Tag: Mute Records (Page 2 of 9)

A Short Conversation with KOMPUTER

In association with Cold War Night Life, SATURDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2019 at Electrowerkz in London will feature the live return of KOMPUTER.

Veterans of three albums released on Mute Records, KOMPUTER were a reaction to the hangover that was Britpop.

But taking a leaf out of the low monobrow antics of OASIS, the duo of Simon Leonard and David Baker decided “instead of ripping off THE BEATLES we’d rip off KRAFTWERK”.

Their first release ‘EP’ in 1996 set out to create some heavily KRAFTWERK influenced numbers and more than made up for the lack of new material from Kling Klang. ‘We Are Komputer’ was their very own take on ‘The Robots’, while there was also the marvellous tribute to the first female Cosmonaut ‘Valentina Tereshkova’ which mined ‘The Model’.

Best of all though was the blippy ‘Komputer Krash’ while ‘Oh Synthesizer’ was an electronic hymn in the vein of ‘Neon Lights’, right down to the near identical schlagzeug stance and leadline melody.

A debut album ‘The World Of Tomorrow’ in 1998 followed featuring the marvellous train ride that was ‘Terminus Interminus’ and a tribute to their home city ‘Looking Down On London’, the ‘Metroland’ mix of which was sampled by OMD for their 2010 tune ’The Right Side?’.

Indeed, sampling was the next path KOMPUTER would take and with the discarded vinyl they sourced on visits to Spitalfields Market, 2002’s ‘Market Led’ was produced. But an exclusive track more in keeping with their more traditional electronic sound ‘My Private Train’ appeared on the 2003 Lucky Pierre compilation ‘Robopop Volume 1’ which also included CLIENT, SPRAY, MY ROBOT FRIEND, WHITE TOWN, EMPIRE STATE HUMAN, VIC TWENTY and MACONDO.

With advances in technology, the third album ‘Synthetik’ in 2007 explored virtual synths using traditional song structures and more experimental ideas. From it, ‘Headphones & Ringtones’ was a witty observation on how music consumption had changed in the 21st Century, while ‘International Space Station’ captured a glorious spirit of unity.

Leonard and Baker had actually been collaborating since 1982 as the synthpop combo I START COUNTING who had a pair of albums released by Mute Records and opened for ERASURE.

Then the pair mutated into the more dance driven FORTRAN 5 who also had three albums on Mute and recorded a hilarious ‘Derek Sings Derek’ cover of ‘Layla’ featuring a camp theatrical monologue by the late comic actor Derek Nimmo.

Highlights of their eight album catalogue were compiled for the excellent ‘Konnecting…’ retrospective in 2011 and with this special live reunion at TEC006, Leonard and Baker have promised material from their I START COUNTING and FORTRAN 5 periods as well as KOMPUTER.

In a break from making preparations for the show, David Baker had a quick chat about Russian history, OMD, Daniel Miller and more…

‘Valentina’ celebrated the first woman in space, what fascinated KOMPUTER about that mission and the Soviet space programme in general?

It was actually more inspired by BONEY M! We had always loved ‘Rasputin’, we even did a cover version. We wanted to do a song with a narrative that documented someone’s life. Simon had a book on the history of space exploration, which is where we discovered the mostly neglected story of Valentina Tereshkova.

‘Oh Synthesizer’ must have lit the touch paper of those obsessed with the “K” word, can you remember what the response was like to the debut self-titled EP?

It was like a similar to someone’s recent recollection of one of our earliest gigs: “My memory of that Garage gig is a very animated and upset young man in an ill-fitting jumper, spilling Tuborg about the place, screaming at the top of his voice, ‘WHAT IS THE FACKING POINT?!’”

How did you feel about OMD sampling ‘Looking Down On London’ for ‘The Right Side?’

Very pleased. Sting asked if he could do a version of ‘Looking Down On London’ as ‘Looking Down On Sunderland’ for some charity thing. We said no because it’s a silly idea and he’s a twat. But we love OMD, ‘Tesla Girls’ in particular and it does a great mash-up with ‘Hersham Boys’ by SHAM 69.

‘Terminus’ is one of your most popular tracks, what was its genesis and do you have a favourite mix?

A seemingly infinite airport / station, JG Ballard, ‘The Bridge’ by Iain Banks. We actually did a track a few years ago called ‘The Bridge’, but that was about Suicide Bridge. It was very good.

Daniel Miller’s Mix, the Memory mix was our favourite. The COSMIC BABY mix was chosen to be the lead track but we always preferred Miller’s. COSMIC BABY’s mix was a swap, we did a remix of his track ‘Lucifer’, which was very good.


ELECTRICITY.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to David Baker

https://komp46.wixsite.com/komputer

https://www.facebook.com/KomputerOfficial/

https://twitter.com/komputerdave

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https://open.spotify.com/artist/1gEqsqT3mT13pTcUhEyzzs


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm
Photos courtesy of David Baker
2nd November 2019

The Best Of FAD GADGET

Although originally released 18 years ago on CD, this compilation of Frank Tovey’s singles-based material as FAD GADGET is now debuting on vinyl for the first time with an identical track listing spread over four sides.

Looking back retrospectively, one can see how Tovey’s incarnation as FAD GADGET provided a perfect middle ground between DEPECHE MODE’s early synthpop and the darker Industrial (and often verging on the unlistenable) experimentation of acts such as THROBBING GRISTLE.

Born 1956 in London, Tovey was the first artist to work with Daniel Miller at his fledgling Mute Records and quickly gained notoriety not just for his recorded work. Tovey’s live performances often saw him (literally) suffering for his art, precariously climbing to the top of venue stages or balconies during ‘Back to Nature’ and ripping out his pubic hair and throwing it into the audience.

Tovey was never afraid to explore the darker side of life and ‘The Best Of’ rounds up the 1979-1985 A + B sides released as FAD GADGET and one ‘Luxury’ which was released under his own name.

FAD GADGET’s debut single ‘Back To Nature’ was primarily constructed using his own primitive electronic set-up of an early Korg Minipops drum machine and Crumar electric piano fed through a distortion unit, plus Daniel Miller’s soon to become iconic ARP2600 semi-modular synthesizer.

Starting with simulated electronic animal sounds, octave synth bass and a lyric which is based around a caravan holiday in Canvey Sands, ‘Back To Nature’ brilliantly set the template for Tovey’s work as FAD GADGET; exploring similar themes of alienation as his contemporary GARY NUMAN, but from a far more bitter, world-weary standpoint rather than a dystopian Sci-Fi based one.

Second single ‘Ricky’s Hand’ pushed lyrical themes to a far darker place, being a cautionary tale warning of the perils of drink driving. Notable for the use of a Black & Decker V8 electric drill as a jarring percussive instrument and secondly the still stunning moment where the vocal by BJ Frost (Tovey’s girlfriend) dissolved seamlessly into a screaming modulated synth line at the climax of the track. ‘Ricky’s Hand’ also featured some truly wonderful sequencer work by Miller and an early appearance from the ARP2600 generated kick drum which would eventually become a mainstay on the debut DEPECHE MODE and YAZOO albums.

Of the B-sides featured here, both ‘Insecticide’ and ‘Lady Shave’ showcase Tovey’s experimentation with vocal dynamics and effects, becoming a fly in the former and screaming “shave it!” throughout the latter with added tape delay to enhance the effect.

FAD GADGET peaked commercially with the ‘Under The Flag’ album which is represented here by three tracks. The album saw a shift up in production quality and the appearance of Blackwing Studio’s newly acquired Roland MC4 Microcomposer which allowed for the multiple sequencing of parts at the same time. The tracks ‘Love Parasite’ with its proto funk-based synth bassline and ‘For Whom The Bells Toll’ (featuring a certain Alison Moyet on backing vocals) both remain highpoints in the FAD GADGET back catalogue.

However, if ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK could pick out a FAD GADGET Desert Island Disc, then it would have to be ‘Life On The Line’; starkly emotive and written under the shadow of the Falklands War, the addition of live piano to Tovey’s electronics helps to humanise the piece and make it an all-time electronic classic.

Once Mute started to invest in sampling technology, it was only natural that Tovey would begin to gravitate towards using it, eventually collaborating with German industrial metal-bashers EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBATEN on the single ‘Collapsing New People’ which featured a sample of a printing press as a rhythmic backbone for the track. This era provided a turning point for Tovey as he started to move away from electronics and towards a far more acoustic aesthetic, eventually culminating in the jettisoning of the FAD GADGET name.

Tovey would then take a complete U-turn in 1989 with a cover of the English folk song ‘Sam Hall’ and recording primarily acoustically with the albums ‘Tyranny & The Hired Hand’ and ‘Grand Union’, the latter featuring his new backing group of Irish musicians called THE PYROS. In 1993, Tovey withdrew from the music business, but a comeback which started with a high profile support slot on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Exciter’ tour was tragically cut short when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2002 at the age of 45.

2020 will see a new career-spanning box set of FAD GADGET material to tie in with the 40th anniversary of the ‘Fireside Favourites’ album, but in the meantime, vinyl lovers of darker electronic music would be foolish not to invest in this superb collection of one of the true innovators of synthetic music.


‘The Best of FAD GADGET’ is still available on CD but is reissued as a double silver vinyl LP as part of the MUTE 4.0 (1978>TOMORROW) series on 6th September 2019, pre-order from https://mutebank.co.uk/products/fad-gadget-the-best-of-fad-gadget-silver-double-vinyl

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Text by Paul Boddy
Photo by Peter Gruchot
1st August 2019

MAPS Live at The Southbank Centre

MAPS gigs are as rare as hen’s teeth (especially in the capital) and tonight’s gig at The Southbank Centre attracted a bit of a Mute Records “who’s who” with DEPECHE MODE producer / engineer Gareth Jones and Polly Scattergood both in the audience.

The man behind MAPS, James Chapman recently released his fourth album ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss’ which saw a massive direction change from the electronics-based ‘Vicissitude’; the new work seeing the synths and drum machines being mainly replaced by live drums, strings and brass.

There was an expectation that tonight’s sound would be dictated by the new MAPS aesthetic.

But from the off, it was apparent that this was going to be a ‘rock’ gig with the orchestral instrumentation being absent, Chapman’s live synth / Korg Electribe / guitar set-up was augmented by drums, bass and ably flanked by Cecilia Fage (vocals + percussion) and Rachel Kenedy (vocals + synth).

The Southbank set spanned three of MAPS’ four albums with ‘Turning the Mind’ being the only work to be overlooked.

Kicking off with ‘Surveil’ and ‘Both Sides’ from ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’, Chapman created a carefully controlled wall of sound with the newer tracks arguably sounding even stronger than their recorded versions.

The show’s psychedelic visuals were worthy of a mention with microphone stand mounted mini-camera feeds being warped in real-time and projected onto the screen behind. MAPS debut Mercury Prize nominated album was well represented with ‘So Low, So High’ getting an early airing; listening to this track now, it still sounds like a Glastonbury anthem waiting to happen and it would be a criminal shame if Chapman doesn’t get some festival appearances as a result of his performance here.

Midway through the main set saw two tracks back-to-back from ‘Vicissitude’, ‘I Heard Them Say’ and ‘You Will Find a Way’.

Both tracks translated incredibly well to the live stage with Fage and Kenedy’s providing some quite beautiful harmonies to back up Chapman’s lead vocals which at times evoked those of THE STONE ROSES’ Ian Brown.

The looping shuffle of ‘It Will Find You’ climaxed what felt like an all-too short set and the band disappeared literally for a couple of minutes before returning for a two song encore.

‘Liquid Sugar’ and ‘In Chemistry’ drew the evening to a close and the Purcell Room crowd were left wanting more. Chapman appeared visibly moved by the reception and spent time after the show mingling with the audience and signing albums.

Even after thirteen years, MAPS still remain Mute Records best kept secret; criminally overlooked and deserving of a much wider audience.

Hopefully the success of this show will see Chapman and his band taking to the stage far more frequently as he now has a band that is tailor-made to interpret his tracks live.

If you get a chance to catch MAPS in future, don’t pass up the opportunity to catch this consistently innovative and brilliant musician / performer.


Special thanks to Sarah Pearson at Wasted Youth PR

‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ is released by Mute Artists in CD, white vinyl LP and digital formats

https://thisismaps.com/

https://www.facebook.com/MapsMusic

https://twitter.com/thisismaps

https://www.instagram.com/thisismaps/

http://mute.com/features/maps-colours-reflect-time-loss


Text and Photos by Paul Boddy
7th July 2019

A Short Conversation with MAPS

MAPS aka James Chapman releases his fourth album ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ through Mute in May.

Following the collaboration with Polly Scattergood as ON DEAD WAVES, ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ sees Chapman hooking up with the string / brass players of ECHO COLLECTIVE, who had previously worked on ERASURE’s ‘World Beyond’ album, for a far more organic-sounding work.

James Chapman kindly spoke about the new MAPS album and also his fruitful ongoing relationship with Mute…

For listeners of the last MAPS record ‘Vicissitude’, the new album is going to be a huge contrast, were you nervous to committing to making such a different sounding record?

The whole idea of this album was to try new things and I think “being bold” was one of the themes of the record, so I just went for it. I think it’s the same with every album, you tend to second guess yourself, you’re not quite sure sometimes. In the end, if I like it, I hope other people do as well! *laughs*

How important was the making of the ON DEAD WAVES album on ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’, it’s a kind of a stepping stone between the two isn’t it?

I think it was in a lot of ways, that was obviously a collaboration. I think it took me out of my comfort zone in a way because I was so used to working on my own for so many years. Working with Polly Scattergood was a new experience and because it went so well, I guess it opened me up to the idea of working with other people. With the new album I took that a step further. It got me back into playing my guitar a lot more because I’d kind of sidelined that with some of the albums and plunged straight into electronic stuff.

What were the challenges of going from a one man band MAPS to the involvement of a multitude of live musicians on ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’?

I still worked a lot on the songs before I got to that point, so I still managed to have a lot of control. I’m still a bit of control freak! *laughs*

I got the songs to a certain point and then I really just thought I could take it further and so that’s when I got ECHO COLLECTIVE involved. Because it was that way of doing it, there was less anxiety about involving other people, so it was another step really.

So you knew in your head what you wanted it to sound like?

The big challenge for me was doing the arrangements, I’d never really done that before. So when they all sat down and played the scores, there was a part of me that was very relieved that the notes they were playing were what I’d written!

That was great, the whole process was a big learning experience for me, I feel like I’ve progressed a bit with what I know I can do.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK recently interviewed Mark White and Stephen Singleton from ABC and we were discussing the ‘Lexicon of Love’ album. Mark said that it was a “profoundly moving experience” hearing the strings recorded for his songs. How was the overall experience for you?

There was a sense of relief! You’re never totally sure that things are going to work out, so when things slot into place and things are going well, you get a feeling of “wow”, it’s actually worked. I can understand what they’re saying, it’s a whole different experience, a different way of doing music when the notes are on the page. It’s all there but you never quite know what the sound that comes out will be like, so it was an interesting way of working.

Did you commit wholeheartedly saying “oh right, we’re going to have strings on all of these tracks” or did you do a couple and see how it worked?

I committed a bit more because we did six tracks in the first session and originally that was what was planned. I hadn’t planned to do the whole album with arrangements. But it worked out so well that I decided to just go for it in the end, just do the whole album. So when I got home after the first session, I thought, ah, I should have done them all! There were two sessions in the end, we did six tracks in the first and four in the second one. It was never the complete plan to do them all in one go.

Is it true you blew the record company advance on involving live musicians for the projects?

Yeah it is true! *laughs*

Because I’d worked on the album on my own, there was not a lot of expense in the way I would do it and I wouldn’t involve other people until the end stage. But yes, I spent the advance on the first session and then I actually applied for PRS funding for the second session and I actually got that…

I didn’t realise they did that kind of thing?

I didn’t either! So that was amazing, because that meant I could go back and finish the album; it was just a lot of things nicely slotted into place in that process which was really nice.

At what point did you make the decision to ditch the electronic drums on the new album as ‘Vicissitude’ was 100% programmed percussion?

The idea with this album was to have more of a human sound, so the answer to that was get more humans involved in the making of it! *laughs*

All the drums were already there programmed, I asked Matt to do his thing on the tracks. There’s still a lot of programming weaved in as well, so it’s not entirely all live, there’s a lot of electronic elements that were left in. He played on all of the songs, again it just really worked for me because I think that it does add a human element when there’s live playing involved.

The promo video for ‘Just Reflecting’ (with its stop motion footage) is reminiscent of the Philip Glass soundtracked ‘Koyaanisqatsi’, was that film an influence?

It wasn’t consciously, I know the music to that rather than the film itself. The visuals worked out really well; I had a lot of visual ideas in my head and a lot of it was sweeping cityscapes and was drawn from memories from childhood. That sense of wonder when you’re seeing huge cityscapes for the first time. There were a lot of memories I was drawing on, Jonathan Irwin who did the visuals did a great job!

‘Both Sides’ has a real Krautrock motorik feel to it, are you a fan of the genre?

Yes, totally, it’s really cool that you said that! That song especially, it was a bit of a tribute to that sound. A lot of those songs are very rhythm based, the drums will just stay almost quite hypnotic…

Jaki Liebezeit, he pioneered that kind of consistent drum rhythm…

The music weaves around the drums and that was what I was going for with ‘Both Sides’.

I think you succeeded! You are very open about ‘Pet Sounds’ being an important landmark for you, are there any other albums that you hold in equally high esteem?

Oh yeah, totally, that was an obvious reference for me, ‘Pet Sounds’; but I was listening to a lot of Sixties and Seventies soundtracks as well, like Morricone. I love horror soundtracks as well like the Giallo stuff….

Like GOBLIN, the Dario Argento stuff?

Yes, I love the way the instrumentation is all played for real and sometimes things go slightly out of time. There’s a very human feel to those soundtracks.

Although ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ is a far more organic album than ‘Vicissitude’, there are still some electronics and sequencers on it, did you invest in any new synth tech for it?

Yes I did, I got a new crazy guitar FX pedal which I love, one of the Helix multi-FX things which is insane which I’ve used quite a bit. I used the Moog which Polly Scattergood left here…

That’s very kind of her!

I gave it back eventually! I think it was a Moog Little Phatty which I used quite a bit…..

Was there any vintage kit used on the project?

There is, some of the sequencers I don’t realise they’re vintage but they are! *laughs*

I still use my Yamaha RM1X, the Korg Electribe quite a bit and there’s a bit of Korg Volca Beats drum machine on there. Mainly just things which are around, I tend to just have a fiddle and see what happens. I’ve also got a little dulcimer which I used quite a bit which has a strange tuning. I played it on the opening to ‘You Exist In Everything’ and it sounds great drenched in reverb and stuff. So there was quite a bit of experimenting and the usual fiddling!

I was on Spotify recently and came across the MAPS remix playlist, I had no idea you’d done so many! There’s 35 on there… what do you enjoy most about remixing other artists?

I do enjoy it, firstly you are seeing “behind the curtain” a bit when you get the parts for the songs; I enjoy seeing how it was made and that it’s a different take. I think that I like the freedom of it the most, the way that you can do what you want.

You can take an outsider’s perspective, there’s less pressure in having to write because the song is there…

Yes, the recording’s done, but it’s what you add to that. But I have done a lot, I think I’ve done 64?! But they’re not all on Spotify, I’ve done fair few!

You’re signed to Mute and have remixed a lot of their roster including DEPECHE MODE, MOBY, ERASURE and GOLDFRAPP… do you have a favourite?

I’m not sure if I do, I suppose the DEPECHE MODE one was amazing, the honour of doing things like that is amazing to me and obviously like MOBY as well. There’s been a few when I’m blown away that I’ve been even asked! It’s great to have that link with Mute because you get things passed your way that would never happen.

Is there anyone on the Mute roster that you would still like to remix? NEW ORDER?

That would be amazing! When they signed to Mute I was hoping…their roster is so amazing, that anyone on Mute would be an honour…

You have some live dates coming up, what can people expect from those? Have you started rehearsing for them?

It’ll be a five piece band. I was really happy because a lot of the people that played on the album are the band now. We’ve got Cecilia who does a lot of those choral type vocals on the album, she’s singing in the band and Matt is going to play drums, plus Rachel who was also on the album is going to play keys and sing.

We’ve been rehearsing quite a bit, there’ll be a mixture of the new album with songs from the previous albums as well, it’ll be a bit of a MAPS celebration!

I guess it helps having people who have played on the album doing the live work as you don’t have to teach them the parts?

Yes and also the fact they’re into it. It’s great when people are enjoying the music and are up for being involved and that’s a big part of it, it should be good man!

With the earlier material, have you had to adapt that to suit the new line-up?

A little bit, I guess there were certain songs that suit the new sound better, but then there’s ones that I wanted to play that I’ve adapted slightly. But there’s still going to be electronic stuff as well, it’ll just be in a slightly different set-up to how it was formed, I’ll still have stuff to twiddle on stage!

Will the Southbank show be different to the previous two which are advertised as ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ album ones?

It’ll be a longer set probably, we’ve got the run of the venue that evening and have rehearsed a lot of songs, a lot of it’ll depend how long people will want us to play! *laughs*

Have you had any thoughts about the next MAPS project or is there any possibility of another ON DEAD WAVES album?

I haven’t thought too much to be honest, when you do an album, it becomes so much a part of your life that I’m still in the middle of it at the moment.

I feel like I’d like to try something different again and push a bit further. I think I’ve learned a lot from making this album, like doing arrangements and things like that, now that I know I can do it, that’s something I’d like to explore more. So maybe that could be involved in the next part of the journey.

The music industry is a now an extremely challenging one to try and make a living in, what drives you and keeps you going?

I still enjoy doing it, which I’ve always thought is a big part of what keeps people going. It sounds a bit of a cliché, but I still feel like I’d be doing this if I wasn’t signed and stuff like that. It’s like an outlet, I still enjoy making music. But it has got more challenging because of the internet and all that stuff. I sometimes feel for new bands that are starting out, because there’s so much out there, so much choice and it’s hard to get noticed. I guess that there are pros and cons to everything.

Your relationship with Mute seems fairly secure and it must be good to have that?

Totally, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been doing it for a fair few years now, I never take it for granted that relationship. They’ve stood by me through thick and thin, so to have a relationship with such an amazing label like that is something that means the world to me.

It’s almost like an old school approach as to how it was back in the day where labels were prepared to take the rough with the smooth.

It might take two or three albums before an artist can develop to a point where they are successful. It’s really good to hear that there’s still a label around that is still doing that which is quite encouraging.

I do think that’s the way Mute has always worked, that they sign things that they truly like. I think that’s why I love the label so much, it’s very much about the music rather than the current trends or whatever.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to James Chapman

Special thanks to Sarah Pearson at Wasted Youth PR

‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ is released on 10th May 2019 by Mute Artists in CD, white vinyl LP and digital formats

MAPS play The Purcell Room at Southbank Centre in London on Wednesday 3rd July 2019

https://thisismaps.com/

https://www.facebook.com/MapsMusic

https://twitter.com/thisismaps

https://www.instagram.com/thisismaps/

https://open.spotify.com/user/mapsmusic

http://mute.com/features/maps-colours-reflect-time-loss


Text and Interview by Paul Boddy
1st May April 2019

HALO The Violator Book Interview

Produced by Flood and mixed in the main by François Kevorkian, DEPECHE MODE’s seventh album ‘Violator’ was the classic line-up of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Alan Wilder firing on all cylinders.

The end result was four hit singles and five other songs that were more or less their equal. Although best known for ‘Enjoy The Silence’, ‘Personal Jesus’, ‘Policy Of Truth’ and ‘World In My Eyes’, the album featured some of DEPECHE MODE’s best work.

The beautiful haunting ambience of ‘Waiting For The Night’ using the ARP 2600 synth / ARP 1601 sequencer combination and the climactic electro blues of ‘Clean’ were key highlights that ended each side of the original vinyl.

Of ‘Waiting For The Night’, Alan Wilder told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in a 2011 interview: “the main sequencer part here was produced using the ARP 2600 synth and sequencer, because it has many flaws when setting up your 16 note sequence (for example tuning and gate length) – this makes for happy accidents and almost random events. We would have fiddled around with that sequence for a while, tweaking the filters and envelopes within the ARP until we arrived at that particularly hypnotic end result. The resulting sequence shape would follow any held note on a keyboard to transpose between the song’s basic chord changes as it ran, which we would then record, and that is essentially the spine of the whole thing. All the other sounds in that song act as mere embellishment.”

The seamless second side with its instrumental interludes added tension and experimentation to proceedings while Martin Gore’s lyrics possessed an honesty that while dark and deviant, still retained a naïve innocence that many loners could relate to. The emotive if strange ‘Blue Dress’ is possibly the most under rated song in the DEPECHE MODE catalogue; the simple guilty pleasure of watching your girlfriend get ready for an evening out was a touching moment.

But the undoubted stand-out on ‘Violator’ was ‘Halo’; using drums sampled from LED ZEPPELIN’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ but secondhand via a rap record, the distinctive bass squelch and screeching Elgar derived string samples hit home as the song built to its terrific, euphoric climax.

The ‘World Violation’ tour in 1990 was also DEPECHE MODE’s best ever. The status of those shows fell into legend as a result of no officially sanctioned concert footage ever being released. The memories of those present still recall in awe, Anton Corbijn’s stark but humourous projections and Dave Gahan’s increasingly confident and exaggerated swagger to suit the increasing bigger venues.

But why is ‘Violator’ so important and highly celebrated? It is still DEPECHE MODE’s most complete and accomplished body of work; people still talk about it because it is a good record. A good record is a good record, no matter what forlorn nostalgia may be lingering within the listener.

‘Violator’ is a complete body of work, unlike the patchier follow-up ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ when on the subsequent ‘Devotional’ tour, Dave Gahan launched into the rock tool mode that to be frank, he has never really managed to escape from…

With DEPECHE MODE effectively no longer being an electronic band, an upcoming book ‘Halo’ documents that era while projecting a retrospective slant on its influence. Kevin May, the man behind ‘Halo’ kindly chatted about its genesis…

There have been a lot of books about DEPECHE MODE, why did you choose to do one on ‘Violator’?

The primary reason is that most of the DEPECHE MODE biographies that have been published up to now have been on their history as a whole. What I wanted to do was focus on a particular era… and I say era rather than an album. The period around ‘Violator’ which is 1989-90 is arguably the most important in their career.

The book doesn’t have contributions from the band members, so how did you think out of the box to tell the ‘Violator’ story?

I have been told that DEPECHE MODE do not interviews for biographies, so I needed to talk to people on the periphery of that era, like producers, engineers and tour personnel. So you get everything, BUT from the horse’s mouth. If I didn’t get those people who were intrinsically involved to talk to me, then it would have been just me analysing and reviewing ‘Violator’. There have been many examples of this and I wouldn’t have been able to add anything to the narrative on the album.

Some of the people I spoke to were François Kervorkian who mixed the album, Andy Franks who was involved in the tour, Neil Ferris who was the chief plugger and engineers from every studio they worked in during that period, including two from the Milan sessions; the latter were very funny and informative on some of the things that went on. There were quite a few people who wanted to talk, but not on record, out of loyalty to the band.

‘Personal Jesus’ at the time was quite a startling calling card, from the phoneline ad to the bluesier sound which had started with ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’?

Well you look at that, a lot of people say it’s an obvious track to release. But if you look at what they had done up to that point and since then, they always tried to come out with a record that challenges the pre-conceived ideas of they are. So subsequent to that, you’ve got ‘I Feel You’, prior to that you’ve got records like ‘Stripped’, ‘Blasphemous Rumours’, ‘Master & Servant’…these were tracks that made people go “OH! THIS ISN’T THE DEPECHE I KNEW!”

From a timeline perspective, it was one of the first songs they recorded in Milan. It was certainly the first track François Kervorkian remixed and he did that in Milan, whereas everything else he did for ‘Violator’ happened back in London or New York six months later. They knew that when ‘Personal Jesus’ was recorded and given to François, they knew it was going to be the single because it was so fundamentally different to anything else they’d ever done. It had that rocky influence but also the electronic sensibility that François added to it.

At the end of the day, it’s a good pop song… yes, there are probably songs like ‘Enjoy The Silence’ that were bigger hits, but for a song that was done and dusted very early on in that process, it made perfect sense to release that first.

There’s a lot of discussion about why ‘Personal Jesus’ was controversial, but they realised they had on their hands, a song that was not only really good, but it was going to cause a certain degree of controversy, not least in the US where all of a sudden, they’d been blown into the mainstream.

From what I know, they knew they were playing with fire, so they played with it. They were on the brink of making something beyond their wildest dreams, so why not capitalise on it? At that point, they were a commercial band and ‘Personal Jesus’ was a very commercial song. The idea to do the “pick up the receiver and I’ll make you a believer” phoneline while you dial this number and it plays the song… in another world, it’s just marketing.

The music press at the time, particularly Q Magazine, seemed to focus a bit too much on the guitar elements of ‘Violator’ when as Alan Wilder quite rightly states, it is still a very electronic album; it was like the press were legitimising DEPECHE MODE because they now used more prominent guitar…

There are several points here; it was a crossroads in popular music then. They had created their own sound as a European electronic band with British sensibilities, and the up until that point, their music had been very electronic… yes there had been guitars before, but they were at a point where they were influenced by electronic dance music like house and techno so they were conscious of that. But equally, they wanted to challenge the idea of what an electronic band should be.

Should an electronic band just be three geezers stood behind keyboards with an incredibly charismatic front man doing their thing? Or should they be band that challenges that idea of what music should be. And I think Flood and Alan Wilder in particular wanted to push that idea forward, so they introduced real instruments. There was sampled guitar before but not until that point, had they made the guitar the lead riff or melody. So that was them putting a stake in the crowd and having the confidence to do it.

The production moved away from drum machines to sampled drum loops like on ‘Halo’ but synthwise, to older contraptions like the Roland System 700?

By that point, the technology and the process had become very much secondary to what they were trying to do. Yes, they were an electronic band; yes, they decided to introduce some guitars; and yes, Flood was pushing them in certain ways. But they just wanted to create music that they thought sounded good and would resonate with their own fans.

They had gone beyond agonising over the technology they were using to make the final outcome. They had a songwriter who could play a guitar lick, so why not use him and produce something that sounds good?

The way ‘Enjoy The Silence’ developed from a sparse ballad into a disco number is well documented, but François Kervorkian’s mix was rejected by Daniel Miller. Have you had a chance to hear it and informatively assess why?

From François’ point of view, he spent a lot of time mixing ‘Personal Jesus’ including the remixes and doing the album, there was his own dissatisfaction with how ‘Enjoy The Silence’ was turning out. It’s worth saying that at that point, it already was a disco track; it was the final mix that there was a disagreement.

It was deemed that François didn’t have enough time to work his magic on it, so it was given back to Daniel to do his thing with his own team of engineers like Phil Legg, resulting in the version we now all know.

The trick to any new book or review about an acclaimed body of work from the past is to uncover previously untold stories. What were the biggest revelations for you?

I don’t think there’s a huge revelation in the book. I think what I found most interesting from collecting all the stories was that the band didn’t really quite understand what was about to hit them. So their behaviour was exactly the same as it had been in the previous 8-9 years. But on the other hand, there were a lot of things in place within the machine to capitalise on it. Some elements of this machine realised this was going to fly!

A lot of people say to me that the ‘Violator’ period was a time when the band were having fun. Martin Gore has said in more recent interviews that ‘Violator’ was the last time they had fun making an album. I think that’s really reflected in the output by the vibe among the members at the time.

There was a lot of experimentation, ‘Violator’ was part of an evolution; dance music was starting to happen with the rave scene; rock, grunge and indie guitar was taking a new step forward. DEPECHE MODE were right at the centre of it, not steering it, but they were a band that wanted to try and embrace as many things as they could. And they were all still young guys!

They were enjoying themselves. Of course, it didn’t continue like that after ‘Violator’.

What was the most difficult part of the book to write?

It was difficult having the patience to accept the music industry operates at much slower level than other industries I’m used to writing about!

People have very sketchy memories and that is not because they are being loyal or they’re nervous about revealing something, it’s because at the end of that day, it is something that happened 25 years ago… a quarter of a century! So when you’re asking people to recollect something that happened in a studio in Milan in 1989, you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t remember! *laughs*

Yes, I have some wonderful soundbites from the guys in Milan about how they would all jump into a car at the end of sessions and go off to a club in the city to give the DJ a copy of the work to test out. But with something specific like how the footsteps on ‘Personal Jesus’ were recorded, if I asked what kind of flight cases they used, they’re not going to remember!

Those were great footsteps by Fletch though!

It wasn’t just Fletch, it was all of them! *laughs*

Why do you think ‘Violator’ still holds a special resonance? How does it stand up against other electronic or even rock albums?

This is the crux of the book; it’s important that it’s about the recorded output, but of equal importance is the marketing, the visuals, the videos and the way the tour was produced. When you put all that together in an era, that’s when it becomes important.

It’s as important as ‘Black Celebration’, but it’s not on the same scale… and I say that because ‘Black Celebration’ was the first album which they really experimented and found their depth, which arguably Alan Wilder had found his feet in what he was able to do musically. It was also the point when they also realised how popular they were as a live act in the US.

But once they got to ‘Violator’, they were able to amplify that to the power of 10! So it’s a combination of the songs, the production, what they did on tour, the way it was packaged, the videos and the impact of the crossover songs like ‘Enjoy The Silence’.

‘Enjoy The Silence’ won ‘Best British Single’ in the 1991 Brit Awards, although by slightly manipulative phone poll means… but the point is, ‘Violator’ was their crossover album. And if crossovers are important, which arguably they are, it exposed DEPECHE MODE to a whole new audience. Everything changed for them after this album.

So, the way that the current incarnation of DEPECHE MODE play tracks from ‘Violator’ live with The Drumhead and The Noodler… discuss!

The ‘World Violation’ tour was the last time they performed as a synth band, I don’t hold up that tour in the annals of history as maybe other Devotees do. I think the ‘World Violation’ has gained its legendary status simply because people don’t have a decent visual recording of it. I think it was a terrific tour, it was the first time I ever saw them and I was blown away. But I don’t think anything will beat the ‘Devotional’ tour.

The ‘World Violation’ tour was DEPECHE MODE knowing and having the confidence to produce a record in a live setting. The ‘Devotional’ tour was them taking that confidence, with whatever means and substances they were using at the time, to the Nth degree. They realised how far they could go and I think it worked.

The interesting thing about ‘Violator’ is that as Alan has said many times before, it is still incredibly programmed. On the one hand, it’s what makes the album so good, not least because François Kervorkian made it the very precise album that it was.

Now, when you take that precision out of some of the ‘Violator’ songs, as we have later seen with the live performances of ‘World In My Eyes’ and ‘Policy Of Truth’… they were really precise and what made them brilliant songs in the first place.

‘Personal Jesus’ is like the elephant in the room, as it’s basically a rock song.

So those ‘Violator’ songs were all about the precision and to suddenly change those to be live drum songs, it’s maybe going against the strengths of ‘Violator’… songs that were created electronically should perhaps be performed electronically, because that is how the fondness for these songs was obtained.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Kevin May

Special thanks to Michael Rose for the ‘Personal Jesus’ advert and ‘World Violation’ live photo

‘Halo’ due to be published in March 2020, please visit http://halotheviolatorbook.com/ for more details

https://www.facebook.com/halotheviolatorbook

https://twitter.com/HALOBook


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19th March 2019

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