Depeche Mode remains one of the most enduring bands of the electronic music revolution that swept the UK in the 1980s. The Basildon boys have been on the music scene for an amazing 38 years, playing their signature brand of synthesiser pop and new wave.
The band’s origins date from 1977, at the height of the punk scene in the UK, when school friends Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher formed a band called No Romance in China that was heavily influenced by their idols, The Cure. Clarke was lead vocalist and guitarist, while Fletcher played bass guitar.
It was an exciting era for Brit pop, as synth bands such as Human League, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Visage, Ultravox and others were making their mark on the pop charts. Local bands were playing live gigs and taking part in jam sessions to emulate their idols and this was how Depeche Mode began.
Depeche Mode launch
Future lead vocalist and songwriter, Dave Gahan, who was 18 at the time, was taking part in a jamming session at a local scout hut in Basildon (singing Heroes by David Bowie) when he was spotted by Clarke in 1980. Clarke asked if he would like to join a new band and Gahan agreed.
That year, Depeche Mode officially formed, with Fletcher and Clarke being joined by Gahan on lead vocals and Martin Gore on keyboards and guitar. Gore became the band’s chief songwriter, although Gahan co-wrote some of the songs.
The name Depeche Mode was taken from the French fashion magazine of the same name, because the band believed it meant “hurried fashion” and they liked the sound of it. However, the magazine’s name in English was said to be “fashion update”, so there’s some dispute as to what the literal translation of Depeche Mode is.
The band made their debut in the recording studio later in 1980 on the compilation album, Some Bizzare, with their song, Photographic. They succeeded in getting a record deal after personally pounding the pavements and taking a demo tape to record companies, rather than mailing one and hoping for the best.
Their perseverance paid off, as they were signed by Mute Records. Releasing their debut single, Dreaming of Me, in December 1980 and their first album, Speak and Spell, in 1981, they were an instant pop success – their appearance on Top of the Pops in 1981 with Just Can’t Get Enough, sent them straight into the top ten. As a chart-topping band and major influence on the British electronic music scene, they have never looked back.
Enjoy the Silence
Throughout the 1980s, they were making regular appearances on Top of the Pops, recording new material to great critical acclaim and playing live gigs. This continued into the 1990s, when the decade began with Depeche Mode releasing their best-selling single to date, Enjoy the Silence.
Written by Gore, it was released in January 1990, peaking at number six in the UK singles chart and at number eight in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was gold certified in Germany and won the Brit Award for Best British Single in 1991.
Taken from the album, Violator, it was described as being about a man who had everything he wanted in the world, but who just needed a quiet place to sit and reflect.
The band commissioned Dutch director Anton Corbijn to direct the music video for Enjoy the Silence. He referenced the story of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 children’s book, The Little Prince, featuring Gahan dressed as a king and wandering the beautiful countryside of the Scottish Highlands, the Swiss Alps and the Algarve in Portugal.
The footage of him walking was interspersed with black-and-white clips of the rest of the band and flashes of a single rose – the theme of the album cover of Violator. When the band first saw the concept of the video, they weren’t too impressed, describing it as “Dave dressed up as a king and walking round with a deck chair”.
Initially, they rejected the idea, but changed their mind when Corbijn explained that the king represented a man who had “everything in the world”, but was “just looking for a quiet place to sit”. Fletcher later joked that he liked the video because he hardly appeared in it and “only had to do about an hour’s work”.
The video featured a new, exclusive, extended introduction that was never released on record. The final long shots, depicting the king walking in the snow, featured Richard Bell, the producer, rather than Gahan, who had reportedly left the set, fed up of the cold in Switzerland.
The video ended with Gahan singing, “Enjoy the silence,”, and putting his finger to his lips to say, “Shhh,” to the viewers.
Following its success, Enjoy the Silence was re-released on 25th October 2004 as a single for the Depeche Mode project, Remixes 81–04. It topped the US dance and electronic albums chart and also charted across the world, peaking at number three in the UK dance albums chart and introducing the music of Depeche Mode to a new generation of fans.
Depeche Mode today
The band still performs live today as a three-piece, featuring the three founder members, Fletcher, Gore and Gahan, after Clarke left to pursue solo projects, including forming the bands Erasure and Yazoo.
Depeche Mode has also supported a host of charitable causes, including Cancer Research UK, MusiCares, the Teenage Cancer Trust and the Small Steps Project, which helps children in poorer communities to complete their education.
They have also supported Charity: Water, which is providing clean drinking water in developing countries. In 2014, they helped to raise $1.4 million for the charity by participating in a gala dinner and fundraiser in Moscow.
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