Tag Archives: world in my eyes

Spending an evening with… Francois Kevorkian

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.

After exchanging a few emails, Kevorkian and I spoke for nearly three hours about his time with Depeche, mixing Violator and the incredible work he did with his extended versions of Personal Jesus, Enjoy The Silence, Policy Of Truth and World In My Eyes.

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.

There’s a lot more from Kevorkian to come…

francois kevorkian halo

How many times were the Violator singles listened to on Spotify in 2014?

We all know that Depeche Mode have sold over 100 million albums in their 35-year history.

Furthermore, countless singles from the band’s repertoire have snapped up precious metal-labelled discs for hitting various sales points.

But those milestones are very much a reflection of the era in which the various albums or songs were released.

One of the wonderful hallmarks of Depeche is that they still manage to excite their existing fanbase with new releases, at the same time as attracting new devotees to the back catalogue.

Until recently, however, we had no real idea (i.e. hard data) as to how popular might the band’s older material be.

Digital music streaming services such as Spotify may have caused all manner of financial headaches for bands looking to make decent money for their craft (thus why touring is so important these days) – but the other side of the coin is that we are now able to understand more about the songs being listened to.

In particular, crunching the freely available data (thanks Polygraph!) can show us how popular older songs remain.

depeche mode spotify

So here are some factoids for you from data for “playcounts” on Spotify during 2014…

Three of the singles from Violator feature in the top ten most popular Depeche songs on Spotify last year.

In fact, Enjoy The Silence and Personal Jesus have been listened to more times than the remaining 15 other Depeche tracks on the list combined.

So what about some numbers, then?

To put it all into context a bit, Bing Crosby’s 1942 hit White Christmas remains the best selling single of all time, with 50 million units shifted worldwide.

In second spot is Elton John’s Candle in the Wind, re-released in 1997 in the wake of death of the Princess of Wales, with 33 million sales.

Unsurprisingly, Depeche have never sold anything close to these figures for any of their singles.

Pharrell Williams’s Happy was the biggest selling (including downloads) single of 2014, with 13.9 million units.

But by remarkable coincidence, Enjoy The Silence was listened to just over 13 million times on Spotify last year ;).

Spotify’s hosepipe of information doesn’t break down the number “playcounts” against the number of people actually listening to the songs or from where the users are based, unfortunately, but the data-crunching certainly illustrates the longevity of Depeche’s work.

For example, Personal Jesus had 9.2 million listens in 2014, with Policy of Truth capturing 1.8 million and World In My Eyes just short of one million.

Violator’s legacy endures, it seems…

Here is the full list of most listened to Depeche Mode songs on Spotify in 2014:

  • Enjoy The Silence – 13,203,938
  • Personal Jesus – 9,195,427
  • Precious – 2,786,164
  • Never Let Me Down Again – 2,466,601
  • It’s No Good – 2,120,290
  • Strangelove – 2,105,397
  • People Are People – 2,069,899
  • Policy Of Truth – 1,787,177
  • Walking In My Shoes – 1,610,625
  • I Feel You – 1,354,257
  • Dream On – 1,222,862
  • Master And Servant – 1,000,315
  • World In My Eyes – 970,495
  • Home – 602,303
  • Barrel Of A Gun – 446,434
  • Only When I Lose Myself – 198,350
  • Route 66/Behind The Wheel – 15,234

Thanks again to Polygraph for the hard work 🙂

Sweetest Perfection (long before it was perfect)

Following on from last week’s post featuring the demo version of Clean, here’s another bare Violator track: Sweetest Perfection.

Again, it was featured on the one of extra CDs including in the Deluxe Box Set for Sounds of the Universe album in 2009.

Perhaps even more so than the demo for Clean, Martin Gore’s simple introduction of the melody and vocal line for Sweetest Perfection shows just how basic the tracks were before the studio work kicked in.

In second spot on the Violator track listing after the blast of World In My Eyes, there is a rather jarring juxtaposition for Sweetest Perfection with it coming so soon after the upbeat and intricately electronic feel of the opener.

Sweetest Perfection, 25 years on, retains a time-less quality to it, grinding away and building slowly throughout its 4 minutes and 41 seconds until ending in a barrage of noise.

Not entirely sure here, but some have suggested Sweetest Perfection is the one track from the Depeche repertoire during the Alan Wilder era which could have slotted in very easily on one of his later Recoil albums.

Debate that point as much as you like, this demo version of Sweetest Perfection illustrates how the multiple layers of production added to it in the studio managed to create a brooding, intense, perhaps even difficult experience ahead of the bluesy and very accessible Personal Jesus.

To twist a cliché somewhat – a thorn between two roses 🙂

Another intense outing for Sweetest Perfection is this remixed version.

World In My Eyes – sing along with the Cicadas

There are countless remixes of Depeche Mode songs, especially from Violator period.

Many are terrible, some are pretty good.

One of the more popular ones, at least in terms of views of channels such as YouTube, is the Cicada Mix of World In My Eyes.

It was included in the 2004 re-release of Enjoy The Silence.

Whilst not coming anywhere close to the Francois Kevorkian mixes (Oil Tank and Dub In My Eyes) or Daniel Miller’s version, Cicada does a good job of providing a new, rockier take on the Violator opener.

Top tip – Listen to Violator in the dark, VERY loud, on a kick-ass system

Imagine you have no distractions for 47 minutes.

And, then, can listen to a piece of music intensely, giving it your full attention.

Yeah, quite a rare opportunity for many people.

And this isn’t about plugging in an MP3 player on the train ride to work – you can still find yourself looking out of the window or checking a mobile phone for messages.

Let’s face it – total immersion in music is a unique experience nowadays.

Add to the equation the chance to listen to that body of work on a high quality soundsystem, and the chances narrow even further (using decent headphones on a home music system does not count).

Last weekend, the Classic Album Sundays event was a good opportunity to get out on the road and start evangelising about Violator and the Halo book.

Organised by the wonderfully energetic and knowledgeable Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, CAS showcases a landmark album with a mixture of a presentation, audience Q&A, with a play-back on a soundsystem brought in specially for the event.

And so, with 25 years from the release date coming up soon, it was Depeche Mode and Violator’s turn.

7

The discussion part of the event was interesting and fun to do (but will leave others to comment, as Murphy and I are obviously biased!), covering the history of Violator from the production to its impact on the band and fans.

But it was the play-back section which, I suspect, most people will remember fondly for a long time to come.

For the pros or the curious, the “audio menu”, as Murphy calls it, was as follows:

Audio Menu: Dynavector D17D3 MC Cartridge, Rega P9 Turntable, Rega IOS Reference MC Phono Stage, Audio Note Jinro Integrated Amp, Chord Signature Speaker Cable, Chord Signature Tuned Aray interconnects, ISOL-8 Substation Integra Power Conditioner, Klipsch SW-115 Subwoofers and Klipschorn Loudspeakers.

On other words: extremely powerful.

So the audience of about 70 people sat in silence (phones switched off!), in the semi-dark (just a few ribbons of lights on the floor for company), listening to all 47 minutes of Violator… on vinyl.

Zero interruptions – apart from flipping over the record between Waiting For The Night and Enjoy The Silence (remember having to do that?).

The beauty and enjoyment of listening to Violator in such a unique setting was extraordinary.

Quite often, when a piece of music is played extremely loudly in an open environment, a lot of the original intricate parts are lost to the acoustic reverb in the room, natural elements when outside, or the system simply being unable to cope very well with the volume.

As someone later told me:

“It’s quite a privilege to hear an album that you know so well on a soundsystem like that – incomparable to MP3s!”

It is difficult to identify all the stand-out moments of the playback – the overall experience was fabulous and fascinating.

But in particular, Policy Of Truth (for the rhythm section), World In My Eyes (is there a better opener to any Depeche album?), Halo (for the strings) and Clean (for the grinding bass).

Even the hardcore Depeche fans in the audience appeared quite moved by the experience 🙂 .

It was, in short, a wonderful event to participate in.

– – – – –

Murphy deserves a lot of credit for the CAS concept. So huge thanks to her for organising the event and the opportunity to chew the fat with people about Violator (and the Halo book).

Check out the website for forthcoming sessions, when another long-player will be reviewed and get the fantastic CAS audio treatment.

The events take place regularly in London, New York and Oslo.

There are more pictures from the event on our Facebook page (thanks to @kaybar007 for the above shot).

Thanks to all those who came and said hello, especially those who I I’ve met “virtually” on the numerous Depeche forums and groups.

Funnily enough, at the exact moment whilst we were celebrating a landmark album, Andy Fletcher and his son Joe were celebrating a Chelsea win at Wembley Stadium.

Oh well, nobody’s perfect… Sorry, Fletch 😉

A photo posted by Joe Fletcher (@joethefletch) on

When worlds Kaleid – the World Violation opener

The first minutes of any gig are vitally important for whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

It could be argued that Depeche Mode fans generally do not need much encouragement, such is the fervour they have for the band when on tour.

Still, Depeche have created some dramatic opening cues over the years.

The slowly building Pimpf from the Music For The Masses Tour was one; the loud thunder claps and lightning/strobe strikes which fed into Higher Love on the Devotional Tour was another.

The World Violation tour used a shorter version of the b-side to Policy Of Truth, when it was released as the third single from Violator to coincide with the start of nearly 90 gigs in 1990.

The track would pump out nosily as the band assembled behind curtains adorned in a giant “D” and “M” either side of a Violator rose.

The effect worked.

All hell would be breaking loose (in a good way) in the crowd by the time the first song, World In My Eyes, kicked in.

Sadly, as we all know, the lack of an official video from the tour means that fans have to rely on rough and ready clips from the web.

The short clips from the Dodger Stadium gig in Los Angeles, found by band’s “webmaster” Daniel Barassi in 2002, do not do the experience of the tour much justice.

Still, here is Kaleid:

And here is the Policy Of Truth b-side version of the track:

World In My Eyes – layers and layers of Kevorkian dub

The final official remix of World Of My Eyes came again via Francois Kevorkian.

In contrast to his Oil Tank Mix of the fourth single from Violator, Kevorkian’s Dub In My Eyes is a far more low-key effort, largely doing away with the vocals.

Instead, listeners have a chance to revel in some of the more intricate, electronic layers of sounds for which Kevorkian is well known.

Fans will also note that the robotic “let me take you on a trip” at the beginning of the track also later made an appearance at the start of the live version performed during the Devotional Tour in 1993.

World In My Eyes – two generations of club remixes

World In My Eyes isn’t an instant club tune in the same vein as Enjoy The Silence or the 2001 track I Feel Loved.

But on its release as the fourth single from Violator, Jon Marsh of British house act The Beloved was given a chance to create one of the official remixes of the song.

The big chords, piano, percussion and steady beat are symptomatic of the slightly more accessible club scene away from the hardcore raves of the time.

Fast forward 20 or so years and a Denmark-based producer/DJ known as Naween had a crack (unofficially) at bringing the track up to date to the club sound of circa 2009-2011.

Apart from harder beat, one of the more noticeable differences between the two mixes sees the latter outing keep many of the original sounds, not least the strings at the end of track (one of the highlights of the original, album version).

Neither come close to Francois Kevorkian’s official Oil Tank Mix.

World In My Eyes – Francois Kevorkian fills the tank with a sweet oil

Much has been said about the influence of Francois Kevorkian’s mixing on Violator.

Whether he was “pedantic” (Martin’s word) or “meticulous” (Daniel Miller) or “a stickler” (Alan), Kevorkian should certainly be credited with helping shape the overall feel of the album.

As well as mixing the vast majority of the album, the DJ/producer was also let loose on a some of the single remixes.

Alongside his work on Policy of Truth (the Beat Box Mix), he also turned his attention to World In My Eyes.

As someone I interviewed for the book argued, Kevorkian’s Oil Tank Mix of World In My Eyes is a shining example of the level of intricacy and creativity he brought to entire Violator period, despite perhaps being a, err, rather challenging comrade in the studio.

The Orb have a go at Happiest Girl

The album 1981-2011, covering an astonishing 30 years of Depeche Mode remixes, has a few decent efforts from the Violator period.

So, behold, trance pioneers The Orb and their treatment of World In My Eyes b-side, Happiest Girl.

It carries all the hallmarks of other classic Orb productions – waves, whale-like backgrounds, hypnotic melodies and more.

Here is a fan’s video mash-up of the original.

NB: Main pic via Pixabay.