Think, for a second, how the world has changed since Depeche Mode first came together in 1980. Never mind iPhones—most homes didn’t even have a then-futuristic invention known as a VCR. The Clash had just rolled out a game-changing record called London Calling, the Cars were the world’s hottest new wave band, and Bon Scott was still fronting AC/DC. Unless you were deep into Kraftwerk, synths were something you normally only heard when Rick Wakeman was mounting a live on-ice production of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
But speaking volumes about the endurance of Depeche Mode, the group has not only ridden out a good 50 or so musical palace revolutions, but is still completely relevant today. Forget planting their flag in Nostalgiaville, members Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, and Andy Fletcher continue to record albums that suggest they’re doing anything but going through motions, with this year’s Spirit debuting in the Billboard top five in both the U.K. and America.
The reward for that? Well, on a purely commercial level, Depeche Mode is—after a crazy 37 years together—still headlining hockey rinks, including tonight’s Vancouver stop at Rogers Arena. As for the group’s artistic legacy, how many other bands have been cited as a formative by influence by a cast that ranges from No Doubt, the Pet Shop Boys, and Arcade Fire to Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, and Nine Inch Nails? If you answered “none”, take a bow.
PAYING THE BILLS. Depeche Mode’s first notable hit came in the form of “Just Can’t Get Enough”, a song which has since been used everywhere from Gap commercials to Hollywood movie promos (including the Steve Carrell/Ryan Gosling vehicle Crazy, Stupid, Love). As savvy music-biz types are well aware, such high-profile placements is where the money is these days, especially since people stopped buying music right around the time Lars Ulrich got mega-pissed at Napster. “Just Can’t Get Enough” has indeed brought in the big bucks, but that’s little consolation for group mainstays: Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, and Andy Fletcher. The song was written by Vince Clarke, who played with Depeche Mode for about 10 minutes before bolting for a career that included Erasure, Yaz, and solo releases. But that short stint proved lucrative as he’s retained the rights to the song. In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Gahan recalls sitting down with Clarke, Fletcher, and Gore in front of a music publisher. He remembers the story as follows, with the publisher saying: “‘You know, Vince, you’re going to be driving a Rolls Royce when these lot are still on a tandem,’ pointing to me and [bandmates] Martin [Gore] and Fletch [Andy Fletcher]. And it probably was true! I think that song has kept him in cornflakes for many years.” Watch closely in the “Just Can’t Get Enough” video below and you’ll see U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr.
POOR NO MORE. As of early June, Depeche Mode’s Global Spirit tour had taken in a whopping $45.6 million, that number having only ballooned in the past five months. That should ensure that the members of the band don’t have to resort to food stamps over the new few years. As wealthy as Depeche Mode has made him today, Gahan also knows what it’s like to be poor. And, also, what’s its like to be saved by music when you’re a nerdy outsider, which he notes that he definitely was. “My mother raised four kids on her own pretty much, worked two jobs and raised us in a really little house,” he told Electronic Beats in 2013. “I remember I had a small radio that I would go to bed with. My two little brothers and me shared a small bedroom. I was on a mattress on the floor in a sleeping bag, while they were in the bunk bed. I had this little earpiece thing which I would use to listen late at night to John Peel or whatever weird music that wasn’t on daytime radio or TV, which was another important part of my musical upbringing.”
ON THE PITCH. You can take the boy out of England, but evidently you can’t England out of the boy. Growing up across the pond, Martin Gore quite understandably fell in love with football—more commonly known as soccer on these shores. For those who actually care about football, err, soccer, his favourite team in Arsenal. Gore has lived in California for most of this century, but that hasn’t made him change his sporting allegiance to the baseball diamond, frozen pond or grid iron. The famously positive Depeche Mode co-founder not only still loves soccer, err football, best, but also continues to play it once a week. “Believe or not,” he told legendary Los Angeles radio station KROQ in 2013, “I play more soccer here than I ever did in England because you feel like playing it more because it’s hotter. You don’t have to deal with the cold and the rain.” As you can see from the clip below, he's been playing the game since the days when he used to buy Wella New Wave Tame It Volumizing Mousse by the crate.
MAKING POUR DECISIONS. Gore’s lyrics often mirrored Gahan’s tortured existence during the singer’s drug-addled years, but the guitarist has denied using his bandmate as a muse. “I’m not writing the sountrack to Dave’s life”, he told the Independent. That might have something to do with the fact that the songwriter’s own experiences were fittingly tumultuous. A borderline alcoholic, Gore suffered two stress-induced seizures on tour in 1993 to promote Faith and Devotion, and was reportedly such a mess during the recording of 2005’s Playing the Angel that producer Ben Hillier would have a few hours in the morning to get the guitarist to put some music down on tape before he got too drunk to play. Realizing that he’d “cross[ed] a line” after regularly waking up to two double vodkas for breakfast, Gore finally sobered up a short while later, though his lyrics often remain similarly bleak.
YOU CAN’T CHOOSE YOUR FANS. Earlier this year, Richard Spencer, the white nationalist and leading activist for ethnic cleansing in the States, named Depeche Mode the “official band of the Alt-Right” at the conservative CPAC conference. Telling Rolling Stone that “Depeche Mode is a band of existential angst, pain, sadism, horror, darkness, and much more”, the unofficial Alt-Right leader suggested that he heard “a bit of a fascist element” in the music. Although Spencer later argued on Twitter that he was “a lifelong fan”, commenters questioned his comprehension of the group’s lyrics such as “I can’t understand / What makes a man / Hate another man” in chart-topping “People Are People”, and that guitarist Martin Gore’s biological father is an African American. Depeche Mode also hit back, telling Rolling Stone that the band has no ties to Richard Spencer or the Alt-Right and does not support the Alt-Right movement—a statement reinforced by the band’s latest record, Spirit, which was written to explicitly address the malaise felt after the U.S. election and Britain’s right-leaning Brexit vote.