If you had to pinpoint an exact date and location for the moment that Depeche Mode morphed from cult British band to million-selling mainstream success, it would be 20 March 1990 at Los Angeles music emporium Wherehouse Records. It was here that the then-quartet turned up for an in-store performance to celebrate the release of their seventh record Violator. The shop could hold 150 people. An estimated 17,000 fans turned up. With the numbers swelling, police evacuated the band from the store and shut the place down, prompting disgruntled members of the waiting crowd to start rioting. The furore made evening news reports across the country. Depeche Mode had become the big story. From the outside, 1990’s Violator felt very much like the record that everything had been leading up to for the electro pioneers from Basildon. Their triumphant live album, 101, released the previous year, captured an exhilarating performance at California’s Rose Bowl and seemed very much the image of a band who had already joined the top tier. But inside the group, there was frustration. Keyboardist, guitarist and chief songwriter Martin Gore felt as if they were hitting their heads against a brick wall in the States, bemoaning that a run of records dating back to 1984’s Some Great Reward had all achieved similar sales. Creatively too, there was some agitation. Keyboardist Alan Wilder had grown fed up with arriving at album sessions to find fully fleshed-out demo versions leaving little room for manoeuvre. Encouraged by producer Flood, they switched up their way of working. Nowhere is the recalibration more evident than on Violator’s BRIT Award-winning second single. Starting life as a stark, ghostly Gore ballad, “Enjoy the Silence” was reworked by Wilder into a euphoric, expansive banger. Its fusion of epic rock dynamism with pulsing, ecstatic beats perfectly captured where Depeche Mode were as a band as the ’80s became the ’90s. The clubbier aspects of Violator were designed to reflect their influence on the burgeoning Detroit house scene, with the more techno-rock sonics nodding to the shadow they’d cast over a New Wave of acolytes, Nine Inch Nails among them. They were emboldened to go further and bigger than they ever had before: the dystopian blues march of “Personal Jesus”, the cascading rhythmic groove of “World in My Eyes”,the rewired alt-rock of “Policy of Truth”. Violator went on to sell over 7 million records worldwide and sent Depeche Mode stratospheric. The brick wall had been well and truly demolished. Looking back on it a couple of decades later, the band’s late co-founder Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher described it as a “perfect 10” record. He was right. Violator was the Depeche Mode album where everything aligned in glorious harmony.

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