Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

DEPECHE MODE

UK synthesizer group formed in Basildon, Essex in 1980 by Andy Fletcher (b 8 July 1961), Martin Gore (b 23 July 1961) and Vince Clarke, adding vocalist Dave Gahan (b 9 May 1962). The first two ditched guitars in 1981 to be a keyboard band; they were snapped up by Stevo for his 'new romantic' Some Bizzare label and appeared on the label's eponymous sampler '81 with Soft Cell, Blancmange etc but escaped and signed to Mute. Clarke was a gifted commercial songwriter; the first single 'Dreaming Of Me' made no. 57, 'New Life' no. 11 in '81, establishing them as teen heart-throbs ('dépêche mode' is a French idiom for 'fast fashion'). Clarke was the only real musician; he left as Speak And Spell became a top ten UK album (and continued successful; see his entry); a crisis was averted by the emergence of Gore as a songwriter and recruitment of ex-Hitmen keyboardist Alan Wilder (b 1 June 1963).

Further albums were A Broken Frame '82, People Are People '84 (broke into the top 100 albums in the USA) and Some Great Reward '85; they had ten top ten UK hits by the end of '84 and carried on in '85 with 'Shake The Disease' at no. 18, percussive like many later hits, showing the influence of more avant-garde groups such as Test Department. The Singles '81-'85 (called Catching Up With Depeche Mode in USA, where all the albums were on Sire) displayed progress from catchy if insubstantial synth ditties to a heavier European sound with an accompanying leather look (Gore had relocated to Berlin). At home they were happy to remain with tiny indie Mute, whose boss Daniel Miller produced the records. Further albums were Black Celebration '86, Music For The Masses '87; 101 '89 was recorded at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena '88 for their concert film of that name and made the top 50 USA; suddenly Violator '90 was top ten in the USA, then Songs Of Faith And Devotion no. 1 early '93. They had outlasted all the rest of the new romantics and the stupidly vicious British music press, which likes to pretend that pop music is important, could not bear their American success, describing them as 'America's favourite Euroweenies'.

Gore was the brains, Wilder the musician, Gahan the vocalist and therefore the star; he left his wife and child, remarried, relocated to Los Angeles and learned to speak psychobabble; he turned up in Madrid where a live version of Songs Of Faith And Devotion was being made, insisting that they drop the keyboards and pick up guitars, which they couldn't play; the album barely made the top 200 albums late '93. He injected himself with a speedball (heroin and cocaine) in May 1996 in L.A., passed out, was rushed to hospital and subsequently arrested; a scheduled new album was put back; he recovered but Ultra '97 was also cold turkey. The trip from synth-pop in Basildon to stadiums in the USA was bound to be confusing.

Sounds of the Universe 2009 on Mute/Capitol/Virgin was their 12th studio album, described by one critic as seamless filler, the first track starting with a full minute of feedback.