared about was Van der Graaf Generator--that music was so committed."
In my interview Oakey mentioned other favourites of his as being Yes, Curved Air, Zappa, and The Flock (an American prog band on Columbia/CBS, then market leaders for progressive music, with The Soft Machine et al), a horn-powered outfit that I’d never even heard of. Marsh and Ware separately related their fondness for for Zappa (especially the studio-processed sounds on Hot Rats) and even the more out-there hippie outfits like Gong, along with the more typically hip Krautrock usual suspects such as Can/Faust/Neu!.

>Eno’s abstract blurts of synth-noise

The alien whinny of the VCS 3 synth.

>Roxy... massive in Sheffield
Seems like every Northern English city claims to be Roxy’s biggest fanbase--Manchester, Liverpool…

>Crazy Daisy

Another key glam discotheque was Shades. Typical soundtrack in these dance clubs: Bowie, New York Dolls, Mott the Hoople, and even The Velvet Underground.

>Rare and Racy

The store is still there, about two minutes walk from the Human League’s rehearsal space/HQ in Devonshire Lane (itself now replaced by student accommodation). I stood outside it during the R.H. Kirk Guided Tour, but regrettably didn’t have time to go inside for a flick through the wares.

Andy Gill: “ Rare & Racy was this store in the university district, selling second hand books--antiquinarian stuff--and second hand records. The guys that ran it were a bunch of old jazzbos, very bohemian. Unlike most bookstores where there’d be like a hush like in church, there’d be this cacaophonous racket of free jazz--or it‘d be john cage--playing. Sun Ra was a shared love. They only liked avantgarde jazz, contemporary classical European avant-garde, and old blues–so you’d hear Skip James or Charlie Patton wheezing away at you while you shopped. A thing to note about Sheffield is that it’s a bit equivalent to San Francisco, there’s always been that leftist bohemia there. So when Ornette Coleman played the UK, he’d play London, and he’ d play Sheffield. People were prepared to go to the trouble to put him on up there, and he had a constituency.”

>theatrical rock performers

See also The Tubes, Kiss, Sensational Alex Harvey Band

>Gun Rubber
For which Newton served as Anti-Editor!

Page 153

>Chris Wilkinson
In the late Sixties Chris had written several experimental theater pieces with titles like "5 Plays for Rubber Go Go Girls" and "Strip Jack Naked".
Amazing fact: the Wilkinsons’ daughter Alys would go on to marry Scritti’s Green Gartside and be the inspiration for much of his 2006 comeback White Bread Black Beer. Green originally met her through his friendship with Ware, Marsh and Glenn Gregory circa their post-Human League outfit British Electric Foundation/Heaven 17.

The implication being, you had to blow it to get results.

>Musical Vomit… later martyn ware
Ware contributed stylophone--a toy synth played with a sort of pen (Ware had the deluxe dual-stylus version, though, not the kiddy one as advertised by Rolf Harris)

>Manager at the coop
Ware: “Which for people in Sheffield was like going to the city, ‘cos most people worked in the steel mills”. Paul Bowers was also a trainee manager.

Page 154

>groups with names like

Others included The Hari Willey Krishna Band and Arthur Craven's Tent Band, the latter named after an outlandish figure associated with the New York branch of Dada. Craven was a favorite of Adi Newton, he did an early song called “Dadaists and Arthur Cravenists”. One can see why, seeing as Craven is often described as “the poet-boxer-art critic Arthur Craven” and actually fought the heavyweight champion Jack Johnson (being knocked out either in the first or sixth round). And then died in cloudy mysterious circumstances in 1918. More here

>puking up vegetable soup… theatrical-satirical comedy-rock

This was how they kicked off their shows!

Saying they were the first punks is maybe overdoing, but they certainly paralleled comedy-rock punk fellow travelers like Alberto Lost Trios Paranoias and anticipated the dafter side of punk-to-come (The Damned, say, or Splodgenessabounds). With a bit of The Goodies and the Derek and Clive albums (e.g. the one with vomit on the cover) thrown in.

>some films

Bunuel, Fellini, Fritz Lang, etc. The place for the city’s film aesthetes was a university cinema called Grave’s Theatre.

Page 155

>Burroughs/Gysin cut-up

More info at

Page 156

>outwardly the most normal

Andy Gill: “Chris Watson was more straightforward than Kirk or Mallinder. It was a bit of a Rene Magritte thing where you look like you’re going to work in a bank but you do these weird art works. Cos if you see Salvador dali you know what to expect from his paintings cos of his appearance. It’s protective colouration to look normal. Chris looked more normal than Mal or Richard– and was, in many ways–but very interested in sonic weirdness.” After leaving Cabaret Voltaire in the early Eighties he pursued this rarified sonic research with The Hafler Trio.

>“just hit me… ever since”
--Watson. Sounds 3/8/80.
Chris Watson pursued his Dada obsession through checking out films, exhibitions, and listening to old recordings.

One early Cabs track was titled “The Dada Man”

>assault on taste and meaning

Which has a proto-punk aspect, destruction for destruction’s taste, wanton iconoclasm, insurrection on all fronts, anti-art anti-culture anti-civilisation anti-sanity. e.g.
Tristan Tzara’s battle cry “I smash drawers, those of the brain and those of social organisation” and Picabia’s glorification of “turbulence, nausea…, annihilating nonsense” plus his declaration “Art must be unaesthetic in the extreme, useless and impossible to justify”.

>Straight to tape

So abstract was the work that the group’s only form of notation was to record everything:
since they weren’t writing songs that could be written down or even remembered

>Methodology ‘74/’78
Some of this attic tape material had been earlier released on the 1978 album Cabaret Voltaire 1974-76, on their allies Throbbing Gristle’s label Industrial Records

>Alien-yet quaint

Reminisicent at times of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop--the synth-and-tape pioneers most famous for their work on cult sci-fi series Dr. Who, doing the famous theme song (written by Ron Grainger but electronicized by the RW’s Delia Darbyshire), eerie musical interludes, and generating a host of futuristic effects--laser gun zaps, spaceships taking off, uncanny hums, the nocturnal sounds of critters on alien planets (for a recording of this stuff check here,

More on the Radiophonic Workshop: and at monstrous length and detail,

Page 157

>Just to wind people up

Soon, the Cabs had some local notoriety, not just for pissing people off with their tape-loops but for being major piss artists.

>Served as his wardrobe
Andy Gill: “It was just full of clothes, and with an ironing board in the middle of the room.”

>Salle Gaveau

Or indeed the April 1919 Grand Soiree in Zurich

“We had a tape… beating us up"
--Watson. NME 11/29/80.

Page 158
>hurled his guitar into the audience

In the interview above, Watson conceded, “To be fair that did actually incite a lot of people. I don't think that helped calm people down.”

< size="2">“Prior to 'Magazine' whilst at Sheffield Uni I did a collaboration with Cabaret Voltaire - 'Vietsong' - and introduced them to this French avant-garde composer, Jean-Yves Bosseur, whose piece 'Exhaust' they did a version of.” (When he joined Magazine he was “still studying electronic music at Keele and playing in a duo, 'Bob and his Dick' (with Dick Witts, later of 'The Passage')…”; when he saw the notice put by Devoto in the Manchester branch of Virgin, “I'd just finished doing a 6-hour version of Gavin Bryar's 'Sinking of the Titanic' at the Peterloo Gallery (with Dick Witts) and wandered into Virgin, and thought, why not?”).

Via email Dickinson further elaborated on his connection with Cabaret Voltaire:

“I studied music at Sheffield Uni from 1973 - 76. Was very much an 'avant-garde outsider' in a music department predominantly populated by classical musicians. However, whilst there, I teamed up with a fellow student, Chris Thornton. In 1975 we started the Sheffield Musicians Co-Operative and with the help of the Uni and Yorkshire Arts deviously arranged a regular series of experimental music gigs. One of these was a gig by a piano duo - Dave Smith (who now directs the Gavin Bryars ensemble) and John Lewis - who played 'Music in Similar Motion' and 'Music in Fifths' by Phillip Glass plus 'Piano Phase' by Steve Reich. Chris Watson and the other Cabs (Richard Kirk and Stephen Mallender) turned up and that's really how we met. I also remember Rob Worby being there (he later played keyboards with 'The Mekons') but at the time was doing music at Bretton Hall (Wakefield). The Cabs had visited the music department at Sheffield Uni previously to play around with the gear in the small electronic music studio in the attic of the department building on Taptonville road (the gear included VCS3 synths and a synthi AKS). Following this initial meet I invited them to do a gig in the Arts Tower of Sheffield University (Lecture Theatre 7, if I recall). This took place in May 1976. The programme included a number of pieces by the French composer, Jean-Yves Bosseur, whose work I had been introduced to by Dick Witts (later of 'The Passage') but who at the time was promoting performances of new music at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. The whole programme ran something like this:'Completely Sweet': Bosseur - a newly realised version by myself played by a student ensemble'Read Schubert': Bosseur - a solo piano piece 'deconstructing' a Schubert piece and played by Peter Hill (who is now one of the foremost exponents of the piano music of Messiaen)'1898' - Mauricio Kagel'Trance-formations' : by me (an ensemble piece using the fibonacci sequence as a structural basis for repetitive motives)'Exhaust': Bosseur - realised by Cabaret Voltaire. The original piece is a short text piece from a collection of other text pieces called 'Time to take it''Viet-song': Cabaret Voltaire/Me - the Cabs provided a backing tape of synth sounds plus a projected film loop. I remember being onstage standing infront of a flickering TV screen and then moving over to play improvised atonal music at the upright piano - very angular and dissonantI think the programme may have opened with 'Viet-song'.Re. the audience response: nothing special really, probably were stunned into an apathetic silence by what they heard (the audience was mainly classical music types of the 1975 variety!).Following this first gig by the Cabs at Sheffield Uni, they then joined me and my experimental music group (called 'E-Music') to travel over the Pennines to do a very strange gig at my old school, The Derby School, Radcliffe road, Bury. [see note below} This must have been May/June 1976. It took place in the main hall of the school to a full house of a couple of hundred kids ranging in age from 11 to 18. My group did a piece called 'Marsyas Musique' which consisted of a free improvisation to a projected film made by another French composer called Pierre Marietan (who worked with the same performance group as Bosseur). The Cabs did a performance using tapes and synths. During this someone pulled the plug but things were soon re-connected, power restored and the gig continued. A complaint was made as exams were taking place in the adjacent gym !!! On the day I also arranged for other things to occur at the school which included an artist from Rochdale who had created this automaton with an electric saw who was cutting up books !!! I think the Cabs signed the visitors book.The final collab with The Cabs was a set of tapes and films they prepared which I took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 1976 with other members of the Sheffield Musicians Co-Operative. We were performing at Leith Town Hall and sharing the space with a student theatre group presenting some quite traditional theatre.They did'nt attend in person. The theme of their piece was Donald Nielsen, the 'Black Panther' who kidnapped and subsequently murdered a teenage girl. Very disturbing to say the least. They also produced some handouts. The intention was to present them in a programme which included the 'Marsyas Musique' piece by Marietan, a vocal ensemble piece by Bosseur based on texts from 'Finnegans Wake' by James Joyce using the 'mesostics' technique of John Cage, called 'Anna Livia's awake'. I think the tapes were played once and someone objected - Lol Coxhill and Gerry Fitzgerald turned up for the Marietan piece along with an American new music journalist called John Schneider. Lol and Gerry ended up improvising along with the film. Bosseur also came along for the trip from Paris but did'nt take too kindly to the tent accomodation provided. On return the tapes were supposed to have been sent back to The Cabs but they got lost in transit......Following this I lost contact with The Cabs as I moved away from Sheffield in August '76 to study for my Ph.D at Keele University.”
After this Dickinson had the involvement with Magazine in their early days and also worked with Dick Witts, later of The Passage, and Gavin Bryars. “I also wrote a track for a band called 'Slight Seconds' who were members of the Manchester Musicians Collective. It was called, 'Building Bridges' and was featured on an album released on the Object label. The singer Kevin Ede later went onto write the biography of 'Wire'.” Currently he is involved in various music projects and lectures in music. >1976
Later that year Cabaret Voltaire played a concert during morning assembly at the Lord Derby grammar school in Bury: “a 50 minute piece called ‘Mars 1958’, except that four minutes into the performance they pulled the plug on us.”

>The Studs
The occasion was a support slot for Manchester punk micro-legends The Drones who were performing at one of Sheffield University’s venues

Page 159

>synth-paved path to tomorrow.... Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express

piece by me on the living legacy of Kraftwerk written in 1991

>Synth kit I bought
Marsh: “It was Dewtron Electronics and modular--more assemble-it-yourself than build-it-yourself. You weren’t going down to the level of resistors and diodes, but you needed some technical knowledge to be able to assemble it”

Page 160

>Melody lines on the Korg
Marsh: “Martyn’s machine was hardwired, so as soon as you hit a key you’ve get a very simple tone out of it. But comparing the two machines as a spectrum of visible light, his Korg was limited to red and blue whereas my System 100 was full spectrum. So any weird noises tended to be coming off my machine, and often the textures were as important as the pattern of notes being played.”

>Pre-set beats

You could only inflect the set patterns in the most basic way, byspeeding them up and slowing them down.

>Filter it
Shaving the treble to get a bass drum sound, stripping away the lowest frequencies to create the raw sonic matter for snares or hi-hats. Cymbal sounds could be achieved using the ring modulator.

>painstakingly sequence them
Using the twelve-step sequencer module that came with the System 100, then as it rolled, Marsh could “change it on the fly to get accents and fills.”

>third member Newton
Marsh: “I was friendly with Adi before I even knew Martyn and at one point he was my best mate. We’d often play around with tape recorders, splicing and editing.”

Newton had what Marsh calls “a suitcase synth, which was pretty useless”. His inability to keep up technologically with his gainfully employed and far more solvent colleagues eventually became a sore point.

>21 B Devonshire lane

Also the HQ for Gun Rubber zine

Page 161

>one hour and 37 minutes

Or 25 minutes, depending on which story you prefer to believe. Either way, not exactly pop concision, but much more like the sort of thing Klaus Schulze was up to--side long tracks, taking the capacity of the vinyl album to its very limit by sometimes exceeding 30 minutes in length.

>showed them the door after hearing the tapes
At some record comapnies, there were technical hang-ups, owing to the quirks of Newton’s tape-machine--resulting at one showcase in The Future’s music being accompanied by the sound of Elvis Presley running backwards.

Page 162

>Didn’t really want to sing…

While Ware remembers the split as a clash of aesthetic sensibilities, Marsh recalls it as being about money. “It was like, ‘you owe us tons of money, we’re bailing you out all the time’.

>surreptitiously moved.. we broke contact for a while

Marsh says Adi had a reputation for being a hothead, having a bit of a temper. So in one night they moved all the equipment to his flat. Newton was of course devastated and betrayed and still talks about the incident with some bitterness.

>”Almost Medieval”

Hence Oakey’s couplet: ”Jump off the tarmac , there's no stagecoach speed limit/Outside the office hangs the man on the gibbet”.

> “Being Boiled”.. bizarre lyric
A vegetarian protest against sericulture (silkworms grown and used to make socks) with references to Buddhism that turned out to be inappropriate--Oakey was fascinated by Eastern religions, but had confused Buddhism and Hinduism.

Listen to the voice of Buddha
Saying stop your sericultureL
ittle people like your offspring
boiled alive for some god's stocking
Buddha's watching
Buddha's waiting
Just because the kid's an orphan
is no excuse for thoughtless slaying
Children don't forget this torture
Just because you call her mother
doesn't mean that she's your better
Once more withe the voice of Buddha
He'll say carry on your slaughter
Who cares for the little childreny
ou may slice with no conviction
Blind revenge on blameless victims

>Two warring intergalactic empires
One of the scenarios was called “The Rise of the Human League”.

Ironically, Oakey didn’t really like the name “The Human League” either.

page 163

>cover versions of Sixties classics
Along with soundtrack tunes like Morricone’s “Funeral March” from the spaghetti western Once Upon A Time in the West.

>”Where To Now?”
A song about the post-punk quandary

>Bowers loved the Human League’s material

Plus he’d also developed a dislike of the Gang of Four who were next in line to have their single released on Fast. The ploy worked--“Being Boiled” jumped ahead of the queue and Gang of Four’s “Damaged Goods” EP was duly bumped back a few months.

Bowers is now some kind of big wheel in the Labour Party.

>huge Funkadelic fan

Even to the point of buying albums from P-Funk offshoots like the Brides of Funkenstein and the Horny Horns.

>Computer print-out manifesto

Last: “It actually came in two bits: one was felt tip on Mylar, and the other was a computer print-out. It just fit everything that Fast Product was about”.

>”Circus of Death”

In a weird preamble to the song, poised somewhere arch and absurd between Brecht/Gang of Four alienation-effect and Monty Python, Oakey details what you are you about to hear: “This is a song called ‘The Circus of Death’. It tells the true story of the circus we met. The first two verses concern the actual arrival at Heathrow Airport of Commissioner Steve McGarrett. The third emotionally describes a map showing the range of the circus. The fourth and fifth were extracted from an article in The Guardian of March 19, 1962. The last is a shortwave radio message from the last man on earth.”

Flyer for the first Human League gig, 1978. Made by Martyn Ware. [via Rockets and Rayguns]

>To reproduce the music onstage
To properly reproduce the music onstage would have involved getting more people in the band, and they didn’t know anybody else who could afford synthesisers. Hence having elements of the tracks on tape.

Page 164

the Human League, an early live performance

>A wall of TV sets
Detuned so they were all fuzzy grey and blobby-colored with interference

>Static behind the keyboards

Marsh: “I was having to change patches between songs”.

>rigid with stage fright
Marsh: “Philip wasn’t a very animated stage performer”

Page 165

>obsessive collector
A big chunk of Adrian Wright’s obsessions intersected with Last’s notion of “the cultural landscape of kitsch”. The same sort of kitschadelic aesthetic aka Mondo was emerging in the US simultaneously: John Waters (around the edges of whose Baltimore milieu David Byrne circulated for a while, bringing a Mondo aspect to the proto-Talking Heads band The Artistics), B-52s, etc etc. See later chapter on Mutant Disco New York for the full story.


The prize of his collection was a Rolls Royce with Lady Penelope and the chauffeur.

Page 166

>Splendidly isolated figure

The theme--the decorated hero and the strenuous but anonymous masses behind this historic collective effort to propel a human being into space--parallels Gang of Four’s “Not Great Men”.

>Free flexi disc
Last: “It was the reverse of ‘Damaged Goods’, in the sense that Human League got the cover they wanted. Instead of Gang of Four’s letter on the back, I got my side of the argument through on the flexi disc.”

>Brief statement
At the end of the flexi, Oakey makes a brief statement unpacking the “multiplex” meanings of the sleeve: “it’s about the individual as opposed to the group, and it’s about human frailty: not matter how big you are, you’re gonna be dead pretty soon.”

>Irony, doubt and alienation
Last: “They came out of that Sheffield socialist culture, but they had the perverse interest in hedonism, and were also aware that the Socialist culture had some problems with dealing with pleasure”.

>positivity versus punk
On the demo tape, Oakey posed as Jason Taverner (the name of a TV presenter character in Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said) and offered the following tribute:.
“I first met the Human League when they appeared on my network TV show last year. Then, and a couple of times since that they’ve played a song for us, I was impressed that here was a bunch of lads who were doing something new and melodic in music when the majority of bands were just trying to shock people.”

>”Blind Youth”
The lyrics, written by Martyn Ware, mock chic technophobia and machines-taking-our-souls nonsense, along with urban anomie: “Dehumanisation - it's easy to say/But if you're not a hermit, you know the city's OK.”.”

>”No future” nihilism

And there’s one direct jab at punk: “’no future’ they say/but must it be that way?”

Page 167

>Support slot with the Buzzcocks
Sounds’s Jon Savage, an early supporter of the band, having received a tape through the mail, had dragged Geoff Travis from Rough Trade to the show, and the latter was sufficiently impressed to start talking to the band about putting out a debut single.

Page 168

>Western Works
Paul Bowers, the eternal catalyst, was instrumental in this move. Kirk: “2.3 were already in there rehearsing, and they wanted us to have one of the two rooms”.

>”Postsocialist autonomy”
Gigging rarely but recording continuously, the Cabs maintained an impressive work-rate, and were soon able to pay themselves each a modest forty-five pounds a week wage. Which in 1979 terms actually wasn’t bad at all.

>Rough Trade
For a while they were talking to Manchester’s Factory label--in many ways closer in spirit as fellow aesthete-provocateurs with similar book collections. But it was Rough Trade who came through with the cash. But although they were grateful to Rough Trade for their help, Cabaret Voltaire didn’t really gel too well with the label, finding them too hippie-ish and politically right-on for their liking. A connection with Joy Division and New Order was maintained; Cabaret Voltaire would perform at the launch night of the Hacienda.

>Classic Cabaret Voltaire sound
In the wake of their 1979 debut album “Mix-Up” and the singles around that time, Cabaret Voltaire rapidly became one of the most widely imitated post-punk groups. According to Geoff Travis, Rough Trade received around ten new demo tapes each week that sounded like the Cabs, along with ten that sounded like The Fall!.

Page 169

>The Seeds
Whose “No Escape” the Cabs covered

>Michael Karoli
The only guitarist Kirk admired, apart from Hendrix.

Page 170

>dead chambers of bunkers

The sound is paradoxical: a sort of dry echo.

>no one else had this sound

Kirk: “My guitar was a Watkins copycat, with a tapeloop and five heads on it, so you could get this sort of slapback rock’n’roll echo. And I started using loads of longer and more sustained delays, plugging not just the guitar in but the drum machine. That’s how we got that crunchy wall of sound.”

>Voice sounded reptilian/alien/metallic

This was done using ring modulators.

Like Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire liked to present themselves as guerrilla-journalists in “the information war”, circulating suppressed data. The film projections too were part of this counter-propaganda, working as a kind of anti-TV. Hence their non-judgemental stance, appropriate to the neutrality of the good reporter. The hard, unblinking, amoral stare of J.G. Ballard’s fiction as it surveyed the contemporary mediascape was another huge influence.

>current events

From the Methodology box set, Richard H. Kirk’s sleevenote:
“I remember the 70s as a time of austerity, a crackdown after the so-called liberal times of the ‘60s. Racism, repressive policing, hijackings, Baadher-Meinhof, the Angry Brigade, Operation Julie, cheap sulphate, boredom, industrial unrest, but a feeling that something was on the boil within an alienated and disaffected ‘youth culture’. I suppose we took our cue (and also our name) from the Dada movement and maybe in retrospect from the Situationist movement. The bottom line is, it was never just about music but about confrontation, challenging people’s conceptions on everything from sound and images to reality itself. Trying to be a thorn in the side of Authority. From run of the mill War obsessed jobsworths, constables, in fact anybody who wore a badge, to politicians. All considered fair game for baiting and satirisation. In some ways though it was just an innocent reflection of the times, not different than the Beach Boys singing about surfing and the good times in California. But there was no surf to ride in Sheffield, just post-war desolation, unemployment and ugly urban landscapes.”
The reference to Operation Julie is interesting--this was a massive police operation to bust one of the major drug rings behind the UK manufacture and distribution of LSD. The Clash also wrote about it on "Julie's In the Drug Squad".

>Visiting the USA for the first time

Kirk: “We spent three weeks in San Francisco, did several gigs there and one in Los Angeles”. San Francisco, with its burgeoning industrial music culture (see Freak Scene chapter) and magazine Search & Destroy (which mutated into Re:Search and generated books about Burroughs, Ballard, industrial culture etc etc), was a receptive place for them.

Page 171

>Red Mecca… urban riots

Kirk: “There was trouble in a lot of places, including Sheffield, and we picked up on that.” Along with its musical excellence, this Zeitgeist factor is one reason Red Mecca was recognized and hailed as a landmark.

My favourite track: the glutinous-bassed “Black Mask”

>Burroughs’s Control
A big influence, audible in songs like “Your Agent Man” and “Kneel to the Boss”,

>“Being in a state… of situations”
--Mallinder. Quoted in Charles Neal’s Tape Delay (see bibliography). P. 157

darkside Pop Art
Indeed Richard Kirk once described the Cabs’ aesthetic trajectory as starting with Dada, going through Surrealism, and then ending up with Pop Art (a reference to the phase where they tried to infiltrate the mainstream via major labels like Virgin and EMI: see Conform to Deform chapter)


Human league discography

Chris Watson interview un-edited transcript

Made in Sheffield documentary film and Beats Working For A Living: Sheffield Popular Music 1973-84 book

Brainwashed’s Cabaret Voltaire website

Human League sites

Human League tribute site with goodies like Adrian Wright’s original slide projections

Series of articles on JG Ballard and music starting here

Interview with Iain Sinclair about Ballard’s influence and ideas

Jarvis Cocker at the Quietus on unsung Sheffield postpunkers Artery

all non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated

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