Depeche Mode Biography

During the UK post-punk backlash at the turn of the 80s, when bands dispensed with guitars and drums in favour of synthesizers and drum machines, Depeche Mode formed, taking their name from the title of a French style magazine. More than 20 years later, they are recognized as the most successful ‘electro-synth’ band ever. Ironically enough, given their reputation as the kings of synth-pop, they had made their debut as a trio playing only guitars at Scamps club in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. The band originally came together in the neighbouring borough of Basildon in 1980, and comprised Vince Clarke (Vincent John Martin, 3 July 1960, South Woodford, London, England; synthesizer, ex-No Romance In China), Andy Fletcher (b. Andrew John Fletcher, 8 July 1961, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England; synthesizer) and Martin Gore (b. 23 July 1961, Basildon, Essex, England; synthesizer, ex-The French Look; Norman And The Worms).

Following a series of concerts that attracted packed houses at the Bridge House Tavern in London’s Canning Town, the band was spotted by Daniel Miller. Shortly afterwards they were signed to his independent Mute Records, which became their long-term record label. They had already tasted vinyl exposure by issuing one track on Stevo’s Some Bizzare compilation in 1981. This had been recorded by the original trio, with Clarke on vocals, before they elected to recruit Dave Gahan (b. David Gahan, 9 May 1962, Epping, Essex, England) as their permanent lead vocalist. ‘Dreaming Of Me’ in 1981 started a remarkable run of hit singles throughout the 80s, including ‘New Life’, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, ‘See You’, ‘The Meaning Of Love’, ‘Leave In Silence’, ‘Get The Balance Right!’, ‘Everything Counts’, ‘People Are People’ (their first US hit), ‘Master And Servant’, ‘Shake The Disease’, ‘It’s Called A Heart’, ‘Stripped’, and ‘Strangelove’. Main songwriter Vince Clarke had left shortly after the release of 1981’s Speak & Spell to form Yazoo with Alison Moyet, and the writing reins were taken over by Martin Gore, as Alan Wilder (b. 1 June 1959, Hammersmith, London, England; synthesizer/vocals, ex-Dragons) settled into Clarke’s place. The gentle, hypnotic ambience of ‘See You’ was an early demonstration of Gore’s sense of melody.

Only briefly in their early years did Depeche Mode find their craft compatible with the tastes of the music press, yet their success remained a testament to the power of their music. Lyrically, Gore tended to tackle subjects a shade darker than the musical content might suggest, including sado-masochism (‘Master And Servant’), capitalism (‘Everything Counts’) and religious fetishism (‘Personal Jesus’). As the 90s dawned their albums continued to reach the UK Top 10, and they had made important inroads on the US market. The Violator tour made them huge concert stars in America, where they became stars on the burgeoning alternative scene. 1990’s Violator included the aforementioned ‘Personal Jesus’ and further transatlantic hits in ‘Enjoy The Silence’, ‘Policy Of Truth’ and ‘World In My Eyes’. The album presented a harder sound informed by Gahan’s patronage of the American rock scene, which was continued on Songs Of Faith And Devotion. As their standing throughout the world continued to be enhanced by ambitious stage shows, the latter album debuted in both the US and UK charts at number 1 on its week of release - this despite the fact that thinly veiled acrimony seemed to surround the Depeche Mode camp as it entered the 90s.

Wilder departed in 1996 (resurfacing in 1997 as the cinematic Recoil). The change in Gahan during this period saw him relocate from Essex to Los Angeles, divorce his wife, remarry his tattooed American girlfriend, divorce her and then attempt suicide. Gahan’s serious drug dependency reached a peak when he came close to death in 1996. In a revealing interview with the New Musical Express, he spoke about his drug problems to such an extent that the reader was convinced of his determination to stay clean and pursue a future with his longest love affair, his band. The following year’s Ultra was a surprisingly good album, considering the fragmentation that had been occurring within the ranks, and spawned two of the band’s biggest UK hits, ‘Barrel Of A Gun’ and ‘It’s No Good’. The renaissance continued with the excellent Exciter in 2001, which ranks as one of the band’s strongest albums. Both Gahan and Gore released solo albums in 2003. They then reconvened Depeche Mode to record the new studio album, Playing The Angel.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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