Barbarism Begins In Basildon
Accompanying mini-poster with interview in the 10th March, 1990 issue of Melody Maker
Short news item detailing the single release "Enjoy The Silence". Originally appeared in Record Mirror, February 10, 1990. Words by Eleanor Levy.
SOUND OF SILENCE
It’s nine years now since Depeche Mode first emerged to ride the wave of the electronic pop boom of the early Eighties. Yet while their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside, the boys from Basildon have gone from strength to strength, surviving the days of teenmags and kids’ TV to become one of the most enduring groups of the last decade.
Variety is the spice of life and after the strident dancefloor high jinks of last year’s "Personal Jesus" – beating both Madonna and Prince as the best selling Warner Brothers’ 12-inch in America last year – their latest single is a return to the melodic side of their nature.
"Enjoy The Silence" is smooth and soothing and comes with the by now usual number of remixes by such luminaries as Tim Simenon, Adrian Sherwood and Francois Kevorkian, famous for his work with Kraftwerk. Watch out too, for the Anton Corbijn-directed video accompanying it, filmed in Switzerland, Portugal and Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s Scottish residence. It’s a classy taster for their forthcoming album, due for release in March and with a title so exciting they’re refusing to say what it is yet. The sweetest silence you’ll hear this year.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
ENJOY THE SILENCE - released February 5, 1990
"Teen corruptors Depeche Mode take the first cut from their forthcoming album which has a title so secret and scary that I'm not even supposed to mention that it's called 'VIOLATOR'. The psycho-horror overtones in their cool, bruised melodies are, however, what makes them such a valuable High Street item.
These are naughty boys who get to talk to the little girls and their big brothers.They also get to rhyme "silence" with "violence" and to put out introspective gloom songs which everybody can dance to when they get their leather clad loins on Top Of The Pops. And it matters sod-all that this brooding, tender piece sounds like New Order... A 'Tainted Love' for the '90s, I think."
New Musical Express, February 1990
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
HIP IT UP AND START AGAIN
by Jon Wilde
Melody Maker, 10th March, 1990
Over the last nine years, Depeche have moved from risible electro-twiddlers to well-respected pop icons who've been a seminal influence on the present-day dance explosion. Jon Wilde discovers where it all went right and talks to singer Dave Gahan about the boys from Basildon's enormous popularity, Martin Gore's dress-sense, fame's fatal distractions, their new album "Violator" and why they're "the weirdest f***ing band" in pop.
"AS FAR AS PEOPLE IN ENGLAND ARE CONCERNED," SAYS A GRINNING GAHAN, "we've always been a part of the furniture. We've been out there, niggling away, refusing to go away. But that's all changing now. Even people who don't like much of what we do have some respect for us. Attitudes towards us in this country have turned around. Mainly because we've paid our dues, if you like. It takes a long time for that to sink in. But there's no longer a stigma attached to Depeche Mode."
After nine years as a music comic laughing-stock, Depeche Mode are enjoying a sudden reappraisal. Pop writers are currently queuing up to help with this drastic resuscitation. Depeche Mode are on the verge of hip.
"I'm not bitter about the way we've been treated in Britain," Gahan shrugs. "No way. I've got to accept the fact that we made a lot of mistakes in terms of the way we put ourselves across and put ourselves about. We were prepared to do anything. Not necessarily to sell ourselves. We were just completely naive. We thought it would be good to be in Smash Hits answering questions about our socks, appearing on Saturday morning television, making prats of ourselves.
"We didn't realise at the time that we were degrading ourselves. Then it reached a point where we realised it wasn't helping us anymore. In fact, it was becoming very negative. So we made a conscious decision to say no. From that point, we've been able to pick and choose. We decided not to make prats of ourselves anymore."
FIVE years ago, the offer of an hour or two with Depeche would prompt any self respecting pop critic to punch his way out of the nearest wall. Depeche were synth wimps turned toytown socialists. The four prancing ninnies from Basildon who arrived at a time when pop and rock was still reeling from the punk blast. When groups like The Birthday Party, The Associates, Human League and Soft Cell were throwing out new, exotic shapes.
Depeche arrived on the coattails of the New Romantic splurge, hitching a ride with OMD, Duran and Spandau, tossing their pretty little flop fringes and denting the chart with their quaint electronic bubblegum. Their record collections were loaded with "Kraftwerk I" and "Kraftwerk II", Bowie's "Low", Iggy's "The Idiot" and early DAF, but they appeared to have absorbed little. Early singles, "Dreaming Of Me" and "New Life" offered the world a Chicory Tip for the Eighties.
It was enough to irrigate the knickers of hordes of teenage girls who demanded something chirpier than Duran or Ant. With "Just Can't Get Enough", they broke through to the Top 10 and found themselves as reluctant teeny heroes. It was all too much for founder member and chief songwriter, Vince Clarke who fled the nest before the release of the debut album, "Speak And Spell".
At the start of 1982, Depeche looked like going the way of all other pop transients of the time - Blue Zoo, Marilyn, Haysi Fantayzee, Blue Rondo, Lotus Eaters. But Depeche just shrugged and carried on, Martin Gore taking on the role of song-writer, ex-Hitmen keyboardist Alan Wilder replacing the departed Clarke.
The hits kept coming - "See You", "The Meaning Of Love", "Leave In Silence" - but Depeche were clearly facing a difficult transition. Their 1982 album, "A Broken Frame" was an appallingly dour affair. "Every inch as empty as "Speak and Spell," wrote our own Steve Sutherland, "just more miserable that's all."
WITH their third LP, "Construction Time Again", they toughened up, discovered sampling and industrial chic. With a firm nod to the likes of Test Department and SPK, they made a half-hearted stab into the belly of the new metal dance. With the notable exception of Everything Counts, their first great pop song, the album was way off target. It's only distinction was that it offered the most puerile collection of lyrics this side of Jonathan King. "Taking from the greedy, giving to the needy", indeed.
The first single off their next album, "Some Great Reward" offered little hope of improvement. "People are people, so why should it be, you and I should get along so awfully..." Depeche Mode were becoming a huge irritant. Yet, with "Blasphemous Rumours" and "Master And Servant", they hinted that they could develop into a consistent singles group. The first consistent album still looked as elusive as ever.
They marked the Eighties halfway mark with a single compilation that only served to show how patchy they had been up to that point. With Gore dividing his time between Basildon and Berlin, and with the rest of the group clearly uncomfortable about his choice of leather skirts, rumours of a Depeche break up were rife. The truth was that they had barely begun.
DAVE Gahan has spent a day in a room at the Kensington Hilton International, diplomatically fending off a long line of European journalists armed with inane questions. The last interviewer, a sullen Frenchman, lasted just 15 minutes. Gahan eyes me suspiciously, fearing yet another stitch-up. After two minutes of caution, trust won, he relaxes his guard and talks relentlessly for the next hour and a half.
"Over the years, I don't think we've interviewed particularly well," he admits with a shrug. "We've never felt that it is our job to explain. That's why we don't do a lot of press these days. I look at someone like John Lydon and he obviously loves sitting there, winding up journalists. It just becomes so boring though. People like Morrissey interview really well. Certain people are entertaining at it. But, to be honest with you, we don't like playing games. We've never gone in for that.
"We've always been fairly self-sufficient. Never had to depend on the press. In Britain particularly, we've always been asked to justify ourselves. We've always found that insulting. It's just not interesting. It just turns out to be a fight between the band and the journalist. You see it all the time. There was a recent article in Melody Maker on The Stone Roses. Did you read that? I forget who the journalist was. It was obvious that the band had been forced into the situation. They could see that the guy hated them. It was all so negative. What's the f***ing point?"
Terrible Dave. Absolutely shocking. Shouldn't be allowed.
"What was the name of that journalist? Do you remember?"
It's just on the tip of my tongue. Jon Somebody. A proper bastard, Dave. Watch out for him.
GAHAN is a surprisingly loquacious interviewee. Hardly the thankless task of legend. The difficulty is keeping him to the point, nudging a word in edgeways as he rattles on. He is remarkably undefensive as I voice my misgivings about early Depeche.
"I think we all feel that "A Broken Frame" is, in retrospect, our weakest album. Definitely. It's very, very patchy. Very badly produced. That's when we got labelled as being a very doomy band. We were learning at that point. It was very naive. It was Martin's first album as a songwriter. He was thrown in at the deep end to be honest.
"I think of "Construction Time Again" as one of our purer albums. Musically, though, some of it was very forced. It was a massive changing-point for us, both musically and lyrically. Maybe we were trying too hard to do too much. Sampling too much and trying to give a message without thinking so much of the structure and the point of the song. We'd go out everywhere and spend days sampling on building-sites. That became the most important thing and the actual songs became a secondary consideration.
"At the same time, we faced the problem that other people wouldn't allow us to grow up and develop. We came out in 1981 wearing these stupid clothes and found ourselves grouped with bands like Duran and Spandau. We just classed ourselves as a pop band. Martin said recently that we may have got more respect if we'd called ourselves a rock band from day one. We just happen to prefer what we'd call pop.
"Most pop or rock basically hasn't changed a lot in 30 or 40 years. Most of it is still blues or R&B based. Depeche Mode doesn't really fit into that tradition. It's more open for us to take any direction that pleases us. If your average rock group started using electronics, they'd be treated with suspicion or derision.
"Depeche Mode have never contrived to be anything. We've never talked about our sense of mission or anything like that. We've just gone out and played, put out records...it's as boring as that, basically. Gradually, we've built up our audience. We haven't set ourselves five-year plans. It's impossible to look at it like that, though groups do try. That would destroy Depeche Mode. If we started thinking like that, we'd be finished."
"IT'S when Depeche are being unconsciously throwaway that they attain the sublime," wrote Steve Sutherland in his review of 1986's "Black Celebration". Though far from being a great LP, it showed that Depeche Mode could craft music of throbbing metallic power when they forgot themselves. "Black Celebration" was their most focussed album to date. For the first time, they sounded self-assured enough to take risks and succeed.
Not until 1987 though would they manage to sustain that charge. "Music For The Masses" was a sound-minded sister to New Order's "Brotherhood". It was the sound of a group who had fully come to terms with their own idiosyncrasies. Sumptuously produced, it showed Depeche working within their limits, no longer straining for effect. Their songs were now full of big flashes, tantalising refrains, voluptuous flushes. They had discovered a beauty in the balance of their parts. Even Gore's lyrics had taken a turn for the better.
Depeche Mode had discovered their own potential at last.
"We had become aware of highs and lows," Gahan recalls. "We were more conscious of building up atmospheres, heightening the songs to an absolutely massive feeling and then bringing them down again. We had discovered dynamics. It was our first truly arranged album.
"At the same time, we had reached a point where we couldn't go any further in that direction. We knew we had to change our way of working. We had to go away and rethink everything."
FOR three years, Depeche have been quiet on the recording front. Last year saw the release of "101", a double live set containing material drawn from their six studio albums. It suffered the fate of most live recordings. It sounded perfunctory at best.
It was while they were undertaking a massive stadium tour of America that the group began to comprehend just how seriously they were taken outside Britain. As John McCready reported in The Face, they received a heroes' welcome in Detroit's premier techno clubs. Much to their surprise, Depeche learned that they were regarded as a seminal influence on the development of the house sound; spoken about in the same reverential tones as New Order and Kraftwerk; highly respected on the black club scene in New York and Chicago.
The Depeche Mode reappraisal was just beginning.
Next came "Personal Jesus", their most physical pop record to date, a tensile Bolanesque pulse that rode roughshod over any lingering doubts about their potency.
Then there's "Enjoy The Silence", currently threatening to dethrone Sinead at the top of the heap, an irresistible wash of colour which boasts the most breathless chorus since New Order's "Touched By The Hand Of God".
Where did it all go right?
"Like anything with Depeche it has to be an accident," Gahan explains. "We've always been unconscious of the changes taking place. Even though we knew something had to change after "Music For The Masses", we couldn't force anything to happen. We just had the time, for once, to sort ourselves out.
"Like with all the compliments that were paid to us by the people in Detroit. We were never conscious of our influence on Eighties dance music. That's the charm of it really. We've just gone about things in our own way, unaware of how much influence we're having on other groups.
"We've always been unique in what we've done. I don't really want to blow our own trumpets, but we've always been out on our own. We're just coming to terms with that ourselves. Recently we were in the studio and Martin (Gore) was listening to a lot of our old albums. He suddenly turned round and said, "Y'know, we're so f***ing weird!" It was as if he's suddenly rediscovered Depeche Mode.
"We tend to get away with an awful lot, lyrically and musically. Yet we still manage to get played on Radio 1. It's like there's this curtain over us that protects us all the way. We seem to be able to go on doing things. I don't know why that is. But there's something exciting about that.
"We do break down a lot of barriers in our own way, and open up a lot of possibilities musically. The type of instrumentation we've used which has now extended into House and Acid music. That's all very flattering. When we get namechecked by people in Detroit and Chicago, that's great."
IT seems as though Depeche are just beginning to break away from their own predictability.
"I think so, definitely. As far as Martin's song-writing goes...well, he writes about certain kind of subjects, often the same subject over and over again. His cynicism towards love and religion. His interest in the taboo side of things. The darker side has always fascinated him a lot more than the, er, chickety-boom type of thing."
"Chickety-boom. Chickety-boom. That goes for all the band. If we're working in the studio, we'll always go for something out of the norm. Musically, we'll take things the hard way round. We won't do the easy thing. If there's a certain part that lends itself to a guitar, we won't necessarily use a guitar for the sake of it. We'll try to find something else and we'll possibly come back to the guitar anyway. Picking up the guitar and playing it is the easy way out for us a lot of the time.
"Martin played more guitar on this new album than any album before. But he always uses it in a different way. On "Violator", there's a lot more rootsy type stuff. We've managed to marry a bluesy type feeling to hard electronics, hard technology. We've also managed to do it in what I see as a soulful way. Coming up with something that sounds new without being aware of it.
"It was only when I played this album at home that I realised how right Martin was. It's pretty weird. Not off-the-wall necessarily. It's just that our approach is weird for a band that's considered commercial. When we're writing and recording, we don't consider ourselves to be weird. To us, that's just the way we do it. That's normal for us. I suppose it's other people who consider what we do to be odd. Some people just can't handle us. That's good. That's really healthy. I think it's good to rub people up the wrong way at the same time that we're appealing to a wider audience."
BACK in the days when Depeche were something of a music paper in-joke, they were constantly reprimanded for not being extreme enough. Gore would shrug and say, "Real life is not extreme, so we're not, and nor is our music." When he started wearing frocks it was as though he was attempting to subvert his own and the group's ultra-normal image.
"Oh I think Martin does think life is extreme," says Gahan. "It's the darker side of those extremities that appeals to him. That's a lot more interesting. It involves a lot more. That side of things expands your mind more than the so called normal things in life. We all do those normal things though. I'm not saying that we're one of those weird bands that are into black magic and stuff like that."
We're all of us perverts under the skin.
"Yeah exactly," he laughs. "We've all got our perversities. What's normal at the end of the day? Who's to say? You have to be able to laugh at yourself. We've always done that. Martin has laughed at himself publically a lot of times. There's been periods that he thought were really funny. Of course, we tried to stop him going through those periods."
We're talking about the frocks here?
"Mmmmmm, that's right. If it had been T. Rex or Gary Glitter in the Seventies, it would have been considered the norm to be like that. Or Bowie and The New York Dolls for that matter. It was cool to be like that then. Lou Reed, Iggy Pop...everyone was at it. They all got away with it. When Martin comes along in the mid-Eighties and does it in a straight-faced way, he gets all this flak."
"It was Martin's problem. He thought it was funny. Away from the cameras, he would be having a good old laugh about it. We'd all have a good laugh. Then we realised that it was doing none of us any good. So we kept saying to him, 'Look, you can't go out dressed like that!' Sure we did. Martin, of course, carried on doing it. These ludicrous f***ing dresses! Now he looks back and says, 'What the hell was I doing?' The funny thing was that we just about got away with it.
"See, pop music isn't something which should be taken too seriously. We're very serious about our music. At the same time, we have to laugh at ourselves and laugh at the whole music business. It gets so nauseating when you get these bands going on and on about charity records. They're all great causes, sure, but we've always avoided that sort of thing. If we want to do something for charity, then we'll do it in private, as quietly as possible. We don't ever want to be seen to be using any kind of charity to help boost our career. No matter what the intentions of these bands are, that's how it comes across to me. It's become very trendy. We'll always avoid things like that like the bloody plague.
"So you have to balance the serious side and the humourous side. I think the reason Martin wore dresses was just for fun. Nothing deeper than that. People read other things into it, like he was some sort of transvestite or something. I certainly got a lot of stick in Basildon, that's for sure. Thank God it's over."
Can we expect a Dave Gahan weird-out phase at some point?
"You must be f***ing joking mate! You won't catch me in a f***ing dress. No sodding way! I'm the yob next door. Never worn a dress in me life. Never f***ing will!"
GAHAN is very much the lad next door. The car-thief made good. The Sham 69 fan who started out singing carols with the Salvation Army. At 27, the youngest member of Depeche Mode, he's still young enough to remember why he started all this in the first place, croaking along to "Mouldy Old Dough" in a Basildon garage with the nascent Mode.
"I don't really think I've changed that much since then," he decides. "I'm still regarded as the cheeky one. The joker in the pack. At the same time, I know exactly what I want from the band. I know my limits as a vocalist. I know what my role is in Depeche Mode.
"What I've learned is that success can be a dangerous thing. You only know whether you like it or not when you've been through it. Then you can stand back and judge it all. You then realise what you like and what you don't like and what you want and what you don't want. Times do change, things you used to think were part of a good time become very boring. As you get older, different things interest you. You go through these extremities - playing the field, excesses of alcohol and stuff - and you come out of it a lot wiser.
"I'm a family man now. I like to go back home and be with my wife and little boy. Going about everyday things like everyone else. That may seem pretty boring, but a lot of people have this idea that pop stars lead this life of Riley where they're out on the razz every night. That just ain't the f***ing case y'know. It might have been the case in the Seventies with your Gary Glitters, your Keith Moons, your Mick Jaggers. Now, I think pop and rock is a lot more normal and controlled.
"That's sad, I agree. I think the music business itself is partly to blame for that because of the way bands are manipulated. The way management sells bands. Yeah, it's sad that the rebellion has gone out of pop. That's what interested me in the first place in bands like Sham 69, The Clash, The Damned and The Banshees. That's what made me want to be in a band, y'know.
"For me, that was the most exciting period of my life. At the time, nothing else mattered. I did the classic thing - dropped out of school, not bothering with exams. Now I look back and wish I'd done it. I wish I'd got a better education. Learned some languages. When I got to France, Italy or Germany, I realised how thick I am. Just another stupid Englishman who hasn't learned another language. An ignorant bastard basically."
HAVE Depeche Mode made things more difficult for themselves than they might have been?
"Well, we've never played the game have we? We've never placed too much importance on image. Well, maybe we did in the early days...and it backfired on us. We were just young kids then, teenagers y'know. Like the kids on the street now are wearing flares, right? I suppose if we were starting out now, we'd be wearing flares."
Saints preserve us!
In fact, Fletch (Andrew Fletcher) is trying to get us to wear flares. He thinks it'll give a good boost to our career. We just told him to f*** off, basically! If he climbs into a pair of bloody flares, he's straight out of the band. No questions asked. If you wore 'em in the Seventies, there's no way you'd go back to them. That was the worst period for fashion, ever. Horrendous when you look back on it.
"But I really like seeing that. I like to see young people latching onto scenes if they can hang on to some individuality. You're always gonna have groups of people who want to latch on to something. Especially in England, where everyone has to be a member of some kind of club. You have to belong to something, otherwise you're treated like an outsider. You don't really see that anywhere else.
"When we play in America, there's all these people doing these weird dances, completely out of time. Nobody's copying anyone else. They just don't care. They're just having a good time. They're not worried about making prats of themselves. British people are so self-conscious like that. You have to dress a certain way and behave in a certain way. If you're not part of something, they'll make you part of something."
NOW that Depeche have hit the stadium circuit in America, is there a risk of being vulgarised?
"Not really. See, in a way, the Americans can see us for what we are. You were saying that we've never been an extreme kind of group. Well, that's fair enough. But the Americans do see us as a pretty extreme kind of group. To them, a group like Depeche Mode is very off-the-wall.
"The people who buy the records are totally convinced by us. But there's people in the record industry who don't think we should be there at all. There's still people who are scared to play Depeche Mode in case they lose their Bruce Springsteen listeners.
"Again, we're doing it at our own pace really. We've always moved at our own pace. We've never whored ourselves just to sell a few more records. We've stopped doing things we're uncomfortable with. We're fortunate enough in that we don't have to do those things anymore. Mute aren't going to say, 'Look, we need to crossover, you have to do "Saturday Superstore".' Who makes the f***ing rules anyway? People who are totally out of touch.
"We've proved that you don't need to do all that. If you stay in control of what you're doing and you're happy with the songs you're putting out. You know when you're putting out something that's substandard. I know we've done that ourselves, but at the time, it felt right. That's as far as we'd gone, that's as much as we knew. That's as much experience as we'd gained. So we learned from mistakes.
"Over in America, it's taken us a long time to get through to people, but it's been worth waiting for. On our latest tour over there, we played to over half a million people, playing the same circuit as bands like Fleetwood Mac and Bon Jovi. They're selling 20 times the number of records we are. But, by the time we'd finished touring, people in the industry were beginning to realise that something strange was going on, something wasn't right. So they sat up and took notice.
"I mean, "Personal Jesus" has just gone into the US Top 30 six months after it was released. It sold half a million records before it started being played on the big radio stations. It just built up in the clubs for five months and the radio ignored it. Most of them still aren't playing it. Too weird mate! Too f***ing weird! They just don't get it."
WITH "Violator", the forthcoming album, Depeche Mode have stripped themselves down and put themselves back together again. It sounds like a bold new start.
"It does feel like a new start. We wanted this album to be very direct, very minimal, as minimal as Depeche Mode can possibly be. We've tried to take things as far as possible away from what we would normally do. I know it's a real head up the arse word but, this is a very mature Depeche Mode record. We're getting more and more in every time.
"This is a very solid sounding Depeche Mode, very uplifting. I want people to hear this record. A lot of people who think they don't like the group will find themselves liking this. After this record, people will definitely want to reassess us as a group. It feels right. Who knows where it will go from here.
"Y'know, being in a band for 10 years, it's a f***ing strange way to grow up. Completely abnormal. It's like being a kid in a playpen in a lot of ways. In the last 10 years, we haven't really stopped. We've just carried on, one album to the next. In future, we will definitely tour less. We'll also make records less and less. That's bound to happen. It's happened already, actually. We're into three years between albums now. I think it will become more and more important to us in the future, to make a record when we're ready to make it. It's becoming less and less important to do it when the time is right."
How much life is left in Depeche Mode?
"Well, we used to really worry about things like that. We'd wonder if we'd still be around in another five years, wonder if we were going to be left there with nothing to show for it all. It comes down to whether we'll carry on being friends and how long we'll want to record together. Depeche Mode is a band, very much so. A group of four people, those four people make the sound of Depeche Mode. If one of those people left the group, it wouldn't be Depeche Mode anymore. If we split up, that would be it. None of your comeback tours in the year 2010."
Gahan pauses for thought, trying to put this weird thing called Depeche Mode in a neat nutshell. He shrugs and decides that it's explaining itself quite nicely.
"Y'know, it's really important to Depeche Mode that we are an identity. We're proud of that. People can knock it as much as they want, but the fact is that we've survived. Well, that's the wrong word. We've been constantly successful. Even in Britain, things are turning around for us. We've gone through a period where we've sold exactly the same number of records every time. Now it's opening up, people are finding us hard to ignore.
"Basically, you have to take Depeche Mode as they come. It's all pretty straightforward, really. If we want to be more extreme, we'll be more extreme, but we're not going to be more extreme because a journalist tells us to be. We'll do it for a reason. Very straightforward. But f***ing weird when you think about it."
Surprising as it seems, it might be good to have Depeche Mode around in the Nineties. Weird. F***ing weird. But very straightforward.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
VIOLATOR (LP)- released March 19, 1990
"DEPECHE Mode have always been the poor relations of New Order and Kraftwerk, offering pedestrian, sometimes inconsequential variations on the electro-pop theme. Their simplified interpretations of Eurobeat's often complex structures and patterns has served them well, though, in that they sell enormously around the world and can boast an audience with an age range as broad as any. Music for the masses, indeed.
The numbskulls of the 1981 Generation, Depeche Mode were never as eerily glamourous as Human League, as intellectually graceful as Japan, nor as sleazily NRG-etic as Soft Cell. Yet they've carved a niche for themselves as consummate practitioners of machine-beat pop. They may not have contrived anything as singularly magnificent as "Technique" in their lifetime, but their progress from adolescent synth doodlers to expert proponents of mature, electronic-pulse rock has often thrown up some fascinating shapes.
"Violator", their seventh studio album, contains Depeche Mode's most arresting work to date. While their more dashing, radical peers have fallen prey to the vagaries of fashion and floundered on their own erratic briliance (League, Heaven 17, Cabs et al), DM have hardly succumbed to contemporary dictates, rarely innovating but always managing to coincide with current tastes. Surprisingly, they are presently judged by Detroit and Chicago's House cognoscenti as prime movers in the new dance culture.
Not that Depeche Mode have made an Acid record. Whereas House is a notoriously anonymous music, the identity of this outfit is patently obvious from the opening synthetic rush of "World In My Eyes". Dave Gahan's tremulous baritone, Andy Fletcher's two-finger keyboard motifs and those plastic toytown rhythms all put the instantly recognisable DM stamp on "World" and the hit single, "Enjoy The Silence".
Depeche Mode are learning to express themselves through the traditionally cold and characterless channels of electronic music. In a recent interview, Gahan described the sound the band were aiming for on "Violator" as future blues, to establish a modernist setting for traditional, hard-edged blues chord progressions. "Sweetest Perfection" and "Clean" are the standout examples of this experiment here, the gadgetry and fuss of early Mode clatter such as "Just Can't Get Enough" pared down to the barest essentials, Gahan's voice brutally upfront in the mix.
"Personal Jesus" you will already be familiar with, a timely reminder that Depeche Mode, with their black leather gear, Martin Gore's waggish flirtation with S&M chic and the sinister, mischievous streak that seems to underpin the chaps' evey move, are possibly our last hope for chartpop subversion. For whatever reason, it felt good to have "Jesus" at Number 13.
"Policy Of Truth", one of the five potential singles on "Violator", is based around a sadistic, cynical electro-riff and oozes with genuine danger. Best of all is "Halo", a dim-lit, manacing slug-funk dirge that achieves the impossible by being both grimly oppressive and gloriously uplifting. It has been glued to my turntable for the last two months and it is the finest thing DM have ever done.
"Violator" is bleak and dark and not a little vicious. God knows what the hippy-happy pastel-coloured anti-style fascists of clubland will make of it, but that's their problem. Depeche Mode's next venture should be quite murderous if this is anything to go by. Barbarism begins in Basildon!"
Melody Maker, 10th March, 1990
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"Violator is Depeche Mode’s most mature work, the least infatuated with the image of demi-monde decadence and, in songs like the single Personal Jesus, the most effective at introducing mainstream rock forms into their machine pop. Years of touring America couldn’t help but affect them, I suppose, but they’ve managed to control its influence with an impressive degree of taste. Songwriter Martin Gore, in particular, has become a most accomplished crafter of High Romance from baser physical love – hence the album title, illustrated on the sleeve by a single cut red rose. Here, the obligatory Mode references to Gore’s more outré sexual interests are transmuted into lines as tender as "You wear guilt / Like shackles on your feet / Like a halo in reverse". It makes, over the course of an LP, for a sweetly dark immersion, culminating in the springtime rebirth of Clean, in which the narrator ponders the effect of a massive sea-change in his habits and attitudes. It’s also the group’s most satisfying work musically, covering a range of moods and styles which gives the lie to the criticisms of repetition and similarity often attached to machine music. Francois Kevorkian, one of the original disco-mix specialists here operates with appropriate subtlety on the band’s more diverse material. One of the more impressive aspects of Violator is that it follows their live double-album career summation 101 with material of such strength, diversity and freshness. The chances of Bowie and The Who following their equivalent summations in like fashion is, I fear, minimal.
The Independent, 16th March, 1990
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
BREAKING THE SILENCE
Record Mirror, 17th March 1990
In 10 years at the top of the music tree, DEPECHE MODE have gone from cheery electronic popsters to the makers of some of the most controversial, left-field chart music of the last few years. With a new album called "Violator" just unleashed, Lisa Tilston talks to the band who were talking pop / dancefloor crossover while The Stone Roses were still in (flared) short trousers.
Depeche Mode are one of the decade’s most unlikely success stories. They were still in their teens when they got together in a Basildon bedroom to develop their perfect pop technique, they cottoned on to heavy industrial dance long before acid house was invented, and in 10 years they’ve never made a duff record. Their first single, "Dreaming Of Me", which got to number 57, is still their lowest chart placing, and they regularly infiltrate the Top 10.
All this, and yet Depeche Mode are hardly popstars. Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Alan Wilder and Andy Fletcher could walk down any street in Britain without being recognised, although they get mobbed abroad. Gore’s remarkable songwriting talent is barely acknowledged, their public profile is lower than a jockey’s kneecap, and their ground-breaking, innovative records are often dismissed as "synthesiser pop".
Tired of being misunderstood, Depeche Mode have shunned the press for the last few years. But now, with a superb new album, "Violator", ready to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world, they’ve decided to break the silence. Andy Fletcher, as friendly, amusing and unassuming a man as you could hope to meet, gives Record Mirror the lowdown on their finest vinyl outpouring to date.
Fletch, aren’t you setting yourselves up for yet more misunderstanding by calling a collection of sensitive and emotional songs "Violator"?
"We called it "Violator" because we wanted a very heavy metal title. The last album, "Music For The Masses", was another sarcastic title which no one understood, it doesn’t really matter because we know we’re being sarcastic. The Germans especially didn’t get "Music For The Masses" at all, because over there we really are music for the masses, and they don’t understand sarcasm – they were saying "Oh, so what is this, you are making commercial music?"! I think people miss the humour in the band because unless you’re a real devotee you don’t look that seriously at groups, you just glance at a video on "Top Of The Pops" and make a snap decision about whether or not you like it.
"Over the years Martin’s studio at home has got progressively better and better so the demos he was producing and giving to us were very good quality. If you listen to a song, say "Strangelove" which was a very full demo, after about 20 plays the direction in which you’re going to go is pretty much fixed. We were basically re-recording Martin’s demos with better sound, better production and Dave’s vocals. For this album we said to Martin, just present the demos on acoustic guitar and organ, only lyrics and chords, so we could decide the direction of songs as a group. It was a conscious decision to make this album different from the previous ones. It’s also the first time we’ve used a producer rather than an engineer / producer.
"It was definitely more enjoyable making this album because we went to Milan right at the beginning. We just went out, partied, and didn’t get any recording done, but we had a good time and it cemented the spirit of the whole album. It was very much a group feeling."
You haven’t really changed your methods though.
"Well, electronics were always the way forward in the Eighties but no one else realised that. Now, of course, 95 per cent of records are made with electronics, but mostly in a bad way. The groups who were around with us in the early Eighties gave the whole thing a bad name, to be in a synthesiser group was a dirty word, and we spent most of the decade trying to justify ourselves.
"We have used guitars and drums but it’s not apparent. People just hear a few synthesisers and think ‘It’s the same old Depeche Mode’. The thing is we’re always going to sound like Depeche Mode because Dave’s voice is so distinctive."
You’ve released some pretty controversial records over the years.
"We wouldn’t say our songs are controversial. They do cause controversy, but Martin would say all he does is write about life.
"Martin’s a classic songwriter and he’s a great pop fan. When he presents songs to us they’re songs he’s dead sure about. We’re like a family really, so usually what he writes about is the sort of thing we’re experiencing too.
" 'Personal Jesus' was on a general theme, that’s the important thing. The lyrics are very ambiguous so although it could have been controversial in fact it turned out not to be at all. Most people thought it was a pro-Christian anthem, which wasn’t intended. If you release a song with the word "Jesus" in it you’ve got to expect trouble, but we wanted to release it because we thought it was a good song.
"Martin doesn’t get us around the table and say ‘Listen lads, this is what this one’s about’. He never explains the lyrics at all. In the old days when we used to make videos with storylines like ‘See You’ he hated it because they interpreted his songs too literally. I’ve heard about 10 different interpretations of ‘Personal Jesus’ and that’s what Martin really likes.
"We do experience the same sort of feelings as he does though. The really emotional, lovey-dovey ones he sings anyway, there’s no point in Dave singing them. On the new album ‘Sweetest Perfection’ is quite specific, and obviously Martin’s got to sing that one."
Will Depeche Mode make it into the history books?
"Not in England, unless something happens in the future, but in other countries we certainly will, especially Germany and the eastern bloc. In England we’re more hated than we are liked."
That must hurt.
"This is the only country we’ve got a history in, you see, because in the first two or three years we produced our worst records, we were at our most famous and at our sickliest. We smiled in every photo, we were in Smash Hits every week and people still remember that. They also think we went from that to doom and gloom, so there’s these two extreme views of Depeche Mode in England. We’re either pop, or doom and gloom… but we’re actually both!"
You’ve had your career in reverse, starting as a pop band and becoming progressively more left-field.
"Yes, and New Order have done it the opposite way, starting off really gloomy with Joy Division and getting more and more poppy! It’s just the way Martin writes songs. On the second album, after Vince Clarke left, there was pressure on Martin to write commercial tunes and it was a bit of a mish-mash. We consider ‘Construction Time Again’ our first real album when we got our act together and Martin was right into his gloom and doom by then! It comes from him, totally, but we would say that he’s just being realistic and other stuff is too optimistic. We don’t consider ourselves gloomy, there’s a lot of melody and perhaps some of the vocal lines are a bit on the depressing side but on the whole I find it very uplifting and the fans do too."
You do sound rather doom-laden in contrast with the rest of the charts though.
"Exactly. ‘Enjoy The Silence’ is probably our most commercial song for quite a while. It’s got a good tune and a housey beat, but it still seems gloomy compared to the bouncy dance music like Black Box and Technotronic. In some ways perhaps we’re in our own little world; we don’t aim to be subversive but if we are it’s very natural."
Has the relentless success ever been hard to cope with?
"I think being on Mute helps a lot. We’ve always been the main group on the label but we’re not treated like stars. It might have been different if when we were 18 or 19 we’d been shunted around in limos, but when we were doing ‘Top Of The Pops’ we were getting there by tube and I think that helped keep our feet on the ground. Also not having a manager helps because you have to learn the business side yourself. We’re in control, because I take care of that side of things. There’s no pressure on Martin when he’s writing, or Alan when he’s putting together the music, or Dave… In fact I get all the pressure! It’s something I’m quite interested in anyway, because I studied economics at school. I think a modern band has to be interested in that side of things, we remember the stories of Gary Glitter going bankrupt and we’re always very conscious of that.
"We still feel like an indie band though. We have total control over what we do because we’re not in a major label conglomerate situation. We make the decisions."
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
SEE ALSO: Sin Machine
Wherehouse Asked to Pay City Over Mob Scene
City officials and police Wednesday called for a La Cienega Boulevard record store to reimburse the city for the estimated $25,000 cost of quelling a crowd disturbance that erupted when thousands of hysterical fans became unruly while attempting to see the British rock group Depeche Mode.
More than 130 Los Angeles police officers in full riot gear were required to disperse at least 5,000 fans who gathered at the Wherehouse record store Tuesday night. Seven people, including one teen-age girl who was trampled, were injured as excited youths crushed against glass windows and surged forward to push through the store's doors, police said.
City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, saying that Wherehouse officials had been "grossly negligent" to stage an event that "jeopardized the health and safety of thousands of young people," called for the corporation to pay the cost of returning order to the mid-Wilshire neighborhood.
The Wherehouse had invited members of the four-man English synthesizer group to autograph copies of the group's latest album at the store.
"In all my years of public service, this is the mostly incredibly poor judgment call I have ever seen," said Yaroslavsky, who represents the district. "If we can get reimbursement for this, this would be disincentive enough for them to ever do this again."
Without responding to Yaroslavsky's monetary demands, a Wherehouse executive said the corporation plans to "do everything appropriate to ensure that our good community standing remains intact."
Bruce Jesse, vice president for advertising and sales promotion, admitted that the store was unprepared for the huge turnout, which he said was nearly twice as high as that during any other record-signing event in the store's history.
But residents who over the years have opposed commercial development in the once-calm residential neighborhood said they fear the record store may stage similar events in the future.
The record-signing was to launch Depeche Mode's "Violator" album and was heavily publicized the week before on radio station KROQ-FM. The band was scheduled to be at the store from 9 p.m. to midnight, but group members left early amid the unruliness. By Tuesday evening, the line snaked around the store and stretched nearly 15 blocks, police said.
Residents in the surrounding neighborhood complained of noise, graffiti and increased traffic from the crowd by Tuesday afternoon, but Los Angeles Police Capt. Keith Bushey said fans were fairly well-behaved until the British band arrived.
Then, witnesses said, chaos broke out.
"Everybody was waiting, and then when the time came, everybody pushed forward," said Marisol Argueta, 14, of Hollywood. "They kept on shoving. It was pretty scary. Short people couldn't breathe. People were screaming, and everybody was sweating."
Laura Motis, 17, of Costa Mesa, said as the line crushed forward, her knee gave out and she collapsed to the ground. She was stepped on by several people before a friend lifted her up and carried her away from the throng. Some fans fainted from the heat and the crushing pressure.
Some fans climbed trees hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols; others tried to push through the store's back door, making it difficult for people to leave after they had seen the band.
"The band was too furiously trying to sign autographs to be aware of the tumult outside, but I looked around and saw oceans of people leaning on the window," said Paul Wasserman, the group's publicist.
"Every time I got near the window they were pounding, asking me to help them get in. I thought, 'This is crazy, just like the old days.' "
Shortly after 10 p.m., police officers asked the band to leave because the safety of their fans were at risk. KROQ disc jockey Richard Blade said that Depeche Mode members were disappointed, but agreed to slip out the back door because they were concerned about the well-being of the teens.
"Nobody wanted to believe they had left, even though we had seen them leave. We had been waiting here all day and we wanted to see them so badly," said Camisha Whitten, 18, a fan.
Amy Louise Kazmin
The Times, 22nd March, 1990
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
Read more about Depeche Mode's US fans here
POLICY OF TRUTH - released May 7, 1990
"Depeche have never sounded so cute as they did on their recent hit, "Enjoy The Silence". Then again, they have rarely sounded as ineffectual as this, not since the days when they were busy composing jingles for the mix'n'match department of Woolworths (Basildon). The runt of the litter from "Violator", this lardy, lugubrious marathon of mixing-desk tics has been remixed by Francois Kevorkian. Well, Francois, old pal, you're a tosser in anyone's language."
Melody Maker, May 1990
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
THIS BAND WANTS YOUR RESPECT
by Jeff Giles
Rolling Stone, 12th - 26th July, 1990
Depeche Mode may sell millions of albums and play to capacity crowds in huge football stadiums, but these technopop idols still aren’t happy.
"I'VE been called a faggot about twenty times today," says Depeche Mode keyboardist Alan Wilder, who’s slumped down in a seat at the Civic Center in Pensacola, Florida, where the British synth-pop outfit is about to begin another rehearsal. "Mostly from guys leaning out of trucks. This is a sort of backward place, isn’t it?"
"It’s the haircut," says singer Dave Gahan, who’s wearing jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt that depicts a pair of women’s breasts. "In America, people think you’re homosexual just because you’ve got short hair." Gahan pauses. "Except for the marines," he says, referring, presumably, to the men stationed at Pensacola’s Naval Air Station. "The marines just give you this wink, as if to say, ‘Short hair. All right.’" Gahan sits down next to Wilder. "We’ll just have to hang out with the marines," he says.
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and Depeche Mode has come to Pensacola to gear up for World Violation, the tour that accompanies the band’s recently released album, Violator. Although, historically, Depeche Mode’s strongest foothold has been Southern California – 75,000 fans flocked to the Rose Bowl for a 1988 concert – tickets to the group’s shows always go rather quickly everywhere. For the upcoming tour, 18,000-seat arenas in Dallas and Chicago sold out within a week. Stadiums in Orlando, Tampa and Miami have also sold out, despite the fact that the band has never played Florida before and gets virtually no radio airplay there. And 42,000 tickets to Depeche Mode’s New York-area show, at Giants Stadium, were sold in a single day.
What’s a little unusual about this particular road trip is that Depeche Mode’s albums are starting to sell as well. Violator is the group’s first record to sell a million copies in the States, and "Personal Jesus" – the band’s only hit here since 1985’s "People Are People" – was the first Depeche Mode single ever to go gold. "Enjoy The Silence", the album’s second single, will be gold shortly.
Depeche Mode has made the Pensacola Civic Center its spring training ground for the same reason that Janet Jackson, among others, came here recently: The rent’s cheap. On the downside, unfortunately, there’s the fact that the only club the group has found in town has a mirrored ball and a DJ who struts around in a tux; the fact that the "security guard" at the Pensacola Hilton is a Depeche Mode fan who’s spent most of his time asking for free concert tickets and eight-by-tens of the band; and, of course, the fact that in an area of the Gulf Coast known as the Redneck Riviera, there are a lot of guys in trucks who think the members of Depeche Mode are "faggots".
AFTER the band's rehearsal, Dave Gahan, who's married and has a two-year-old son, comes down to the Hilton’s lobby to talk about, among other things, the fact that Depeche Mode has always had an image problem. He brings with him a bodyguard named Ingo. In a way, this seems an unnecessary measure. Apart from Depeche Mode’s devout followers – 15,000 of whom nearly caused a riot at a Wherehouse record store in L.A. a few months back – very few people actually recognize the band members. And if they do, they tend to get the names wrong.
These days, Depeche Mode – which, in addition to Gahan and Wilder, includes keyboardist Andy Fletcher and songwriter Martin Gore – gives relatively few interviews. The band has been known to turn away journalists who haven’t pledged allegiance, as well as to boycott radio stations that balk at the group’s all-synthesizer format and decline to play its records.
"There was this band that everybody loved to hate," Gahan says of Depeche Mode. "And yet they were incredibly successful. Why? Why do you think you’re so successful? Why do you think you’re on this planet, basically? It got to the point in interviews where we’d just say, ‘Fuck you,’ and walk out."
After this brief speech, which may or may not be a warning, Gahan begins talking freely about Depeche Mode’s ancient history. He even asks, then answers, what Martin Gore considers to be the most tired Depeche Mode-related questions: "Where’s your drummer Where are your guitars? Do you consider this real music?"
"We used to rehearse in a local church," Gahan says of the original band, which formed outside London, in working-class Basildon, in 1980, and which included Erasure’s Vince Clarke. "The vicar there used to just let us have the place. You had to be nice and polite, and you weren’t allowed to play too loud.
"I think without knowing it," he continues, "we started doing something completely different. We had taken these instruments because they were convenient. You could pick up a synthesizer, put it under your arm and go to a gig. You plugged directly into the PA. You didn’t need to go through an amp, so you didn’t need to have a van. We used to go to gigs on trains."
The band, which had been getting steady work at a couple of nearby pubs, eventually made a demo tape. Instead of mailing cassettes to the various labels, Clarke and Gahan delivered the original quarter-inch tape personally. "Vince and I used to go ’round to record companies and demand that they play it," Gahan says, laughing. "Most of them, of course, would tell us to fuck off. They’d say, ‘Leave the tape with us,’ and we’d say, ‘No, it’s our only one.’ Then we’d say goodbye and go off somewhere else."
Gahan pauses and asks Ingo if he’d mind getting him an orange juice. While the bodyguard’s gone, a fan who’s been walking nervously back and forth across the lobby takes the opportunity to approach the singer. "Martin," he says. "Can I have your autograph? Have you got a pen?"
"Sure," Gahan tells him, smiling. "But my name’s Dave."
A few moments later, Gahan, orange juice in hand, is trying to pinpoint what it was that first made Depeche Mode attractive to the record companies. "At the time," he says, "everybody was using electronics in a very morbid, gloomy way. Suddenly, here was this pop band that was using the stuff – these young kids who had everybody dancing, instead of standing around in gray raincoats about to commit suicide."
After considering offers from major labels like Phonogram – "money you could never have imagined and all sorts of crazy things, like clothes allowances" – Depeche Mode signed on with Daniel Miller at the independent label Mute. (The band, which is signed to Sire Records in the U.S., has never had a manager.) In 1981, the group released its debut album, Speak and Spell, which, with some help from the dance-floor hit "Just Can’t Get Enough", made the Top Ten in England. Shortly thereafter, Vince Clarke – then Depeche Mode’s driving force and chief songwriter – left the band to form Yazoo and, later, Erasure. Clarke claimed he was sick of touring.
"That’s what he said, but I think that’s a lot of bullshit, to be quite honest," Gahan says. "I think he’d just taken it as far as he could. We were very successful. We were in every pop magazine. We were on the TV shows. Everything was going right for Depeche Mode. Everybody wanted to know about Depeche Mode. I think Vince suddenly lost interest in it – and he started getting letters from fans asking what kind of socks he wore.
"Martin had written a couple of songs," Gahan continues, "and we went into the studio and recorded ‘See You’, which was our biggest hit so far. So that was it. ’Bye, Vince."
MARTIN Gore is sitting beside the hotel pool, reading a biography of Herman Hesse. He is shirtless, wearing long, black shorts and white knee socks. He looks much like he looks onstage these days: a blond, curly-haired answer to AC/DC’s Angus Young. "Looking back," he is saying, "I think we should have been slightly more worried than we were. When your chief songwriter leaves the band, you should worry a bit. I suppose that’s one of the good things about being young. If we had panicked, we probably wouldn’t be here today."
Like the other members of Depeche Mode, who are all in their late twenties, Gore is quite personable – funny, soft-spoken and without any real pretensions. Unlike the other members of the band, he plays some guitar during the live performances, has released a solo album of cover songs [Counterfeit E.P.] and, a few years back, used to go onstage in a skirt. "Martin said to me once, ‘I like to look into the mirror before I go out, and laugh and think, ‘Look what I’m getting away with tonight’," Gahan says. "He’d wear leather trousers and then wear a skirt over the top. And then he sort of extended to just wearing a skirt. We used to sit backstage saying, ‘Martin, you can’t fucking wear that, man! You’ve got to take that off!’"
"I just thought it was quite funny," Gore says dismissively. "I didn’t think it was going to cause such a fuss."
Under Gore’s direction, Depeche Mode’s music became – to quote the title of an album that many of the group’s fans hold dearest – a "black celebration". His songs, a few of which have made American radio programmers blush, have been both profane ("Blasphemous Rumours") and kinky ("Strangelove", "Master & Servant"). The band’s first Top Ten hit in the States, oddly enough, was the kind-spirited "People Are People", a single from Some Great Reward.
"It was around that time that things started changing for us in America", Gore says, at poolside. "On the tour for that album, we were totally shocked by the way fans were turning up in droves at the concerts. Suddenly, we were playing to 10,000 people. Although the concerts were selling really well, though, we still found it a struggle to actually sell records."
Bruce Kirkland, the group’s U.S. representative, says, "New Order, the Cure, Depeche Mode – I equate these bands with the metal bands of the Seventies. They almost never had hit singles, but they were selling out stadiums. The classic joke about Iron Maiden was that they sold more T-shirts than records."
It’s Memorial Day – the day of the Depeche Mode concert – and at the Civic Center’s merchandising stand a single fan has just spent $686. Back at the Hilton, which is across the street, Dave Gahan is talking about the band’s followers. "I’d get kids coming from all over the world," he says of the days when his home address was common knowledge. "Germany, France, America – they’d just hang out at the end of my drive. It got to the point where I’d be chasing them down the road with my dog because they’d be singing our songs outside my house at two in the morning."
"One of them – his name’s Sean – actually hired a private detective to follow me from the studio and discover where I lived," Gahan continues. "I lost my rag and really shouted at him. I told him, basically to fuck off. Later I sent the guy a letter saying, ‘I apologize, but you must respect my privacy. I want to have some time with my wife and son.’ He sent back a letter saying, ‘I’m sorry I bothered you, and I won’t ever do it again.’ Then, right at the end of the letter, he said, ‘By the way, would it be possible for me to come ’round next weekend?’ I just thought, ‘Well, that’s it. It’s time to move.’"
JUST before Depeche Mode’s show, some fans who have been puttering around the hotel lobby all day are asked if they would contribute to this article by writing down a few words about the band. Each agrees, takes a sheet of paper and writes quietly and without pause for close to thirty minutes. Among the subjects covered are Dave Gahan’s sideburns; Dave Gahan’s hips; the fact that "Depeche" puts on a "spectacular" live show; the fact that the band members aren’t pompous rock stars but "v. down to earth".
One teenage boy says he has "every B side, every weirdo import, everything". One girl says she has "loved Depeche Mode since they first came out" – unlikely, unless she was hooked on Speak and Spell at the age of seven – and returns a fairly representative essay, which reads in part: "Tonight I jumped out in front of Martin Gore and got a picture. I swear I almost fainted. He seems so complex. I would love to sit down and just discuss with Martin Gore what I interpret in his music… I feel that once I meet Martin Gore there is nothing I can’t accomplish. His touch will burn, throw me and feel me up with energy. (Razal, 16, Fort Walton Beach, Florida)"
FOR a band that is, as Andy Fletcher puts it, "supposed to be cold and robotic and love studios", Depeche Mode puts on a good, old-fashioned arena show. Gahan, who wears a black studded-leather jacket and matching pants, has a pretty complete repertoire of moves: the jumping jack, the spinning top, the bump-and-grind and a sort of standing duckwalk. Several songs are accompanied by photographer Anton Corbijn’s videos, including a hilarious segment in which Martin Gore dresses as a character Corbijn refers to as "the bondage angel". All the songs benefit from an over-the-top light show that looks a little like the last scene from Close Encounters.
The World Violation Tour includes a fairly straightforward selection of Depeche Mode songs: "Shake the Disease", "Never Let Me Down Again", "Stripped" and "Everything Counts", which was a U.K. hit in 1983 and was reissued last year to coincide with D.A. Pennebaker’s Depeche Mode film documentary, 101. Martin Gore, who is quite short and who is usually seen only as a shock of blond hair peeking up over a stack of keyboards, comes front and center at one point in the show to sing two solo acoustic-guitar numbers: "I Want You Now" and "World Full of Nothing". The band’s final encore is a guitar-driven cover of "Route 66".
Needless to say, the crowd at the Pensacola Civic Center is in a state of pandemonium for most of the two hours that "Depeche" is onstage. Many of the songs that go over best, however, are from Violator: "Clean", "Personal Jesus" and "Policy of Truth", the album’s third single, which begins with a vaguely funky "Heard It Through the Grapevine"-style sequence.
In general, Violator seems to have permanently opened doors for the band in America. "Martin once said, ‘Perhaps if we called ourselves a rock band from day 1, we would have had a lot more credibility from day 1,’" says Gahan after the show. "But we’ve stuck to calling ourselves a pop band, and we’ve earned that credibility by gaining success until people couldn’t ignore us anymore."
Bruce Kirkland calls the band’s recent boom "a classic U2 scenario", referring to the fact that, with The Joshua Tree, U2’s record sales finally reflected the group’s considerable live following. "It’s Depeche Mode’s time," Kirkland says, "and the industry is finally catching up." Most important, no doubt, is the fact that Depeche Mode songs have at last found a home on Top Forty radio.
"Here in the States, we’ve been working on it for years and years," Gore says. "I think in a way we’ve been at the forefront of new music, sort of chipping away at the standard rock-format radio stations. And I think with this record, we’ve finally managed to bulldoze our way through."
It’s been a pleasant turn of events for Depeche Mode, because there is still no place lonelier, or more vast, than the synth-pop graveyard. "It was the Human League, in particular, who went full circle," Gore says. "They had a note on their album that I thought was just ridiculous. You know, ‘No sequencers used on this record.’ A lot of people get swayed by the ‘real’ music thing. They think you can’t make soul music by using computers and synthesizers and samplers, which we think is totally wrong. We think the soul in the music comes from the song. The instrumentation doesn’t matter at all."
"The beauty of using electronics is that music can now be made in your bedroom", Andy Fletcher adds. "You don’t need to get four people together in some warehouse to practice. You don’t have to have four excellent musicians fighting amongst themselves. You can do it in your bedroom, and it’s all down to ideas." Fletcher pauses. "Obviously, it’s sad to see the demise of the traditional rock group," he says. "But there’s always going to be a place for it in cabaret."
IT'S one o’clock in the morning, and Razal – the young essayist who said she could accomplish anything if she could just meet Martin Gore – has been introduced to her idol. The pair have been talking quietly in the hotel bar for two hours.
Out in the lobby, a fan who’s been hanging around for days is crying. He offered the band a photograph – a picture of himself and his girlfriend, which had been taken at their high-school prom – and the band didn’t seem to want it. Dave Gahan goes out to talk to him, finds the situation hopeless and heads up to his room.
Before Gahan can get to the elevator, however, someone – obviously not a true Depeche fan – jumps in front of him and says, "Martin, can I have your autograph?"
Gahan rolls his eyes, momentarily fed up with living the strange life of an anonymous pop star. "To begin with, my name’s Dave," he says, "and I don’t have a pen."
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photos by John Stoddart reproduced without permission.
A High-tech English Band At Spectrum
The Spectrum, Philadelphia - June 13-14, 1990
World Violation Tour - USA and Canada leg
"Fans reacted every time singer Dave Gahan picked up the microphone stand. Or did a brief dance step. They also erupted each time a new special effect was unleashed.
With a band that hides behind its keyboards all night, you take what you can get and cheer for it.
Never much of a live band, England's Depeche Mode still manages to draw large, raucous crowds as it did at the nearly sold-out Spectrum last night. What it lacked in spunk the band tried to compensate for with an elaborate stage show featuring plenty of splendid lights and lasers as well as a backdrop of videos.
No matter how much was going on, though, the group couldn't keep things interesting musically. From the opening song it was synthesizer city. Programmed percussion tracks battled with an onslaught of taped and live keyboards.
Even Gahan's vocals sounded computerized at times, lost in a pool of murky effects, ruining versions of "Personal Jesus" and "Strangelove," two of the group's hotter mixes.
The cheering crowd didn't care. On its feet and dancing - even on the arena's third level - for almost the entire two-hour show, the young fans cheered as the band played songs spanning its eight-year career.
One of the higher points of the night came when Martin Gore stepped into the spotlight for two more human acoustic guitar ballads. By far the best song came on a cooking version of the standard "Route 66," which included solos on electric guitar from Gore.
Nitzer Ebb, another British synthesizer band with a much harder edge and a little more stage presence, opened the show."
The Inquirer, 14th June, 1990
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.