13 October 2004


(Intone CD)

I post far too much about Richard H. Kirk at my own blog, so now I'm infiltrating The Idiot's Guide, preaching The Message, probably punching a brick wall of indifference but not caring, 'cos Kirk is just too important to me. If you want to know why, do a quick rewind to the post I wrote nearly a year ago, explaining the revelatory nature of my first exposure to Cabaret Voltaire.

As any long-term devotee will know, Kirk's muse is subject to sporadic seismic shifts of emphasise. He's currently into the fifth year of his latest 'phase', which began with "Darkness At Noon", the raw, ugly eruption of sound inspired by the Kosovo crisis in 1999. As he explained to The Wire's Ken Hollings shortly afterwards:

"...I felt like I went into combat mode somehow and was into doing some really aggressive music. I got bored with things being too nice so I thought I'd try this instead, and it seemed to hit the spot with a lot of people. It's maybe reminiscent of some of the older Cabs stuff from the late 70s. Someone compared it to "Baader Meinhoff". It's this notion of going back to go forwards. Take a step back and look at where you came from in the first place, then reapply that to now and see what happens"

Perhaps this need to reassess his past explains the recent unearthing of all the old Cabs & solo recordings, painstakingly dusted-off and remastered for release by Mute. Kirk seems to have been re-energised by listening back to those ancient artifacts, as he noted in the booklet for the "Earlier/Later" CD:

"...I'm particularly pleased with the material on "Earlier". I almost think that's the album I should be making now".

Although "Truck Bombers..." is hardly a return to the lo-fi home recordings of 1974, it does continue his trend towards scummier, more distressed sounds. The genteel, sophisticated IDM of the mid-90s seems but a distant memory. Also, for an artist who always took great care to keep his message ambiguous in the past, Kirk has become more overtly politicised in recent years. Not in a soap-box kind of way, of course - Kirk thinks all politicians are lying fuckers and I could never imagine him pledging allegiance to any party. It's more to do with questioning the Big Picture, the way that America and the multi-national companies are screwing the planet; highlighting the unfashionable notion that rampant global capitalism is destroying society.

I've seen press release info that claims that Pat Riot and The Truck Bombers Of Suburbia are real people that Kirk has collaborated with. I have my doubts about that. The return to using vocals is unusual, but anyone familiar with Kirk's older solo work will notice that it sounds remarkably like Kirk himself is supplying the vocals. I can't find any info on a production crew called "The Truck Bombers Of Suburbia". It's almost certainly a fictitious entity, possibly derived from this Times headline back in March, which would fit totally with Kirk's current concerns on the world stage, even if some people might find it to be in poor taste. To be fair, Kirk has been following events in the middle east for a long time - there's plenty of imagery in the Doublevision DVD (which was first released in 1982) to prove that - and I would imagine that he views the latest terrorist atrocities as an inevitable side effect of capitalist's greed. I'm not suggesting that Kirk condones terrorism, merely that he's trying to explore the reasons why extremist groups like al-Qaeda hate us so much.

Although informed by developments in dance music over the past two decades, Kirk's approach now could almost be viewed as the next stage on from the late-70's post-punk/industrial/dub interface. It's electronic dance music bereft of any of the euphoric, hedonistic elements of Rave or the tasteful intelligence of ambient/IDM. Much of the cutting-edge music of the late '70s was concerned with facing the more grim aspects of modern living, empowered by a nihilistic, distopian world view. Most of the younger artists working within the medium today seem more concerned with recreating the sonics of the era, but lack the depth of meaning or individualism that drove the original movement. Kirk was there at the time, he lived through it. Rather than simply trying to recreate the sounds, he's taking the ideology and applying it to now. This album is dominated by two main musical styles: harsh, regimented electronics and organic skanky dub riddims. This is what today's dance music would be like if it's origins truly lay in the industrial wastelands of '70s Sheffield, the insurrectionist tendencies of The Pop Group and the cerebral mash-ups of punk dubmeister Dennis Bovell.

You can hear short excerpts of three tracks from the album at Boomkat, two of which demonstrate the dubbier approach whilst the other (track 8 - Symphonic Decadence) is the album's most mellow, melodic offering.

Richard H. Kirk - Desert Rhumba

The particular sonic qualities of the effects applied to the vocals here are so evocative of early Kirk solo tracks from albums like "Disposable Half Truths" (released by Industrial Records in '79) delivered with the kind of tuneless urgency that Mark Stewart used to excel at. The track is propelled by a monotonous, unforgiving synth riff and clattering polyrythmic beats that emulate the relentless march of coalition forces. Imagine if The Prodigy's new album had this kind of content? It'd be a source of great controversy in the media, but no one gives a fuck what old man Kirkie's got to say. He still out there questioning authority, still challenging the capitalist curse of greed and hypocrisy, still examining the horrors of modern life that most of us prefer not to think about. It's a shame no one's listening....

Further reading at Deo2
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