Friday night, Alan Wilder brought his long-running electronic music project Recoil to the El Rey. For fans of the former Depeche Mode member's work, it was a momentous occasion. This was Wilder's first tour since he left Depeche Mode in the mid-1990s. However, this wasn't a typical concert.
Recoil is an interesting project. It was sample-heavy and guest vocalist-based long before those elements had become fashionable, let alone before they began to drive fans into concert seats. There are typically large gaps of time left between albums. One couldn't help but wonder why Wilder chose this year, with his latest album being the retrospective Selected, to hit the road.
"It was just the idea that we had to do some promotion, not had to, but needed to do, wanted to do some promotion from this album," said Wilder backstage at the El Rey. "I thought that I can't just turn up and shake hands every time we do a promo and not do anything else."
He added, "The idea was to do a really small presentation with a bit of music and a bit of film." But "A Strange Hour," as the events are called, became more than that.
"It evolved into a much bigger campaign into what was initially intended."
This tour is quite different from the live shows with which he had been involved in the past.
"I was really nervous, I'll tell you that," said Wilder. "I didn't know what to do with myself because with Mode, on the last tour, I did drumming, I was quite physical, I had quite a lot to do. I like a challenge. With this, I realized that this is more of a prepared presentation. I don't necessarily do that much on stage. So, I felt a bit anxious, then I relaxed found a few more things to do and realized that I could relax and enjoy the music."
On stage, Wilder is joined by frequent collaborator, producer Paul Kendall. They perform what could be described as a live remix sort of set. Much of the music, Wilder mentioned, is prepared beforehand, but they used Ableton on stage to add effects and otherwise alter the recorded work. They slipped in a few non-Recoil tracks, like a wild version of The Normal's seminal electronic jam "Warm Leatherette" and a few heavily-altered snippets of Wilder-era Depeche Mode hits ("Never Let Me Down," "Personal Jesus"). Behind them, a series of short films created specifically for the events played on a large screen. Multiple filmmakers contributed to the project, including Dimitry Semenov, who Wilder had met when the Russian director sent him a clip he had made for the track "Allelujah," from the 2007 album subHuman.
Wilder is very particular in the words that he chooses as we talk. He uses "presentation" instead of concert throughout the interview. It's more than appropriate. "A Strange Hour" was almost like being at a party with Wilder than a concert, a chance for fans to get together, spend some time with the musician (and maybe meet him after Recoil's set), hear his music and check out some of the artists that he likes. Our night at the El Rey included performances from SONOIO (Alessandro Cortini, best known for his work with Nine Inch Nails), Architect (Daniel Myer of Haujobb) and Conjure One (featuring Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly and Delerium).
"The thinking was to have each event slightly different, a unique kind of happening, but it's impossible really," Wilder explained. "You don't have time to organize every event to be completely different, so we brought a few regulars, like Architect doing this whole leg, but we've still got different people coming in like Alessandro Cortini and I would love it if he did more."
Other shows boast guests including Gary Numan (the Chicago show is a Recoil/Numan double-bill whereas the synthpop legend will DJ at Recoil engagements in Berlin and Dresden), De/Vision and many others. Sunday night, Recoil's stop at Orange County's Galaxy Theatre included none other than Wilder's former bandmate, Martin Gore, as a guest DJ. Sunday's show was a hot ticket for Depeche Mode fans, who had only a few months earlier become enamored with a YouTube clip of Wilder playing with the band at Royal Albert Hall.
"I was very touched by it, of course," said Wilder of the fan response to the video, where he played piano for "Somebody."
"I don't mean it to sound arrogant, but I kind of expected it because people have written to me for years and years and said, 'We miss you,' and all this," he elaborated. "I knew that I would get a lot of reaction to that thing and there would be all this speculation. It wasn't totally a surprise, but it's still very touching and very nice that people care that much."
The ghost of Wilder's tenure with Depeche Mode was never absent at the El Rey. Both Architect and Daniel Barassi dropped tracks from the band in their sets. There were a handful of people wearing old band t-shirts and holding on to memorabilia, presumably to have Wilder sign at the afterparty. It's an awkward thing to mention. After all, Wilder left the band fifteen years ago and has a solid body of work as Recoil. However, it's something impossible to ignore.
Wilder contributed greatly to now-classic albums like Black Celebration, Music for the Masses and, of course, Violator. For many of us, our introduction to Depeche Mode came during this era (the beginning of my own fascination with the band came with Music for the Masses), so he isn't the easiest figure to forget.
Recoil, though it's not a pop project, bears a striking resemblance to Wilder's work with Depeche Mode. It's dark, experimental and occasionally flirts with the sounds that have come to help define industrial music. Most importantly, though, Recoil has a beat, not the sort of giddy four-on-the-floor beat that packs nightclubs, but a constantly evolving one that can get your body moving and head bobbing. Despite this, Wilder confessed to not being much of a dancefloor sort of person.
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"I can't dance, I can tell you that," he said. "I'm not the greatest mover, unless I've had a few and then I kind of just sway over in the corner with my beer."
He added, "I do like a good groove. I like the rhythms that make you nod your head and groove and in these live scenarios with what we're doing, it's more designed to do that. It's more stripped back, more rhythm orientated. I just want people to have a good time."
There may not have been a ton of dancers out on the floor Friday night, but it looked like people were having a good time. The crowd moved between staring awestruck towards the stage moving as best as one could when crowded towards the stage.
"I want people to sort of enjoy it and react," he said. "It shouldn't just be a sort of heads down and listen sort of experience."