Words by:

Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder on shedding skins and starting again.

In 1995, I decided to take a pause on things and relocated, for what was intended to be a brief hiatus, to Australia. I’d been working as Cabaret Voltaire for over 20 years and it felt like a good time to draw breath. We’d released around 30 albums in various forms plus all the attendant stuff – built a studio, run labels, made films, toured. We’d started so many things and done so much it felt we were at a crossroads. It was the early 90s, there was a shift from analogue to digital, and in every respect, music was in flux. We’d just released a triplet of instrumental albums which had offered a sense of closure. I was reluctant to keep repeating the pattern ad infinitum. I had two young daughters and my focus was in need of realignment.

I’d been living in a bubble, with homes in London and Sheffield, but now the world seemed like it should be bigger than just me. Moving to the edge of the planet was probably as extreme a thing as I could do: a serious reset. To go somewhere alien to me, where I knew no one; I had to simply survive, and as a consequence, reinvent myself. That turned out to be quite challenging, particularly in a pragmatic place where music and art doesn’t generate the same amount of money, or attention, as elsewhere. But I realised I couldn’t give up music. I discovered I just had to make it work however I could.

So I did. After six months, I started working in arts radio – RTRFM – doing late night shows, eventually running daytime arts and current affairs programmes, successful electronic shows, and becoming the station producer. I wrote for music magazines, newspapers and various radio stations, set up a label – Offworld Sounds, in partnership with Pete Carroll – released albums (my own and many others from across the globe), and set up a production company, Offworld Productions. I also became a vinyl importer, ran music stores, played with my bands, DJed across the country and had numerous residencies. I lectured at university and wrote my PhD on ‘rhythm’. And, as a single parent, looked after my girls.

I ended up staying in Australia for over 10 years, a period of my life little known to other people, but transformational for me. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d stayed in the UK. But also wonder how much I’d miss the opportunity to do other things; to stop the clock and recalibrate, and find out what you can do when you simply have to.

Um Dada is out now via Dias Records