It’s hard to believe that after nearly four decades, we still can’t get enough of Depeche Mode. Affectionately; the band is known as DeMode, or simply DM by their hardcore fans. Dave Gahan is the band’s front-man, Martin Gore is on guitar / keys, and Andy Fletcher is on keys, and these cats continue to amaze with their infectious sound and soul-piercing lyrics. Over the years, DM has put out hit-after-hit-after-hit, and then, they pushed repeat. Their music entertains us, and captures moments about the world we live in, life in general, and nothing in particular; all to a beat we can dance to!
Ask any fan and they’ll tell you, Gahan is a vision of intensity in black leather. The father of three is a little older and a lot wiser. Recently, he’s acknowledged that we’re living in challenging times. Their music also has deeper meaning and appreciation to those who have followed them, and it’s eye opening for those just getting to know them. Before DM was playing music for the masses, their story started in 1980 in Basildon, England. Although, the band’s roots actually go back a little further, back to ’77. That’s when schoolmates, Vince Clarke, YES, “that” Vince Clarke from Yazoo and Erasure fame and Andy Fletcher formed a Cure-influenced band called No Romance in China.
Meanwhile, Martin Gore was playing guitar in a band called Norman and the Worms. As luck would have it, the guys found themselves. Before they became DM, Clarke, Gore and Fletcher formed a band called Composition of Sound. Not long after, they formed DeMode. Originally, DM featured Clarke on keys / guitar, but he left the band after a brief tenure. Gahan took over full-time vocals from that point on. Gore had a heavy influence on the band’s sound, some of his early influential favorites included Sparks, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and Talking Heads. Other band influences included Roxy Music, Kraftwerk and Elvis Presley. Like with any band, there were many moving parts, but eventually it all settled in nicely. Alan Wilder (keys / drums ) joined the band not long after Clark left. That would be the lineup for the next 13 years.
As for the name, it’s been said the name was taken from a French fashion magazine, Dépêche mode. It means hurried fashion or fashion dispatch, or something along those lines. It was 1981, and with a name secured, and music set to hit the street, DM’s first album was Speak & Spell. It came out at the perfect moment to be caught up in the fledgling new-wave music genre. Their freshman debut featured songs “New Life” and “Dreaming of Me”, but what set them off into the new-wave stratosphere was a song called “Just Can’t Get Enough”. Truthfully, the kids couldn’t get enough of this British new-wave power band. It also helped that they were favorites on MTV and VH-1. Locally, they were played on the airwaves on Ken Roberts and Rodney Bingenheimer jukebox known as KROQ FM. That was at a time before they were the World Famous radio juggernaut they are today. They played music in an era before iTunes and social media, and they distinguished themselves from the pack with bands like DeMode.
As for the ’80s, that was an eclectic time for music. Bowie and Prince were kings of all they surveyed. Punk bands like The Clash and Sex Pistols were making noise. Ska bands like the Specials and English Beat were making great music and making statements we couldn’t ignore. That’s the thing about great bands, their music doesn’t just entertain us—it’s part of our life. The 80’s brought us some of the most iconic moments in cinema and music. Bands like Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD) were featured in the soundtrack for Pretty in Pink, a movie that made Molly Ringwald America’s sweetheart. While doing that, OMD introduced this new-wave synth pop sound that had the most angelic sound. That sound was part of the new-wave revolution of the era. Whereas, DM had the same synth-sound, just at a higher velocity speed, while Gahan vocals brought out the devilish smirk in all of us. What’s unique about DeMode is that aside the great music, they were ahead of their time in many ways. Just not in the way everyone else is unique. Take away the tech used to forge their sound, and you have the social impact all legendary bands produce with their music. There’s only handfuls of bands and artists that can hold that distinction.
Their 1984 mega hit, “People Are People”, brought light to social injustice and inequality at a time where not every social group was held in close regard to this topic. It’s a lot like life, and it mirrors topics you hear in today’s social media news cycles. Subsequently, that song became an anthem in the LGBT community.
To better illustrate the point of impact music has on society, DeMode’s “Master and Servant”, “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails, “Sex Dwarf” by Soft Cell, and “I Sit on Acid” by the Lords of Acid has been instrumental in bringing light to other behaviors, and segments of society. It hasn’t brought it to the mainstream, but it has opened dialogue and been themes in many major motion pictures. Those songs have become anthems in BDSM communities worldwide. Their collective music influenced a generation and positively impacted their human condition, helping the aberrant find a semblance of normal life, and for many, it helped them find peace within themselves. That in itself, is an accomplishment that goes beyond any award and worth praise of any artist of any genre.
Commercially, DeMode’s success was seeded in a few of their early albums like Some Great Reward, Black Celebration and Music for the Masses. These works established them as a dominant force on the mainstream electronic music scene. In the 90’s, Violator was a mainstream success as was their uber-album Songs of Faith and Devotion. Unfortunately, all that glitters is not always gold. Inasmuch as their fans want to believe DM can walk on water, they are people, just like you and me. DeMode released Ultra in ’97; this album was recorded at the height of Gahan’s near-fatal drug abuse, Gore’s alcoholism and seizures, and Fletcher’s depression. Here’s the thing about success, it can evolve into a byproduct of over-indulgence of anything. Even something pure can intoxicate, and the guys were victims of their own success, and it almost killed them. Luckily for us and them, it did not, and their new life looks bright.
As for DeMode fans, they were captivated by their early music… great songs with added reality captured their imagination, hearts and souls with songs like “Blasphemous Rumors”, “Shake The Disease”, and “Somebody”. As the years went on, the band evolved to have a more robust and mature sound, while Gahan’s haunting voice is featured over their evolution in songs like “Personal Jesus”, “Route 66”, “Happiest Girl”, “I Feel You” and “It’s No Good”. Their music today is a combination of new and old with moments that are heart stopping.
Despite some of the personal challenges over the years, the band remains intact and as fresh as ever. Like all successful bands, they’ve done the late rounds. They’ve appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and they’ve stopped for a cup of coffee on Kimmel. For JKL, DM has the dubious distinction of playing an outside show where they drew over 12,000 fans, which was the largest audience JKL has seen since it first premiered. Also noteworthy, DM recently received a nomination for the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Truth is, they’ve received just about every award you can imagine, except a Grammy, and that’s a travesty. That’s another story for another day. Their music is so powerful, they’ve influenced other contemporary artists like Arcade Fire, Chvrches, Deftones, Marilyn Manson, The Killers, and Linkin Park just to name a few. Many bands cover their music, and it sounds good!
As mentioned, the current lineup has been in place since ’95, that’s when Alan Wilder left the band. Since then, as the songs goes; the boys have become responsible, respectable, stable and no longer gullible. The trio are all grown up and enjoying life. When they’re on the road, they’ve added two additional musicians, Christian Eigner (drums / keys) and Peter Gordeno (keys / piano / bass); so on tour, it’s a quintet— that’s the band today.
DM has a new album out, their 14th studio album is entitled Spirit. Singles from the album are “Where’s The Revolution” and “Going Backwards”, they’re getting radio airplay and good reviews. The album is not political in nature per se, it is thought provoking. Which highlights the evolution of DM to yet another level of greatness. For the hardcore fan, they live for hearing some of the other classics when they go to a DM show. Classics like “Everything Counts”, “Get the Balance Right”, “But Not Tonight”, “Policy of Truth”, “Enjoy the Silence”, “It’s Called a Heart”, “Flexible”, “Pimpf”, “Strange Love”, “Walking in my Shoes”, “Halo”, and “Precious” just to name a few. Their catalogue is so huge, it’s difficult at best for the band to play all their hits in one setting. Currently, they’re on their Global Spirit World Tour. Locally, you can catch them on a historic run at the iconic Hollywood Bowl October 12th through the 18th. For fans, all they ever wanted and ever needed was to be able to see this iconic bigger than life band. DM is definitely a must see experience.