nick cope film & video

Cabaret Voltaire: Groovy, Laidback and Nasty


“Above him, a huge screen fast-cuts disjointed images from three film projectors – a disorientating mixture of abstract patterns, ethnic dancing, whizzing travelscapes and faces.”

– Cabaret Voltaire, live, Hacienda, Manchester; Melody Maker, June, 1990


Grainy Croatian TV footage of Cabaret Voltaire live in Zagreb in 1990 is mixed and montaged with the original show visuals to give an indication of the multi-projection live shows of this time.

I moved to London in 1987 making contact once again with Paul Smith, who had relocated from Nottingham to London and started up his own Blast First record label, on the back of his experiences running Doublevision with Cabaret Voltaire. I would work on and off for Paul over the next four years.

Butthole Surfers, UK tour poster, 1987.

Butthole Surfers, UK tour poster, 1987.

Initially as a projectionist for live concerts he was promoting with bands on the label who had a visual element, notably US grunge band The Butthole Surfers, and Swedish guitar band Easy. In 1989 I took on the production of visuals, and live presentation of these for Cabaret Voltaire’s concerts promoting their Acid House influenced Groovy, Laidback and Nasty album. Working directly with Cabaret Voltaire for over a year and half, at the height of the Acid House /Rave culture boom, touring a show which featured the live mixing of over two and half hours of material.

I’d first worked with Cabaret Voltaire in November 1983, assisting in setting up a video wall of old TV monitors for their showpiece gig at the recently opened Octagon Theatrre, University of Sheffield; and manning a live camera on stage, as Paul Smith co-ordinated a mix of video footage with the camera feed to the ‘videowall’ at the rear of the stage. An ambitious and pioneering audiovisual technical set-up at that time.

Cabaret Voltaire, Octagon Theatre, Sheffield, November 1983. (photo: Richard Percy)

The films for Groovy Laidback and Nasty were edited on video (during a week long edit at London Video Arts’ Frith Street offices), transferred to 16mm film for projection at venues including Manchester’s famous Hacienda nightclub, the two thousand capacity Brixton Academy, and the Krizanke Open Air Theatre in Ljubljana, Slovenia (or a rapidly degenerating-into-political-chaos Yugoslavia as was then). The performance at Dom Sportova, Zagreb, was screened on Croatian television, though the low light required for film projection proving problematic for the TV cameras of the time to record anything more than dark, grainy footage of the show. 16mm projection gave more versatility and brightness at less cost than video projection could then offer. A combination of footage from Cabaret Voltaire’s own archive of pop promo and video releases, material of my own and computer graphics by designer and artist Phil Wolstenholme, were edited and mixed on video tape and transferred to four rolls of 16mm film. This was then mixed from 3 film projectors onto one large screen at the rear of the stage during the performances; switching between projectors live, and mixing between image sources by manually obscuring the projector lenses by hand in time with the live music.


16mm film projection set up at Krizanke Theatre in Ljubljana.

Taking up employment at Southampton Institute (now Southampton Solent University) in 1995, gave access to broadcast edit facilities (at that time prohibitively expensive to own or hire) and the opportunity to re-edit and remix older work. The two and half hours of material produced for the Cabaret Voltaire performances was cut down to a 28 minute, four music track, single monitor, showcase of this material, ‘Dynamix of the Metropolis’ (the first four pieces below). Elements of this work had already been screened at a number of international film festivals in 1991/92 in Poland, Holland, Italy, Japan and the U.K, and in more recent years the work has been screened in Croatia as a part of a celebration of 35 years of Cabaret Voltaire’s work ‘Breaking Boundaries’. The Sheffield nighttime cityscapes of Keep On featuring in the opening sequence of Eve Wood’s 2011 music documentary The Beat is The Law about Pulp and the Sheffield music scene, screened on Sky Arts and numerous film festivals.

Keep On (1990/96) 

Runaway (1990/96)

Searchin’ (1990/96)

Easy Life (1990/96)

Rescue Me (1990/96)

Magic (1990/96)

Keep On (reprise) (1990/96)

I would draw on methodologies and techniques developed in earlier practices, and exploit the potentials of 3-machine video editing and vision mixing to produce dynamic, free-flowing edits and mixes of source material, mixed in real time to the beat driven music and remixed live in the concerts through manually manipulating film projection playback in time with the music. The combination of dynamic, representational, film footage; moving urban cityscapes, time lapse footage, dancing bodies; and more abstract animation and computer animated material lending itself to a blending and flowing edit style rather than isolated and specific cutting. The creative exploration of emergent technologies continued to be a key theme, in this case bringing video vision mixing and computer graphics together in a visual fusion that complemented the sonic explorations of computer technologies in the music. Phil Wolstenholme’s computer graphics work utilizing Amiga computer software and hardware – the leading home computer at the time. This work being an early exemplar in pioneering the use of home studio produced graphics and video.

I continued to screen some of this material on tape and in conjunction with film and slide projections in other rave/nightclub settings in London over the following year or so after the Cabaret Voltaire shows in the early 1990s.

Following some of these club screenings in London in the early 90s, I was invited to screen work at a lunchtime gathering of advertising and media executives looking to know more about this emerging sub-cultural scene as it impacted on mainstream popular culture, the event put together by House music DJ Dave Dorrell. Reminiscent of the famous screening of Scratch video work at the Edinburgh Television Festival in April 1985 to TV executives looking to know more about the new movement (see O’Pray, Curtis, Rees).



‘Sound laid back and nasty’, David Nice, Guardian, 4th June, 1990.
Hacienda, Manchester, review, Ian McGregor, Melody Maker, 9-16th June, 1990.
Posters for UK tour dates and Yugoslavia tour.

Live audiovisual performances:

June/July 1990:
Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield;
Hacienda, Manchester;
Rock City, Nottingham;
Carlton Studios, Edinburgh;
Tic Toc Club, Coventry;
Town and Country, London.

Krizanke Theatre, Ljubliana, Yugoslavia;
Dom Sportova, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, September 1990.

Heaven, London, November(?), 1990.

Subterranea, London, June 1991.


New Music Seminar; New York, July 1991.
A.V.E.Festival; Arnhem, Holland, October 1991.
W.R.O. Festival; Wroclaw, Poland, November 1991.
JVC Video Festival; Tokyo, Japan, January 1992.
B.P.Expo 92; London, January 1992.

‘Electroacoustic Movies and other films – a case study in media practice
based research’ – Research Seminar; University of Sunderland, Media Research Centre, April 2008.

35 Years of Breaking Boundaries, Zagreb, Croatia, August 2008.

Lunchbytes Seminar; Culture Lab, Newcastle University, October 2008.

Journeys in Film – Beyond Film, Experimental Film Festival;
Gala Theatre and Cinema, Durham, November 2008.

Sichuan University Jinjiang College, Chengdu, China, August 2010.

Seeing Sound – practice led research international symposium;
Bath Spa University, October 2011.

Extracts of the above featured in:

The Beat is The Law: Eve Wood’s documentary about the Sheffield Music Scene of the 1980s and 90s; Preview Screening – Sensoria Festival, Showroom Cinema, Sheffield, May 2009.
Released on DVD and broadcast on Sky Arts Channel, 2011. Numerous film festival screenings, 2011-2012. Also features a few clips of my 1980s Sheffield Super 8 footage.

A still from the work is featured in Mike Faulkner’s book VJ: Audio-Visual Art and VJ Culture (London: Laurence King, 2006), in Bram Crevits chapter charting the roots of VJ culture in which he draws attention to the original contribution of Cabaret Voltaire and other post-punk industrial AV practitioners to the audio-visual arts.


Octagon Theatre 1983, photos: courtesy Richard Percy.

“They slink on stage, so that your eyes are unavoidably attracted to the jumble of images on the screens behind them. Their visuals are stunning.”

Octagon Theatre, Sheffield review; Smash Hits, December 1983.

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