Not everyone knows of synth-pop music pioneers Yaz, but if you are (a) British, (b) a gay of a certain age or (c) into electronica or (d) an aficionado of the new wave 1980s, you might be thrilled to hear the duo has reunited to perform a handful of concerts.
You can’t overstate the influence Yaz had on both electronic and gay music. To put Yaz into context, let’s trace its impeccable synth-pop lineage: Keyboardist Vince Clarke is in the original line-up of Depeche Mode. In fact, Clarke writes nearly all of Depeche Mode’s debut album Speak & Spell including the dance pop mega hit “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Clarke then quits Depeche Mode to form Yaz (or Yazoo, as the band is still known in England).
Yaz combines Clarke’s signature pulsating keyboards with singer Alison Moyet’s soulful vocals — vocals that really stand out in the age of the robotic, monotone delivery. Yaz releases two massively influential albums and Moyet ‘s emotive style opens doors for a wave of soulful synth pop singers like Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat, perhaps the gayest group of all time, not just for the gay anthems “Why?” and “Small Town Boy,” but also for covering Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and putting a gigantic pink triangle on the cover of their album The Age of Consent. Somerville, in turn, goes on to be the voice behind the Communards, scoring with disco covers “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.”
Meanwhile, Yaz breaks up and Clarke retools with a new soulful singer, the flamboyant, costume-prone Andy Bell, in a little group called Erasure. Moyet goes on to become a successful solo artist in the United Kingdom, scoring a mega hit with her 1984 solo debut, Alf.
Why does this all this matter? For starters, we LGBTers are famous for our love affair with the dance floor. If it weren’t for bands like Yaz and Erasure, we would have a lot less to dance to. Personally I wore my hair in a variety of fruity-colored asymmetrical hair cuts in the 1980s and danced to “Don’t Go” every time it came on in New Wave teen clubs. Later, in grown-up gay bars, I cut many a rug to Erasure hits like “Sometimes,” “A Little Respect,” and “Drama!”
Number two: Yaz’s music didn’t just make you dance, it made you feel. “Don’t Go,” one of the freakiest odes to obsessive love to make you shake your booty, gave us chills because of Moyet’s agonized vocals. When Moyet belts out, “Can’t stop now / don’t you know / I ain’t ever gonna let you go / Don’t go!” you can hear a raw ache in her voice that Dave Gahan took another decade to find. Also, how cool is the video? (Laugh at Vince Clarke’s hair, but back then I had 12 friends who looked just like him.)
Yaz’s output was tiny, but essential to electronica lovers: both 1982’s Upstairs At Eric’s, which soared to number two on U.K. charts, and the following year’s You and Me Both are adored by acts like Groove Armada who recently kicked off a concert in Los Angeles by playing a Yaz song.)
This week Yaz releases a box set, In Your Room. (Moyet also releases another solo album, The Turn). The duo will perform for the first time in Los Angeles and Moyet told the Los Angeles Times this week that she loves gay fans: “In the 1970s when I grew up as a punk rocker, we were all on the outside and I think that we found common ground with one another.”
Do you have a favorite band from the 1980s? Are you a fan of Yaz, Erasure or Depeche Mode?