I had never heard a song about S&M and power and domination until "Master and Servant" came out in 1984. I had no clue you could even sing of such things on the radio, but Depeche Mode did. They were always this "new" and kind of dark band pushing the envelope of what was considered music with their synthesizer innovations. In fact, I had a bunch of band pins that I used to wear on my shirts and jean jackets back in the 80's (a very popular thing to do back then), and while most of my pins were of Duran Duran, if there was a band I liked, they also snuck into my mix of pins. I had a Depeche Mode pin that I used to wear from time to time, and I remember that it caused such ire among my high school classmates in New Hampshire (especially the male ones). They used to sneer and say, "Who the heck is Depeche Mode? Why do you listen to bands that no one has ever heard of? Why don't you just listen to Bruce Springsteen?". Sigh!! In 1988 when I did a semester on exchange in San Diego, California, Depeche Mode, and all kinds of other alternative bands that I liked to listen to were what was popular there. It was as though I stepped in to a place where the people "got it" and my music wasn't outcast. It was so refreshing! Depeche Mode was played all over the radio and in clubs and parties. Everyone knew them. Everyone liked them
Well, who is sneering now? Depeche Mode turned out to be a band that lasted. They are still going strong, releasing successful albums, and going on successful tours, and have a loyal worldwide fan base.
Depeche Mode was formed in 1980 in Basildon, England, a working-class suburb of London. The roots of the band extend as far back as 1977 when Vince Clarke (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals) and Andy Fletcher (keyboards, bass, percussion, backing vocals) were influenced by the band The Cure (see 80’s quest post of March 9th) and started their own band called No Romance in China with Clarke on vocals and Fletcher on bass.
In 1979 Clarke played guitar in a band called The Plan with another musician named Robert Marlow. Later that year, Martin Gore (keyboards, guitar, percussion, lead and backing vocals) formed a band with Marlow and others called The French Look. By March 1980 Clark, Gore and Fletcher finally got together and formed a band called Composition of Sound. The band started with Clarke on vocals (he was also the band’s main songwriter), Gore on keyboards and Fletcher on bass but soon Gore and Fletcher switched to synthesizers and drum machines because they didn’t require amplifiers and were easy to carry on the train, which they used to travel to gigs. They began working odd jobs to buy new equipment. Clark heard Dave Gahan perform a cover of David Bowie’s "Heroes" at a local jam session and asked him to join the band as lead singer. Depeche Mode was born! They took their name from a French fashion magazine of the same name (Depeche meaning "to hurry up"and Mode meaning "fashion"). Martin Gore says he really liked the idea of hurried fashion, and the sound of it. The first time Depeche Mode played as a band was for a school gig in May 1980.
The band was approached by Daniel Miller, the founder of a new record company called Mute Records, while they were playing a gig at the Bridge House in Canning Town. Miller asked them to record a single on his new record label. The result was Depeche Mode’s first single, "Dreaming of Me" which was released in February 1981. It charted at #57 on the U.K. charts, which was encouraging. The band recorded a second single, "New Life" which charted even higher at #11. Their next single "Just Can’t Get Enough" became their first Top Ten hit. It was also the first song that Depeche made into a video, and the only Depeche Mode video that features Vince Clark in it. After the success of all these singles, Depeche Mode’s debut album Speak & Spell was released in November 1981. The critics gave the album mixed reviews, but it charted at #10 on the U.K. charts and was well-received by fans. It became one of the year’s best selling albums in England.
While the band was touring in support of Speak & Spell Clarke began to express dissatisfaction with the direction the band was taken and felt there was never enough time to do anything. In November 1981 he quit Depeche Mode and soon thereafter started a new band with Alison Moyet called Yazoo in England (and Yaz in the United States. Later he also formed Erasure with singer Andy Bell – see 80’s Quest posts). Gore now stepped into the role as Depeche Mode’s main songwriter.
In late 1981 the band placed an ad in Melody Maker looking for another member for their band. The ad read, "Name band, synthesize, must be under twenty-one". A keyboard player from West London, named Alan Wilder, answered the ad and was hired (despite being aged 22) initially on a temporary basis to tour with the band, and later as a personal member. In Pulse! magazine one of their record producers was quoted as saying that Wilder was the craftsman of the band, Gore was the idea man, and Gahan was the attitude. In January 1982 the band released their first single without Clarke, "See You", it charted higher (#6) than any of the songs that Clarke had previously penned. Depeche Mode went on tour after the single was released and played their first shows in North America. Two more singles "The Meaning of Love" and "Leave in Silence" were released ahead of the band’s second album, Broken Flame that was released in September 1982. In October the band went out on their second tour.
In January 1983 they released a single "Get the Balance Right" which was the first new song to be recorded with Wilder.
Depeche Mode’s third album, Construction Time Again was recorded at Hansa Studios in West Berlin, Germany (where David Bowie and Brian Eno had worked on their compilations together). This album was a giant switch from previous albums, because Wilder had introduced the Synclavier and E-mu Emulator samplers to the bands sound. The samplers allowed the band to record noises from everyday life and include them in their music giving it an eclectic, industrial sound. Gore’s songwriting was also getting better and evolving. His lyrics were now focusing on social and political issues. The first single from the new album was "Everything Counts". It charted at #6 in the U.K. In September 1983 the band embarked on a European tour to support the album.
In September 1984 the band released Some Great Reward. The themes on this album shifted from socio/political themes to more personal themes about sexual politics such as "Master and Servant" and "Lie to Me". Depeche Mode’s initial success was mainly in the U.K. and Australia, but their second single "People Are People" brought them chart success in other new countries such as Ireland(#2), Switzerland (#4), West Germany (#1) and even reached #13 in the United States (but belatedly in 1985). Another single was "Blasphemous Rumours" was released as a double a-side along with the first ballad written by Gore, "Somebody". "Somebody" was also the first song sung by Gore. This album was the first to enter the United States album chart, and it reached the Top Ten in many countries.
Depeche Mode filmed a complete concert appearance on their 1984 tour for Some Great Reward and released it on a video entitled, "The World We Live In and Live in Hamburg". The band played their very first concerts behind the iron curtain in 1985 Budapest and Warsaw. The same year (1985) their record company released a greatest hits CD called The Singles 81-85. It included two new singles called "Shake the Disease" and "It’s Called a Heart".
Funny thing….around this time in the United States Depeche Mode became associated with a dark gothic subculture and was considered to be an alternative band that was played largely on college radio stations and major progressive radio stations such as KROQ in Los Angeles, WFNX in Boston, KQAK in San Francisco, and WLIR on Long Island, New York. However, in Europe the image of the band were considered to be teen idols and were regularly featured on European teen magazines.
In 1986 Depeche mode released Black Celebration, a darker and more atmospheric album than in the past. The song "Question of Lust" was made into a video. It was the first of Depeche Mode’s videos to be directed by Anton Corbijn. This was the beginning of a long relationship, as Corbijn went on direct at least 19 of Depeche Mode’s other videos, as well as some of their lives performances. He has also helped with stage design on their tours, and album artwork.
On their next album Music for the Masses (1987) Depeche mode did less sampling and more experimentation with synthesizers. Singles included "Strangelove", "Never Let Me Down Again" and "Behind the Wheel". This was the album that finally broke through in the United States like no other album before it had. Around this time Depeche Mode was also one of the very few western bands to play in East Germany. At the time East Germany was communist-ruled and separated from the free world by the Berlin Wall (1961-1989). On March 7, 1988 they played a secret show at the Werener-Seelenbinder-Halle in East Berlin and were one of the few bands ever to do so. Around this time they also played in Budapest, Prague, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The tour for Music for the Masses was highly successful, especially in America. A concert film entitled 101 was shot by famed documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and a soundtrack album released. In September 1988 Depeche Mode performed the song "Strangelove" at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles for the MTV Video Music Awards.
In mid-1989 the band went to Milan, Italy and began working with producer Flood, and Francois Kevorkian. The result was the single "Personal Jesus". A giant marketing campaign for the song was launched. Ads were placed in U.K. newspaper’s personal columns with the words "Your own personal Jesus". Later ads included a phone number. When it was dialed callers could preview the song. The song went on to be one of Depeche Mode’s biggest sellers in the U.K. charting at #13, and in the united states it was their first Top 40 Hit since "People are People" in 1984. The next single, "Enjoy the Silence", was released in January 1990. It reached the Top Ten in the U.K. (the first of their songs to do so since 1984’s "Master and Servant") and was their biggest hit to date in the United States. It won the Brit Award for Best British Single. These songs appeared on the Violator album which went Top Ten in both the U.K. and the U.S. Other hits included "Policy of Truth" and "World in My Eyes". To promote the new album, Depeche Mode held an autograph signing at the Wherehouse music store in Los Angeles, California. The furor surrounding this album was so great there, that 20,000 fans showed up and near riot conditions ensued. The crowd pressed against the glass windows of the store, and many were injured. As an apology to those fans who were injured at this event, Depeche Mode released a limited edition cassette which was distributed through L.A. radio station KROQ (who had sponsored the autograph event). The band embarked on a Violator World Tour which nearly 1.2 million fans attended.
In 1991 Depeche Mode contributed the song "Death’s Door" to the movie soundtrack for Wim Wender’s film, Until the End of the World. The setting for the movie was the year 2000, so Wenders challenged music artists to write music as they imagined it would sound in 2000.
In January 1992 Depeche Mode gathered in Madrid, Spain to record their next album. Gahan was very influenced by grunge music that was entering the music scene, and was especially impressed with Jane’s Addiction and Nirvana. The influence showed on their next album, 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion which included distorted guitars and live drum work. The first single was grunge-inspired "I Feel You". Female gospel singers, live strings and uillean pipes were utilized on the single "Condemnation". Critics loved the album and it entered the charts at #1 in both the U.K. and the U.S., but band morale was beginning to fracture. Rather than having group interviews, each band member was starting to be interviewed separately now. An 18-month world tour followed from 1993 through July 1994. It was the largest tour Depeche Mode had ever undertaken, and they played in more countries than they ever had before. A concert film directed by Anton Corbijn called Devotional was made and was nominated for a Grammy Award. A live album, Songs of Faith and Devotion Live was released in December 1993.
Dave Gahan had become addicted to heroin and it was greatly affecting him by this time. His behavior was erratic and he was acting very introverted. Martin Gore began experiencing seizures, and Andy Fletcher was unable to do the second half of the tour due to "mental instability". In June 1995 Alan Wilder quit Depeche Mode because he felt that his enthusiasm and contributions to the band was not receiving the respect it warranted. He left and devoted more time to one of his musical projects called Recoil. It was a rough time for Depeche Mode, and many fans wondered if this was the final curtain for the band.
Gore repeatedly set up recording sessions in 1995-1996, but Gahan would either not show up, or else when he did, his vocals were atrocious. They booked New York’s Electric Lady Studios for six weeks and only came away with one useable vocal for "Sister of the Night" which was pieced together from multiple takes. In August 1995 Gahan tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists. In May 1996, Gahan flatlined after a near fatal overdose of heroin and cocaine. He was arrested for drug possession and ordered by the courts to enter drug rehab in mid-1996. By the end of the year he emerged from treatment clean and sober to record Depeche Mode’s next album, Ultra, which was released in 1997. Two singles were released ahead of the album to promote it: "Barrel of a Gun" and "It’s No Good". The album entered the U.K. charts at #1 and #5 in the U.S. Because Gahan was only newly sober, the band chose not to tour in support of the album, but did perform at two short "Ultra Parties" in Los Angeles and London.
The continuing compilation of their singles was released in 1998 and called The Singles 86-98. It included a new single called "Only When I Lose Myself" which was recorded during the recording sessions for Ultra. In April 1998 the band announced they would tour in support of the new singles compilation - - the first tour without Alan Wilder.
In 2005 Depeche mode released their 11th album, Playing the Angel. Standout tracks were "Precious" "John the Revelator" and "Lillian". It was the first Depeche Mode album with lyrics written by Gahan. A nine-month tour in support of the album got underway in November 2005. The band also headlined the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California. Overall the band played to more than 2.8 million fans in 31 countries, and it was one of the highest grossing tours of the 2005/2006 season.
In 2006 a "best of" album called The Best of Volume 1 was released with the new single "Martyr", which was originally recorded during the making of Playing the Angel.
In 2008 the band split from their long term record label Warner Music and signed on with EMI. The returned to the studio and released their next album in April 2009, Sounds of the Universe. It was also available for download on iTunes Pass wherein individual tracks could be purchased in the weeks leading up to the official release of the entire album. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album. The band toured in support of this album, but had to be suspended during the first leg when Gahan was struck with gastroenteritis and doctors discovered and removed a low grade tumor in his bladder. Still, 2.7 million fans across 32 countries were able to see the tour and the band also headlined the Lollapalooza festival. Once of their shows in Barcelona, Spain was recorded and released on DVD and was called Tour of the Universe: Barcelona 20/21.11.09.
The band’s relationship with EMI records was short-lived. At the conclusion of their 3-year contract, they released a remix/compilation album called Remixes 2; 81-11.
During one of his DJ gigs in Italy in November 2011, Andy Fletcher announced that Depeche Mode was gearing up to go into the studio to record a new album (their 13th) in January 2012 with a tour to follow in 2012 – 2013. Stay tuned…..
There's a new game
We like to play you see
A game with added reality
You treat me like a dog
Get me down on my knees
We call it master and servant
We call it master and servant
It's a lot like life
This play between the sheets
With you on top and me underneath
Forget all about equality
Let's play master and servant
Let's play master and servant
It's a lot like life
And that's what's appealing
If you despise that throwaway feeling
From disposable fun
Then this is the one
Domination's the name of the game
In bed or in life
They're both just the same
Except in one you're fulfilled
At the end of the day
Let's play master and servant
Let's play master and servant
Let's play master and servant
Come on, master and servant was the next album released in 2001, but the critical response was missed and many found the album dull. Still, the band toured in support of it. In 2003 Gahan released a solo album called Paper Monsters and toured in support of it. The same year Gore released his second solo album called Counterfeit, and Fletcher founded his own electronic music record label called toast Hawaii. A remix album was released in 2004 called Remixes 81-04.