Interview: Stephen Mallinder
Cabaret Voltaire were one of the most influential electronic groups of the late 70s and throughout the 80s, and of course, they were formed right here in Sheffield. Founder member Stephen Mallinder was back in town recently with his new band, Wrangler. Our resident music blogger Mark Perkins got very excited, but calmed down for long enough to have a chat with the main man about the Cab Vol days, his new band and plans for the future.
For anyone who doesn’t know, tell us a bit about what you were doing in the seventies at the time you began performing as Cabaret Voltaire.
We played our first gig in the Upper Refectory disco at Sheffield University. I wasn’t a student, but we went on to play at the Now Society and in the Lower Refectory, supporting groups like The Fall. We actually spent a lot of time there, thanks to our forged Students Union cards. Around that time we used to go to ‘blues parties’ in Hanover Square, which were illegal gatherings held in someone’s cellar. We were fascinated by the sounds of the reggae and soul music they played there, the frequencies, and the whole idea of ‘dub’ music. We couldn’t release our own music. Major record labels weren’t interested, even though audiences clearly were. Before punk came along, there wasn’t really an independent music scene. People were ready for a change, but it took a while before there was any alternative to the major labels.
And is that where Rough Trade Records came in?
Rough Trade started releasing records in 1978 and we were one of their first signings. That label was such an important part of the history of British music, it all really started there for us and for so many other bands. We became involved with the idea of rhythmic dance music, but not disco music, and worked with the repetitive elements of the music and technologies. All that became part of the scene as the 80s progressed, but we still had a legacy in early dance music.
After the success of the Cabs, you moved to Australia, but were still involved in music.
Yeah, I was a producer and presenter on an arts radio station. My kids grew up there, so I was doing that for quite a long time. I ran a label, ran a production company, was a journalist, taught, lectured at university, did my PhD, and came to lecture back in Brighton. I still work there, but only part-time, because my own music is very demanding on my time. I think I’m valued by the university as someone who is engaging with the real world at the same time as working for them a couple of days a week.
How did you get together as Wrangler?
Phil Winter from Tunng and I have known each other for years, since we were both signed to Virgin. When I was away in Australia, Phil started working with Benje, and when I was back Phil invited me to meet him. Within an hour we were working on stuff, and we’ve been making music ever since. We’ve just released our second album, White Glue, which we played some tracks from at the recent Sensoria festival.
You must have been their dream booking. The festival takes its name from a Cabaret Voltaire track doesn’t it?
Yes it does, so we knew we’d have to play a version of it to close our set, which we did, and it went down really well.
And you’ve got another project coming up, playing with John Grant, who was also in Sheffield for Sensoria. Did you meet up at the festival?
No, it’s just a coincidence that we were both here in Sheffield. The collaboration with John is part of a celebration of Rough Trade. It’s 40 years since they started so they’ve pitched together some of their newer artists with some of the older generation for a live show at the Barbican. We’re headlining and we’ll be playing a set of entirely new music, so I’m a bit nervous. John is a such a massive fan of electronic music, and in particular the Cabs, that he remembers tracks I’d forgotten we ever did! We’re excited about working with him and we’ve got an album’s worth of material ready to release. The sound will be a bit like John Grant has joined Wrangler, so it’ll be quite different from what his fans might be expecting to hear. Trouble is, we’ve not got much time left and we need to come up with a name for the band!
Wrangler’s latest album White Glue is available to download from iTunes and Amazon. Head to facebook.com/mallinderbengewinter for the latest updates on the band’s project with John Grant.