|For information on this album's singles, see the Singles section.
|This article is about the album. To view a list of its songs and B-sides, see Violator songs.
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|19 March 1990
|Logic Studios, Milan
The Church, London
|Number of tracks
Violator is the seventh studio album by Depeche Mode. It was released on 19 March 1990 by Mute Records. The album was a commercial success, and regularly features on lists of the greatest albums of all time by publications such as Q, Spin and Rolling Stone. Preceded by singles "Personal Jesus" and "Enjoy The Silence", Violator reached number two on the UK Albums Chart, and was the first Depeche Mode album to chart inside the top ten of the Billboard 200, peaking at number seven.
It was supported by the 1990 World Violation tour.
- World In My Eyes
- Sweetest Perfection
- Personal Jesus
- Waiting For The Night
- Enjoy The Silence
- Policy Of Truth
- Blue Dress
- Personal Jesus – 29 August 1989
- Enjoy The Silence – 5 February 1990
- Policy Of Truth – 7 May 1990
- World In My Eyes – 17 September 1990
Marketing and promotion
Wherehouse record store incident
- Main article: 1990-03-20 Wherehouse record store incident
Indicative of their increasing popularity at the time of Violator's release, the group were infamously forced to evacuate a March 20th in-store signing at Los Angeles-based Wherehouse Records when the event (expected to only draw a few thousand fans) produced an estimated turnout of 20,000, with an in-store capacity of only 150. Due to the sheer number of people present at the signing, several suffered minor injuries as a result of being slammed up against the store windows. The ensuing disorder at the group's withdrawal resulted in a near riot, requiring the assistance of one hundred Los Angeles police officers outfitted in riot gear as reported by the LA Times. Music journalist Ted Mico described the chaos in the August 18th issue of Melody Maker:
[...] Modettes were spread over six square blocks and literally ground the entire city to a standstill. Nothing like this had happened in L.A. for years – even when U2 shot their video for 'Where The Streets Have No Name' on a Downtown roof. Depeche Mode bigger than Jesus? Not quite, but they'd give Bono a run for his money and are taken as seriously and followed as fanatically here as The Cure or New Order are in Britain.
Approximately 25,000 copies of a promotional cassette were reportedly produced at Daniel Miller's direction as an apology to fans who were inconvenienced or suffered minor injuries as a result of the incident.
Album BPM range by song
Album live plays by song
A Recoil Retrospective – Violator editorial
"A riot in the streets of L.A. at the Wherehouse record store on La Cienega. The scene was set for the release of an album that was to become Depeche Mode's most commercially and financially successful to date. A record that was to prove its considerable significance to the music scene for many years to come."
Press statement – March 1990
"Yesterday in Los Angeles, British band Depeche Mode broke all previous records when they made an appearance at one of the biggest record stores in the world. Some 5000 fans had camped outside the store for 4 days with the queue extending for nearly 2 miles. By the time the band arrived, there were more than 17,000 screaming fans outside, with The Beverly Centre opposite invaded by fans trying to get a better view. The LAPD closed down the event after 90 minutes because they felt the band's lives were in danger. 200 Police units including helicopters and mounted officers in full riot gear tried to calm the fans down. Eventually, the Police moved the band out of their hotel under escort. The Police Chief told us 'this is our biggest Police operation since the Presidential visit.'"
In many ways it was the crowning glory for a band who epitomised everything that rock and roll should be, elevating them to the official position of stadium act. The compelling quality of Martin's words was matched by the innovative and assured approach to the music, helping to set Violator apart from other releases that year. While their once popular contemporaries (born from the explosion of early 80's synth rock) had fallen by the wayside, Mode had endured the rigours of the decade and developed to represent the only true sound of its kind.
The unique blend of dark, sensual imagery and electro 'savoir-faire' ensured that the album was a welcome relief to the ears and stood out clearly amongst the melee of fledgling dance acts and washed-up soft rockers. This is not to say that Violator was the pure analogue beast that it has long been revered as and without wishing to offend those austere devotees who would balk at the mere mention of the word 'guitar', Alan reminds us:
"There are plenty of live drums in the form of loops on Violator and a whole range of different acoustic instruments as well as the electronics. I think this album represented the perfect combination of played and programmed sounds."
The bulk of Violator was recorded at Puk Studios in Denmark and introduced a significant newcomer to the previously closed-rank world of Depeche Mode production. Former 'Stripped' remixer, Flood had already worked with fellow Mute acts Nitzer Ebb, Nick Cave and Erasure when Daniel Miller suggested a meeting at Martin's house.
"This scruffy, bespectacled, rather unlikely looking bloke rolled up, raided the 'fridge a couple of times, slouched down on the sofa, pontificated for a bit and thus – a new production team was born."
At the initial recording session in Milan, the new partnership set to work on Martin's demos which were beginning to have diminishing influence on the final results.
"There were no hard and fast rules – sometimes the songs drastically changed from the demo and sometimes they were pretty similar. Martin didn't like to explain his songs to anyone and, knowing that, the other group members would rarely ask him what they were about. It's clear to me that the ambiguity of his words and the subversive quality of some of them (with their possible dark meanings) is what makes them interesting. It is also probably right to say that from Violator onwards, the final results bore less resemblance to the original demos than ever."
It would be fair to attribute this to Alan and Flood whose dominance of the studio was quick to develop and ultimately provided a lasting and fruitful liaison.
"Flood and I worked well together. Our styles complimented each other – my musical angle coupled with his technical prowess. He was undoubtedly an important factor in the development of the Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion albums."
We've never jumped on any bandwagons or tried to go along with the trendies. Even though we're into our second decade, it still seems very fresh. We never wanted to be big for five minutes and that's it. Plus, we've changed, and all the changes have been natural. No one has ever pushed us in any direction – we do exactly what we want, the way we want. There's still that naivety of learning, of trying to better ourselves, and it's all done with an intense energy, a power and urgency that's lacking in so many other bands around. We're off in our own little world, really.
— Dave Gahan – Sky, March 1990
Over the last five years I think we'd perfected a formula; my demos, a month in a programming studio, etc. etc. We decided that our first record of the '90s ought to be different.
— Martin Gore – NME, February 1990
[...] That's how we made the group work at that time, by accepting that we all had different roles and not actually all trying to do the same thing. So we ended up with this unwritten agreement in the band, where we'd all throw together a few ideas at the beginning of a track. Then Fletch and Mart would go away, and they'd come back after we'd worked on it for a while to give an opinion.
— Alan Wilder – Depeche Mode: A Biography – Steve Malins (2001)
Everybody was feeling each other out, because they wanted to try working in a different way. The idea was to work hard and party hard and we all enjoyed ourselves to the full.
— Flood – Depeche Mode: A Biography – Steve Malins (2001)
Usually we begin the making of a record by having extensive pre-production meetings where we decide what the record will actually sound like, then go into a programming studio. This time we decided to keep all pre-production work to a minimum. We were beginning to have a problem with boredom in that we felt we'd reached a certain level of achievement in doing things a certain way.
— Alan Wilder – NME, February 1990
Wilder and Gore describe early song impressions and explain the humour behind the album title in an interview for the February 1990 issue of NME:
Wilder: [...] I felt that the last few records have been, well not exactly too lush, but certainly too dense. This feels much more direct.
Gore: I've only played it to a few people but their reactions have been really good and I don't think they were just being nice. A lot of them have commented on how up it is.
Wilder: It's no bad thing to be dark once in a while. Radio 1 don't particularly want to play us but they're forced to because of our following. It's good that there are a few bands like us to counteract all that 'jolly-jolly-party-Kylie'.
Gore: Our problem is that we've never been banned, just relegated to the evening shows. We did have a few problems with 'Personal Jesus' but in America they took it as a religious tribute. Ha! It seems you can get away with anything if you've got nice pop tunes!
Wilder and Gore continue:
Gore: We called it Violator as a joke. We wanted to come up with the most extreme, ridiculously 'Heavy Metal' title that we could. I'll be surprised if people will get the joke. However, when we called an album "Music For The Masses", we were accused of being patronising and arrogant. In fact it was a joke on the uncommerciality of it. It was anything but music for the masses!
Wilder: There's much more humour than we're given credit for. Perhaps it's just that ours, or particularly Martin's is a little specialised.
— Alan Wilder, Martin Gore – NME, February 1990
... Sometimes we'd stop in the middle of mixing and say, 'No, no, no, Dave's gotta re-do it.' …there may have been a couple of synthesizer parts Martin wanted fixed, or we were going, like, 'Ah yeah, this is not really working like this, we gotta change that.' So then we switched to recording mode…Then I had all kinds of ideas on effects that I wanted to add to the track, where I recorded some of my own vocals doing, like, weird vocal effects…or percussive vocal things that I added as layers.
— François Kevorkian – DubSpot, Francois K. Fireside Chat
Wilder describes the origin of the various percussion sounds throughout Violator:
- On 'Violator', did you use any drum machines in particular or are they all samples? I've found getting hi-hats and crashes to sound good through a drum machine very difficult. I've used Boss, Alesis and others and they all sound weak, thin and well.... like a drum machine.
Wilder: Are you surprised? Part of the reason drums from drum machines sound that way is because of the lack of human feel. No two snare beats sound the same when played by a drummer – I like that. That's why I prefer to use lots of drum loops with all the feel (and flaws) of the original performance. Most of the drum sounds on 'Violator' were sampled (apart from obvious electro sounds) but the rhythms were still programmed. Some hi-hat patterns ('Policy' for example) were played and sampled as loops and in the case of 'Halo' and 'Clean' it's all loops. Again, I prefer the looped parts because of the performance element. — Alan Wilder – SHUNT ARCHIVES Q&A : DEPECHE MODE : VIOLATOR
Wilder states that Violator was the last instance where he made extensive use of programmed percussion parts in response to a fan question:
- When did you stop actually programming pattern-by-pattern drum machines?
Wilder: The last time I did that to any great extent was during the making of 'Violator' even though there are 'live' drum loops on that album as well. Since then, the majority of drums have come in the form of loops although I still might programme certain percussion parts, hi-hats and cymbals. — Alan Wilder – SHUNT ARCHIVES Q&A : DEPECHE MODE : VIOLATOR
We called it "Violator" because we wanted a very heavy metal title. The last album, Music For The Masses, was another sarcastic title which no one understood, it doesn't really matter because we know we're being sarcastic. The Germans especially didn't get Music For The Masses at all, because over there we really are music for the masses, and they don't understand sarcasm – they were saying 'Oh, so what is this, you are making commercial music?'! I think people miss the humour in the band because unless you're a real devotee you don't look that seriously at groups, you just glance at a video on Top Of The Pops and make a snap decision about whether or not you like it.
Over the years Martin's studio at home has got progressively better and better so the demos he was producing and giving to us were very good quality. If you listen to a song, say 'Strangelove' which was a very full demo, after about 20 plays the direction in which you're going to go is pretty much fixed. We were basically re-recording Martin's demos with better sound, better production and Dave's vocals. For this album we said to Martin, just present the demos on acoustic guitar and organ, only lyrics and chords, so we could decide the direction of songs as a group. It was a conscious decision to make this album different from the previous ones. It's also the first time we've used a producer rather than an engineer/producer.
It was definitely more enjoyable making this album because we went to Milan right at the beginning. We just went out, partied, and didn't get any recording done, but we had a good time and it cemented the spirit of the whole album. It was very much a group feeling.
— Andrew Fletcher – Record Mirror, March 1990
I came in to the production of Violator when there was one song finished and the rest of the songs were kind of half way through but had no vocals. I didn't see Dave really much involved in the creation of the sounds or the directions of the songs. He would come in and sing and did a fantastic job but wasn't really involved in the creativity of the material. He was very positive on his part and very supportive in what we were doing. I think the team work really worked. There weren't many conflicts. Because they had developed a style and a sound and they knew it had functioned previously on different albums like Black Celebration and Music For The Masses. They had proven that the team worked and there weren't any reasons to change it. In other scenarios I worked in this wasn't the case. Other bands operate very differently and that's why Depeche functioned so very well in the studio. There were never any doors closed. It was quite the opposite. The more you could bring in ... you know, I could turn to Alan and Flood saying 'What about this? What about this sound?' ... the more excited the whole crew became."
[...] Sometimes Martin would come in saying, 'I don't like this' and 'I don't really like that', and then we would work on things to get a different version but he would trust a lot in the three of us, Alan, Flood and myself. And Fletch as well, y'know. Fletch would come in, say his thing but leave it to us because he knew something good would come out.
— Steve Lyon – depechemodebiographie.de, June 2013
Bruce Kirkland in the July 1990 issue of Rolling Stone: "It's Depeche Mode's time, and the industry is finally catching up."
- The total number of live song plays from Violator is 4179, making it the most-played Depeche Mode album with the highest number of live song plays. This figure is found by summing the number of individual live performances of each album track performed as Depeche Mode.
- Source: OC Weekly – "POORMAN’S RADIO DAYS: RECOUNTING THE DEPECHE MODE RIOT OF 1990" – September 2019
- Source: JOHN H. LEE, LA Times – March 21 1990 – Depeche Mode Fans Become Unruly at Store
- Source: Melody Maker, 18th August 1990 via SacredDM (now defunct).
- Source: Spin magazine, July 1990 issue
- Source: Source: SHUNT ARCHIVES EDITORIAL : 1998 ARCHIVES : DM Singles 86-98 : VIOLATOR
- Source: Paul Lester, Sky, March 1990 via SacredDM (now defunct).
- Source: Stuart Maconie, NME, February 17 1990 via SacredDM (now defunct).
- Source: Steve Malins (2001). Depeche Mode: A Biography
- Source: Francois K. Fireside Chat
- Source: SHUNT ARCHIVES Q&A : DEPECHE MODE : VIOLATOR
- Source: SHUNT ARCHIVES : GENERAL MUSIC, page two
- Source: Lisa Tilston, Record Mirror, 17th March 1990 via SacredDM (now defunct).
- Source: depechemodebiographie.de – Interview with Steve Lyon, June 2013
- Source: Jeff Giles, Rolling Stone, 12th–26th July 1990 via SacredDM (now defunct).