1981-01-31 - Sounds (UK) - THIS YEAR'S MODE(L)
[Taken from the now-defunct website www.sacreddm.net
THIS YEAR'S MODE(L)
[Sounds, 31st January 1981. Words: Betty Page. Picture: Paul Slattery.]
" ...their brand of sweet, simple, precise rhythm and lightweight synthetic pop, which, with the luck of the gods, will launch a full-frontal campaign on the complacent legions of Orchestral Manoeuvres kiddies... "
Summary: The band come across understandably shy in their first ever interview in the nationwide music press. Consequently much of the talking is the author describing their style - plenty of comparisons to other bands and attempts to gauge their future placing in the music world, and a very encouraging "leg up" for this new band. [1295 words]
Apologies for the poor scan quality: this is due to the article being taken from a library microfilm.
Dispel from your minds the untenable notion that Futurists are either bored Mummy’s boys tinkering with expensive gadgets or desperately earnest avant-garde merchants trying to preach the gospel according to Kafka: the current resurgence, or (in fact) emergence of electronic-based bands is at a truly grass-roots level – an increasing number of fresh-faced young men (and women) are taking to synthesisers and drum machines for their amusement rather than cheap guitars to create cut-price, instant tunes.
As the great Gal Numan himself said: “You can use just one finger and still produce the most amazing sounds!” Such a sage. After all, the capital outlay of one or maybe two synths plus a rhythm box compares rather favourably with paying four or five dodgy musicians when you can get away with less with reliable hardware. You know it makes sense for a good start in music life!
Some new futurist boys favour walls of noise, some boys favour experimentalism. Some boys like electronic pop and others electro-disco.
The very young, tender and fresh-as-a-mountain-stream Depeche Mode favour our third category.
Natives of Basildon, Vince Clarke (synth), Martin Gore (another synth), Andy Fletcher (yet another (bass) synth) and David Gahan (vocals and electronic percussion) used to play guitars but gradually shed them in favour of more modern toys.
Six months ago they ventured into Croc’s Glamour Club Rayleigh to find themselves resident on the Electronic Saturday Night, followed by brief showings at the mightiest of oi-some venues, the Bridgehouse.
Twas in that dark, unromantic setting that their fairytale rise commences; synth-svengali Daniel (The Normal) Miller spotted les Modes, took an instant and profound liking to their brand of melodic electro-pop and decided to whisk them away to do a single on Mute Records, the result of which is “Dreaming Of Me / Ice Machine”, which will be out on February 20.
Just the right time, methinks, to attack our touch-sensitive ears with their brand of sweet, simple, precise rhythm and lightweight synthetic pop, which, with the luck of the gods, will launch a full-frontal campaign on the complacent legions of Orchestral Manoeuvres kiddies who know a good hookline when they hear one.
But before this solo effort comes their contribution to the long-awaited Stevo-inspired compilation of ‘futurist’ bands, ‘Some Bizzare Album’, out at the end of this month, plus appearances on the accompanying tour of ‘Bizzare Evenings’. Busy, buzzing boys.
Depeche Mode are so fragile and new that this was their first press-ganging, which resulted in a bit of an impasse. Those words which were imparted were precious few, just innocent observations on their still embryonic state. Without wishing to sound condescending – out of the mouths of babes comes forth truth. But it’s great: four young men making simple, commercial music about which they have absolutely no pretentions. Refreshing as a glass of Andrews.
Perched nervously round a creperie table, they responded blushingly and politely to my thrusting questions. I ventured, foolishly, that a fair description of their music would involve comparing them to Orch Man, but with lashings more melody.
David, the trendiest, best coiffed Mode, denied any such connection: “We wouldn’t like to be categorised with them or associated with them at all.”
This may have something to do with the fact that OMD started life as a nauseously trendy Liverpool band along with such luminaries as the Bunnymen and only reached their hit potential later on.
DP reckon to be fairly confident of their instant commercial viability and would be extremely happy to see themselves in the charts and on TOTP tomorrow.
“Yes, please!” they chirped in chorus.
Because of this shameless advocation of hit singles, they also refuted any association with the Sounds-spawned Futurist scene.
David: “I don’t like that scene at all. All the bands involved with it are in one bunch together and they’ll never escape from it. Soft Cell are about the only ones with a good chance. I don’t like to bitch, but Naked Lunch have been going for years… We write pop music, electric pop, so we couldn’t get tagged by appearing on that album. Once people hear the single, they’ll change their minds!”
And that, punters, is hopefully what you’ll think too. It’s the right place, right time for new blood in the charts, a prospect which seemed unlikely mere months ago, but pioneers like the Spands have made it easier for on-coming bands. Popular electronic music so far hasn’t used synthesisers too intelligently (thanks to Numan) or lightheartedly; DP don’t depress, they uplift – something you up there, North of Watford will be able to sample at the start of next month.
Watch out for their four gigs at the most style-conscious clubs in Leeds, Preston, Liverpool and Manchester. But don’t think that just because you don’t sport a fine quiff and startling technicolour threads that you’ll feel like a cat amongst pigeons at a DP show; they attract Blitz-like characters but don’t wish to be cliqueish and welcome all peace-loving gig-goers.
The Modes generally concur that they have just as good an opportunity to achieve their aims on Mute Records as they do signing to any large conglomerate record label you care to mention.
Vince: “We’ve got a better chance on Mute. Daniel’s been good to us and we like the way he operates. We listened to a few other companies seeing what they had to offer but we decided to stick with him. He had a big success with the Silicon Teens, and we’ve got that same sort of lightweight feeling to us. Daniel’s got a good nose for things like that. He’s an underestimated man.”
“Filming and screening / I picture the scene / Filming and dreaming / Dreaming of me” (‘Dreaming Of Me’). A flirtation with romanticism, of seeing yourself up there on the screen. It may happen for DP sooner than they think; the time for diversification is ripe after the Numan plateau and with the likes of Visage and Ultravox surging into the Top 30. It’s early days for Depeche now, but they may come across criticism for using drum machines instead of a real live drummer.
David disagreed: “I don’t think it’ll happen now. The tapes we’ve got now sound like real drums anyway. I know Orchestral Manoeuvres were put down for using a drum machine on stage but the worst thing they ever did was to get a drummer. It was really bad after that. We don’t need one anyway – it’s just another person to pay!” 
Seems like eminent business sense to me. The live version of Depeche Mode should prove interesting, due to the total reverse of normal stage practices: one vocalist, plus three others all playing keyboard synthesisers.
The band may remain static, but they believe in entertainment and encouragement of dancing. The gyrating stops at pop, though, as DP are certainly not thinking of branching into funk (the next big thing!). Vince claims they simply don’t understand it!
Apart from the great Stevo tour, Depeche Mode are forging their way into more fashion-conscious realms when they take to the stage of the Rainbow on February 14th for Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s People’s Palace St Valentine’s Ball (phew!), along with their favourite new burlesque dance troupe Shock and the hitherto untrendy Metro.
For a future that’s bound to be exciting, stylish, fun and constantly changing, Depeche Mode have their place in the scheme of things; the charts may well prove to be their oyster. Ain’t it a shame, for a band who are no strangers to the charms of the tape recorder, to clam up when facing one in a different scenario… Maybe once they see the world outside Basildon they’ll give away their trade secrets.
Until then Depeche Mode are content to remain something of an enigma…
 - The band's trusty reel-to-reel tape machine was a standard feature - and a source of amusement to some commentators - in early Depeche Mode shows for several years. Part of the reason it was kept clearly visible on the stage was because the band didn't want to seem to pretend to be doing something they weren't doing.
In 2013, Betty Page wrote about this event: http://beverleyglick.com/mystories/the-day-i-met-four-terrified-teenagers-called-depeche-mode/
Depeche Mode had named themselves after a French fashion magazine. It was an unlikely handle for a bunch of Essex boys, but they had made the wise decision to sign to the independent label Mute, run by electronic music wizard and producer Daniel Miller.
When I first met the band, in an overflowing stock room at Rough Trade records, they were bundles of nerves. They looked like choirboys – and indeed one of them confessed he had been. Natives of Basildon, Vince Clarke (synth), Martin Gore (another synth), Andy Fletcher (bass synth) and David Gahan (vocals and electronic percussion) had once played guitars – but then discovered the joys of modern toys.
Six months earlier they had secured a Saturday night residency at Croc’s Glamour Club in Rayleigh, Essex, before venturing down to the rough-and-ready Bridgehouse Tavern, which was more accustomed to the sound of football hooligans. It was in that dark, unromantic setting that their fairytale rise commenced.
Synthesiser Svengali Daniel Miller took an instant liking to Depeche Mode’s brand of melodic electro-pop and put them straight into the studio – the result of which was their first single, the featherlight Dreaming of Me.
Sitting between piles of vinyl, the quartet looked like rabbits caught in the headlights. They had never done an interview before and all I could extract from them were a few polite observations accompanied by furious blushing.
This is roughly how it went.
Do you feel confident of your commercial appeal?
Would you be pleased if you were asked to appear on Top of the Pops tomorrow?
Are you Futurists?
“I don’t like that scene at all,” said David. “We write pop music – electro-pop.”
Would you say your music is a little like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, but with more melody?
“We wouldn’t like to be categorised with them or associated with them at all,” said David. “Orchestral Manoeuvres were put down for using a drum machine on stage but the worst thing they ever did was to get a drummer. It was really bad after that. We don’t need one anyway – it’s just another person to pay!”
Drummers would become dinosaurs of rock for this new breed of electro-popper, who were changing the face of music from their bedrooms. With just one finger and a reasonably priced synthesiser, they could produce the most amazing sounds.
For Depeche Mode, it was the only way. Theirs was a quiet revolution, but a revolution all the same.
I interviewed the band again a few months later, after their first two singles had become hits. What a transformation. I watched them at work in the studio larking about with producer Daniel Miller; Vince sitting confidently behind the mixing desk and Martin Gore in shorts, singing the harmonies for I Just Can’t Get Enough.
They told me they held “gigs” in the studio when things got too much for them and played me a tape of one of these impromptu sessions. It started off as raw electro-punk with vocals by Andy, segued into cover versions of Simple Simon Says and You’re Gonna Lose That Girl and finished with a sensitive rendition of a popular hymn, thus confirming the suspicion that they were still in touch with their inner choirboys.
Dep Mod, as I liked to call them, were so pristine in those days: Daniel Miller’s pop vision made flesh. In the beginning, their shiny electronic pop was bright and blemish-free – but then the ghastly cocktail known as Instant Fame took hold and the rock-god demons began to drag singer David Gahan into a drugs hell from which he would barely escape with his life…