The biggest argument from people who don't “get” dance music is that the genre is cold, impersonal and short-lived. However, there was a time when groups like Erasure ruled the pop world, and they definitely produced electronic dance music. The difference in what Erasure was doing then and what other electronic groups are doing now is really not that far off. The reason why Erasure created a global sensation — with only two core members, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell — is that the group produced timeless, song-driven electronic pop music and backed it up with a stage show that no other act has come even close to matching.
It is difficult enough to achieve success just once in the music industry, but for Clarke, luck struck several times. Clarke was a founding member of Depeche Mode (with Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher), and as the group's keyboard player, arranger and songwriter, he was responsible for penning tracks such as the seminal hit “Just Can't Get Enough.” Apparently, Clarke did get enough, and after a falling out with Depeche Mode, he went on to form beloved synth-pop band Yazoo (aka Yaz) with singer Alison Moyet and another brief side project called The Assembly. In 1985, Clarke teamed up with renowned producer Flood for what ultimately evolved into Erasure.
Bell was working as a butcher when he answered an advertisement to audition for the project, but Clarke was so enamored with Bell's unique, emotional vocals that he immediately signed him up. With that, Erasure was complete, and the group's debut LP, Wonderland (Sire), was released in 1986. Only a year later, sophomore LP The Circus (Sire) hit the UK Top 20 off the strength of the single “Sometimes.” Erasure was making a major imprint as club culture began dominating the UK; later that year, the group capitalized on this trend by releasing one of the first-ever dancefloor remix CDs, The Two Ring Circus (Sire, 1987).
No doubt, the balance of the '80s and early '90s belonged to Erasure. Perhaps the most important record on a global scale was The Innocents (Sire, 1988) because it was the first to make major noise in America. The single-laden album featured the classic tracks “Ship of Fools” and “A Little Respect,” but the U.S. fell in love with “Chains of Love.” This album opened the doors for electronic music in the U.S., marking its early acceptance into the mainstream.
An obsession with ABBA led to Erasure's cover EP, ABBAesque (Mute, 1992). “Take a Chance on Me,” the album's signature track, became the center-piece of the now-legendary Phantasmagorical Entertainment world tour. The tour came at the peak of Erasure's popularity and endured 13 sold-out shows in New York and 10 more in Los Angeles. The show was like nothing anyone else was doing: It was P.T. Barnum meets Siegfried & Roy, packed with flashy wardrobes, Broadway-caliber settings and dancers, and mind-numbing special effects. (Erasure recently released The Tank, The Swan and The Balloon Live! [Mute, 2004], a DVD that chronicles a classic 1992 performance at London's Manchester Apollo.)
In concept, Erasure's live setup was simple — the only instrumentation necessary onstage was a microphone for Bell and keyboards for Clarke. Because there was never a “band” to look at, the group devised a spectacle to go with the live presentation of the music. “Live, you have a duty to make an effort,” Clarke says. “I'm not personally thrilled watching a concert when nothing visually is going on. The fact that we don't have guitarists leaping up and drummers or a brass section, we have to be larger than life to do a proper show.”
In the mid-'90s, Erasure began experimenting with different sounds, which resulted in Erasure (Elektra, 1995), produced by Thomas Fehlmann (The Orb) and Gareth Jones and mixed by New York house legend Francois Kevorkian. Clarke and Bell followed with Cowboy (Elektra) in 1997 and then the cover album Other People's Songs (Mute, 2003). A cover of Peter Gabriel's “Solisbury Hill” was a UK Top 10 hit, and the ensuing world tour proved that Erasure is still a top draw.
The group recently released its new CD, Nightbird (Mute, 2005), and promises another wild jaunt across the pond in support this April. In numbers alone, Erasure's legacy is spelled out by worldwide record sales of 25 million and 20 UK Top 10 singles. Beyond the numbers, Erasure opened the door for numerous dance-music acts that followed. And by thinking on a grand scale, Clarke and Bell have become larger-than-life characters living under their own big top.