Depeche Mode - Depeche Mode (Dave Thomas, 1986) |

Depeche Mode Depeche Mode (Dave Thomas, 1986)


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Depeche Mode
[Bobcat Books, London 1986. Words: Dave Thomas. Cover picture: London Features International Ltd / Barry Plummer]

Short paperback biography of the band. The author spends a disproportionate amount of time covering the very early years and begins with a detailed examination of the music scene which led to Depeche Mode's appearance. The time after 1981 seems to be written more as a chore, covering little more than the names and dates of releases. Consequently this book is useful as a very basic overview only of their early career. On the other hand, if you are interested in their absolute beginnings or the music world generally in the late seventies, there is plenty to immerse yourself in here.

Few instruments can claim to have made a greater impact on popular music than the synthesizer. The electric guitar, of course, outranks the synth in historical terms and arguably, rock'n'roll music might never have existed, but for the tireless inventiveness of Leo Fender and Les Paul. Then there are the many and various developments in recording techniques, the absence of any one of which could have changed the entire course of popular music. But it was the synth which truly revolutionised rock and, more than any other instrument, propelled the beast headlong into the 1980s.

The synthesizer, in its simplest form, is an electronic device which can create and shape sound patterns. It was first developed in the late 1920s, but it wasn't until the mid-sixties that its possibilities as a musical instrument were truly explored - by Dr. Robert Moog, an American electronics engineer after whom one of the world's most popular synthesizers is named. He attached a keyboard to a synthesizer for the first time, and by 1071 the Mini-Moog, a portable instrument which swiftly found favour among leading rock bands of the day, was on sale. Less than fifteen years before, Columbia Studios had been forced to clear out an entire room in order to install a similar device.

Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, The Who and Hawkwind were all among the early pioneers of the instrument. In 1974, Kraftwerk enjoyed a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic with 'Autobahn', a record which was almost exclusively electronic, and three years later David Bowie and Brian Eno were to employ the instrument to quite devastating effect on Bowie's 'Low' and 'Heroes' albums. Simultaneously, Ultravox, Japan and Rikki & The Last Days Of Earth introduced the synthesizers to the Punk/New Wave and by the end of the decade these two points had come together in the flower of a whole new generation of young musicians.

As the 1970s progressed, so the price of synths dropped. After opening the decade as little more than a rich man's plaything, a decent synth could now be purchased for little more than a the cost of a good guitar. It was also easier to play, another attraction for the budding musician who was unwilling to spend a fortune in time and sticking plasters trying to master a fretted instrument. And finally, with a synth, the most extraordinary sounds were available at the touch of a button.

It was this which first attracted Daniel Miller to the instrument. As guitarist in a school band he constantly outraged fellow musicians by playing guitar not with fingers and chords, but by hitting it with bits of metal, experimenting with sound. At art school in Guildford has talent might have lain in film making - one effort, a 20 minute comedy called 'Don't Sit Too Close' won a National Film Festival award - but his mind was on blending electronics with popular music. And as a DJ in Switzerland in 1976, he might have outwardly enjoyed playing Abba and Boney M to the tourists, but inside he was seething, impatiently watching the development of Punk music in England and plotting the day when the synth, with its unlimited scope for the untrained musician, would be accepted as the logical punk instrument. "A synth meant you didn't even need to know how to hold a guitar in order to express yourself," he said.

By 1979 Daniel Miller had proved his point. 'TVOD', the first release on his Mute label, had sold over 40,000 copies - not enough to make Daniel, who as The Normal was responsible for the record, a rich man, but more than enough to encourage him in his dream of providing a regular outlet for other non-musicians who, like himself, used pure electronics to generate sound. Artists such as Fad Gadget and Boyd Rice kept release schedules ticking and within 18 months of starting out, Mute Records was firmly established as the prodigal of the independent British music scene.


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Stubbornly self-sufficient, and powered only by Daniel's own belief, the label had an unblemished reputation, picking up on some of the finest electronic practitioners around and giving them a chance to be heard when few other labels would have considered releasing such music. And in keeping with this fierce anti-commercialism, only the Silicon Teens (another of Daniel's aliases) saw the North London-based Mute even approach the hallowed corridors of chart fame and glory. Mute, like Mohammed, had no wish to go to the mountain. But the mountain, for once, was quite willing to go to Mute.

Depeche Mode were, on the face of things, the perfect pop group. They played short, sharp lessons in contagious hooklines, their lyrics were montages of words which sounded good but meant little. They were good looking, they dressed well and they were all young enough for any self-respecting press officer to have no trouble in promoting them as genuine teenage idols. Yet from the start, Depeche Mode showed no interest in playing such games. They were young and naive, they admitted that. But they also knew what they wanted, and while they were quite willing to be ushered into big offices to talk even bigger money, they were sufficiently aware of the pitfalls involved. When Stevo, head of the Some Bizzare label and a guiding light on the then-emergent Futurist scene, espied the band one night at Crocs, the Rayleigh club wherein they were installed, only his fiercest exhortations could persuade Depeche Mode to contribute a track to the compilation of new and unsigned talent he was then putting together. And even then it was a move which they were to regret for some time to come.

"I don't like that Futurist scene at all," said Dave Gahan - Mode's charismatic vocalist - when the compilation hit the streets. "All the bands involved in it are in one bunch together and they'll never escape. Soft Cell are the only ones with a good chance of making it through to the other side..."

His observations proved correct. Of the dozen bands who appeared on 'Some Bizzare Album' when it was released in February 1981, only Soft Cell and Depeche Mode were to move on to more lasting careers. Other hopefuls, like Illustration, B-Movies and The Fast Set, vanished without a trace. The The survived to accrue a considerable cult following but steadfastly refused to leave the commercial back waters of critical acclaim, and while the only other outfit of any real note, Blancmange, did eventually make it through to the attentions of a mass audience, 18 months were to pass between 'Some Bizzare Album' and 'Living On The Ceiling', their first hit single.

Depeche Mode was formed during the summer of 1980 in the Essex new town of Basildon, home to all three of the band's founder members; Andy Fletcher - born July 8th 1960 [1]; Martin Gore - born July 23rd 1961; and Vince Clarke - born July 3, 1960.

Vince, at this time, was one half of a gospel duo; he also played without enthusiasm in another band called No Romance In China. He met Andy Fletcher at Boys Brigade and was thus introduced to Martin Gore, guitarist with a middle-of-the-road West Coast type band. The trio began to play together in their spare time - Vince owned a drum machine and a guitar, Fletch owned a bass. Martin, too, played guitar but very early on he traded it in for a synthesizer. Vince sang.

Although the band never used a regular name, Composition Of Sound is how they are best remembered. It was under this name they played their first gig, supporting Film Noir at Scamps, in Southend. A short while after they played a party thrown by a friend "-and," says Andy, "neither was even a minor success. The crowd didn't react, so Vince lost his temper with them. Plugs were kicked out." And Martin remembers: "There were all these 14 year olds who'd never seen a synthesizer before, so they were all fiddling with the knobs saying 'What does this one do?'"

The absence of a real frontman was the cause of much restlessness within the band, especially after Vince followed Martin's lead and bought a synth. But although the band did toy with the idea of advertising for a new singer, they never did. "You can't possibly get on so well with newcomers who've been fixed up through ads as you can with someone you already know," Martin said. "So although we desperately wanted a singer we were prepared to take our time and be patient, and wait for the right person to come along."

The 'right person' turned out to be David Gahan. Born in nearby Epping on May 9, 1962, Dave had lived in Basildon since his early childhood, running with the pack and earning three appearances in juvenile court. He later admitted: "I was a real wide boy with a chip on my shoulder, I got done for nicking cars and motorbikes, setting cars alight, spraying walls, vandalism. A real yob!" [2] He passed through 20 jobs within six months of leaving school - at the time he joined the group he was studying window design at Southend Tech.

According to Fletch: "We got Dave on the strength of him singing 'Heroes', the Bowie number, at a jam session with some other band. We weren't even sure that it was him we wanted, there were so many other people singing. In fact, we still aren't!" [3]

Dave's arrival was the signal for the group to make further adjustments before they set out to face the world. The first was to change their name. None had particularly liked Composition Of Sound - for a long time afterwards they refused even to tell anybody they had been called that. [4] Depeche Mode was a name they found in a French fashion magazine - according to Fletch: "It means 'Hurry Up Fashion', but we didn't know that at the time. We just liked the sound of the words. It could just as easily have been Depeche Mud..." [5]

[1] - Whoops! Andy was in fact born in 1961.
[2] - That quote is from No. 1, 19th January 1985.

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[3] - Don't be misled - the comment was a wind-up. The full conversation can be found here.

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[4] - Try this 1988 interview for an hysterical example of an interviewer plying Andy - in vain - for the band's original name.

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[5] - Given that Martin had a French 'A' Level I personally find this hard to believe. But the quote is badly paraphrased (and wrongly attributed) from New Sounds, New Styles, August 1981.

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The second change was the band's instrumentation. Martin and Vince already owned synthesizers; now it was time for Andy to get one. "We liked bands that used synthesizers," said Vince. "OMD, Human League, Gary Numan...that was the sort of stuff we listened to. We certainly didn't change to make our sound more commercial, or because we thought it would be a fashionable thing to do; this is the sort of stuff we were doing anyway. A lot of the songs we were doing when we broke through we'd been doing since we first started, with the guitars and everything."

Synthesizers were more practical as well. The band could fit all their gear into a couple of suitcases and drop them into the car boot - a far cry from the days of struggling to fit amps, back lines and guitars into their little Fiat. "It was still pretty uncomfortable, we'd still end up with mike stands wrapped around our heads, but it was a lot easier than if we'd been loaded down with everything else," said Martin.

A drum machine replaced the need for a drummer, and Depeche Mode played their first gig as a four piece at Andy and Martin's old school, St. Nicholas'. [1] For Dave, whose only previous stage experience came from singing carols in a Salvation Army choir when he was eight, it was a nerve racking experience. "All I can remember is saying over and over to myself, 'I don't want to do it, I don't want to do it.'" It took ten cans of lager and the exhortations of the rest of the band to persuade him to go on with the show.

From there, the band graduated to the Top Alex, an R&B stronghold in Southend - a strange venue for an electrosynth pop band, but the audience loved them. "We went down really well. They were all headbanging to our music!"

Depeche Mode was three months old when the four members first ventured into a recording studio. They recorded three songs, all written by Vince: 'Photographic', another song which was later re-recorded by Vince for the 'Other Side of the Tracks' TV theme and a third, long forgotten, title. "I was writing all the stuff, apart from Martin's 'Big Muff', and a few covers - 'Then I Kissed Her', 'Price Of Love' and the encore, 'Mouldy Old Dough'," says Vince.

"All the songs on that first demo have the same sound to them," Martin confessed. "I'd had my synth for about a month before I realised you could change the sound. You know that sound that goes 'WAAAAAUUUUUGH'? I was stuck on that one for ages."

Nevertheless, the strength of the songs was undeniable. The tape was sent out to every club and promoter the band could think of and almost immediately they were rewarded with bookings at the Bridgehouse in Canning Town, and Crocs, a brand new venue in Rayleigh, so named because a real live crocodile lived in a pool in the venue! "The resident DJ really liked us. He gave us a residency at the Glamour Club, a regular Saturday night electronics disco," said Dave.

All the same, things were not all going Depeche Mode's way. Various people were interested in them, including a Rastafarian who wanted Depeche to play electronic reggae music and accompany him to Nigeria dressed in 'Dr Who' costumes, and Anton Johnson, a business tycoon later to appear in court on charges connected with his role as chairman of Southend United football club. But nothing came of these ventures, nor of the band's attempts to solicit record company interest. Vince and Dave once visited twelve record companies in one day - eleven dismissed them out of hand, the twelfth was Rough Trade. "They really liked the tape," Dave remembered. "But they didn't think we were really a Rough Trade band. But they did think they knew someone who might like us, so they played the tape to Daniel Miller, who was in the office at the time. And he just looked at us and said 'YEEEUCH!' and walked out. We just thought 'Bastard!'" [2]

Shortly after that, fired by the depression bred of so many rejections, Depeche agreed to appear on the 'Some Bizzare Album'. And although they were to resist any further overtures Stevo was to make ("We're not a bizarre band," Vince succinctly remarked), it was evident that if there was a convenient pigeon hole for Depeche Mode it was within the Futurist/New Romantics movement, even if the band was still desperately fighting the tide. "Posh clobber could clinch it for Mode," announced the Basildon Echo, going on to claim that all that stood between the group and stardom was the lack of a decent tailor. The group still cringe when they remember what they wore in those days. "We had a light show which was a solitary neon bulb stuck inside a wooden box, I used to wear plus fours, football socks and carpet slippers, Martin would paint his face half white, and Vince looked like a Vietnamese refugee. He'd tan his face, dye his hair black and put on a headband," Andy later said. "We were never a Futurist band. Just because we use synthesizers we're classed as one and get thrown into that same bag. But our music isn't futurist. We don't fit into all that."

[1] - On Saturday 31st May 1980.
[2] - Miller's side of the story, as quoted in Steve Malins' 1999 biography, is somewhat less colourful: "I remember going upstairs and Scott Piering, one of the top promotions people in the country who worked out of there, said, 'Here's a tape, I don't know if you're interested in it.' I saw these scruffy looking New Romantic types hanging out there, and I was running out and that was it. I didn't even listen to it. I just said, 'I can't, I've got to rush.' "


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"Obviously people who buy Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet records might buy ours as well," Dave was to say later. "But I think we're in a different market to all those bands. Just because we came through at the same time we were automatically lumped in with them. It was a matter of fighting our way out, and I think we did it. As time went by there were less and less frilly shirts coming to our gigs, but there again we must have done 30 interviews on the Continent where they asked if we were 'Bleetz Keeds'. All we could do was deny it, then have them print that right next to those awful photos of us wearing frilly shirts and eyeliner. That was the first photo session we ever did and it was so bad!"

In December 1980 Depeche Mode opened for Fad Gadget at the Bridgehouse. In the audience was Daniel Miller, the man who had already rejected them once before. This time, however, he liked what he saw and went away to mull over the potential he saw within the group. And while he did that, other fish began to nibble. CBS, Island and Phonogram all began to show interest in the group. "They all came in offering huge amounts of money, but that was all they were offering - money. They didn't seem bothered about records or anything, they just wanted to add our name to their roster. And then Daniel came along again and said he didn't have any money, but he could put out a record on Mute and if after that we didn't want to stay, we didn't have to. It was the most honest thing we had heard," said Dave.

"I knew Depeche Mode had a lot of potential, but the big question was whether a company like Mute could get them into the Top 75," Daniel said later. "I just didn't want to commit them to me if I couldn't make them realise their potential right from the start."

Depeche agreed to go along with Daniel, keeping open the option to visit all the major labels again after their first single. "But again we saw so many that we just got disheartened. It would have been so easy just to take a huge advance and then sit back, but we didn't want to do that," Dave said. "Mute didn't offer us any advance at all; what they did offer was a 50/50 split which meant we would have to pay half of all our bills, but we'd get half the profits back again. So we went with Mute."

'Dreaming Of Me', Depeche Mode's first single, was released in February 1981, produced by Daniel and described by Record Mirror as "Floppy fringe music, as predictable and well crafted as any Ultravox song." Depeche mode preferred to describe it as "A pop song."

"I think the word 'Pop' is really good," Vince said. "It's light and happy. It's a nice word."

And it was a nice song. "Dreaming Of Me" took almost two months to get into the chart and when it did, Daniel was quick to credit DJs like Radio 1's Peter Powell, who had supported it all along. And although the single only managed to reach number 57, it proved to both Depeche and Daniel that their relationship could be a winner. As Daniel said, "if you can get a record that far, you're capable of getting it anywhere - provided the song is good enough, of course."

Throughout the spring, Depeche gigged regularly - and prestigiously. Two shows at the London Lyceum, six weeks apart, saw them move from third to second place on four and five band bills. They opened for Ultravox at the People's Palace, headlined the first night at Rusty Egan's new club, Flick's, in Dartford, and were offered support slots on nationwide tours by both Toyah and Classix Nouveau. They had to turn both down because Andy and Martin still had day jobs, careers which kept them occupied right up until 'New Life' gave the group their second hit in June.

This time there was no nail biting tension as everybody waited to see if the single would make the chart. Advance orders alone were enough to push it into the Top 75 - an appearance on Top Of The Pops followed and within a fortnight the group had breached the Top 30. Three weeks later 'New Life' was at number 11.


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"It's really odd," Dave reflected. "At first you think 'God! Imagine being on Top Of The Pops!' Then you think 'Imagine being in the Top Ten'. But it all changes as it begins to happen. When we got into the lower reaches of the chart we thought it was good for a while, but then we were asking what was it worth unless we got into the Top 40. We got there and thought 'Well, it's no good unless we're in the Top 20.' And so on. But there isn't any sudden glamour. We still drive around in Daniel's Renault, we still take the train, nothing's really changed. We might have a few extra pennies in our pocket - and when I say pennies I mean pennies - but we've got the same friends, the same places to go. You always think how great it would be to have a hit single, but when you do nothing really changes."

"I remember consciously thinking how careful I'd have to be when I crossed the road because I didn't want to get run over before we got the next record out," Vince says of those early successes. But he, at least, was looking far beyond the next record. As the band's name spread, so their workload increased. Top Of The Pops was followed by an appearance on 20th Century Box, a Sunday lunchtime show screened by London Weekend Television. Says Vince: "We'd had all these theories about why Spandau were successful and we'd decided it was because they'd been on 20th Century Box. Then we got asked to do it, by which time we were already successful..."

Live work became more regular - throughout the summer, Depeche were playing around Britain and Europe - and so did recording time. With Daniel Miller producing, they began work on their first LP, 'Speak And Spell'. Completion of that was followed by two major London shows, at the Victoria Venue - with all proceeds going to Amnesty International - and in October, with their third single 'Just Can't Get Enough' racing up the chart, the band embarked on their first full British tour; fourteen nights which wound up in triumph at the London Lyceum. On December 3, the group was filmed in concert for the TVS 'Off The Record' show. And on December 12, the bomb dropped. Vince Clarke was quitting.

He had told the band of his intentions only shortly before the release of 'Speak And Spell', and agreed to delay his departure until the tour was over.

"Breaking the news was terrible," he remembers. "They were expecting it in some ways. I'd been going through a gloomy phase, but I had to go round to their houses and tell them. I knew they knew, but it was still horrible. It wasn't amiable because there was a lot of bad feeling on both parts and it was about a year before it finally died down. Until then it was pretty vile, we were both trying to find our feet and there was a certain rivalry between Depeche and Yazoo (the band Vince formed, with Alison Moyet, on leaving Depeche). But in the end it wasn't important. I never expected Depeche to become as popular as they did. And when they did I no longer felt happy or fulfilled. All the things that come with success had suddenly become more popular than the music. When we started we used to get letters from fans saying 'I like your music'. Then we got letters saying 'I like your trousers.' Where do you go from there?

The news broke like a flash flood over the band's fans and admirers - and for the critics it was a cue for the band's funeral arrangements to proceed in earnest. As the songwriting heart of the band, Vince was considered vital. It was only natural that, without his pen to guide them, the rest of the group should call it a day. But wreaths and floral tributes were very premature.

"I knew Depeche wouldn't break up," Daniel Miller insisted. "Martin had already written some very good songs (two, 'Tora Tora Tora' and 'Big Muff', appeared on 'Speak And Spell'), it was only because Vince was so prolific that Martin hadn't done more. He isn't the sort of guy who pushes himself, so in a way Vince's leaving was very good for him."

Dave agrees. "It made us all the more determined to keep going. It was a new challenge. When Vince was with us we were happy to let him do all the writing, because too many songwriters in a band can be a very bad thing. But Martin used to write all the time. He had 20 or 30 songs which went back to when he was 16 or 17. 'See You', for instance, was one of the first things he ever wrote!"


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Early reports of the split claimed that Vince would continue writing and recording with Depeche - an obvious lie, designed to allay fears of the band's survival. In reality he offered them but one song, 'Only You'. The group turned it down - they knew that if they were to continue, the sooner they escaped the ghost of Vince's involvement the better. They had to prove they could stand on their own six feet, and while the errant genius took 'Only You' all the way to number 2 with Yazoo, Depeche set about establishing Martin as a songwriter in his own right. And succeeded at their first try. 'See You', still one of the loveliest melodies they have recorded, shot all the way to number 6 - even today it still stands as one of their biggest hits ever.

The success proved that Depeche could still hold their own in the studio, but they were all too well aware that a fourth member would be needed if they were to fulfil their live commitments. And with an American tour already looming, they had little alternative but to advertise.

"Name band, Synthesizer, Must Be Under 21", read the ad in Melody Maker. It was spotted by Alan Wilder, 22 years old (he was born on June 1, 1959) but willing to tell a fib or two if it meant getting a new job. He was, at the time, a member of The Hitmen, but his interest was waning. Like Vince Clarke, he needed a new challenge. Depeche Mode offered him just that. He made his debut with the band at Crocs in January 1982. That was followed by an appearance on the BBC In Concert show, then at the end of the month it was off to America.

Depeche were not totally unknown in the USA. News of the New Romantic/Futurist movement had filtered through to the East and West coasts, and while few people seemed able to differentiate between bands who were and weren't part of the movement, Depeche's reputation as one of England's premier synth bands had preceded them and they were greeted by an enthusiastic, if a little bewildered, audience. Even more encouraging was the news that 'Speak And Spell', scheduled for a full American release in March, had already crept into the Top 200 purely on the strength of import sales and radio play. And while Duran Duran were playing to 300 curious New Yorkers at the Peppermint Lounge, Depeche were turning away 300 eager young fans from their shows at the Ritz.

Depeche Mode were back in Britain for another tour in February, a 15 date affair which included two nights at the Hammersmith Odeon and a third London date in the form of a secret show at the Bridgehouse. The venue was in danger of being forced to close after GLC fire inspectors discovered the pub had insufficient safety precautions. Depeche, remembering just how great an effect this dingy, unassuming pub had had on their own career decided to repay promoter Terry Murphy's faith in them and on a cold Saturday night at the end of the month they returned to their old stomping ground to play a triumphant set in front of a jam packed crowd. And at the end of the evening they handed their entire fee, over £1,000, to the pub's renovation fund.

Alan Wilder was still not recording with the band, even though he had been fully accepted into their ranks by the fans. Depeche's second album, 'A Broken Frame', was recorded again as a trio, and with the two singles taken from the set, Depeche almost gleefully showcased the two sides to their music. 'The Meaning Of Love', released in April, was deliberately mawkish; the follow up, four months later, was 'Leave In Silence', a song which confounded everybody with its absolute departure from the established Depeche Mode sound. It was totally different from anything anybody had ever heard the band record and, as Dave Gahan remarked at the time, "It kind of summed up the whole of the second album. Rather than continue to do these lightweight poppy songs, we decided to experiment. Martin can write pop songs, but we wanted to try something totally different, just to see if we could."

Of 'Leave In Silence', he said: "There were a couple of things we could have released which could have gone straight into the charts and been really successful ('Leave In Silence' made only number 18), but it just didn't seem right. You can't just carry on releasing stuff every few months and having hits with something catchy. 'Leave In Silence' was a risk because it wasn't catchy. You had to hear it four or five times before you could really start listening to it."

There again, the risk was defused somewhat simply because of Depeche's reputation. With five hits behind them, they knew that any record would be guaranteed some airplay and some sales on the strength of their reputation alone. And if the understated beauty of 'Leave In Silence' didn't exactly set the world afire, neither did it presage a slackening in the band's support. 'A Broken Frame' was awarded a silver disc almost on release, while a second North American tour and a third UK tour, all in the autumn, saw the band playing to capacity crowds. And when the band were featured on Channel 4's 'Whatever You Want', filmed live at the Brixton Arc just before Christmas, that edition of the show landed one of the highest viewing audiences of the entire series.


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'Get The Balance Right', Depeche's first single of 1983 - and the first to feature Alan Wilder, both as musician and, on the flip, writer - reached number 13 in February. It was, Martin said, "A lot more powerful song than we normally do. We've come a long way since 'Dreaming Of Me' and people are finally beginning to realise that there is a lot more to Depeche Mode than just a pop group."

And so there was. Tours of America, Canada and the Far East - replete, in the latter case, with riots! - occupied the band's time throughout the spring. That over, they set to work on their third album. And once again, the intention was to confound those detractors who still regarded Depeche as a simple pop band. The first expression of those intentions came with the 'Everything Counts' single, one of their most complex but, at the same time, most accessible numbers yet. It was also the song which introduced the band to Berlin. During the final mix down of the third album, the engineer, Gareth Jones, suggested they try working at Hansa studios, the only facility in the world to boast a 56 track mixing desk. Which was, according to Dave, exactly what the group needed. "We had used so many channels on the recording that we couldn't possibly have mixed the record at the studio we recorded it - they only had a 24 track desk. Plus, we wanted to sample a different atmosphere. If you work in just the one place it can get quite boring."

Berlin certainly supplied that. It also offered the band some choice outside locations for the video which accompanied the single.

"'Everything Counts' was the first of our videos with which we were truly happy," Dave later said. "The early ones (there had been one shot for every single since 'New Life') were not representative of us at all. When any of the early films show up on TV, as they do occasionally, we get a bit embarrassed."

'Everything Counts' reached number 6 in the chart, a feat emulated by 'Construction Time Again', the band's third album, which followed in August. And unlike the previous year, the critical reaction to the LP didn't spoil the party. From being everybody's favourite whipping post in 1982, Depeche Mode were now back in full flavour as reviewers everywhere applauded the skill with which they had finally divorced themselves from the sound and image which had first brought them to attention. "We want to get into the album-orientated market more," Martin said. "It is still important for us to have hit singles, (but) bands like the Bunnymen and Simple Minds do well in both charts. We just want to produce a really fine album which will hopefully establish us as a major act."

In February 1984 Depeche made a special one-off live appearance at Birmingham Odeon for the benefit of the BBC TV series Oxford Road Show. The gig came as a break from recording sessions which had busied the band since Christmas; the first fruits of their sojourn in the Hansa studios appeared the following month.

'People Are People' ("...and Spiders Are Hairy", claimed the Bury Free Press review) became the group's biggest hit yet. In Britain it reached number 4, in Germany it was number 1 for three weeks. And while it did not boast the band's strongest lyric to date, the song's sentiments were as laudable as anything else they had come up with since their elevation to the post of 'Social Commentators' for a new generation. And so was the actual performance. 'Construction Time Again', as befit its title, saw the band experimenting with new methods of creating sound - anvils, running water and creaking doors. For 'People Are People' they gave full vent to both their own imagination and the potential of an instrument called the synclavier - on which different sounds could be 'sampled' by the machine, then edited together to create entirely new ones. Thus 'People Are People featured everything from acoustic bass drums through to an airline hostess going through pre take-off drill.


Well-known member
The single was followed into the chart by 'Master And Servant', another song which introduced a whole new spectrum of sound to its listeners (including that of Andy spanking Martin!). "It's a song about domination and exploitation and we use the sexual angle to get that song across," Martin explained, at the same time trying to defend the song against accusations of indecency and obscenity such as were threatening to admit Depeche Mode into the select ranks of those artists whose music was so deemed and therefore deprived of any opportunity to exert a corrupting influence over the listeners of Radio 1. "There was one guy at the BBC who thought the lyrics were obscene, but he was away on holiday when the final decision was made," a relieved Martin said. "The girl who did take the decision agreed with us that it was not an indecent song."

All the same, the sight - and sound - of Depeche appearing on Top Of The Pops singing the song still caused shock waves among those people who still regarded the band as 'Wimps on synths'. According to Dave, "A lot of people still think we're teeny-wimps," while Martin looked back on the band's early days and admitted, "We did get a lot of flak because we had such a terrible image, very sickly. Even I thought we were wimps."

The single reached number 9 in the chart. Four places higher sat 'Some Great Reward', the LP from which both 'Master And Servant' and 'People Are People' were taken, and which easily compounded the incredible musical progression which had taken Depeche away from the sound of 'Dreaming Of Me'. As the band intimated prior to its release, the album veered sharply away from the overtly political messages of its predecessor, returning to the more personal level of Martin's earlier compositions. The intervening years had, however, seen the naivety of those songs firmly cast away. Instead, the cynicism of 'Love In Itself' - the second single to be taken from 'Construction Time Again' and a number 21 hit the previous autumn - was revisited time and again - most notably in 'Somebody'. This song, coupled with the lengthy 'Blasphemous Rumours', was lifted from the LP for Depeche's next single - a double 'A' side which, as with its predecessor, was sure to run into problems.

"If we can say God so loved the world that He sent His only son, if He did that He cannot have a sick sense of humour," a Basildon priest told Southend's local paper when they approached him to comment on the lyrics to 'Blasphemous Rumours'. And others too, were spoiling for a fight. Melody Maker described the song as a prime candidate for some kind of official censure - even Mute must have recognised the possibility, hence the double 'A' side business. That Depeche Mode did get away with the lyric could be put down to the new softly-softly approach adopted by the BBC in the wake of the Frankie 'Relax' scandal, when a ban generated far more publicity for the record than if the Beeb had simply carried on playing it. But that did not account for the lack of condemnation from other quarters - the IBA, The Sun, Mary Whitehouse, the Church itself. [1] Perhaps, it was mused, the song's message really did touch a responsive chord in many people's hearts; its message was certainly compounded by the news then breaking of the appalling famine in Ethiopia. Or perhaps Depeche, despite the efforts of both themselves and their admirers, really were still regarded as the little boys of Pop, making a statement which people couldn't take to heart simply because they couldn't take the band seriously. Such theories abounded, and as they did, so 'Blasphemous Rumours' crept up to number 16 in the chart.

Depeche Mode's career had, by now, settled comfortably into the routine of single/album/tour/single - tried and trusted by every band since the beginning of rock'n'roll. It was not a routine they relished, although they did admit there was little escaping it in many ways. Certainly they toured to support 'Some Great Reward', winding up a magnificent British tour with four nights at the Hammersmith Odeon; in the new year they began again the cycle of touring the world. 'People Are People' gave them their long awaited American debut hit, and much of the spring was taken up touring the USA, playing both clubs and major outdoor venues. In Europe their stock was as high, if not higher than at home; in Germany, for instance, Depeche are one of the highest earning bands around.

All the same, the strict adherence to routine was, in many ways, boring, and so 1985 saw Depeche release no new album. Instead, fans were pacified first with a live video - an entire concert, released under the title 'The World We Live In And Live In Hamburg' - and a thirteen track 'Greatest Hits' package which brought their story right up to date by including their two most recent singles, 'Shake The Disease', released in the spring of 1985, and 'It's Called A Heart', a top 20 hit in September. Predictably, both video and LP made swift inroads into the best seller leagues and Depeche wound up the year by effortlessly packing the massive Wembley Arena as part of their traditional winter tour. Of their future plans, Depeche have nothing to say - as yet. But that is how they have always worked, staying silent right up until the last moment and then springing yet another new surprise. It's a policy which has paid immense dividends in the past; long may it continue so to do.

[1] - This is in contradiction to what the author of this article in No. 1 the following year believed.

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Claude F

New member
I saw this - once - at a Tower Books store. My surprise at seeing a book about the band dissipated quickly as I flipped through it and put it back on the shelf. It pretty clearly was a rush job intended to cash in on the band’s rising fame.