My entrance into high school neatly coincided with Depeche Mode’s pop breakthrough in the U.S. As such, their Violator album will always hold a special place in my heart.
I went to Brooklyn Technical High School, a massive building located in Fort Greene, close to Downtown BK. The school held about 5,000 kids. Tech was a specialized, college prep-style high school with a focus on math and science. It was one of only three (at the time) high schools in New York City that required the passing of an exam to be eligible to answer. My Tech experience (1989-1993) was interesting for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I interacted with Asian-Americans for the first time in my life.
These interactions shook my music-lovin’ world up quite a bit. When I got to high school, I was listening to mostly R&B, hip-hop, dance music and whatever pop and rock music played on Z-100, WPLJ, or American Top 40. Any sort of alternative-leaning music wasn’t penetrating my ears. Through the Asian-American population of Brooklyn Tech (and the handful of goths we had there), I discovered The Cure. And Morrissey and The Smiths. And realized that Depeche Mode were much, much, much more than “People Are People”, the group’s biggest U.S. hit and one of only two DM songs I was familiar with up to that point. The other was “True Faith”, which turned out to not be a Depeche Mode song at all. Sorry, New Order.
To underline what a force DM was among our sample size of teenagers, when the school paper ran a poll at the end of 1989 to determine our favorite music artists (and mind you, this was before Violator was released), Depeche Mode (and their live album 101) finished ahead of (or alongside) NKOTB’s Hangin’ Tough, Janet’s Rhythm Nation, and Bobby Brown Don’t Be Cruel as one of the best albums/artists of the year.
So, when Violator came out in the spring of that same freshman year, muhfuckas went apeshit. As did I-Violator might’ve been the only cassette I bought at a real record store (because the bootleg Jamaican cats didn’t know a Depeche Mode from a hole in the wall) in the first half of 1990. I hardly needed the tape to hear “Enjoy The Silence” all over the radio, though. Featuring some of the band’s most accessible production and hooks (even if the title of the song isn’t mentioned at all on the single version), “Silence” became the first of Depeche Mode’s two top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified Gold. It stands out as one of the group’s purest dance/pop moments (and the fact that they scored this hit without sacrificing much of their Depeche Mode-ness speaks volumes) and a high-water mark for ‘90s “alternative” music.