In a world of great pretenders, Richard H. Kirk is the real deal. A true pioneer, who forged a singular path at the beginnings of both Mute and Warp Records in the early to late 80’s, labels who have largely come to define and set the standard for what is adventurous, exciting and new in electronic music. Electronic Beats caught up with the Cabaret Voltaire mastermind to celebrate the release of Johnny YesNo – Redux. An impressive 4 CD/DVD box set, the film once again pairs Kirk with original director Peter Care (yes, that Peter Care) for a re-imagining of the 1982 cult classic. From the hallucinatory, mind bending Sheffield Film Noir of the first film, to the no less claustrophobic L.A. of the redux, Kirk’s completely new remixed soundtrack still remains just as haunting and powerfully evocative.
EB: It’s interesting to think back on the history of Mute and it’s relationship to electronic music, particularly in Britain, you’ve really witnessed the label come full circle. From the fiercely independent early days of Daniel Miller releasing as The Normal, to the EMI days and now back to being independent. As you’ve reformed Cabaret Voltaire, what’s your take on it all?
Well I mean, I know that EMI was just bought again by Universal. Daniel decided to take Mute back to being independent, and I think maybe he sensed that this was on the cards. I know that when the original deal with Mute and EMI went through there were a lot of people, including myself, who weren’t very happy with that, you know. But we had worked together for so long, that we just kept on working together. But certainly everything became a lot more rigid, ground to a halt. There were really big lead in times when dealing with this huge machinery. Which is interesting because in the beginning this was something that we, Cabaret Voltaire, really wanted; was access to the means to push the work as far as possible. But, it really hindered the ability to get things done and release them quickly. They stopped being able to test things; put a record out, if it doesn’t really work pull it back and try something else. So I think it fits very much with where the industry is at now, to be independent again.
What’s your production process at the moment? How do you go about choosing sonic pallets etc?
Well… as far as sonic pallets, I think that kind of just evolves instinctively. I’m still using an (AKAI) s1000 sampler, which some people look at me strangely for, you know. I like to carry little sounds over from one track to the next, it’s sort of like passing on a chain. Maybe it’s laziness or superstition, I’m not sure. But I find it’s a good way to tie an album or group of songs together. I’ll make one track, finish it, and then begin replacing pieces and changing certain elements and it becomes something new. I’m old fashioned in that sense, I’m not the i-Tunes guy, I still like listening to album tracks and whole bodies of work.
What software are you using?
I’m using a mixture of old and new, really. I have a 24 channel Soundcraft mixer from the mid 80’s, a C lab program sequencer from ‘89, with an Atari all hooked up to MIDI. That’s one part of it, but then I also make use of the G4 Pro Tools software, which I started using mainly as an editing tool. Sometimes I compose with older equipment, using Pro Tools for post-production. The strange thing I find with computers is that it’s hard sometimes to know when you’re really done. You save everything and have a load of different versions, and just carry on. You have to know when to stop, when it’s finished even though it’s not always apparent.
Are there new artists and releases that have made an impression on you?
There are a lot of things that I like but I try to avoid saying because then it isn’t fair to the ones I don’t mention. I just remixed Ekoplex; they’re great…Sandwell District. But a lot of the time I hear things on the radio or whatever, I don’t know who it is. The problem is there is just so much music around now. In the early 90’s and I was buying hundreds of pounds worth of records. It just isn’t possible anymore to keep up. I’ve actually just been revisiting some older stuff from the 70’s… James Brown, these rhythms are so good, they drift in and out of time but that’s what makes them special, you know. Not that I’m going to become a Luddite or something and start carrying around an acoustic guitar, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the over perfected feel, I like things when they’re a bit loose.
I suggest that he may want to check out a few of J.Dilla’s productions for his mastery of the immaculately loose feel…
“Oh yeah…” he says, his interest roused “Switch the quantize off. But you’ve gotta be good! You’ve really gotta be good to make it work.”
OK. Of your new material, which track is your absolute favorite?
(Laughs) Oh, you’ve put me on the spot there. You know, I couldn’t answer that…I’d like to say that my favorite is something I haven’t written yet.
I found the answer to this question fitting, for someone who has remained eyes forward for the breadth of his career. On to the future, but for now, we joke about it being dinnertime in the approaching Northern English eve. Hunger, it is the urge that pushes someone like Richard H Kirk into the fire, into the unknown, the unexplored and into future.
Cabaret Voltaire – Johnny YesNo Redux is out now on Mute/GoodToGo.