I’m continuing my series of bands and artists that I’ve seen live more than once. This week’s band is Depeche Mode and I’ve chosen two very different tracks from their large catalogue.
Original bandleader Vince Clarke was responsible for transforming the fledgling Depeche Mode from a conventional rock outfit into an electronic musical act. Clarke attributes his shift in musical ambitions to Wirral group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). While Martin Gore named the electronic quartet Kraftwerk as a primary influence on the band, stating:
My dream was to combine the emotion of Neil Young or John Lennon transmitted by Kraftwerk’s synthesizers. Soul music played by electronic instruments.
Other band members have cited a wide range of influences such as David Bowie, The Clash, Roxy Music and Brian Eno and the Velvet Underground.
Depeche Mode were considered very much a teen pop band during their early period in the UK but following the departure of Clarke, their music began to take on a darker tone as Gore assumed lead songwriting duties. Gore’s lyrics include themes such as sex, religion, and politics. Gore has stated he feels lyrical themes which tackle issues related to solitude and loneliness are a better representation of reality, whereas he finds “happy songs” fake and unrealistic. At the same time, he asserts that the band’s music contains “an element of hope.”
In their early years, Depeche Mode were only successful in Europe and Australia. This changed in March 1984, when they released the single People Are People. The song became a hit in various European countries and also reached No. 13 on the US charts, the band’s debut on the Billboard Hot 100. The track also became an anthem for the LGBT community, regularly played at gay establishments and gay pride festivals in the late 1980s.
By January 1992, lead vocalist Dave Gahan had become interested in the new grunge scene sweeping the US and was influenced by the likes of Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden and Nirvana. The band’s 1993 album, Songs of Faith and Devotion, saw them experimenting with arrangements based as much on heavily distorted electric guitars and live drums as on synthesizers. The album debuted at number one in both the UK and the US, only the sixth British act to achieve such a distinction.
The Devotional world tour followed, documented by a concert film of the same name. The film was directed by Anton Corbijn, and in 1995 earned the band their first Grammy nomination.
The band’s second live album, Songs of Faith and Devotion Live, was released in December 1993. The tour continued into 1994 with the Exotic Tour, which began in February 1994 in South Africa, and ended in April in Mexico. The final leg of the tour, consisting of more North American dates, followed shortly thereafter and ran until July. As a whole, the Devotional Tour is to date the longest and most geographically diverse Depeche Mode tour, spanning fourteen months and 159 individual performances.