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

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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…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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04.10.2017
08:26 am
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When Vince Clarke met Wire
03.09.2017
07:25 am
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Dome’s fourth album, ‘Will You Speak This Word’
 
Just like in the Judgment of Solomon, Wire broke up neatly, splitting in half. Robert Gotobed drummed on Colin Newman’s first three solo albums, while Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis put on their suits and “big tube heads” to become Dome.

Though they primarily recorded as a duo, Lewis and Gilbert had some interesting collaborators, such as Daniel Miller and Russell Mills, the artist who later designed the cover of The Downward Spiral. On “To Speak,” the nearly 20-minute composition that filled the A-side of Will You Speak This Word (a/k/a Dome 4), they were joined by Vince Clarke, then in Yazoo, late of Depeche Mode; Deb Danahay, Clarke’s onetime girlfriend and founder of the Depeche Mode and Yazoo fan clubs; novice saxophonist Terrence Leach; and folk violinist David Drinkwater, who now plays guitar in “Norfolk’s biggest ceilidh band.”

In Everybody Loves A History, the first Wire biography, Gilbert and engineer Eric Radcliffe suggest their main reason for inviting Clarke to the studio was that he knew how to play a Fairlight:

Bruce: Eric and Vince Clarke had formed some sort of partnership, and they were wizards on [the Fairlight], but it still had a lot of teething problems. We had several demonstrations of what it could do. It was a complete mystery to me and Graham.

Eric: I asked Vince if he’d come in, and play over a track because there was something missing.

Bruce: It consisted mostly of sampling Deborah Donahay’s [sic] voice and reconstructing it. It was an experiment.

Terence [sic] Leach was a friend of someone at the Waterloo Gallery, and was learning to play saxophone. David Drinkwater was someone who lived where Angela and I lived in Barnet. He’s a folk music fanatic, and played fiddle. Graham and I felt we would quite like the texture of a real violin, that we could manipulate. We asked him to go through his entire repertoire of violin sounds, plus his favourite licks. We simply manipulated the sound on tape.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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03.09.2017
07:25 am
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A young Depeche Mode perform a slice of synthpop perfection on Swedish TV, 1982

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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…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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08.31.2016
10:38 am
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