RICHARD H KIRK, 1956-2021

Join The Future author Matt Anniss pays tribute to the Cabaret Voltaire and Sweet Exorcist co-founder, who passed away earlier this week aged 65

It’s a bit of a cliché to call a recently departed musician “visionary” or to describe them as an “enigmatic genius”. In the case of Richard H Kirk, who passed away earlier this week aged 65, both descriptions ring true.

Over the course of a career that stretched from the mid 1970s to the start of the 21st century’s third decade, Kirk amassed a body of work – much of it ground-breaking, militantly experimental and epoch-defining – that will always sound like the future. He will be remembered by many for his starring role in the story of Cabaret Voltaire, a band whose sonic evolution simultaneously tracked and shaped electronic music.

Kirk’s role in the Sheffield music story is even more significant. When he founded Cabaret Voltaire with school friends Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson in the early 1970s, it was born out of a desire to annoy people and drag the Steel City’s faded and safe music scene in thrilling new directions. By the turn of the 1980s, the Cabs were the heartbeat of a musical revolution taking place in their home city, where synthesizers and tape loops were every bit as important as punky guitars and low-slung bass.

As the decade progressed and club culture grew in stature, Kirk and Mallinder became regulars at key local parties. Musically, the Cabs’ output began to reflect the influence of the records local DJs like Winston Hazel and DJ Parrot were playing in their sets, with the band’s own industrial funk twist. When the first bleep records started seeping out of Bradford and Leeds in 1988 and ’89, Kirk responded, not just via weighty Cabs bleep tracks like ‘Easy Life’, but also in his solo productions and other collaborations – most notably Sweet Exorcist (with DJ Parrot) and Xon (with Rob Gordon).

Throughout this period, Kirk and Mallinder kept the doors of their legendary Western Works studio, a former cutlery workshop turned Warhol style ‘Factory’ space, open to aspiring local bands and DJs. In turn, their cultural socialism rubbed off on others in the scene, with Chakk choosing a similar approach with their FON studio from 1986 onwards.

Kirk could be difficult to work with and rather spiky with journalists – though I never personally experienced this during our encounters – but so many on the Sheffield scene have talked of his warmth, friendship and the inspiration he provided. As he got older, Kirk seemed to get more withdrawn and insular, appearing less at local events, but he remained an inspirational “grandfather of the scene” figure who young Sheffield DJs, producers and musicians looked up to.

Since news of his death was announced, I have struggled to process the news. I wanted to do something though to celebrate his life and work. Once the dust settles and I’ve fully processed the news, that will become easier, but for now, here’s some further reading and listening (this will be updated, so check back for additional links in the days and weeks to come).

Obituaries, Interviews and Features

Richard H Kirk Obituary for Juno Daily
Published yesterday, this is a longer obituary I wrote while still trying to make sense of the news.

Play The Five Tones: The Bleeps and Clonks of Cabaret Voltaire and Sweet Exorcist – Join The Future book excerpt on the Quietus
A chance to read the Cabs-specific chapter of Join The Future for free

Innate: Electronic Evolution – Richard H Kirk Through The Decades
20 RHK-related tracks, chosen by yours truly to give an overview of his extraordinary career.

‘Everything takes longer when you’re older’: An Interview with Richard H Kirk
My 2013 interview with Richard, which occurred around the time that Mute reissued a number of Cabaret Voltaire’s Virgin Records-era albums.

An Introduction to Richard H Kirk in 10 Records
Written by my good friend (and superb writer) Oli Warwick in 2017, this Vinyl Factory feature offers an excellent starting point for those curious about Kirk’s vast discography.

Bleepography: Cabaret Voltaire – Easy Life
The seventh entry in my Bleepography series of articles on bleep-era gems focuses on the Cabs’ first contribution to the sound’s development and spread.

Dusted Down: Cabaret Voltaire – Body & Soul
Yours truly re-appraising and analysing one of Cabaret Voltaire’s lesser-known albums, the bleep-era techno oddity that is Body & Soul, for Juno Daily

Crack Magazine: Richard H Kirk – 17 artists and the life and works of the Cabaret Voltaire founder
Mute founder Daniel Miller, Thobbing Gristle’s Chris and Cosey, Mark Stewart, JD Twitch and many more give their thoughts on Kirk’s life and legacy.

Resident Advisor: “The Sound of Sheffield” – Remembering Punk Provocateur Richard H Kirk
Veteran techno producer (and keen electronic music historian) Kirk DeGiorgio pays tribute by focusing on five key tracks from Kirk’s lengthy career.

DJ Magazine: Richard H Kirk Remembered
An excellent and detailed obituary, written by Ben Murphy, co-author (with fellow DJ Magazine veteran Carl Loben) of the recently published D&B history, Renegade Snares.

The Guardian: Richard H Kirk was prolific, hungry, angry and funky to the end
A beautifully written obituary by Bass, Mids, Tops author Joe Muggs.

The Quietus: Inscriber of the Future – Remembering Richard H Kirk
David Stubbs’ obituary, which focuses more on the punk and post-punk era.

Dazed Digital: Richard H Kirk interview
A 2011 interview with Richard by Maksymilian Fus Mickiewicz, conducted during the promotion for Sweet Exorcist’s aptly titled 2011 compilation Retrospective.

Test Pressing: Richard H Kirk – A Few Words
An excellent, thoughtful obituary from Paul Byrne AKA Apiento.

Universal Energy: An Interview with Richard H Kirk
One of Richard’s final interviews, from February 2021. Written by Jedd Beaudoin and hosted by Popmatters.


Rinse FM: Luca Lozano – Richard H Kirk tribute mix
Klass Wrecks boss Luca Lozano mixes up an hour of RHK-related brilliance, mostly from the ’90s and noughties and techno-centric in bent. Well worth a listen.

Rinse FM: Sean OD – Richard H Kirk Tribute
Another fine tribute show from Rinse, this time presented and mixed by Sean OD, with contributions from – amongst others – Paul Woolford.

BBC Sounds – Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone: Richard H Kirk Playlist
An hour-long playlist of Cabs, RHK and Sweet Exorcist material.

Cabaret Voltaire, Sheffield UK mix
A mix of Cabaret Voltaire material by our old friend Mixmaster Morris, put together after he learned of Richard’s passing.

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Freelance writer, editor, copywriter and communications professional. Music obsessive. DJ. Sports anorak.

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