CABARET VOLTAIRE: LIVE AT THE Y.M.C.A. (1980)
1) Untitled; 2) On Every Other Street; 3) Nag, Nag, Nag; 4) The Set Up; 5) Expect Nothing; 6) Havoc; 7) Here She Comes Now; 8) No Escape; 9) Baader Meinhof.
The Prince Of Wales Conference Centre YMCA, London, England must have been a pretty somber public location back in 1979 — this murky Cabaret Voltaire performance was recorded there, on a scrumpy cassette player, barely two months after both Joy Division and Throbbing Gristle had played some historically important shows there. But these were exciting times indeed, so that even the Young Men's Christian Association had no choice but to indirectly lend their support to artists providing strong doses of suicidal sounds to the general public. Or, if not suicidal, then at least those that appeal to the beast inside.
The sound quality here is predictably appalling, and the whole experience looks and feels seriously bootleggish, despite counting as a thoroughly official release — but then again, you couldn't expect anything different from a band whose main point was to join the guitar and the synthesizer in an unholy union of eternal gray ugliness. At least this time around they are not attacked by their audience (which seems to have been a common thing in the early days of their career), who politely sit back, spend most of their time chatting about the final independence of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (well, probably not, but it was October 27, 1979), and sometimes respectably clap their hands when they think a certain song is over (meaning, of course, that fairly often they clap in the wrong place, or do not clap when they are supposed to clap).
In the meantime, Mallinder, Watson, and Kirk are busy doing their thing, playing stuff from their most recent LP, from the less recent Extended Play EP, or from nowhere in particular, creating a sonic environment that goes best with black and white photography, lots of cigarette smoke, post-structuralism, and dull razor blades. Comparison with the studio equivalents shows that they stick fairly close to the grooves, atmospheres, and even to the subtle developments of the originals — but without the smallest amount of production gloss, these atmospheres sound even wilder, murkier, and nastier, especially Kirk's guitar tones, resonating more deeply and making use of all that extra distortion. Which is interesting, because it really puts these guys more in line with the underground / proto-punk scene of The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, after all, than in with subsequent generations of electronic artists. But then, they'd probably take offense if you called them electronic artists.
Actually, there is even a whole new Velvet Underground cover here: ʽHere She Comes Nowʼ (originally recorded for Extended Play), which you could probably only recognize by the distinctly pronounced lines "ah, she looks so good, ah, she's made out of wood", since everything else is mutated and converted to the usual gray textures (distorted droning guitar, distorted white-noise-choked organ, deep trance-inducing vocals, simplistic-tribalistic drum machine, etc.). But even if it is changed beyond recognition in form, it totally retains the mean spirit — I'm sure Lou would appreciate. In fact, he'd probably dig this entire show more than anyone.
They do also demonstrate, however, that they are not altogether above the art of the pop hook: not only do they do ʽNo Escapeʼ in all its primal Seeds glory, but there is at least one new song, ʽNag Nag Nagʼ, that also sounds like a modernized version of some old garage rocker, with a shrill, irritating, but catchy little keyboard riff that goes along with the appropriate "nag nag nag" chorus and an amusingly vivacious set of drum machine rolls. Somehow, the audience does not exactly latch on to this, and rewards the band with the usual flimsy applause at the end, but that's what you get after masking your rock'n'roll heart with an industrial sarcophagus for so long.
Towards the end of the show, the arrogance gets out of control and the last track is ʽBaader Meinhofʼ, where they simply retransmit Red Army Faction messages to isolated blasts of feedback and electronic hoots and howls, get a final round of applause from all the young anti-Thatcherites in the audience, and retreat into their dim spider webs for some deserved rest. All in all, this is a somewhat fascinating piece of history, though I can hardly imagine a lot of people getting inspired by it today; but come to think of it, this re-grafting of decade-old garage rock values with the futuristic coldness of Krautrock may well have sounded as bizarre and mind-opening at the time as, say, Pink Floyd's experiments at the UFO Club circa 1966. But you'd probably still rather listen to a nicely produced copy of Piper these days than to a bootleg recording of any of the UFO sessions — and the same applies to this performance as well.