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Two Albums, Four Singles: Everything you need to know about cult electronic synth band Yazoo

Thirty-five years ago a band called Yazoo (Yaz in the US for legal reasons) released their debut single “Only You.” It was a big hit reaching #2 in the UK charts. The song could be heard everywhere that spring. Unfortunately, I first heard it being tunelessly whistled by a friend over breakfast at a local cafe. Still, his lack of musical ability didn’t disguise the song’s immediate hook and I asked him the title of the tune he was murdering? He wasn’t sure, but whatever it was, he liked it. He liked it a lot. Then when I heard it on the radio an hour later, I understood why. Here was an utterly compelling mix of a powerful blues singer with a synthpop backbeat. It should never have worked—but somehow it did, it did exceedingly well.

Yazoo/Yaz consisted of Alison “Alf” Moyet on vocals and Vince Clarke on synthesizer. The band formed in late 1981 after Clarke replied to an advert Moyet posted in Melody Maker looking for a “rootsy blues band.” Clarke had been the founder and chief songwriter at Depeche Mode. He quit that band because he was “fed up.” What with isn’t clear. What’s probable is that Clarke wanted to spend more time in the studio and develop his own unique electronic sound. For whatever reason, Clarke left Depeche Mode after writing most of the band’s first album and their first three hits “Dreaming of Me,” “New Life,” and “I Just Can’t Get Enough.”

It’s a good PR story that Moyet and Clarke didn’t know each other until that fateful ad in Melody Maker, but the truth was they had known of knew each other for quite some time. They both lived in Basildon and had both attended the same weekend music school as kids. Clarke had heard Moyet sing. He was more than impressed. Moyet has an incredible voice. And he was the keyboard wizard who wanted to do something different.

Clarke had the song “Only You.” He had offered it Depeche Mode as a farewell present but his ex-bandmates thought it wasn’t quite right as it sounded like something they’d already heard. They were wrong but it didn’t hamper their meteoric career. Moyet didn’t really like synthpop. Clarke was undeterred. He played her the track. Moyet sang the lyrics. Yazoo was formed.

According to Clarke, when they played “Only You” to Daniel Miller, the head of Mute Records, he seemed disinterested. But when the publishing company gave it a listen, they knew they had a hit. Yazoo was signed. Now a B-side was required. The only track Clarke and Moyet had was “Don’t Go” which was too good a song to fill out a B-side. They quickly recorded “Situation,” which was the first club hit by which Yaz/Yazoo became known in America.

“Only You” was released in spring 1982. It was the first of four singles released by the band over two years. Thousands of doe-eyed lovers swooned. Nightclubbers grooved. Friends tunelessly whistled it. “Don’t Go” followed and then their classic debut album Upstairs at Eric’s which is still one of the best albums of the decade.

Yazoo became Yaz in the States after Blues label Yazoo Records threatened a multi-million dollar lawsuit. They toured North America where they became better known after their 1983 split.

In an interview with Smash Hits in 1982, Moyet said she didn’t really know Clarke. He was uncommunicative and spent most of his time with his girlfriend or in the studio.

“We don’t really see each other until five minutes before the gig…Vincent and I are just basically different people, but we’re very alike in a way. We’re both very set in our ways, in our own beliefs. We get on fine but that doesn’t warrant an out-of-work relationship. He wouldn’t choose me as a friend if we weren’t working together, and I wouldn’t choose him as a friend. We’ve just got different likes and dislikes.”

More on synthpop’s ‘Odd Couple,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Before Depeche Mode was Depeche Mode: Minimalist synth demos from 1980
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Depeche Mode

Before there was Depeche Mode, there was Composition of Sound, a minimalist synth act that Vince Clarke, Martin Gore, and Andy Fletcher formed in the spring of 1980. COS were able to put together a 4-song demo with Clarke on vocals. A few weeks later Clarke heard Dave Gahan singing David Bowie’s “Heroes” at an informal jam session, and asked him to join the group.

Daniel Miller, the founder of Mute Records who first signed Depeche Mode and was an early musical influence on the band, said of Composition of Sound: “I just thought they looked dodgy—dodgy New Romantics. I didn’t even hear the music at that point.”

According to Jonathan Miller’s Stripped: Depeche Mode, Composition of Sound did play a handful of gigs. The first COS show with Dave Gahan on vocals happened on June 14, 1980 at Nicholas Comprehensive in Basildon. The poster for the show touted a “Discotheque featuring French Look and Composition of Sound.” Composition of Sound was the headliner and French Look opened. Vince Clarke remembered the gig going pretty well, because Gahan “had all his trendy mates there.”

The most amusing show COS played sounds like something out of This is Spinal Tap:

Composition of Sound played a third, as it turned out, final gig with the same line-up at a youth club at Woodlands School, Basildon, where their audience consisted of a bunch of nine-year-olds. “They loved the synths, which were a novelty then,” remembers Fletcher. “The kids were onstage twiddling the knobs while we played!”

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
A young Depeche Mode perform a slice of synthpop perfection on Swedish TV, 1982

A few years ago there was a theory that Kraftwerk was the “most influential group in pop history.” The pitch goes something like this: The Beatles’ influence lasted about thirty-plus years while the electronica heralded by Kraftwerk continues to be of influence to this day. One of the chief proposers of this argument was Andy McCluskey from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark who said:

When you listen to pop now, do you hear the Beatles, or do you hear electronic, synthetic, computer-based grooves?

It’s a moot point as nearly everything is electronic today. McCluskey clearly remembers the day he first heard the future of music—when Kraftwerk played the Liverpool Empire on September 11th, 1975. Though the venue was about half-full, this gig had far-reaching consequences. It was a starting pistol announcing the launch of bands like OMD, the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire who were to pioneer electronic music in Britain.

When OMD signed to Factory Records, McCluskey was utterly horrified when label supremo Tony Wilson said their music was the future of pop. OMD saw themselves (quite rightly in many respects) as creating serious artistic music. Though McCluskey vehemently disagreed at the time, Wilson has been proven right. Yet it wasn’t until Gary Numan, Visage, Soft Cell, and in particular Depeche Mode, could synthpop be said to have truly arrived.

Depeche Mode was originally a guitar band from Basildon, Essex called No Romance in China. It was formed by two schoolmates Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher in 1977. The line-up changed as different members came and went until the band morphed into Composition of Sound with the arrival of Martin Gore on guitar.

When Clarke saw OMD in concert in 1980, he reinvented the group as wholly synthesizer-based band. With the addition of Dave Gahan on vocals, Depeche Mode were complete.

Clarke was the principal songwriter and main driving force behind the band. At the time he was working as a delivery driver for a lemonade company to pay for his synthesizer. They recorded a demo and hawked it around to different labels, yet, it wasn’t until Daniel Miller—head of the newly formed electronic record label Mute—saw Depeche Mode play a gig in London that he offered them a deal on the spot

Miller was one of the pioneers of electronic music. As The Normal he released two seminal singles “T.V.O.D.” and the J.G. Ballard-inspired “Warm Leatherette.” One of the reasons he offered Depeche Mode a contract—apart from the obvious synthpop association—was the fact people at the gig weren’t watching the band play, but dancing joyously to their songs.

Watch Depeche Mode perform, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Watch a baby-faced Depeche Mode in early ‘live in concert’ TV appearance, 1981
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Depeche Mode

On October 23, 1981, Depeche Mode taped a brief set for a youth-oriented BBC show called Something Else, which we’ve written about before. The show was broadcast on November 6. Depeche Mode played seven songs; what stands out about the performance is how remarkably fully formed the band is, even at this early stage; it’s even more impressive when you realize that their first album, Speak & Spell, had come out just two weeks earlier.

This appearance is also notable for being among the last ones Vince Clarke would play with Depeche Mode—having written one of the band’s most enduring hits in “Just Can’t Get Enough,” Clarke would play his final show with DM a few weeks later, on December 3 in Chichester. Clarke would quite quickly find success by teaming up with Alison Moyet for Yazoo (Yaz in the U.S.) and, of course, in Erasure.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Man drumming on plastic pipes wows crowd with Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ and ‘Popcorn’
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Depeche Mode
Hot Butter

Here’s a video of one-man-band street performer located in Buenos Aires, Argentina flawlessly playing his homemade didgeridoo meets plastic pipe drums kit for an unusual rendition of Depeche Mode’s classic “Just Can’t Get Enough.” And then he plays something that sounds like Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” meets Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” meets “Swamp Thing” by The Grid???

This dude is deep.

via WFMU on Twitter

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
There’s a Depeche Mode bar in Tallinn, Estonia
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Pop Culture

Depeche Mode

Yesterday DM contributor Martin Schneider wrote about the incredible H.R. Giger bars. And someone in the comments—who’s perhaps a world traveler—mentioned they’ve visited a Giger bar in Switzerland and a Depeche Mode-themed bar located in Tallinn, Estonia. When I first read that I immediately had to Google this magical place—that I didn’t know existed—and find out what’s all about.

The name is actually Depeche Mode Baar and it opened its doors back in 1999 by a devoted fan of the band. Apparently, it really grew in popularity in 2001 after Depeche Mode band members partied the night away at the bar after their concert in Tallinn. Since then, the bar has been highlighted on a few news features including a segment for BBC TV.

I don’t know what else to say except to quote Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there!” I mean, a Depeche Mode bar?!





Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Collapsing New People: The enchanting synth-pop brilliance of Fad Gadget

Of the late ‘70s class of synth-pop artists, Gary Numan, Soft Cell and DEVO are among the best remembered thanks to having all scored massive international hits. But there were, of course, influences and contemporaries who were every bit as innovative and exciting, but not as lucky. High on the list of lesser-known greats is Frank Tovey’s incredible Fad Gadget.

An art student like so many rock-era musical innovators, Tovey took an interest in music, but found he lacked the coordination to play an instrument. He turned his attention to performance art (he was a mime student at Leeds Polytechnic) and recording technology, and re-engaged with music making when he discovered that synths and sequencers allowed him to realize his ideas without traditional instrumental proficiency. Around the same time, Daniel Miller founded Mute Records to release the single of his minimalist synth-pop project The Normal, and Tovey sent him a demo of the song “Back To Nature.” Tovey thus became the first artist to sign to Mute and a re-recorded “Back to Nature” would become one side of his first single in September 1979. Pay attention to the lyrics—he’s singing about a post-climate change apocalypse.

”Back to Nature” demo

”Back to Nature” single

Tovey selected the name Fad Gadget for his project, likely, it seems, not just for its cool cadences, but because he embraced the idea of pointedly making a gimmick of himself. His performances were directly confrontational affairs in which he’d put his body on the line. He appeared dressed in nothing but shaving cream, as a Punch puppet, he even had himself tarred and feathered. He’d leap into the crowd Iggy Pop style, and was even known to shower “lucky” front row audience members with his own pubic hair, ripped out on the spot. Per his NYT obit:

Mr. Tovey’s performances were often highly intense and theatrical. He tore the ligaments in both of his legs diving into the audience at one show; at another concert, he swung his microphone around his neck, and it hit him in the face, cutting open his nose and blackening his eyes. After a show in 1980, he was taken to an emergency room after cutting his head open while using it to play an electronic drum.



Lyrically, Tovey’s themes of dystopian alienation put him in more or less the same camp as Gary Numan, only with a dark, wry bitterness taking the place of Numan’s sci-fi trappings. His thematic darkness combined with his haunting deployment of the squared-off coldness of that era’s synth technology made for a potent sound that crossed over to the early industrial scene (he even did a collaborative noise album with Boyd “NON” Rice), and Fad Gadget would become a major part of the blueprint for electronic music from Depeche Mode to Nine Inch Nails and beyond. Fad Gadget released four LPs: Fireside Favourites, Incontinent, Under the Flag and Gag. All are superb. If you’re the kind to get your feet wet with best-ofs, there are two in print, the 2XCD The Best Of Fad Gadget, and the more recent (and more bargainous) 2XCD/2XDVD Fad Gadget by Frank Tovey. Here’s a handful of my faves:

The Box by Fad Gadget on Grooveshark


State of the Nation by Fad Gadget on Grooveshark


Swallow It by Fad Gadget on Grooveshark


Manual Dexterity by Fad Gadget on Grooveshark


Cipher by Fad Gadget on Grooveshark


Collapsing New People by Fad Gadget on Grooveshark


One Man’s Meat by Fad Gadget on Grooveshark



Insane performance of “Collapsing New People” on TV Playback, 1984

After Fad Gadget, Tovey continued making music, moving beyond electronics and recording more straightforwardly rock and acoustic music under his own name and with his band The Pyros. He reactivated Fad Gadget in 2001 to serve as the opener for a Depeche Mode tour, and sadly, died prematurely of heart failure in 2002. He was 45.

This documentary does a fine job of introducing Fad Gadget to newbies, and has plenty of great footage to satisfy longtime fans. Enjoy.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Words of faith and devotion: Depeche Mode interviewed in 1993
06:54 pm

Pop Culture

Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode interviewed in 1993, with Martin Gore, Dave Gahan, Alan Wilder and Andy Fletcher discussing their individual roles within the band, and their thoughts on their careers and music.

As wag Andy Fletcher tells it: Martin is the Writer, Dave is the Rock Star, Alan the Musician, and Andy, well, he handles business and keeps them all together. That was (of course) until Wilder left the band in 1995. Since then, Gore, Gahan and Fletcher have made Depeche Mode the most popular electronic band in music history. This has been in large part, to the quality of their songs, which as writer Gore explains:

“I usually write about things that move me. If I can capture the emotion that moves me, and it’s there in the song, then it naturally moves other people—that’s how it works.”

The interviews were recorded after the release of the band’s eighth album, Songs of Faith and Devotion.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Punk As Fuck’: A film on the powerful & iconic photography of Steve Gullick

‘A good photograph,’ says Steve Gullick, ‘is one that looks great, one that captures an interesting moment in time, one that tells a story, or in the case of a portrait, offers an insight into the subject.’

This is could be a description of Gullick’s own photographs—his beautiful, inky black portraits that are amongst the most recognizable and iconic images of the past twenty years.

Gullick was influenced ‘Mainly by the dark imagery of Don McCullin and Bill Brandt. I tried to infuse my photos with a similar drama—I spent all of my spare time in the darkroom working on getting good.

‘It was more difficult with color but when I started printing my own color stuff in the late 1990’s I was able to match the intensity of my black & white work.

These photographs have captured succeeding generations of artists and musicians from Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Depeche Mode, Foo Fighters, Bjork, The Prodigy, through to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Richard Hawley

‘Photography is magic. The ability to capture something forever that looks interesting to you is magnificent.’

Now an exhibition of his work Punk as Fuck: Steve Gullick 90-93 is currently running at Indo, 133 Whitechapel Road, London, until 31st March, and is essential viewing for anyone with a serious interest in photography, music and art

To coincide with the exhibition, film-maker Joe Watson documented some of Steve’s preparation for the show, and interviewed him about the stories behind his photographs.

For more information about Punk as Fuck and a selection of Gullick’s brilliant work check his website.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Depeche Mode: Interviewed on ‘That Was Then..This Is Now’ from 1988

In 1988, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher from Depeche Mode appeared on the BBC pop interview series That Was Then…This Is Now.

Aired as part of Janet Street-Porter’s “Yoof TV” on BBC 2, the series attempted to break away from the stranglehold of sixties pop, to focus on bands that had come to the fore during the 1970s and early 1980s. Guests included Mick Jones, John Lydon, Robert Smith (The Cure), Joe Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Spandau Ballet, Martin Fry (ABC) and even (surprisingly) Gary Glitter and Eddy Grant, who were exceedingly popular that year. Shot on 16mm, the series consisted of twenty-two 30-minute episodes, broadcast between 1988 and 1989.

This is Depeche Mode captured at the start of their world domination, just as they were becoming “The most popular electronic band the world has ever known.”

Via Racket Racket

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Metal violinist plays Depeche Mode

I would definitely give this guy a dollar:

Thanks to Chistopher McEwan!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment