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Depeche Mode: Many Happy Returns To 'Violator'

Friday, 20 March 2015 Written by Graeme Marsh

If they really only expected 30 people to show up, then the surprise must have run very deep. Twenty five years ago, a line snaked away from the Wherehouse record shop in Los Angeles, where Depeche Mode were booked to sign copies of their new record, ‘Violator’. By the time police drew a line under things, over 10,000 fans were massed at the scene.

Despite limited Stateside chart success, the band had enjoyed a money-spinning US tour during 1988, in support of their ‘Music For The Masses’ album. Dubbed the Concert For The Masses, the 101st and final show of the run found them playing to a huge crowd at the Rose Bowl in California, the kind of venue reserved for rock giants like Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Bon Jovi.

Richard Blade, a KROQ DJ at the time, has told of Martin Gore’s anxiety and modest hopes for the show: that they would sell out the 10,000 capacity of the floor. He needn’t have worried. A crowd of 65,000 turned up and sang Everything Counts for a full 10 minutes after the final curtain. “It wasn’t just an important show for Depeche Mode, it was an important show for new music in America,” Dave Gahan later told Blade.

Fast forward a couple of years and the band had taken a new direction in a bid to remain at the cutting edge. The catalyst was producer Flood. “We were reassured that Flood was able to do all things,” Alan Wilder said during the Violator documentary. “He was a good all-round producer.” Gore added: “He was the first producer who really pushed us.” Mixer Francois Kevorkian, who had previously worked with Kraftwerk, added precision and attention to detail.

The first fruits of the union appeared in August 1989, with the release of Personal Jesus. “It stood out as a perfect track to say: ‘Here’s Depeche Mode but not as you know,” Flood said. Andy Fletcher added: “Flood said all our pre-conceived ideas were, basically, a load of shit. If you wanna use a guitar, use a guitar. You shouldn’t have rules.” Gore’s demos, previously rigid, became more like sketches to be manipulated and interpreted again and again.

Originally penned as a ballad, Enjoy The Silence was the second single released. The song became the band’s biggest anthem, but by the time of its unveiling had changed beyond any recognition from Gore’s demo. Wilder and Flood drove the change. “They basically said to me, Fletch and Martin, piss off for a couple of days,” Gahan recalled in the documentary. When they returned it had evolved into something that resembled a disco track. “Within an hour we knew we had a massive hit,” Fletcher said, and a now iconic video, directed by the revered Anton Corbijn, helped seal the song’s place in history.

Wherehouse Records then followed. The band was due to appear at 9pm that night, and by that time the crowd had swelled. Arriving in a limousine, the band were swiftly ushered into the building amid hysterical scenes akin to Beatlemania. Gahan, interviewed at the scene for TV coverage, shouted to a reporter during early moments: “It’s amazing. I mean, we’re totally overwhelmed. Just to come down for us to sign their records, it’s like there’s 10,000 people here or something – it’s amazing, it’s great.” But things didn’t stay great for long.

It was clear that the people at the end of the queue had no chance of meeting the band. The crowd became restless and there was a surge from the back, resulting in fans at the front of the line being pressed up against the windows of the shop. Police officers battled to maintain control of the situation. The scenes had been attracting media coverage throughout the evening, but it was suddenly the top story. Things slowly calmed down, thankfully with little trouble and only minor injuries to several in the throng.

“It wasn’t really a riot,” Wilder said at a subsequent press conference. “There wasn’t any violence involved, a couple of people did get hurt unfortunately but the majority of fans there were very well behaved. Chelsea on a Saturday afternoon – now that’s a riot.” As Gahan later said on the ‘Violator’ documentary: “It’s not the sort of advertising you can buy.”

The album, a masterpiece, was sure to succeed. To date it has achieved worldwide sales in the millions, with every song worthy of its place. With other massive cuts - including Policy Of Truth and World In My Eyes, both of which achieved the intended crossover from electronica to rock – ‘Violator’ takes its place among royalty. Many happy returns.

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