Album Reviews

Cabaret Voltaire – Dekadrone / BN9Drone

(Mute) UK release date: 26 March / 23 April 2021

Cabaret Voltaire - BN9drone That the most recent couple of releases by Cabaret Voltaire have been drone pieces seems rather fitting at this stage in the game. Over the span of four decades they’ve managed to sustain a semi consistent career with little in the way of seismic variation of content, but a ton of influence and some serious staying power. A love of minimalist composition, krautrock and dub all found their way into the mix-up.

Now ostensibly a solo project for Richard H Kirk, after cohorts Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson went off to explore other sonic avenues, these follow-ups to last November’s impressive Shadow Of Fear album finds the Sheffield musician as always responding to the pervasive technologies which had once offered us a shiny automated future but became the intrusive and oppressive ball-and-chains we dutifully lug around today.

In Monolithic Undertow, the all-encompassing guide to doom and drone music that was recently published by cult author Harry Sword, he questions the semantics of the word: “What do we mean by drone? The word is myriad. It can carry connotations both sinister and banal. A drone can drop a cluster bomb or deliver a pizza. In music, drone is an audio space where age-old markers, such as verse, chorus, verse or complex progressions are rendered redundant. Sounds don’t (or, crucially, appear not to) change at all.” That banality and dread filled quality hovers ever present over both Dekadrone and BN9Drone as they commence their aural descent.

Cabaret Voltaire - Dekadrone Dekadrone, replete with graphics provided by long time associate Phil Wolstenholme, opens with a barrage of aggressive radio static and gurgling mêlée of vocal samples and bubbling bass, a typhoon of indistinct electronic chatter that gradually rises in volume and menace over time. As the distortion settles into a jarring alarm bell tone, bubbling layers of occasionally shrill amniotic sound are placed one atop the other creating a muddied sense of tranquility that comes laced with technocratic unease.

The epithet Deka is an interesting word for Kirk to choose. In Greek it means ten and implies a sense of accumulation and growth, whilst in Swedish it means to go to the dogs, to breakdown and deteriorate. The album performs these paradoxical functions with comparative ease, veering wildly in tone from fragments of swelling urgency to complete granular degradation, often at a moment’s notice.

BN9Drone seems to refer to the other kind of drone. Another singular work, composed of four acts each numbered in German, there is no feeling of calm to be found in its presence, or hope for serenity as it surveys and assaults at every turn. Disorientating swatches of subterranean noise belie the track’s association with the airborne delivery device, so beloved of peeping toms, capitalists and warmongers the world over. The sounds of data being compressed, analysed and shared illegally, of privacies being invaded covertly and devastating collateral damage being wrought all infuse the ominous track as it drops its overwhelming digitised payload. The stronger of the two records by a clear mile, it breaks away from Sword’s definition of drone to incorporate clear distinctions in its abrasive mise-en-scène.

On his under-appreciated 1986 solo record Black Jesus Voice, with its screaming skeleton cover art, Kirk included a somewhat funky and sample heavy dance track, entitled This Is The H Bomb Sound. Thirty-five years on from that moment of ecstatic militarism, the technology might have been refined and updated, but the devastation and trauma that the threat of modern warfare brings still lingers long and heavy on his mind.

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More on Cabaret Voltaire
Cabaret Voltaire – Dekadrone / BN9Drone
Cabaret Voltaire – Shadow Of Fear