Formed in Basildon, Essex (UK) in 1976 by Vince Clarke, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher while they were still at school. The line-up was completed by frontman David Gahan and by 1980 they had adopted the name Depeche Mode and immersed themselves in the London ‘New Romantic‘ scene (which spawned the likes of Spandau Ballet and Visage).
Their debut single Dreaming Of Me scraped the lower regions of the charts in 1981, and a follow-up, New Life, almost made the Top 10.
Dominated by synthesizers and drum machines, yet retaining a keen sense of melody, the band initially took their cue from Kraftwerk. As evidenced on their insanely catchy Top 10 breakthrough Just Can’t Get Enough (the first of 24 consecutive Top 30 hits) their lyrics weren’t quite as enigmatic as their Teutonic heroes, although they improved with time.
The success of Just Can’t Get Enough (which no doubt is still played ten times a night in French discos) paved the way for their debut album Speak and Spell (1981), a promising collection of synth-pop which made the UK Top 10.
Chief songwriter Vince Clarke quit shortly after, moving on to new pastures with Yazoo and then Erasure. Gore wrote the songs for the follow-up album, A Broken Frame (1982). Shortly after the album was released, Alan Wilder joined the band as a replacement for Clarke.
Like its predecessor, Construction Time Again (1983) failed to make any significant leap forwards from the debut LP, although it did contain the classic Everything Counts.
While the People Are People single gave the band valuable exposure in the USA, their real breakthrough came with 1984s Some Great Reward (featuring Master and Servant). The album was darker and more satisfyingly varied.
Black Celebration (1986) was deliberately darker still, with much of the material creeping along at a funereal pace, and Music For The Masses (1987) was the band’s biggest US success to date and the wimpy synth-poppers became whomping stadium stompers almost overnight.
A 1988 sell-out world tour spawned a live album (101) followed by another studio album (Violator) in 1990, which was heralded as the band’s best work since Some Great Reward.
Depeche Mode launched Violator in March with what they assumed would be a low-key appearance at L.A’s Wherehouse Records. Instead, five fans were hospitalised when, according to police, 30,000 showed up.
Oddly, the album that secured their superstardom was far more subdued than its booming predecessor, Music for the Masses, although Personal Jesus (based on a Gary Glitter stomp) seemed suited to stadiums.
By 1993s Songs Of Faith And Devotion, the clinical sound was softened somewhat with a move towards more rock-centric territory. A lot of long-time fans were understandably miffed at the band’s new direction.
Dave Gahan died in the Sunset Marquis, Los Angeles, on 31 May 1996 after overdosing on a ‘speedball’ of heroin and cocaine. Miraculously, he was revived by medics after his heart had stopped for several minutes – and then he was immediately arrested.
Gahan would ultimately conquer his dependency, though his transmogrification from ridiculously fresh-faced Basildon boy to straggly-haired junkie only deepened their street cred.
Guitar, synth, drum machine