They have sold more than 100 million records, get placed on nearly every “greatest band” list, and they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They started as synth-pop, led the new wave and electronic rock movement, grew into the alternative rock format, and continue to evolve without losing the heart of their sound.
But in the highest point of Depeche Mode’s popularity, the band was destroying itself, yet we didn’t know it. I admit to being at all five nights of their Devotional Tour in Los Angeles and then replayed the live VHS (gasp) over and over…and I had no clue what was going on behind the scenes. I saw a band in their prime with no signs of slowing down. The reality was, the band members could not share a vehicle or dressing room and had to do separate interviews. Rehab. Overdoses. Alcohol. Arguments. Depeche Mode could have easily collapsed forever in the ‘90s and simply been a footnote in music.
As we know, they didn’t collapse and watching their more recent shows, it’s night and day. Dave Gahan is still an epic front-man – the signature pelvic action and mic stand spins remain. But there is interaction with Martin Gore being in the front. He and Gahan look at each other, smile at each other, lean against each other. We just need to get Andy Fletcher down there for the total DM bro-fest.
Fletcher often gets overshadowed by Gahan and Gore, but he was there at day one. It was the end of the ‘70s and Fletcher (aka Fletch) and Vince Clarke created multiple bands together in England, but when Clarke heard the music of OMD, he wanted to pursue the electronic sound. Gore was also in a local band, purchased a synthesizer, and joined up with Clarke and Fletcher. After Clarke caught Gahan singing David Bowie’s “Heroes” and brought him in…Depeche Mode was created.
The guys got to work making a demo tape and shopping it around at labels. They received offers, but when approached at a show by Daniel Miller, the founder of Mute Records, they formed a partnership that would remain for decades.
“I want somebody to share, share the rest of my life, share my innermost thoughts, know my intimate details.”
DM released their first single, “Dreaming of Me” and actually made it onto the UK charts. They followed it up with “New Life,” which also charted and got them the required performance on “Top of the Pops.”
Looking like a gang of 12-year-olds who found their parents’ bondage closet, the world got its first look at Depeche Mode. And for the love of all things, please never dance this way again, Fletch.
These baby-faced kids then released “Just Can’t Get Enough” and had their first UK top ten hit. “Just Can’t Get Enough” got them onto “Top of the Pops” again, and gave us our first of many shirtless Gore appearances.
They had been a band for a year and were already topping charts, appearing on TV, and releasing their debut album, “Speak & Spell.” But their first band drama was here: Clarke quit. Much has been written as to why – some sound legit, others silly – but in 2016, Clarke told Vice, “We basically just weren’t getting on. We were really young, and we did quite well very quickly, and it all became too much.” Clarke went on to create Yazoo aka Yaz, then Erasure. I guess he did alright for himself.
With Clarke out, Gore took over as main songwriter. They put an ad out to find a replacement for Clarke and chose Alan Wilder as their new man, even though he was ancient at the age of 22. This would make the foursome we would know through the next decade and a half. Although Wilder was now in, the other three wanted to make an album on their own to see if they could. “A Broken Frame” featured all Gore-written songs and the three singles (“See You,” “Meaning of Love,” and “Leave in Silence”) did well. In fact, “See You” charted higher than any of the Clarke singles.
I’m sorry, but Gahan looks all of 15 years old.
Before he was a Pet Shop Boy, Neil Tennant was an editor at Smash Hits and gave this beautiful review of them: “Dave Gahan has become an accomplished bum wiggler on stage, as well as shaking his pelvis in a very suggestive way. If you think that Depeche Mode are a bunch of solemn, synthesiser-programming boffins, you’d be amazed at the waves of screaming that they arouse. A lot of the credit must be taken by Dave whose energetic performance is one of the most sexy to be seen on a stage anywhere.” This is a very astute observation on his part and can be verified by watching any live performance of Depeche Mode. If you are not watching the screen and hear a sudden batch of voices screaming, you are safe to assume Gahan is wiggling or grabbing something.
The guys went on the road and released a single with Wilder included, “Get the Balance Right.” With Wilder firmly in the band and the original three satisfied of their own skills, they started their third album, “Construction Time Again.” Wilder’s inclusion of samples gave the band a shift to an industrial sound, and Gore’s lyrics began to be more political and dark. “Love, in Itself” and “Everything Counts” were released as singles and even now, “Everything Counts” remains a crowd favorite at shows.
Depeche Mode was picking up steam and the next single pushed them into popularity outside of the UK. “People are People” became an anthem against racism, war, and homophobia (RuPaul even covered it).
As amazing as “People are People” was and is, Gore has said it is “too nice, too commercial” and it has not been played at one of their concerts since 1988. Rude.
The album that hosted “People are People” remains one of their best to this day. Released in 1984, “Some Great Reward” contained so much classic DM. “Master and Servant,” “Lie to Me,” “Blasphemous Rumours,” “Somebody…” all nine songs are perfection and I will fight you over this. We also got our first Gore-fronted song with “Somebody,” and his songwriting delved deeper into religion, relationships, and S&M. Imagine if you can, a time where “Master and Servant” was scandalous. We just had “WAP” performed on the Grammys, but in the ‘80s, “It’s a lot like life, this play between the sheets, With you on top and me underneath, Forget all about equality” was so vulgar! *clutching pearls*
“It’s Called a Heart” and “Flexible” rounding out the disc, the madness was building.” The Golden Era of Depeche Mode was beginning. Their popularity was building in the US and became even stronger with “Black Celebration.”
Continuing to go darker instead of poppier, “Black Celebration” added Gore as the main vocalist multiple times, spawned the amazing “A Question of Lust,” plus “But Not Tonight,” “Stripped,” “A Question of Time,” and the title track. Another cohesive collection of songs from start to finish, it is best played in order to experience the blend between songs that we rarely experience in our “on shuffle mode” devices.
I am absolutely dying over Gahan portraying the role of “drunk girl at a bar who insists on playing with the band” and handling tambourine duties in the video for “A Question of Lust.”
The video for “A Question of Time” marked their first with Anton Corbijn, an artistic partnership which remains to today. (Corbijn recently released a massive coffee-table book of DM visuals, so if you have a few grand laying around, snag it up. Where’s that stimmy check?!)
Since Depeche Mode’s music was still not mainstream – even though succeeding in the alternative, new rock areas – it was suggested that they write a more “commercial” album. The title “Music for the Masses” suggested they were, but it was still the DM we knew. Gore and Fletcher have said in interviews that “Music for the Masses” was a tongue in cheek joke about their lack of being for the masses. Yet, they were about to make history with “the masses” in Pasadena. The album kicked off with “Never Let Me Down Again,” included “Strangelove” and “Behind the Wheel,” and oozed sensuality with “I Want You Now” and “To Have and to Hold.”
To promote the disc, the band launched the Music for the Masses Tour, which ended its run at the Rose Bowl in June 1988. In front of 65,000 fans, their largest audience yet, the band recorded the show for their “101” documentary and CD.
By the way, if you are the girl who screamed over and over during “Somebody,” I wish to flick you in the forehead. Repeatedly.
Despite their lack of attempt at capturing the masses, they had. Before the year was up, Depeche Mode found themselves performing on the MTV Video Music Awards. Gahan in leather pants and fully working his pelvic muscles, plus Gore in one of his bondage harnesses equals perfection.
It may have seemed like Depeche was at their peak, but the next few years solidified their place in music history. To promote their upcoming single, “Personal Jesus,” the band used creative marketing with personal ads including a phone number where callers could hear the song. Add in the fact that Jesus is in the title, which will automatically get criticism, and a naked woman on the back cover, “Personal Jesus” was ripe for attention.
Even with those factors set aside, it’s a fantastic damn song. There had been light guitar in some Depeche songs in the past, but with “Personal Jesus,” it played a dominant role. The single got their first gold record in the US, plus scored multiple covers (notably Johnny Cash and Marilyn Manson).
The second single, “Enjoy the Silence,” gave them their second gold record, and remains a staple in their live shows.
“Violator” was looking to be huge and in typical record biz fashion, the band made appearances to promote the release. Keeping in mind 65,000 California fans had paid to see them in 1988, in March of 1990, their Los Angeles in-store brought out more than 10,000 fans. No one was prepared for the event to become such madness, and it ended with a near riot and police intervention. Ask any DM fan in Southern California about it and they know…
The album went platinum (actually, three times now!) and “Violator” remains the Depeche Mode album you can consistently find on various “best Depeche Mode album” lists. Although only nine songs, they work so well together. “Policy of Truth,” “World in My Eyes,” “Halo,” “Sweetest Perfection.” All amazing.
The World Violation Tour became the stuff of legends as well, perhaps because there was no official live material released. The final US dates were two nights at Dodger Stadium, which held more than 40,000 fans each night. With Nitzer Ebb and Electronic (with assistance from Pet Shop Boys) making an appearance, plus the food fight (c’mon, which of you started that?), it absolutely propelled the band to new popularity in the US.
The band did eventually release some clips from the Dodger Stadium show, so if you want some memories, here you go.
Now that the ‘90s were in full effect, a new genre of music was taking over. Grunge had entered the chat and Depeche Mode was changing as well. After an extended break following the “Violator” tour, they reconvened in a house together. It did not go well. Tensions were high and they had to separate to get things accomplished. Gahan had a hidden heroin addiction and Wilder and Gore often disagreed on material. They spent almost a year working on “Songs of Faith and Devotion” and came out of it with a heavier sound, adding Wilder on drums and more guitar for Gore.
With “I Feel You,” “Walking in My Shoes,” “In Your Room,” and “Judas,” they achieved another successful album and it debuted at number one. But the band was often not in the same room together and had to do interviews separately, and Wilder decided to leave the band shortly after.
The Devotional Tour was an amazing visual experience that showcased the new sound of Depeche Mode and the imagery of Corbijn. The show was selling out (leading to FIVE nights in Los Angeles!) and was made into a live film and CD. Here is where I remind you of what I mentioned earlier: the band was falling apart and we had no clue. There were no videos on Insta, or Facebook posts sharing gossip. Most of us thought all was well. But Gahan was now heavily into drugs, Gore was abusing alcohol and having seizures, Fletcher was battling depression which led to a breakdown 1994, and they could not share a dressing room or a limo. Once it wrapped up, Wilder announced his departure:
“Since joining in 1982, I have continually striven to give total energy, enthusiasm and commitment to the furthering of the group’s success, and in spite of a consistent imbalance in the distribution of the workload, willingly offered this. Unfortunately, within the group, this level of input never received the respect and acknowledgement that it warrants.”
In a 2019 interview, Gore admitted to struggling with Wilder and their mixer (Flood), specifically during the process of writing “Enjoy the Silence.” Gore wanted to follow his standard routing of his demos being expanded on by the band members, but Wilder and Flood suggested speeding up the song and put a beat to it. Gore was not a fan. “So, I sulked off for a little bit,” he said. When he returned, Flood and Wilder showed him what they were suggesting. “So, I played along and then I came up with a guitar line for it. And then the kind of choir part. And then it kind of started making a bit more sense to me,” Gore explained, “and I’d like to take this moment to apologize to Alan and Flood.”
At the same time, Gahan was living the full rock-star life and hitting the drugs hard. He has been open and vocal about his addiction, which led to multiple overdoses, suicide attempts, a broken marriage (or two), and jail time. In 2005, Gahan told Rolling Stone he has been sober since 1996 (after the near death overdose and arrest). “It was all about getting loaded,” said Gahan. “The stuff that I loved didn’t seem to matter to me, and that was a terrible place to be.” Heroin and rock stars usually do not have a happy ending, but in Gahan’s case, it has worked out. He has been honored for his efforts withMusiCares and was honored with the MusiCares Stevie Ray Vaughan Award which is given artists who “exemplify an ethos of dedication to helping others navigate the difficulties of the recovery process.”
But while Gahan spiraled out of control, Gore began writing the next album. Due to Gahan’s drug habit and arrest, actually getting his vocals down was a challenge. With Gahan’s life imitating the art of some of their darker songs, people have questioned if Gore wrote about Gahan’s decline. He has repeatedly stated that is not the case; “I’m not writing the soundtrack to Dave’s life.” In 2013, Gore told The Guardian, “I had a lot of things to feel guilty about. I was a horrible alcoholic for years. I knew at quite a young age that I had an issue with drinking.”
After Gahan completed rehab, they were able to finish “Ultra,” but the band felt it best not to tour in support: Gahan was newly sober and the band members were exhausted. “Ultra” was still a success without a tour and gave us “Barrel of a Gun,” “It’s No Good,” “Home,” and “Useless.”
A year later, Depeche was getting back on track. They decided to tour with a singles collection and added two phenomenal musicians to replace Wilder: drummer Christian Eigner and keyboardist Peter Gordeno. Their return to the studio afterwards brought out 2001’s “Exciter.” With “Exciter,” they returned to an electronic sound with “Dream On,” “I Feel Loved,” and “Freelove.” The Exciter Tour did extremely well and was made into a film, “One Night in Paris.”
For Depeche Mode’s next album, things would be different. Despite Gore writing all of the songs since Clarke’s departure, Gahan was ready to throw his songs into the mix. During a DM break, Gahan released a solo disc, “Paper Monsters” and he wanted to be more than a singer in Depeche Mode. He wanted Gore to take him seriously. At the same time, Gore was struggling with alcohol and going through a divorce. Gore arriving drunk to recordings and Gahan pushing his songwriting complicated the sessions, but once again, they pushed through and created a fantastic album. “Playing the Angel” had the first Gahan-written Depeche track, “Suffer Well.”
Sadly, Gore is NOT a beautiful bride.
In addition to “Suffer Well,” the 2005 album produced “Lillian,” “John the Revelator, and “Precious” Listen to “Precious” and know it is Gore writing to his children about the divorce and try not to ugly sob. Once again, they hit the road for Touring the Angel and even stopped at Coachella, and yes, another live DVD was created, “Touring the Angel: Live in Milan.”
By this time, our technology had changed greatly. For 2009’s “Sounds of the Universe,” Depeche Mode became the first artist to participate in Apple’s iTunes Pass. In what is a common trend now, if you preordered “Songs of the Universe,” you would get singles ahead of the full album release. At the time, Fletcher said the idea came from DM and Apple. “I think the digital and record companies are starting to get their act together,” he explained. “They were very lazy in the first 10 years when downloads came in. Now they’re collaborating more and coming up with interesting ideas for fans to buy products.”
“Sounds of the Universe” included more Gahan lyrics and Gore-fronted songs, plus the band began releasing videos of them in the studio, which has occupied me for days.
Taking “Wrong,” “Peace,” “Fragile Tension,” and “Hole to Feed” out on the road for the Tour of the Universe was not without drama. Gahan had several medical issues, including an instance right before a show. They thought he had gastroenteritis, but it turned out to be bladder cancer. “It was an uphill battle. I had numerous sicknesses, I lost my voice a lot, I blew out my calf on stage,” he explained. “I felt like I was always repairing something. It was the first tour I felt like: I can’t do this anymore. This is fucking hard.” They were able to complete the tour, stop at Lollapalooza, and perform at a benefit where Wilder joined Gore onstage for “Somebody.” The crowd erupted when Wilder appeared and it sounded amazing of course.
For their next album, “Delta Machine,” Gore and Gahan shared writing duties and touched on their new points of view, including surviving cancer and maintaining sobriety. “Heaven,” “Should Be Higher,” and “Soothe My Soul” bolstered the disc and once again, the guys hit the road and recorded the show as “Live in Berlin.”
While doing promotion for “Delta Machine,” Gore admitted to The Guardian that they still struggle as a band. “We’re pessimists. We’re always unsure.” We’ve been saying since ‘Black Celebration’ that we can’t guarantee there’ll be another record,” he explained. “When it comes to communication, we’re still not the best. We’re still slightly dysfunctional but maybe that’s what makes us tick.”
The dysfunction still continued in 2017. While promoting their next record, “Spirit,” Gahan had to be interviewed separately from Gore and Fletcher. There was even an “intervention” organized during recording to get Gore and Gahan to hash out their crap. The main argument continued to be songwriting duties and Gahan’s desire to be more than an “overpaid vocalist.” But through it all, Gahan admitted, “I’ve been married three times. I’m the one that ups and leaves. And Depeche Mode is the only thing that I haven’t left.”
“Spirit” addressed politics, society, and the environment with songs “Where’s the Revolution,” “Going Backwards, and “The Worst Crime.” Other songs addressed relationships and Gahan even said they are “quite literal.” The album included three songs penned by Gahan including “Cover Me.”
As is their standard, the band toured to promote “Spirit,” but this time did not do a typical live performance film. While there was a regular live DVD and CD, they also released the documentary “Spirits in the Forest” which told the story of six Depeche Mode fans and what the band means to them.
While promoting the “Spirit” documentary, the band got some interesting news; they were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In January of 2020, they got word they would inducted as part of the 2020 class. Remember in the beginning of 2020 when we thought life would be business as usual? As the pandemic took over, the band had to participate virtually by giving an acceptance speech without a live performance. Their speech was led by Gahan, (“I think music really brings people together, and God knows we need that more today than it seems any other time.”), but they all appeared cheery and also stated Clarke and Wilder share the honor with them.
What is to come for Depeche Mode? Individually, they have projects.
Gahan has been doing work with Soulsavers again after previously writing and singing on two of their albums. He also has his solo work and could release a third album. His thoughts on the next Depeche Mode? “Depeche have made so many records together and after a tour Martin and I are like, ‘See you then!’ There will more than likely will be another record, but we really don’t make plans beyond what we’ve just done.”
Gore had similar thinking when asked. Although he admits he has been writing, the band has not made any plans and he is unsure what will be next; “Really, I think it just depends on what happens with the world.” Gore just released his third solo EP, an all instrumental disc titled “The Third Chimpanzee” and said, “If there’s one positive thing about all this, it’s that it is a nice time to just rethink and reflect and decide what you want to do. Because I think the world is going to be a different place after this.”
As for Fletcher, the man is pretty secretive, but after some Insta stalking, I have decided I want to be a part of his family; they look like wonderful people and I don’t think he gets enough credit for his role in Depeche. And he stopped doing that naughty style dancing.
Whatever the future holds, I believe DM will be there. They may not be speaking to each other, but dammit, they’ll be there.