An incontrovertible influence within the electro-indie music realm, Depeche Mode went from being a cult, fringe act to stadium megastars, unusual for a band that has strived to maintain its own identity. Their musical trajectory is inexplicable even to them. Here are a few facts that detail their ascent.
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Depeche Mode, ‘People Are People’ (1984)
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While Depeche Mode have gone through a few line-up changes, the three core members, Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher, are all original members hailing from Basildon, Essex. Gore and Fletcher, schoolmates and founding members, considered themselves a “different breed” from the trendy, more charismatic Gahan, who auditioned to be their lead singer.
The members of Depeche were drawn to the punk decadence of the ’70s, which was fizzling out by the time they came on to the scene in the very early ’80s. They were also drawn to the synth-heavy electronic works from the likes of Kraftwerk and The Human League. Their signature sound would therefore bridge the gap between the past and the future.
Depeche are pioneers in electronic music – a fact undisputed – yet they’re still using modular and old-fashioned synthesisers from the ’70s and ’80s for their more recent releases.
Commenting on their varied fanbase, they reference the die-hard, cult-like “black swarm” – fans in Germany and eastward from there, caring “less about the music, and more about the Depeche lifestyle”.
Depeche Mode have never had had a UK number one single, or even a top three. The closest they’ve come was with the 1984 single ‘People Are People’, 1997’s ‘Barrel Of A Gun’ and 2005’s ‘Precious’, all of which reached number four.
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Depeche Mode, ‘Personal Jesus’ (1989)
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‘Personal Jesus’ is an enduring anthem in Mode’s discography. It’s believed that their American label, Warner Bros, was hesitant to release the single in 1989, because of its radically different sound compared to what’d come before, in addition to the fear it would be perceived as a “double entendre of sex and religion” by conservative Americans. Lo and behold, the song would become the (then) biggest selling 12” in Warner Bros history.
‘Music For The Masses’, the 1987 album that would give them commercial US success, eschewed the band’s reliance on long-term producer Daniel Miller, also founder of Mute Records. Miller had worked on all five previous Depeche releases, but their overwrought working relationship saw them turn to producer David Bascombe instead. It seems the change paid dividends.
Quizzed for their least favourite song in a 2006 interview, Gore and Fletcher both chose ‘What’s Your Name’, from 1981’s debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. The record’s seen by many as lighter in tone when compared with the band’s darker, more contentious later work.
Fashion has been at the heart of the appeal for Depeche Mode, their look provocative, at times unseemly. Gore was part of a band called The French Look, a prerequisite to his future aesthetic in DM. The long-held belief that ‘Depeche Mode’ is French for ‘fast fashion’ is a common mistranslation. The actual translation reads ‘fashion dispatch’ (or ‘fashion news’), and is believed to come from a French fashion magazine of the same name.
Gahan revealed that during the ‘Exciter’ (2001) recording sessions, he would go through a phase of disenchantment with the band, due to his writing ideas being forsaken in favour of the tried-and-tested formula of him vocalising the lyrics created solely by Gore.
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Depeche Mode, ‘Precious’ (2001)
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Words: Shahzaib Hussain