Who’s Yazoo?

…If the haircut doesn’t give it away then the sweater will. Yazoo is the brainchild of Vince Clarke, who walked out on Depeche Mode at the end of last year, and a girl called Alf.

In case you’re still wondering, Vince Clarke’s amicable departure from Depeche Mode was motivated by nothing less than that time honoured and truly honourable ideal: the persuit of Artistic Freedom. Images of a young man holed up in a Basildon garret, suffering silently for his art?
Don’t be fooled. While his erstwhile associates are conquering Europe with their heartbreakig loveliness, the renegade Clarke, always more pensively enigmatic than boisterous boy-next-door, is up to his eccentric cioffure in electrostatics and computer components.

With new caper afoot and a new partner – Genevieve Alison Moyet (Alf to close friends and family) – Vince is currently studio bound, fixing the final touches of a debut album. Collectively known as Yazoo, the duo – a synthesized reply to Sonny and Cher? – released their first single “Only You” on Mute Records last month to a guardedly favourable critical reception. Vince is at pains to stress the irrelevence of his ‘ex-Depeche Mode’ pedigree. For the DJ’s and programme planners, he insists, Yazoo ought to be just another new band.
For Vince it’s Starting Over and for Alison it’s a radical break with a musical past, a long involvement with blues bands like the Screaming Abdahs around the Basildon area. “That’s where my influences lie, in the blues with people like Muddy Waters and Tina Turner. At first I didn’t really like the idea of working with synthesizers but now I think they’re fun, there are no restrictions. Not that I understand how they work. Vince goes on and on about the technicalities, it’s like a foreign language so I just smile and say ‘Yes Vincent, great’”.

I empathise entirely. Given half a chance Clarke will enthuse about electronics, fiberoptics and tape-loops ad technical infinitum, his zeal tempered only by my transparently mystified glances. With some sensitivity he adds that he likes synthesizers “because they’re easy to play”. But it’s too late, another contemporary myth has already bitten the dust.
While Vince masterminds the Yazoo operation and flicks the switches, Alf generates the emotion with an astonishingly strong and subtle vocal style, humanising (the feminine touch?) and proving that a la mode music doesn’t need syrup-sweet voices and pretty boys in bow ties for commercial viability.

Mlle. Moyet is more than merely vocal, she’s written material and provided the name: “Yazoo is the name of an old blues label and also a town in America. I like it because it doesn’t mean a thing, it has no immediate connotations. That’s what I hate about so many names today – they’re so obviously fashionable.”

Yazoo are an odd couple. If the Boy’s frame of reference is clean, white and moderne the Girl’s is traditional, nostalgic and essentially black. It’s a partnership of overt contradictions, begging some obvious questions – like, “does it work?” If it does it’s because their working dynamic is all about the positive value of Difference, resolved in a strange reciprocity. The full potential of Yazoo’s idiosyncrasy isn’t that apparent on the single which sounds, at times, like modified Mode but Vince preempts accusations of plus ca change with promises of the album’s diversity.

“We wanted a really commercial single and ‘Only You’ was the song I’d originally written for the project, so I wanted to see it recorded. The album’s different, much more experimental. We’ve been working with things like tape-loops, where you record a few spoken sentences, disjoint the words in weird ways and put the whole thing on the tape loop so it repeats over and over. Not that it’s all totally weird, lots of it is pop-funk oriented…”

No longer fettered by a heavy schedule of gigging or the prescriptive formula of Depeche Mode’s synthipop, Vince relishes new time and space for experiment – especially with ideas on live presentation. Yazoo, he’s determined, will not be replicating the visual tedium of Synthesizer Stasis. Everything from video backdrops to a slide show synched off a computer is under construction. One more step towards the automated gig?

Vince looks elated and Alison laughs nervously, wondering if her fortuitously vocational college course in Musical Instrument Technology will prepare her for such extremities.

But Yazoo isn’t all technical complexity. Theirs is a simple story of everyday Basildon life: dissatisfied with her lot young Alison places an ad in the local paper for a ‘rootsy blues band’, Vince has the audacity to answer, bowls her over with his software sweet talk and the rest is New Town history… or soon will be. Their local loyalties are touching, unable to decide on a name for the album, they’ve asked that same local rag to run a competition. Sweet.

Initially conceived as a one-off project, Yazoo got serious, went steady and are now planning a permanent professional future together. There will be another single before too long and an album when Mute boss Daniel Miller (who, incidentally, isn’t producing it) decides the world is ready. And when they’ve amassed the quipment, programmed the computer and checked the fuses, Yazoo will eventually be touring, but don’t expect to see much of Vincent.

“The whole idea is that I turn on the computer, Alf starts singing and I go off to the bar for the drinks.”

I think that was a joke.

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