CABARET VOLTAIRE: 1974-76 (1980)
1) The Dada Man; 2) Ooraseal; 3) A Sunday Night In Biot; 4) In Quest Of The Unusual; 5) Do The Snake; 6) Fade Crisis; 7) Doubled Delivery; 8) Venusian Animals; 9) The Outer Limits; 10) She Loved You.
Now that the band was a firmly established underground act, the time was deemed ripe for digging into their back catalog — they'd made their first recordings in the mid-Seventies, but had neither a proper distributor back then nor a lot of people who'd listen. Actually, even in 1980 the only label that'd carry this stuff was the Throbbing Gristle-owned Industrial Records, who only released it in cassette form; not until 1992 did it get a CD release.
And I don't have to tell you the reason why — this stuff is far more hardcore than even Mix-Up, let alone everything that followed. These, indeed, are industrial experiments that predate the band's fascination with dance music, meaning that you are going to get the same bleeps, beeps, bells, and whistles, but with a «factory setting» rather than «club setting». Actually, there is a rhythmic base to most of the tracks, either provided by a very faintly ticking drum machine or by the synthesized «melody loops» themselves — the only thing that provides some structure and order — but it does take a fairly wide understanding of music to agree that this is music (not that it is in any way more hardcore than Throbbing Gristle, but it does make everything they'd done after that look like a pathetic sellout program by comparison).
A few of the tracks do dig into the musical past, posing as sneery deconstructions or futuristic tributes: ʽDo The Snakeʼ plays like a robot-engineered parody on an early Sixties dance craze (although the mock-idiotic vocals are more in the vein of the B-52's: apparently, at that early hyper-experimental stage Cabaret Voltaire still had a lighter sense of humor than in the classic days to come), and ʽShe Loved Youʼ recites the lyrics to ʽShe Loves Youʼ in a slow, dark whisper, as the electronics hum and whirr around you with the predictable reliability of old, creaky equipment in an antiquated factory.
Does it all make sense? Not to my ears, it doesn't. But it does sound like a logical precursor to Autechre and all those other trendy Nineties' electronic bands — whose main achievement, let's face it, was to simply harness the technology in a way in which Cabaret Voltaire in the mid-1970's could not have harnessed it, without all that comfy digital software. They do try their best: many of these tracks are quite inventive, with lengthy stretches of attempted development as synthesized tones pulsate, grumble, burp, whine, explode, implode, chase each other and fade away on some of the ugliest frequencies you've ever heard (ʽIn Quest Of The Unusualʼ — indeed; ʽThe Outer Limitsʼ — two minutes of shrill ear-destruction and six more minutes of either a rusty metal fan twirling around or broken automatic doors closing and opening). But, as usual, there may be problems afoot when you start thinking of this as Art, and looking for those particular doors of perception that may or may not have been opened by your exposure to it.
At least on a purely objective basis this stuff seems innovative in the context of the time, when electronics were still largely used as a replacement for traditional instruments rather than a means to completely redefine our approach to music — something in which Cabaret Voltaire had a very active hand. But they didn't even hold on to this style for very long: much like Kraftwerk, whose least accessible records were their earliest ones, by the time they'd gotten a record deal they were already willing to compromise. And although I am not quite sure this made their music «better», I am at least grateful to them that they decided to make «dance-oriented» (sort of) tunes out of these factory puffs and huffs, instead of retaining their throbbing gristly integrity for the remainder of their career.