ORIGINALLY A product of Britain’s new romantic movement, Depeche Mode became the quintessential electro-pop band of the ‘80s. They were one of the first to establish a musical identity based completely around the use of synthesisers and began as a bouncy, dance-pop outfit. Gradually, they developed a darker, more dramatic sound, positioning them as one of the most successful alternative bands of their era. Today, more than 20 years later, they are still recognised as one of the most successful electro-pop bands ever.
Ironically, given their reputation as the kings of electro-pop, they made their debut as a guitar trio, coming together in Basildon, England, in 1980. Comprised of Vince Clarke, Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore, they took their name from the title of a French style magazine, Depeche Mode (or fast fashion).
Following a series of concerts in London’s Canning Town, Depeche Mode debuted in 1980 with Photographic. The band was spotted by Daniel Miller and was shortly signed to his independent Mute Records label in 1981. Dave Gahan was recruited as their permanent lead vocalist and Dreaming of Me was released the same year. Neither the single nor its follow-up, New Life, caused much of a stir, but their third effort, Just Can’t Get Enough, became a top 10 UK hit and their debut LP, Speak & Spell, was also a success.
Just as they appeared poised for a major commercial breakthrough, principal songwriter, Clarke, left rather abruptly to form Yazoo with singer Alison Moyet, leaving the group’s future in grave doubt. The writing reins were taken over by Martin Gore, and Alan Wilder joined, replacing Clarke.
The gentle, hypnotic ambience of See You was an early demonstration of Gore’s sense of melody and, lyrically, he tackled subjects darker than the musical content suggested. His songs grew more assured and sophisticated by 1983’s Construction Time Again. Some Great Reward, in 1984, was their artistic and commercial breakthrough, with the single People Are People becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic, typifying their turn toward more industrial textures.
Black Celebration in 1986 and Music for the Masses in 1987 helped their commercial success, yet, despite an enormous fan base, they were still considered an underground, cult group. However, with the release of 1990’s Violator, it all changed. As a top 10 smash, spawning the hits Enjoy the Silence (giving the band its first Brit Award), Policy of Truth and Personal Jesus, the album and tour confirmed their popularity within the UK and reinforced it in America. It presented a harder sound, which continued on Songs of Faith and Devotion.
Their success stateside was underscored when they played to 72,000 fans at the Rose Bowl in California, in 1988, and their standing throughout the world continued to be enhanced with ambitious stage shows, despite the fact that acrimony was creeping into the Depeche Mode camp.
Gahan relocated from Essex to Los Angeles, divorced his wife, married his American girlfriend, divorced her and then attempted suicide. His drug dependency reached a peak when he came close to death in 1996, the same year Wilder left the group.
Gahan, and the trio that had become Depeche Mode, bounced back with the album Ultra, surprisingly good considering the fragmentation occurring within the ranks. It’s No Good became the DJ’s favourite, quickly becoming a dance floor hit and, with Barrel of a Gun, they had two of their biggest UK hits. The renaissance continued with Exciter in 2001.
As of 2005, Depeche Mode are estimated to have sold over 70 million albums worldwide and have influenced many of today’s popular recording artists due to their innovative work, recording techniques and use of sampling. By creating disjointed electro-pop, evoking technological and social alienation, as well as their epic orchestrations of heavier electronics, their music has stood the test of time with success on the dance floor and in the music store.
Often called the Godfathers of Electronica, their impact on electronic/alternative music sets them apart. Martin Gore, the musical genius behind the band, is one of the greatest writers of all time, David Gahan has one of the most distinct voices embodying everything that is Depeche Mode, and Andy Fletcher, keyboardist and financial whiz, keeps the band in the public eye. However, for all their success, they have never had a number one single in the US or UK.
Depeche Mode will be performing at Pavilhão Atlântico, Parque das Nações, Lisbon, on February 8, 2006, at 9.30pm. For ticket information call 210 036 300 or visit www.ticketline.pt