Vince Clarke took his first steps in the music industry as a founding member of Depeche Mode, writing the core of their debit album ‘Speak & Spell’. Tensions within the group led to his departure shortly after this album’s release.
In some ways, Clarke’s output as part of Depeche Mode between 1977 and 1981 is the one that gets the most attention. His most significant, and long-lasting influence on music however comes from his contributions as one half of a synthpop band he formed in 1985.
That year, he submitted an advert in the British weekly music newspaper ‘Melody Maker’, a mainstay of newsagents between 1926 and 2000. The ad was simple: “Looking for a singer”. Forty-three people applied and auditioned in front of Vince and his producer at the time.
A singer who went by the name Andy Bell arrived and sang like the 42 before him. Vince and his producer turned to each other as if in an instant they knew that from that audition onward, this was the guy. Andy was the guy that would co-found Erasure.
Andy, in as many music publications as you can imagine, has repeatedly said that Vince was like a hero to him during both the audition and the early days of Erasure. Vince’s reply has always been that while the news was always humbling to him, that the dynamic shifted and very quickly levelled out when they began touring; more often than not playing shitty little clubs, forming their intimate, seemingly unbreakable ‘us against the world’ bond.
Since the audition, Erasure have released 17 albums, including this year’s ‘World Be Gone’. They’ve created hit singles like ‘A Little Respect’, ‘Oh L’amour’, ‘Sometimes’, and ‘The Circus’ and have been known for making amazing music videos to accompany their tracks.
I re-listened to Erasure before getting on the phone to Vince Clarke from his studio in Brooklyn and as I watched their videos I remembered just how influential the project was, ‘Blue Savannah’ and ‘Love To Hate You’ being personal favourites.
As we’re talking, Vince he tells me exactly what Erasure is in 2017: a mainstay of electronic music in an era he’s previously referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Synthesisers’. Clarke might well be right. They’re about to go on an arena tour as a special guest of Robbie Williams that came about through sharing a tour agent. When asked to perform they said yes because they’d never done anything like this before and the timing seemed right.
He also reveals that the pair have made a conscious effort to make their new record different to all of their past releases. Vince tells me they wanted to make a break from their usual stuff.
“The last two records we’ve done are a lot more clubby, kind of. We also set out to make this a lot more vocal heavy. So the slow arrangements lend themselves to bigger vocal sounds.”
In 2017 it’s pretty clear that a more club-orientated sound resonates with crowds spanning from the ‘shitty’ clubs where Erasure began to the arena stages they’ve come to call familiar. Erasure and club music might not jump to mind immediately as cohabitants of the same space, but it’s really difficult to overstate their influence on it.
A new imprint and a collaborative project last year with Paul Hartnoll (one half of Orbital) and remixes by Plastikman (Richie Hawtin) and Goldfrapp place Clarke right in the thick of global club culture.
Vince is now living in Brooklyn, moving there to live with his wife . Her twin lives in New York City and he tells me they simply can’t be apart. In Brooklyn his wife, Tracey, co-founded the non-profit exhibition space Morbid Anatomy Museum. Clarke revealed to me that he’s found it hard living there, but he has used the opportunity in Brooklyn to meet new, likeminded people and creatives.
“It’s kind of interesting because it’s taken me a while to get to know people here. That was one of the reasons I started my little label. But there is a real music community here. And there are quite a few people making electronic music. When you’ve got your own studio it can be lonely. So I deliberately set out to try and meet likeminded musicians, and Brooklyn is full of them.”
We didn’t get long on the phone, but as we finish up Vince tells me how he feels about the state of the world and the UK and the USA.
He says, “although there are terrible things happening all over the world, I’m optimistic about the UK and USA, but I have to be because I have an 11 year old son.”
It’s clear that through his involvement in Depeche Mode, Erasure, 2Square and everything in between, that Clarke has had both a lasting and overwhelmingly positive impact on music and party-goers a like. It’s this relentless optimism that shines through most in his music.
You wouldn’t say that Erasure are making a comeback right now with their new album and touring, because to be honest they never left. For 32 years they’ve consistently been creating and dropping new music. Now they’re set to support Robbie Williams in the 3 Arena this weekend, as well as announcing their own headline tour in 2018 and are coming to the Olympia Theatre for three nights from January 29-31 next year. Ticket information is here.