Depeche Mode is one of the stalwarts of the alternative music scene. They’ve been making music which is both moving and emotional for 25 years, have been through various line ups, and have endured all the hardships and highlights that a quarter of a century in the music industry could throw at them. “We feel really privileged to have worked for 25 years,” says Martin Gore, the lead songwriter of the band since Vince Clarke left in the early 80s. “It’s kind of nice being around for so long, it means parents can introduce their kids to us,” he laughs gently.
Alternative is not a word they take to lightly however, as selling over 50 million records is hardly “alternative”. But they do have a distinctive style, a style that puts them almost in a genre of their own making. The floaty vocals, the dark, electro synths and emotionally charged lyrics have kept them in a mystical place aurally, the province of Goths and other alternative subcultures, although they’ve appeared on Top of the Pops numerous times, and charting in the Top 10 with 13 album release. “We don’t really make music for any one group of people,” Gore states, “this album is aimed at anyone, our old diehard fans and new fans alike.”
Depeche Mode has never felt the need to branch out. “We leave that for our remixers,” he chuckles. They synth lines and dream-world vocals lend themselves to electronic remixes especially, and they’ve been remixed by nearly every big name in the electronic music scene since the 80s, including Flood, DJ Shadow, Kruder + Dorfmeister, Speedy J and Portishead. They even offered their tunes Dream On and I Feel Love from Exciter up for fans on the AcidPlanet website, although Martin isn’t too keen on doing that again, although he wouldn’t go into further details.
But this is almost like mutual obligation, considering that Depeche Mode pioneered synth and sample based electronic music, influencing everyone from Portishead to Derrick May. I was surprised to hear that they had asked Ben Hillier, who has produced the acclaimed Doves release Some Cities, and Blur’s classic Think Tank, to produce their latest album. “Ben Hillier isn’t known for working on electronic bands, so we were surprised and excited when he turned up with all this vintage synth gear,” Gore says. “We used both old and new technologies on this album, a bit of re-wire on a Mac G-5, along with the old synths.”
However, despite claims that Hillier hadn’t listened to the back catalogue he was supplied, he did add a little something to the band. Although the band went into the studio with an open mind, they were surprised with Hillier’s ‘down to business’ attitude. “We’ve always thought we worked quickly with other producers, but Ben worked with us really fast,” Gore exclaims, “it was probably the quickest recording session we’ve ever done, and it was great,” he adds with the touch of a smile.
The new album is also a little more upbeat, but that’s a little like saying a slug is faster than a snail. “Melancholically upbeat” laughs Gore, agreeing with me. In the press release it claims that Dave Gahan, the main vocalist said: “It’s better being in Depeche Mode now than it has been for 15 years!” “It’s probably because he’s feeling good about himself and his health,’ Gore says, a veiled reference to Gahan’s drug troubles in the 90s. “He also wrote a few tracks on the album (I Want It All, Suffer Well and Nothing’s Impossible), and I guess that makes him feel more attached to the creative process this time around, which is a great thing for the band as a whole. I feel excited to have a new album and keen to get on the road for our world tour in 2006.”