We speak to Richard H. Kirk of Sweet Exorcist as the iconic Warp Records re-releases their 'Retroactivity' and 'Frequencies' LPs this week
1989, Cabaret Voltaire, a Sheffield band, notorious for noise experimentation, disbanded, which left Richard H. Kirk and partner in crime DJ Parrot, who’d been warming up the crowds on Voltaire’s tours, a chance to get back into the studio to create Testone and later Clonks Coming, the first album release on Warp Records. The newly formed team did away with Voltaire’s maddened reverb darkness, kept ‘Steel city’s’ menacing industrial background noise on tape, stripped away any guitar smashing, punk-rock anarchy and smelted out a clean minimal sound, with influence from Detroit and Chicago records Warp imported from America for their shop but also a love of funk and bass from local Shebeen/ Reggae sound systems. In Belgium 1991, techno went hardcore: “simplistic, crude and aggressive” in Richard H. Kirk’s words.
What Sweet Exorcist made was nice, industrial but playful. Soulful synth affections and sonar sounds soon gave it the nickname Bleep, which if you were to believe Pete Tong at the time, was suddenly declared dead and to be replaced by a new genre called Clonk. In fact it was just one of Warp and Sweet Exorcist’s pranks, leading up to the press for their debut album. Ten years on Dazed speaks to Richard H. Kirk about the legendary collaboration, Sheffield, and introduces him to the rhythm of DJ Mujava.
Dazed Digital: Testone opens with the lyrics “If everything’s ready here on the Dark Side of the Moon... play the five tones” sampled from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, were Testone to Testsix (Toneappella) almost a re-imagined soundtrack for the movie?
Richard H. Kirk: I always enjoyed Close Encounters, in fact I watched the directors cut only the other day. The sample was from a vinyl record courtesy of DJ Parrot [Richard Barratt] who was my co conspirator in Sweet Exorcist. I think it kind of reflects the druggy vibe of the day, the kind of alien, other worldly feeling that could be associated with certain chemicals. Also, a lot of kids were discovering Pink Floyds Dark Side of The Moon, in fact I remember a couple of tracks which sampled from that. It just seemed to tie in with all the stuff that was happening at the time but no, not a re-imagined soundtrack.
DD: Why were so many versions of the Test, Clonk and Jack produced?
Richard H. Kirk: I think the whole project was based around exploring the possibilities of remixing/re arranging reconfiguring and taking it to an extreme. There were only really two or three basic tracks, just expanding on what was there, kind of like different movements within a piece of classical music, which are all interconnected by a main theme.
DD: Are the rumours true that Testone was originally developed literally as track for testing audio equipment?
Richard H. Kirk: At the time, a lot of people were using the sine/square waves which came with the Akai s1000 sampler to create bass lines and synth tones. Parrot had the idea to use test tones from the tapes used to align reel to reel tape machines but in the end we ended up sampling from a test oscillator in my mixing desk. It was never (testone) developed for testing audio equipment but I’m sure the bass on some of the mixes tested to the extreme the speakers at some parties. We just made the track really to give people a blast at the jive turkey night at occasions in Sheffield.
DD: Do you still see elements of Bleep about?
Richard H. Kirk: You can’t avoid bleeps in the 21st century. It’s around us all the time in all the electronic devices that we carry around, transport systems, body scanners, security devices, airports, supermarkets. I can hear it in some of the Dub-step mixes too.
DD: You’ve said you’re interested in African music. What do you make of releases from DJ Majuva of industrial city Attredgeville and comparisons with the early Bleep scene in Sheffield?
Richard H. Kirk: First can I say thanks for this, I’d heard of Kwaito but hadn’t actually listened to it. I’d imagined it was more like House but this is the shit! It’s the coolest music I’ve heard in ages. I can see the connection with Bleep but in one of the videos for Township Funk, it even looks like Sheffield- run down, tower blocks but obviously a bit sunnier. I’ve always been a fan of hybrid music and this is some of the best I’ve heard...actually it also reminds me a little of another project I started in 1992, Sandoz, which fused African rhythms/voices with European electronic dance music. But no, I’m going to look further into DJ Mujava. I wonder if he heard any of the Sheffield Bleep stuff.
Sweet Exorcist and LFO -'RetroActivity' and 'Frequencies' are out now on Warp since November 7th