#depechemode ‘They used to be in Yazoo and then they started banging dustbin lids and frying pans together’
Fake The Disease | article NME 10|85 By Danny Kelly
Will Depeche Mode chartthrashing chaps though they are, ever find the energy to progress into a more adventurous avenue? This is Danny Kelly’s gripe, which he puts first to that nice young man in the leather skirt, then to the rest of the group
Let’s be fair; Kensington is not Warsaw.I mention this because the attitude of the Polish authorities – anxious to keep my corruption and shiftlessness away from their corruption and shiftlessness – had condemned me to talking to Depeche Mode in London rather than on the banks of the Vistula.
And I mention that because it says something about this odd thing we call Depeche Mode. They are big in Eastern Europe, doing well in America, and gi-bleeding-normous-thank-you in West Germany. Meanwhile, in Britain they remain “that bunch of posey Essex types you sometimes see on the telly, y’know, the ones with the cute singer and the bloke in the leather skirt; y’know, they used to be in Yazoo and then they started banging dustbin lids and frying pans together…”
ONLY IT’S not that simple. Next month Depeche Mode issue a compilation that contains 13 of their 15 singles to date. All went Top 20. That’s 15 more hits than Cabaret Voltaire, a dozen more than Heaven 17 and a good handful more than the Human League. Chartwise at least, Depeche Mode are the runaway and lasting successes of the synthclass of 1980. And there’s more; over the space of those 45s, DM have maintained critical interest (if not always approval); have constantly refizzed their pop cocktails with dashes of funk, squirts of dub and lemony slices of metal bashing; and have defied those who, unable to see past Vince Clarke’s talent for Stylophone dinkipop and Mode’s choirboyish TV turnouts, just knew they’d be a flash (bunch) in the pan, a couple of charters and then See You.
All these things – added to a healthy addiction to their 12-inch monster mixes (the foot-wide version of the puerile “People Are People” seven-inch, for instance, is a miraculous transformation, the nearest anyone’s yet come to the perfect arc-welding of pop and industry, funk and factory) send me in Depeche Mode’s direction with a more than sneaking regard for them. But because all their little victories, their refinements and tricky subversions of the norm, have happened over so long a time and at such an evolutionary, definitely careful, pace, I also carry an armful of complaints, grumbles and reservations as I approach them.
OR RATHER, at first, quarter of them! As Depeche Mode have metamorphosed in the unrelenting glare of pop’s spotlight, from little boys to, well, bigger boys, they’ve (naturally) changed, and Martin Gore’s the one who’s altered most startlingly.
When Clarke’s departure thrust the yoke of DM songsmith onto him, Gore was a shy Basildon boy, engaged to the girl next door. Passing him in the street, you wouldn’t have spared him a second glance. And now, three years on, he’s…
Well, he’s sat in front of me in a pub where a chess match (complete with chess rowdies!) is in progress. You’d now afford him that second look, and probably a few more besides. His tiny, girlish fame is armoured from head to foot in creaking black leather. His platinum quiff has been squeezed, like toothpaste, through a hole in his otherwise shaven head. His makeup is ghostly white and thick, his nail varnish iron-cross black and chipped.
Martin, you see, caddishly ditched the G-N-D, took up with a fraulein called Christine [sic] and deserted Basildon for the last stop on rock’n’roll’s main line, siege city Berlin, a place which for the purposes of this story is entirely populated by Turkish wage slaves and the totally wired, next-stop-hell (or, failing that, the ICA) artistic community so lovingly chronicled by our very own Don and Biba.
The effect of this relocation on our hero was pure Road To Damascus. Martin Gore (who’s probably more pleased with his surname now than ever before) has attempted to take on the heart-of-darkness trappings and attitudes of the likes of Messrs Bargeld (indigenous Berliner), Cave and Thirlwell (honorary Wallflowers).
Now, it’s sometimes hard enough to take this latter trio entirely seriously in their chosen roles as decadent, death-defying delvers into the unlit recesses of the psychic junkyard, so what price a cherubic Essex lad with a voice that should, if there was any justice, have seen him a member of his local council’s Parks, Gardens and Floral Verges Department? No, try as he might, Martin Gore comes across as a viralpop YOP, a Reasonable Seed, a Chad Valley Nick Cave.
But he does try. From the mind that once rhymed “should it be" with "awfully”, catch some of this:
"I’m quite a pessimistic person and I see life as quite boring. So I kind of see our stuff as… Love And Sex And Drink Against The Boredom Of Life.
"When I write love songs people think they’re really soppy, but I see love as… a consolation for the boredom of life. And drink and sex…
"Personally speaking I think we’re quite decadent. When we’re on tour, which is generally very boring, we, orsome of us, tend to go out every night, have a lot to drink and generally have a good time. Consolation, see? I know it’s all expected of rock bands, but going out is enjoyable, drinking is enjoyable and collapsing isenjoyable.”
There’s miles more of this loving and humping and boozing stuff but you get the general drift.
A bargain of sorts has been struck here. In return for the Neubaten / Atatac (a German label much admired by MG) flourishes that add a new dimension, an undreamt-of depth, to the 12-inches of “People” (Different Mix), “Master And Servant” (Slavery Whip Mix, natch) and “Shake The Disease” (Something To Do Mix), we have to tolerate the sad spectacle of the only son of Mrs Gore of Basildon, Essex, boozing and shagging his frail body to a soggy string. Sort of. But, as it doesn’t seem to be doing him too much harm – lots of people wear leather skirts and dresses, don’t they? – it doesn’t strike as too bad a deal.
Actually, cowhide couture, miserabilism and consolatory sex aside for the moment, Berlin has been important and good for Martin Gore, leaving him more outgoing, confident and, having absorbed a lot of music he wouldn’t necessarily have heard on Radio Basildon, a better writer. So Depeche Mode, though it’s hard to believe that the band’s internal cohesion has been helped by Martin’s lifestyle transformation, have benefited too.
SO, WHILE Martin downs another whiskey in his bid to compensate for the boredom of a life that sees him jetting around the world to make pop music (his father drives lorries in Basildon), it seems, what with all this confidence in the air and an ego-massaging LP on the blocks, a good time to get my gripe about Depeche Mode off my chest.
It’s just this, Mart: yes, DM have made some spanking good records, and yes, DM have kept us all on our toes by incorporating, using, then moving on, but it’s all happened at such a sedate, civilised pace. Depeche Mode never do anything extreme, disturbing or dirty.
Don’t you ever get the urge to smash through this self-imposed restraint to set yourself and Depeche Mode dizzyingly free? Don’t you ever feel like casting off all the consideration, all the ticka-ticka Timex precision, and pummelling this music into extremis, to really let rip?
"I want to represent life’s boredom…"
Sorry I asked.
"… and if you take things to absurd extremes you’re not really reflecting life. Real life is not extreme, so we’re not, and nor is our music."
There’s an obvious trap here; if DM’s records attempt to reflect life which is drifting dully by, won’t the records follow suit?
"But if I represent life…" a thought dies somewhere between Martin Gore’s brain and lips, "…that’s all I want to do."
You seem to be suggesting that you somehow deliberately make less than riveting records.
"Sometimes I do change things because they’re too bright or summery or poppy. But if I make boring records and people identify with them, then I’ve achieved my aim."
In a pop world feverishly concerned with gilding life’s sometimes tatty lily, Martin Gore’s avowed project, apparently to make a music as dishwatery dull as the greyest grey day (a project with Gore’s passion for, and expertise in, Perfect Pop dooms to finger snappin’, humalong failure) is indeed remarkable. Not to say unique. Not to say a touch loony.
As a parting shot – the table is littered with dead ‘uns, the chess matches juddering to their titanic conclusions – I wonder if Martin’s dabblings in Berlin meant that he’d outgrown his fellow Moders.
"To an extent that may be the case… they seem to accept what I think though…" The pansticked face contorts with the strain of serious thought. "At the moment they’re most worried about the way I dress, about my dresses in fact. Maybe I’ll get them all wearing them…”
"WHA’SH THE difference between an egg anna wank? You can beat an egg but you can’t b…" Thank you, thank you, Mr Disgustingly Loud and Drunk Nuisance.
Another evening, another pub, and the other 75% of Depeche Mode have attracted an unsolicited cabaret.
They’ve changed too. Dave Gahan’s old angelpuss has been replaced by a stubbly leer better suited to a car thief turned pop star. He, unlike the dastardly Gore, has recently married his childhood sweetheart. Alan Wilder looks what he is, a sensible working musician, while the beanpole Andy Fletcher, earnest and straight as a Mother Theresa-dealt poker hand, would make a great inner city vicar. These people will not take easily to wearing leather skirts. So Martin’s dream of a full scale Depeche Mode Leather Lovelies Revue is liable to remain unfulfilled. In other matters, however, the remaining Modemen are well aware of their reliance on Gore.
"Yes, we are very dependent on Martin’s ideas, his writing," begins Al. "Whatever his whim of the moment is, that’s what the songs are about. We have to accept that."
"We’re usually happy to accept that,” the newlywed takes up the theme. “We get our say in the studio. Sometimes Martin’s not entirely with what’s happened to his demos, but he’s the kind of bloke that doesn’t say much…”
’til after it’s released.”
Dave, Al and Fletch watched the transformation of Martin with an assortment of eyes. As mates they were pleased that he’d found new love and turned his back on an England that stultified him. As Moders, adrift without Martin’s songs and, lyrically, prisoners to his changes, they looked on with a mixture of fascination, bemusement and trepidation.
Their worst fears having proved unfounded – Martin didn’t become a coke-encrusted axe murderer and his songs were not suddenly peopled with smack-wrecked bluesmonster shamen – they’ve each come to terms with the post-Berlin model Gore in their own way. Fletch, in his role as Best Mate, loyally feels that it was all very necessary. His escape from a relationship that he could no longer come to terms with, rather than where that escape propelled him to, liberated Martin.
Dave Gahan and Alan Wilder take a less romanticised view.
"He has totally changed,” offers Gahan, adding psychiatry to his list of accomplishments. “But he’s just being the way he wanted to be anyway. Mart missed out on his teens, just generally going out, seeing different girls every night and getting drunk all the time, y’know, not caring. He’s living all that now. It’s not a bad thing. Everybody should go through that phase.
"Personally, I think he’s just doing all the things I did when I was 16. All that stuff about boredom is exactly the attitude that I went through. I went to clubs with people much older than myself. I wore tons of makeup, and dresses too. But now if I go to a club I just want to have a good time, not to shock. Nothing shocks any more. Shocking is over, unless you cut your head off or something.
"But Martin says that he hates going into the street and feeling normal. As soon as he gets into a normal situation, he gets scared."
"He does enjoy it," it’s Alan now, "when we go through Customs and they ask him if he wants to go into the men’s or women’s cubicles to be searched."
David Gahan has the last word. “I look at a lot of things Martin does now, and I just laugh…”
FROM ALL this it sounds like there’s plenty of scope for, shall we say, friction within the ranks of Depeche Mode, that the upcoming compilation could be an epitaph rather than a watershed or a springboard. In fact, though, they all seem remarkably committed to a band that is now, after all, six years old.
That being the case, and given Martin Gore’s evident excitement about the new Mode noises currently vying for space in that head awash with wine, women and song, everything in the DM garden looks rosy. So it’s time again for gripe-airing. Same complaint, same question – when will they abandon their demure, stately progress? Are they going to be brave enough to push?
Feet are mentally shuffled, like guilty schoolboys. Eye contact is avoided: they answer in relays.
"We sometimes feel that we want to but then we start rationalising." Alan shuffles the buck sideways.
"We like our success, the fact that we sell a lot of records. Our very first single charted so we got to like the feeling of success." Fletch passes it on.
"I don’t think we go far enough… it frustrates me. I always feel we could go much further than we do." Dave’s got it now. "I like the success too, so it’s difficult… but surely…" CLANG!! The penny drops like a collapsing new building.
"…the fact that we’ve kept in the Top 20 all this time means that we’re in a position to do it, to push, to take a few risks."
Yes, Dave it does. Yes Alan, you can. And Fletch, the $64,000 question, will you?”
"I’m gonna push."
"I think you’re being a bit naïve."
"But I think we will do it, given time…"
Given time!! Given bloody time?? Gggnnraahh!! “Gggnnraahh” is an approximation of the sound made by the journalist-fan, eyes bulging from their sockets, simultaneously eating a tape recorder and a copy of “Some Great Reward”.
Given time? After taking five whole years to advance, however stylishly, their perfectly imperfect pop from A to somewhere past C, Depeche want more time with their big toes in the water before finally shutting their eyes and taking the plunge of which they’re so obviously capable.
But, in the end, I don’t know why I’m giving myself blood pressure about it. In another five years Fletch, Al and Dave’ll probably be respected members of their local Rotary Club , no, they don’t play imported funk at the Rotary while Martin may well have a huge spanner through his nose and a harem of alkies. And the second volume of Depeche Mode hits, all Top 20 stuff, mind, no fillers, will be ready for issue.
The question to which the chaps of Depeche Mode must urgently address themselves is will there still be anybody listening?
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