Q&A’s : 10 Questions For – Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire)

Continuing the series of questions and answers that I sent to various people, whom I’m either in contact with, admire or just wanted to be nosey with. In fact many fit all three.

Today I have questioned Stephen Mallinder, notable for being the lead singer of influential electronic band Cabaret Voltaire. A band that blew me away with the album ‘The Voice Of America‘. I was lucky to see them a few times through different stages of their career. Since then he’s never been far away from music either doing a stint as a DJ or releasing some cool material under the guises of Hey Rube or Wrangler of late. If that’s not enough he’s a lecturer too at Brighton University and had acquired a PhD in Music and Popular Culture no less.

1.   Your old band Cabaret Voltaire are often cited as one of the pioneering electronic bands in the UK. But whom did you look up to and influence your early works? Well I think Eno was very much a gateway for us all, the idea that electronic and found sound could be integrated into more populist forms was quite an eye-opener at a young age. But the BBC Radiophonic Workshop had created a spark. Then it became  matter of discovery so everything from Edgar Varese, Pierre Henry, La Monte Young, Can, Ralf and Florian (Kraftwerk), Miles Davis’ ‘Agharta’ (album), The Residents, Chrome, William Burroughs tape experiments, Joe Meek, Shadow Morton,  …. some interesting artists there to check.

2.   After the split with Rough Trade your music took a change in direction, most notably from when John Robie mixed ‘Yashar’ single. What or whom caused this rethink in style? Well I think hindsight is a dangerous tool in that looking back the electro and early hip-hop scenes in N.Y. are seen as a ‘commercial’ influence but at the time it was really a game-changer and people tend to overlook that. Club music (Peech Boys, D-Train etc) and the use of ‘other’ sounds (as in ‘Planet Rock’) were very out-there, marginal and not considered real music – so we were really drawn to it. At that time it was rather limp post-punk and a return of guitar music, so the NME didn’t cover it. We liked  this visceral, raw sound but nowadays people forget street music and club music wasn’t what it is today. We were fans of Bam and what Arthur (Baker) and Robie were doing it was challenging, iconoclastic, not the Wedding Present or some such nonsense. And Robie loved ‘Yashar’ so we let him have a go.

3.   Virgin and E.M.I. both seemed to back you heavily and you gained a lot of credibility in the dance scene. Did you think that a certain single would finally break into the mainstream charts? I don’t think we cared that much about the charts, we would get a call in the studio saying a record had entered at such and such a number but we just thought ‘oh well’ and carried on but when ‘Sensoria’ got to the top of the American dance charts we thought that was alright and seeing break dancers at your sound check in N.Y., that was better than a chart place. Yes indeed Chart success is not everything.

4.   The electronic scene in Sheffield in the early 80’s was second to none in the UK? Did you all interact with other bands? Or even feel envious of some? No never envious, we got on really well with everyone – Martin and Glenn who formed Heaven 17 were old mates, Phil Oakey was a lovely guy and we recorded a lot of the other bands. We were good mates with Clock DVA and Hula were named after the massive haunted house we all lived in (Hula Kula) … In fact when I bought a house they all moved in with me … Probably cos’ the house had a bar, optics and everything. I can just imagine a picture at your home.

5.   I have been lucky to have seen the Cabs a few times over the years, I do wish you’d played live more often than you did? For my part yes, I always enjoyed playing live but Richard was never as keen. Maybe that worked for the best as I would have agreed to too many gigs and we may have lost that exclusivity but on the other hand it might have been good to spread it a bit more. Well I always thought your live shows were pretty cool events.

6.   After you all went your own ways you disappeared off the radar so to speak. You then re-appeared in Brighton. Tell us about your new life in education. Sadly I went to Australia which meant I’d died but in actual fact I set up a label had about 30 releases and a production company, put on a massive festival,  D.J’ed around the country, had a radio show and became a radio producer – so it’s funny when people say I vanished. But now I have multiple lives, I work here a few days a week and I’m involved in setting up a new international college of art and design but I have done a fair amount of research into stuff like digital learning in the arts and the creative sector. I teach occasionally rather than regularly. But I’m lucky I can spend time doing writing and importantly doing music – the Wrangler studio is a quick trip to London and Hey Rube takes on a more intense approach as we work up in Yorkshire. Well it seems then he’s a very busy man again.

7.   The Hey Rube project to me seems a natural progression in your musical career. How did this come about? Steve and I have been close friends a long time – back from the days of Fon Studios. We have done stuff together – Barney Mullhouse and Fila licensing when Pete Carroll and I had the Off World Sounds label in Australia. But we have been working continually since I came back to the UK and have a few tracks ready for the next album, it’s a very natural and easy way of working as we have such a broad palette from which we like to work. It’s a massive highlight to work with Mr Cobby. Well it’s definitely one of my favourite albums of this year, which I reviewed previously – click here!

8.   Wrangler on the other brought you into contact with Benge and John Foxx. You all seem to bounce off each other well, how did this come about? Again Phil (Winter) and I have been friends and have worked together for years – we are fellow cricket lovers and used to make our own music back in the mid-80’s we were like a North London version of The Meters (in our own heads) and had Alan Riggs form Delta 5 with us. Benge I got to know through his long association with Phil that stretches back before Tunng. Top lads and we have a great rapport, that’s code for ridiculous senses of humour. Benge is a clever and unique figure currently in electronica, Phil is just a legend to all who meet him. He’s a top DJ too I might add!

9.   I’ve often thought of a Sheffield electronic super group, would you consider that as a project? Whom would you consider working with if you could and why? Well Dean Honer from I Monster, and the legendary Mike Ward have talked of bringing me, Oakey, Martin Fry and others together on a project. You never know eh! Guess will have to keep my eyes and ears peeled then.

10.   Finally you’re involved in DJ’ing, remixing, writing music if didn’t have any of these great outlets where would see yourself in the world now? Ooh that’s unimaginable, I don’t seem to force myself to make music but I seem to force myself into situations where music becomes inevitable. If I wasn’t doing these things I’d probably be at home trying to figure out how to fix the boiler … That can take up a lot of time.

Well again Stephen Mallinder many thanks for taking time to answer these questions. As you see he’s a person who has his fingers in a great many pies. I do feel now he’s answered me well and left me with a lot of food for thought so to speak. It would seem 2013 will be just as busy for him and all those other musicians that cross his path. It would great to see a Hey Rube concert! How about it?

About Stevo Music Man

Music fan (Worked in music 79-92, gigs, collector, Indie DJ) Football (LCFC Season ticket), Travel, Read, Swim, Cycle & Internet.
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