100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #98 Cabaret Voltaire – Nag, Nag, Nag

Released: 1979

Cabaret Voltaire were from Sheffield, a place which had been a relative musical backwater (unless you count Joe Cocker) throughout the genesis of punk, a torpor which prompted Gang of Four’s Andy Gill to mock it’s sudden awakening in 1978 by referring to it as “This week’s Leeds”.

Gill was being deliberately provocative, but although natives, the trio of Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson were something apart from the city’s febrile new scene. Named after the original Dadaist movement, they coalesced years before anyone had heard of Johnny Rotten, evolving away from the spotlight as a multi-media project decades prior to the term being coined. As they released their debut EP Extended Play in 1978, it was also clear that the revolutionary phase of punk was over, writer John Savage claiming that it had become “The new establishment”, a sound that had become trapped by it’s own once radical values.

The Cabs didn’t think of themselves as a group and had no drummer. On Nag Nag Nag they unhooked themselves from rock’s constricting template, reflecting back a futurist, confrontational view of a human race trapped by it’s own lust for concrete and convenient robots. Mallinder’s heavily processed voice was almost strangled by white noise and menace, the chorus the only easily decipherable part of a song which had no time for the unwritten contract between performer and audience. As one by one the steel mills fell silent, new machines began to fill the void.