20 March

Depeche Mode: 10 things you might not know about the cult band

 

As the band releases their 14th studio album entitled Spirit, Numéro offers up a handful of barely known anecdotes, some shady, some bracing, about these electro pop pioneers.

By Violaine Schütz

Depeche Mode. @Anton Corbijn

1. A French band name

Unlike those who spend hours trying to figure out the best band name in the world, Dave Gahan, lead vocals, decided theirs in a flash. A few minutes before a gig, the organiser asked their name over the phone. On a table in front of him was a copy of the now defunct French magazine Dépêche Mode [Fashion Dispatch]. Ironically the group were anything but a fashionable flash in the pan.

 

2. Difficult beginnings

It’s hard to believe now considering the groups subsequent success, but in the early days, between 1977 and 1980, their early compositions were refused by record labels because of the heavy synth presence and a disinterest in their major influence, Kraftwerk. Punk was still the order of the day at that time in the UK and it was all about electric guitars.

“Just Can’t Get Enough” - Depeche Mode

3. White lie

In 1982 in order to get a job playing keyboards in the band, pianist Alan Wilder (then 22) lied about his age because the job ad in Melody Maker specified “a man under the age of 21”. Since then they’ve all largely exceeded the age of maturity.  

 

4. A committed group

While many think of Depeche Mode’s music as heady synth-led tunes (like the addictive “Just Can’t Get Enough”) destined solely for the dancefloor, the lyrics were often quite deep. The hit tune “Everything Counts” (1983) talks about the abuse of capitalism and corrupt, greedy record labels. Other favoured themes included love, religion, desire, sex, human relations, sin, immorality and boredom… In other words, life.

Depeche Mode. @Anton Corbijn

5. Anton Corbijn’s reinvention

Originally seen as a gang of “hairdresser boys” because of their colourful garb and eccentric hair styles, the group did an image make-over in 1986. They asked Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn to give them a bit more density. The result? Corbijn's videos and photos in black and white inspired by the likes of Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog that gave the band an instant understated and magnetic allure. DM acquired a new metaphysical depth close to the gothic style.

 

6. A penchant for S&M

Like the Velvet Underground before them, Depeche Mode played with sadomasochistic imagery. The tracks "Master and Servant" (1984) and "Behind the Wheel" (1987) showed a certain taste for the 50 Shades of Grey aesthetic long before its time. Along with leather miniskirts designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, composer Martin Gore and Dave Gahan were also partial to leather trousers which certainly added an extra dose of sex appeal. 

“Personal Jesus” - Depeche Mode

7. Elvis Presley's role

One of Depeche Mode's biggest hits, “Personal Jesus” (1989) revealed the bands love of mixing a wild rock soul with the martial efficiency of electronic sounds. Inspiration for the title came from Martin Gore who'd been reading an Elvis biography at the time in which Pricilla Presley called Elvis her own "Personal Jesus". 

 

8. The March 1990 riot

DM soon found major success and were filling vast stadiums in the USA with almost every one of their tracks reaching the Top 10. In March 1990 during a promo day in Beverly Hills, a crowd of 20,000 fans wanting to meet their idols degenerated into a semi-riot. The windows of the record shop hosting the band were smashed and police helicopters were called in to evacuate the group. There were injuries that day. Beverly Kills. 

Depeche Mode. @Anton Corbijn

9. Hero on heroine

In the 1990s, Dave Gahan became a drug addict and suffered mentally from feeling less important than the group's composer Martin Gore. In 1995 Gahan slit his wrists in a hotel room in LA. He survived only to take an overdose the following year when he was declared dead for a minute. The singer is today approaching the age of retirement and looking pretty good everything considered.

 

10. A revolution?

Now Depeche Mode are back with Spirit, their 14th studio album, recorded between California and New York, where Martin Gore and Dave Gahan live. Both appeased and yet highly politicised, spiritual and anchored in reality, dark and light, the album perfectly balances the synthetic layers and the rock energy. "Where's the Revolution?" sings Dave Gahan. Well maybe it’s just being loyal to yourself for the last 25 years…

 

Spirit (Sony Music), disponible.

In concert at the Stade de France on July 1st.

 

 

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