That book about Depeche Mode’s classic album Violator? It’s just a question of time… (groan).
Well, it’s been too long – far too long!
But here we are, on the 29th anniversary of Violator’s release, with a big update and some exciting developments.
A nasty bout of Real Life Stuff came along over the course of a fairly rubbish two-year period (a very bad mountain bike accident, work, home, etc), which effectively saw the book put on hold as things were sorted out.
Without getting (too) whimsical for a moment, things always happen for a reason and that pause has provided an opportunity for both a lot of reflection and a what I think a bigger and better direction for Halo.
Halo now has a co-author, a fine comrade in the world of Depeche Mode nerdism in the shape of David McElroy (here’s his post about today).
But he is also perhaps best known as the coordinator of the mind-bending Global Spirit Tour Project, where he collected a review from a fan for every show on the tour (I helped out here, here and here).
It was during a recent discussion about a plan that David has to replicate his Black Celebration month-long blog-fest for the 30th anniversary of Violator in 2020 that we decided to join forces and collaborate – two brains thinking too much about Violator is far better than one, right?
Halo, the book version, will feature all the original interviews, story, analysis and fan contributions, plus will now include additional elements from David and others that we’re working on together, many of which will be teased during his blog’s Violator month in March 2020.
The release of Halo in paperback, Kindle and other digital formats will come at the conclusion of Davdi’s web extravaganza – as close to March 31, 2020, as we can get it 🙂
I am truly sorry that it’s taken so long to get to this stage but with David now on-board, I think March 2020 – 30 years on from Violator‘s release – will be a perfect time to celebrate a landmark album in multiple ways.
I am personally thrilled to finally be able to update you all on some proper progress with Halo and, more importantly, share the news from David and I that the book and associated web project will be bigger and better than before!
There have been plenty of official remixes of the singles from Violator (and countless unofficial ones).
World In My Eyes, Personal Jesus, Enjoy The Silence and Policy Of Truth have also been reworked slightly for their respective live outings over the years, since first being aired on the World Violation Tour in 1990.
Most of the remaining tracks from Violator have all featured on-the-road, too, with Halo and Waiting For The Night in particular both being played during tours in the 2000 and 2010s.
But it is worth remembering that, despite being an “electronic band”, Depeche have also stripped down many songs from Violator over the years into acoustic or bare versions.
Some have made their way onto tours, others re-recorded for live special studio clips.
So, here is a collection of different versions of almost every song from Violator.
World In My Eyes
*** if someone can point us in the direction of an acoustic or fundamentally different live version of World In My Eyes, we’d be very grateful 🙂 ***
World Violation Tour, 1990
Violator recording sessions, 1989
KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas, 2005
Delta Machine Tour, Bilbao, 2013
Waiting For The Night
Playing The Angel recording sessions, 2005
Tour Of The Universe, 2009 (watch out for Martin’s slip-up and his trademark giggle as a result)
Enjoy The Silence
KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas, 1998
Policy Of Truth
Dave Gahan’s Paper Monsters Tour, 2003
World Violation Tour, 1990
Playing The Angel recording sessions, 2005
And, for their sheer brilliance on the World Violation Tour in 1990, Martin’s acoustic guitar versions of I Want You Now and Little 15 (from Music For The Masses), and World Full Of Nothing and Here Is The House (from Black Celebration).
Before any big interview, writers and journalists often ask around to find out if anyone has any tips about what to expect from the interviewee.
This is usually done not in the hope of learning what they are likely to say ahead of the interview, but mostly to discover what they are like as a person.
Perhaps they are a bit prickly on certain subjects. Or they take some time to warm up. Maybe they are rather erratic with their answers and need keeping on track.
Such a tactic is as important as the research you may spend weeks doing beforehand.
I did this for most of the people featured in HALO – but with Francois Kevorkian, the legendary DJ/producer who mixed all but one of the tracks on Violator and created many of the famed remixes of the singles from that period, I was arguably more curious than any other interviewee.
In the official 30-minute Violator documentary from the mid-2000s, Kevorkian is praised (in particular, by Dave Gahan) for his creativity with the mixing yet labelled “pedantic” and “a stickler” by Martin Gore and Alan Wilder respectively.
When he does eventually appear in the same documentary, Kevorkian comes across as gentle, thoughtful and, of course, extremely focused.
The interview came in at a mammoth 25,000 words (thank you, my trusty transcriber, Nabaa!) and will eventually be included in HALO.
Kevorkian is articulate, measured, expansive and, interestingly, I found perhaps less interested in the technical aspects of what he did (and still does) and, instead, more comfortable to discuss the aesthetics of it all and what it all meant to him, the band and the fans.
The only disappointing aspect of the time I spent talking to Kevorkian was that the interview was carried out over the chat platform Skype – him at home in New York City, me in Bishops Stortford (an infinitely less exciting town than the Big Apple, located just north of London).
Yet we agreed that if he ever came over to London – or me to New York City – that we would say hi…
Fast forward to September this year and the wonderful Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, the DJ behind the Classic Album Sundays project that I took part in last year, was conducting a Q&A with Kevorkian at an arty venue in the trendy Whitechapel area of London’s East End.
This was an ideal opportunity to fulfil our promise but, for me, to learn a lot more about Kevorkian’s career outside of the Depeche bubble of 1989 and 1990.
(Kevorkian’s work with Depeche Mode came up briefly towards the end of the discussion when he recalled how he was mixing Personal Jesus in Milan at the same time as the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, China, in June 1989.)
Here are my rough notes from Kevorkian’s chat with Murphy:
He was a big fan of Jimi Hendrix and was amazed at what the legendary guitarist could do with sound.
If he had not carved out his own role in music as a DJ in the mid-1970s, Kevorkian was destined to be a bio-chemist or engineer.
The club scene in New York City, where he moved to from France in his early-20s, “felt like science fiction”, such was its “revolutionary” impact on the alternative and dance music scene at the time.
It wasn’t particularly glamorous at times, with him struggling to make enough money to pay his NYC rent.
The craft of the modern-day DJ was born in the clubs of NYC in the mid to late-1970s, with turntable “battles” often a highlight of a club night.
Up-and-coming producers would often deliver acetate records to the DJs so that they could hear how their work sounds in a club.
Working at the legendary Loft nightclub, opened in 1970 by David Mancuso, was an important moment in Kevorkian’s career as it exposed him to other well-known DJs and made him appreciate the mechanics behind sound and atmosphere (from an acoustics perspective, “there was really nowhere else like it”).
Kevorkian is a firm believer in the concept of the studio “console desk being an instrument”, where a track can be taken in a different direction purely from how it is manipulated and massaged during the mixing phase in the control room.
He is NOT a fan of one of Daniel Miller’s favourite bands, the pioneering “krautrock” ensemble, Can (“crap rock!”).
The best nightclubs are those that consider the audio as an “acoustics system, not a sound system”. Designers should consider every aspect of a room, even where walls and pillars are placed as these are disruptive to the “laws of nature” around the movement of sound.
One of his favourite nightclubs in the UK is the Ministry of Sound in London – the closest he has known from a sonic perspective to the famous Loft club (and, later, Paradise) in NYC.
CDs sounds “awful” in clubs as the sound is often heavily compressed, meaning the frequency ranges are not as wide as on vinyl.
On the controversial and vast subject of modern music distribution on streaming sites (an area that admittedly requires an entire discussion in its own right), Kevorkian says at the most basic level, services such as Spotify et al are great for consumers of music but not so for those making it.
One of the “exciting” new forms of dance/electronic music for Kevorkian has been the emergence of the dubstep genre.
Thanks to Murphy for organising and moderating the event – a fascinating dive into the world of one of the key figures in the creation of the Violator sound.
June 18th 1988 – a date that features massively in the now three-decade-plus history of Depeche Mode.
The band had decided to cap the hugely successful tour to support the release of Music For The Masses with a massive gig – their 101st – at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in Southern California.
It was a triumphant night for Depeche, captured by film maker D A Pennebaker for the 101 movie, and proving wrong the many critics who didn’t believe the band could pull off such a momentous event (others on the bill included Wire, Thomas Dolby and OMD).
SoCal had become the heartland of Depeche’s fan base in the US, driven in part by the loyal support of local radio station KROQ.
It was why the band felt they could put on a gig of such size and draw other fans from all across the country (including those on the infamous bus, filmed by Pennebaker for the movie).
But for all the deserved celebration in the Depeche camp following the concert (“for the Masses”), Pasadena did something else – it set a benchmark for which band were expected to follow.
The footage from 101 captures the band at a turning point in their history.
The delirium of the fans. The financial scale at which they were now operating (a young Jonathan Kessler – now the band’s manager – shouting “a lot of money”, stands out). The logistics required to keep a band of Depeche’s size on the road.
Depeche could’ve ended it all there, in mid-1988, and critics could’ve easily congratulated them on a great career.
But they didn’t. Obviously.
That Saturday in Pasadena actually triggered the start of a slow yet fundamental change in Depeche – musically, personally, arguably perhaps in almost every facet of what they did.
The fruits of those changes started coming to the fore just 15 months later, when the first single – Personal Jesus – from an as-yet untitled new album was released.
And it’s why the first chapter of the HALO book is titled “102” 🙂
Check out the montage of footage pulled together by the band’s website a few years back:
We share ten reasons why the Violator period is worth celebrating.
1) The songs
Whilst Martin Gore had written many fantastic songs up until this point, many would agree that even the two previous albums – Black Celebration and Music For The Masses – had contained a few weaker tracks. Violator was arguably the first long-player to have a full complement of wonderful songs, illustrating a maturing in his writing which probably helped inspire the later studio production on the demos.
2) Production dream team
The appointment of Mark “Flood” Ellis to produce the album is now considered an inspired move, not least because he was personally keen to marry the electronic background of Depeche with more natural instruments. But he was not instrumental in pushing this change and creating the Violator (and Songs of Faith and Devotion) sound – his ideas, coupled with working closely alongside Alan Wilder, gave Violator a depth and texture which both surprised and excited the critics but captured a legion of new fans.
3) Vocal performance(s)
Dave Gahan turned in a string of brilliant lead vocals, especially on the low-key Waiting For The Night and the powerful closer, Clean. But elsewhere the harmonies and backing vocals were more intricate than ever before, such as Gore’s on the WFTN and the chorus for Halo (listen closely!).
4) Inspired bravery
Depeche had always taken risks with their music (the heavy sampling on Construction Time Again and Some Great Reward), but with Violator they were pushed creatively by a combination of Flood’s enthusiasm and because Gore’s demos were deliberately stripped down to the bare bones. This gave Flood and Wilder the opportunity to shape the songs in different ways and push the boundaries of the Depeche sound. Turning Enjoy The Silence from what was already a great ballad on the demo into a dance track is a prime example.
5) Anton Corbijn’s handiwork
A look and feel which the band had wanted for years finally came together across all the output associated with Violator. Spearheaded by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, Violator‘s famous rose encapsulates the entire period, but it is just one of many symbolic visual moments. Take your pick – the cheeky video for Personal Jesus; monarch-like Gahan’s trudge across various landscapes with a deckchair for Enjoy The Silence; and countless black and white, grainy photos.
6) Francois Kevorkian’s magic
Wilder’s urging that the record be remixed by one of world’s premier dance DJs and producers added yet another layer to the overall sound of Violator. Francois Kevorkian’s approach may have frustrated some of the band members (“pedantic”), but his work on all but one of the songs (Enjoy The Silence was mixed by Daniel Miller) cleverly managed to retain the electronic heartbeat of the band but without losing the newly introduced rockier elements (Personal Jesus‘s guitar, Halo‘s beat). Listen carefully (perhaps loudly, if you can) to the percussion on World In My Eyes to get a sense of his intricate work.
7) Singles selection
Many have argued that at Halo, Waiting For The Night and Clean could easily have been granted single status on Violator, but the eventual four that were released illustrates a deft understanding by the band and MUTE boss Daniel Miller for what would work at the time. Personal Jesus was an obvious first single, announcing to the world that Depeche was back – and with a bang. Releasing Enjoy The Silence just six weeks ahead of the album served to further heighten expectations. Policy Of Truth is simply a great and catchy song and World In My Eyes (the latter with a concert-filmed video) came just at the right time, halfway through the tour.
8) Global domination via World Violation
The tour that followed the release of Violator, like the Devotional Tour of 1993, has achieved a certain hallowed status over the years – but for different reasons. Whilst Devotional was debauched and chaotic, World Violation was both a glorious celebration of a decade for the band but also the chance to air the tracks from Violator, many of which were reworked from the album versions to great effect (the extended version Enjoy The Silence in particular). But the main reason the tour has become somewhat legendary with fans is because of “I was there” factor, triggered in part because no full concert video was ever released.
9) Marketing muscle
The release of Violator came with a series of events that can only have helped to attract wider attention to the band. To some degree was the activity around the release of Personal Jesus in September 1989 (“pick up the receiver”, dial a number to hear the song), but the now legendary in-store signing in Los Angeles on the eve of the album’s release, which triggered a “riot” outside amongst fans, could not have been engineered any better. Or maybe it was part of the strategy all along 😉
10) Positively uplifting
Flood later said the mood around the Depeche camp can be felt throughout Violator, in the same way, that the problems that materialised within the band during the making of Songs of Faith and Devotion created a dark, brooding, downbeat record. The uplifting opener of World In My Eyes sets the scene for the rest of the record. Violator has a wonderfully optimistic feel about it – sonically showcasing a band who probably realised very early on in the process of making Violator that they were creating something special and unique.
11) … and one extra, final thought…
What is remarkable about Violator is how fresh it sounds, even a quarter of a century later. Classic albums are lauded for numerous reasons, but often the music has not stood the test of time – many records just happened to be important at a particular period in the evolution of music. Violator is different because it can be played now, in 2021, and still feel like it was recorded yesterday. The songs are wonderfully timeless and the quality of the arrangements and production unsurpassed.
Let’s face it – very few bands, both then and now, have managed to create something that sounds as relevant and brimming with quality as Violator.
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Before anyone asks… In an ideal world, the Halo book would’ve been published by now.
But, unfortunately, a thing called “real life” – health, pandemics and the day jobs – continue to conspire.
Can you summarise everything you remember and love about Violator in just six seconds?
If the answer is YES, consider these questions as well:
How did you feel when you first heard the album?
Why has it stood the test of time?
What is your favourite track and why?
If you’re up for the challenge of trying to condense it all into six seconds, and want to get involved in a fun compilation of memories we will publish on HALO‘s release, then this is all you need to do:
Download the Vine Appto your smartphone, and record your answer.
Be as creative as you like.
Maybe show some memorabilia that you still have from the Violator era.
Guess what? Vine only allows users to capture six seconds of recording 😉
When you have recorded your clip, please forward the link that it creates when it’s live to this email.
If you have any problems with Vine, just send us a normal video clip (but please keep to the six-second rule!).
A few people have asked directly, on the Halo book Facebook page and in various forums about the book – so thought it was worth sharing a quick update.
OBVIOUSLY, we missed getting Halo out to coincide with the March anniversary of the 1990 release of Violator.
Sorry about that 🙂
This was mainly due to a wildly optimistic deadline set last autumn. Coming out on the 19th March would have been a “nice-to-have”, but was clearly unachievable given my day job.
Since then, more interviews have taken place (two, in fact, just a few weeks ago after finally tracking down some more interesting people involved in the studio during the making of Violator) and there have been periods of intensive writing put on the clock.
But the reality is that I essentially lost around three months of the year due to some major rebuilding work at home and, more recently, changes at the Tnooz travel site where I work as a journalist.
Thankfully all that “real life” stuff is now out of the way and I am motoring towards the finish line, with a release date hopefully available quite soon.
It’ll be worth the wait.
Alongside turning the interviews (some on, some off-the-record) and research into some kind of narrative, there will be a collection of terrific first-hand accounts and stories from various fans around the world.
I’m thrilled so many of you want to help out or contribute in some way.
Promise a publishing date very soon, plus there’ll be the usual musings here on the blog.
In the meantime (as I’m a huge supporter of it), anyone looking for a Daily Dose of Depeche (#DDoD, for short 😉 ), make sure you head over and request a membership to the wonderful and immaculately maintained Depeche Mode Classic Photos and Videos Facebook page.
Cheerio, everyone… Enjoy the silence for a little while longer.
To put the 60-year-old Dutchman into some kind of context for Depeche Mode fans, Corbijn is the man who – in Dave Gahan’s words – “visually saved” the band.
After over half a decade of videos of questionable quality, many of which you could almost sense that the band were massively out of their comfort zone, Corbijn was hired to direct the clip accompanying the release of A Question Of Time.
His efforts with the third single from Black Celebration ensured that both he and the band would work together again.
By the time of Violator and Songs Of Faith and Devotion he was all-in with Depeche, directing videos, creating gig stages and backdrops, official photos and record sleeves.
That relationship lasts to this day, with Corbijn most recently directing the Live In Berlin concert DVD (just don’t ask fans about the lack of a Blu-Ray version) in 2014.
He has, lest we forget, photographed countless music acts, actors, politicians and other high profile figures.
Any Depeche fans who are eagerly expecting to hear lots of commentary from Corbijn about the band in the 84-minute documentary should look elsewhere – Inside Out feels more like GoPro strapped to the head of a psychiatrist as they interview the extremely complex Corbijn.
That’s not to say Depeche and some of the other acts who have received the Corbijn treatment fail to feature in the film.
George Clooney, Lou Reed, Metallica and U2 are shown acting, posing for photographs or larking about with the director.
Inside Out, however, is not a conventional look at the life and times of a well known character – like its subject matter, Quirijns’s film is a lot more complex than that.
Corbijn’s childhood features prominently in the narrative running through Inside Out, in what looks like a deliberate (and successful) tactic by Quirijns to establish a link between his work and his experiences as a human being.
As many a Depeche fan will now, religious iconography and themes have often been at the centre of so much Corbijn’s work with the band.
And so there is a sizeable section of the film where Quirijns talks to Corbijn about his years growing up on the Dutch coast, the son of a preacher.
Those years appear, as far as Corbijn is willing to share, reasonably unremarkable in terms of major, life-affirming events.
But as is with so much of Corbijn’s later work, whether it is photography, music videos or films, there are multiple layers involved to the story.
Corbijn admits to being lonely – a feeling that cleverly manages to run throughout the pace and style of the documentary, and one which Corbijn himself tries to explain.
It would be fair to say that the varying degrees of loneliness (even in his latter years), combined with a religious upbringing and an obsession with how visuals – especially light – make people feel, may have contributed to some of the darker or unconventional interpretations of human emotion within his work.
Inside Out is not a particularly uplifting piece of work, nor is it really meant to be.
Quirijns’s skill rests in creating a rather sad yet absorbing portrait of a man who appears to be torn between hiding in his own, shy world but being reasonably happy to fulfil the needs of those who want to learn more about him.
The film hints at a fair amount of conflict (not of the aggressive kind) in Corbijn’s world – but also shows perhaps how he manages to escape from it all: his family.
In fact, the segments featuring his sister and mother are calm, sometimes funny and yet still rather melancholic, especially with Marietje (who passed away in 2011 at the age of 86) when they talk about his father (also named Anton).
Quirijns manages to extract plenty from Corbijn’s head, but still leaves it up to the viewer to come to their own conclusions about him and his legacy (so far).
And this, ironically, is also a trademark of Corbijn’s work – don’t seek to explain everything, let the person experiencing that work do the hard work and interpret it themselves.
For most of us who have watched and admired his work for many years, there are three elements which would undoubtedly ring true about Corbijn: depth, darkness and an ability to give an edge to his collaborators.
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Martin Gore is the only member of Depeche Mode to be featured in the film.
He is seen playing pool and joking with Corbijn, before being asked by Quirijns about the band’s close and long-term collaboration with the Dutchman over the years.
“We really struggled early on with an image problem. We were seen really as just a pop band. So we felt Anton has a certain seriousness and a certain gravity to his work that would help us get away from that. It helped us to create a kind of cult status.”
Incidentally, Quirijns was also interviewed about her role in making Inside Out:
Everyone loves a Epic/Best/Greatest list – especially when a classic album such as Violator gets some recognition.
But where might Violator feature in catalogue of the Greatest Dance Albums Of All Time?
Thump, a website which charts the fortunes of the global dance music scene, set out its criteria as follows:
“We looked exclusively at artist albums—those complete statements of musical intention and dancefloor ambition.
“Singles rule but albums like these are iconic in their own right, holding down the foundation of dance music’s storied past and bright future.
“There are no compilations, best-ofs, soundtracks, or mixes included; they have their place, but elsewhere.
“Instead, we gathered the 99 LPs that have left a mark on dancefloors and are guaranteed to make you work up a sweat while doing your thing, be that in your bedroom, under a mirrorball, or bathed in starlight.”
So that’s that…
The top ten, in reverse order:
10 – Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite (2010)
9 – Basement Jaxx – Rooty (2001)
8 – Robyn – Body Talk (2010)
7 – Disclosure – Settle (2013)
6 – Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole (1997)
5 – Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994)
4 – Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby (1998)
3 – Madonna – Confessions On A Dancefloor (2005)
2 – Carl Craig – Landcruising (1995)
1 – Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)
Very difficult to argue against Daft Punk’s barnstorming groove-fest that is Discovery (Daft Punk’s live act is still one of best on the circuit), but where is Violator?
This is what the compilers had to say about Depeche Mode’s 1990 long-player:
“This near-perfect jewel of synth-goth glory is Depeche Mode’s singularly most beloved work of art. It begat generational anthems like Personal Jesus, Enjoy the Silence, and Policy of Truth, catapulting the band from underground faves to global mainstream success.
“Part pop saveur, part lecherous perv, Violator at 25 is still creepy-sexy enough to arrest a new generation in its tracks.”
And that, ladies and gents, was enough to put Violator in at number 11.
Shame it missed the top ten by a whisker, but a very good position overall, in extremely hallowed company…
But, as someone has already pointed out: Is Violator a dance album? 🙂