1981-08-22 - NME (UK) - THREE MODES IN A BOAT
[Taken from the now-defunct website www.sacreddm.net
THREE MODES IN A BOAT
[NME, 22nd August 1981. Words: Paul Morley. Pictures: Anton Corbijn.]
" They find it difficult to frame their new fame. Ingredients, colours, ideas, references, styles were generously, haphazardly scattered: the accidental pattern that’s formed is brilliant, attractive and the bright basis for a special design. Depeche are a supreme example of the electronic vitalisation of the basic pop format, and it’s the beginning. "
Summary: In probably the first critical piece written about Depeche Mode, Paul Morley spends a lazy afternoon interviewing the band (no Vince) and catching their first dazed reactions to sudden fame. Morley is refreshed by their simplicity and lack of self-consciousness, although at times perhaps reads more into their music than is there. Heavy going in places, but rewarding... and look who the photographer is! [3309 words]
So I’m surrounded by three of the sweet Depeche boys, impressed by the variety of their haircuts, surprised by their simplicity, and I do what any responsible writer would do. I go boating with them.
Basildon is close to Southend, Essex, a half hour journey on old stock from a little-known London station. Depeche Mode – “hurried fashion” – are in between a British tour that ended in Edinburgh last Saturday and the recording of their debut LP, and are meeting the NME at Basildon station. The NME is twenty minutes late! “Sorry, it’s his fault,” I glibly blurt, pointing at the lanky lensboy. Depeche look annoyed, don’t say much, and hang around the station entrance until their instant photographs have been processed.
We walk through the new town: unlike a close, dirty and snaggy city, Basildon is flat, open light grey and fresh brick red. The sky looks close. I bet the tap water is moderately drinkable. We stroll past the square shopping centre, probably a local attraction for the postcards, cross a busy dual carriageway, an odd sign of speed, towards the indoor swimming pool.
“A lot of people,” Andrew Fletcher – a redhead, with new, dangerously close-cropped hair – tells me, “think that Basildon is a little country village.” Thatched roofs and jukebox-less pubs. “In fact it has a population of 180,000,” Martin Gore – derelict blond curls, a couple of days’ tender fluff on the chin – affectionately mocks him. “Oh, Andy knows everything, even the population.”
“Believe me,” continues Andrew earnestly, “It’s got an electoral roll of 107,000 and that’s not including kids. That’s the biggest in the country, and next time it has got to be split up into Basildon East and West.”
Have you lived in Basildon long? I ask singer Dave Gahan – black hair with a strange lie and an abbreviated fringe pointing down the centre of the forehead. “Since I was four,” he says. Depeche Mode are the formalist tingling sound of young Basildon, the alert geometric sound of the new town, the soundtrack for all cosmetic optimism, an evocative representation of the functional artificiality of some environment. Sunshine suits Basildon, all interviews with Depeche Mode should take place in the open air.
The Swimming Pool is set in a small tidy park: next to the swimming pool is a boating pool, near the boating pool is a putting green. Teenyboppers on school-holiday burn their legs in the sun and look numbly happy in the peace and slowness. Depeche and the NME sit on strictly mown grass under a toy tree; missing is songwriter Vince Clarke, who from past interviews appears to be the most prepared to attempt to rationalise the anti-romantic anti-intellectual Mode pop.
“There was a guy who interviewed us for the Daily Star, Ricky Sky, and he was desperately looking for a headline, an angle, and he was saying to us – haven’t you done anything really exciting, what’s been happening? We said well nothing really, although when we played at Ronnie Scott’s once all the lights went out! He was excited by this, then he started to talk about looks and he said do you think it’s an advantage to be good looking and in a band? Vince said Yeah, obviously, it’s an advantage in life to be good looking. Rick Sky made it out that Vince had said UGLY BANDS NEVER MAKE IT, IF YOU’RE GOOD LOOKING THEN YOU’RE NUMBER ONE. Since then Vince has never ventured out of his flat! He is so upset. It really hit him hard. He hasn’t been out for six weeks and he had a real bad depression.”
At the station I felt that Depeche Mode were going to be surly and silent: pop technicians simplifying their calculated art so that it fits into “the interview”. Actually, they like talking: what they like talking about most is nothing in particular. There is a residue of scurrilous schoolboy values, an innocently mutinous streak. They’re in no hurry: they’ve a cheerily vague idea about where they’ve been, and aren’t too concerned about where they’re going. Yet! Tomorrow is just another day: yesterday was a bit of a laugh. Today: flick the switch, talk to the man, fiddle with pieces of grass. Depeche Pop: for all the time in the world and no time at all.
Dave: “It’s just the pop sound of the ’80s, that’s what I would describe Depeche Mode as.”
Andrew: “Yeah, I don’t think tours play a major part in what we do. I think most of the people who bought our record have never been to a gig in their life and will never go to one. They’d rather see a picture in a magazine … A lot of housewives bought the record, I reckon, old ones as well as young.”
Dave: “My mum always tells me if a song we’ve made is bad, if it’s too choppy she doesn’t like it. It’s got to have a good beat and run melodically.”
Andrew: “A lot of people still don’t realise that the whole of our set is pop. Virtually all our songs are pop songs. I think people think it might not be like that.”
What do you think people think?
Martin: “They think we’re jokes!”
Andrew: “Naah… a lot of people have still got this thing – synthesiser, he must be moody. You get a lot of Numanoids coming to our gigs.”
Dave: There was this bloke come to see us the other day and he said to me after the show – I think it’s really bad the way you have all your friends in the audience talking to you and that, and then we’re all over here and you don’t react to us. I said well what do you mean? He said: I think it’s really bad that you have like all your friends in the changing room. I said well what do you want me to say c’mon all the audience into the changing room. He said – well have you got lots of friends? I said well I’ve got a few. He said – well I haven’t got any. Well pity you mate! Isn’t that a friend, a guy who was with him. He said – yeah he’s a friend, but not a friend like that.
“It was really weird! I couldn’t be bothered talking to him. He thought that we should be like Gary Numan and have the distant lonely look and image. Because we play synthesisers and we’re supposed to look strange at people, and not smile. The bloke didn’t like the way I smiled at people!!”
Depeche Mode electerrific pop is a mazed glitter reflection of fast life and new values, the subjective sense of populist culture, the sound of flashing lights, a minimalist activating caricature of repentance and reason, a clinging ringing radiance. Soothing and exciting, pop’s equivalent to the TV commercial. Their songs are successive transformation of images, precise parodies of the sense of interplay between technology and man. They’re simplifications, curt cuts, ironic pop sculptures, lively chairs, a spiked soft drink.
Talking to them – especially without Vince Clarke, the missing trinket – you can’t directly appreciate the subtle merit of Depeche pop, where the intention seems to be to disclaim reality as messy and stale, to condemn daily life as heartlessly indifferent to the needs of imaginative life. Depeche Mode is a figurative pop that is the result of a collision between SENSITIVITY and INSENSITIVITY, RESPECT and INDIFFERENCE.
There is more going on than it seems: there will be more going on. Mode’s literate, significantly glossy pop has a superficiality that is contradicted by an inner consistency that hints at emotion, tragedy, spirit, or perhaps an anticipation of impatience with the present format. Depeche Mode are moving between the over candid and value-less simplification of Numan, and the convincing confrontation of new possibilities of Cabaret Voltaire. Listening to the focused pop of Depeche Mode – “to sound like a fairy tale full of silent machines, robots, consumer imperatives and mute children in love with the sky” – can put this listener in the best possible mood to take in the day. Today …
Minus Clarke, Depeche Mode talk like teenyboppers: no complications! Depeche unpretentiously admit that they’ve ended up this way today through a series of lucky breaks. Unlike distant rubbing cousins like Cabaret Voltaire or even The Human League there’s been precious little sense of purpose. They find it difficult to frame their new fame. Ingredients, colours, ideas, references, styles were generously, haphazardly scattered: the accidental pattern that’s formed is brilliant, attractive and the bright basis for a special design. Depeche are a supreme example of the electronic vitalisation of the basic pop format, and it’s the beginning.
Depeche Mode haven’t appreciated this yet. They’re still adjusting, playing truant. That they’re an obvious part of the evolution from Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League and DAF – musically and conceptually – whose observation and explanation of SURROUNDING is dislocated and oddly associated indicates that DeMode have the potential to be a shade more provocative than their fakerist contemporaries. Tomorrow…
There is no impudent statement about Mode’s employment of electronics; though they relish the opportunities. To them it was natural, a rewarding route to constructing intelligent pop songs. There is no rigorous or possessive art background. They’re all under 20.  Vince Clarke may well have a folkish background – try singing “New Life” with a finger in the ear, acapella like Steeleye Span singing “Gaudete”. Andrew was a rock snob – pre-punk into The Who and Deep Purple, out of that when punk churned along, and then fond of the Pistols and Parker. Martin, whose previous group performed the theme from Skippy, likes Sparks, The Velvet Underground and Cabaret Voltaire. Dave’s background associates the group with the swift shifts of Egan clubland, has placed them near to the air the cults with names breathe.
 - Whoops! Dave was under 20, Andy and Martin were a few weeks either side of it depending on when the interview was, but Vince was 21 at the time.
[NME, 22nd August 1981. Words: Paul Morley. Pictures: Anton Corbijn - page 2 of 2]
“Yeah, I was a soulboy, I’ve done it all, I’ve been everything. I used to like soul and jazz-funk like The Crusaders. I used to go to soul weekends and hang around with the crew from Global Village and I went to, like, The Lyceum on a Friday night.” He got interested in punk, and when that burnt out went back to the clubs for the exotic new electronic fun, the floating fading fantasy of The Blitz and Studio 21.
Depeche Mode were originally Vince, Martin and Andrew, bass guitar and a drum machine. Dave joined up, Depeche Mode became two synthesisers, a drum machine a vivacious front boy. Yesterday…
“We were just a band and we played in front of friends and that… we didn’t start off being a pop group, that’s just the way it went, it was just the music we liked making. We never said let’s form a band, let’s get in the charts, let’s be enormous. We didn’t intend it to be a career, we were still at work until recently. We just never planned anything. We would have signed any deal, we just wanted to put a record out.”
They didn’t anticipate the recent shifts from IRRELEVANT BIGNESS towards mobility, colour, commotion: the newest pop urge to participate more in the bombardment of the senses? Pop in discos: pop as part of the rushing crushing soundtrack for the day. “I think we’re lucky to fit into all that. We have had a lot of lucky breaks.”
Meeting Daniel Miller was the sort of lucky break that can be turned into legend. Miller is Normal, Miller is Mute, Miller is ghost, Miller is catalyst. “If we hadn’t signed with Dan’s Mute label we would have signed with a major label and got immersed in all that stupid expense, the big rigs and the 20 roadies…”
DeMode certainly appreciate their fortunate independence: the flexibility. “We didn’t think about it before, but now we run our own thing, plan what we want to do, how and when we want to do it. It could’ve been the other way easily. We emerged just as all the big labels were searching for their “futurist” group.” Depeche Mode appeared on Stevo’s Some Bizzare compilation and were therefore momentarily branded as “futurist”. “We came very close to signing with a major. But we can do anything with Daniel. We could if we wanted to a record that’s just a continual noise for three minutes and he’d release it as a single.”
If it wasn’t for Miller Depeche Mode would have been lost. They would have stood still. Miller has propelled them forward, is helping them see things clearly. His commercially practical yet unconventional vision has given DeMode a properly encouraging context to exploit and perfect their belligerently simple Pop Art. The story goes that at first he didn’t want to help them: when he first heard them they were scrappy and he was in a bad mood. Fate needed to make it happy ever after. “We really were lucky to meet someone like him. We’re surrounded by people we can totally trust. The people he’s got on his label, like Boyd Rice, really are out of order. He puts out a single even though he knows it’ll only sell 1,000. He just does it because he likes it… I still don’t understand Daniel Miller. I don’t see how he’s made any money until us. He’ll make a bit out of this single! But you know we just never really thought anything really. We just wanted to put a single out. Then we did “Dreaming Of Me” as a one off for Mute and that went into the lower charts and we were surprised. Then, in a couple of months, everything’s happened.”
I saw you just before the release of “Dreaming Of Me” at Cabaret Futura and you didn’t move – you were frozen!
Andrew: “That was really terrible… a really funny gig. We hadn’t learnt how to move. It’s very hard moving when you play synthesisers.”
The next time I saw you, on Top Of The Pops playing “New Life”, you were hipping and hopping like puppets with broken strings.
Andrew: “It used to be the main criticism of us, that we didn’t move enough on stage. But it’s really hard, we’ve relaxed a bit now and we dance but we used to be shy and we used to be really young.”
Martin: “We used to be really young! It was only 6 months ago. We used to have this idea of having rails on the stage and we would be on platforms on stage so that we could be moved back and forwards on stage although we didn’t have to actually move! We really want to make our show good but we just haven’t had a chance to sit down and think about it.”
I’ve seen people vainly try to imitate Dave’s daft dance but they can never do it.
Dave: “Did you see Razmatazz yesterday? We were on it and all these little girls in the background were trying to imitate me – copying me weren’t they? I didn’t know when we were doing it but they were there doing exactly the same dance – like you go through loads of times before the real performance and the girls must have perfected it towards the end.”
Do you like appearing on television?
Andrew: “It’s alright. At first I felt a bit like a prune. Like pressing a keyboard and pretending you’re really doing it and singing into a mike with a lead going nowhere – half way through you think God what am I doing here, looking like a prat in front of millions of people. We’ve got used to it now.”
Andrew: “Yeah, it’s just funny now.”
The interview in the sun fades away after about 40 minutes. Depeche are obviously bored, and so they should be. We go boating. DeMode are recognised by almost everybody sunning by the pool. Now that they’re FACES are they into glamour? Shrug, stare into space, laughter.
“There’s no glamour. We drive around in Dan’s Renault… we don’t now because it’s broken, so we get trains. Don’t know about glamour. Nothing’s really changed. We might have a few more pennies in our pockets, and when I say pennies I do mean pennies, but same friends, same places to go to. You always think wouldn’t it be great to have a hit single, but when it actually happens nothing really changes.”
They seem remarkably unaffected and unimpressed by their success: likeably irreverent. “Oh, it’s great fun…” Glad to hear it. The three muscle men who hire out the boats recognise the local goodies Mode. One of them chats to the boys as he helps them into a boat. “What number are you this week then?” “Fifteen” “That’s the way – go get ’em!” He points out the group to what looks like his dad. “Hey this is Depeche Mode, they come from around this way.”
“Never heard of them.”
“It’s really odd, at first you think God, imagine being on TOTP, imagine being in the top ten, but it all changes when it begins to happen. When we got into the lower charts we thought it was good for a while, but then we thought well it’s no good unless we get into the top 40. Then we thought well it’s no good unless we get into the top 20…”
Depeche finish their boat ride. “All the way to number one!” shouts a boat man. Depeche are confused about what they want, why and what for, and are just beginning to work out guidelines. They intuitively realise that there is MORE than Radio One recognition: the charts the glossy magazines will unusually form the background to a hard artistic growth. Depeche Mode are casual but not silly. Would they mind the mythical mishap of ending up as one hit wonders? “I don’t think it would put us off in any way – although some people in the papers would love it. We’ve done a lot already, we’ve learnt a lot, but I hope we’re not one hit wonders!”
I walk around the pool as Anton focuses. Two little girls ask me if I’m in Depeche Mode. It’s nice to be asked, but I point at the threesome. Two early teen lads come up to me and ask me what paper the articles going to be in. Are Depeche Mode local heroes: “Oh yeah really well known!” The two lads argue about whether Stiff Little Fingers are the other Basildon pop stars.
Dave walks the NME back to the station: the deal was all over inside 90 minutes, as it should be. Do they get recognised a lot in Basildon?
“Quite a lot… it’s funny. The people round here sort of think that if you’ve got a single in the charts you’re going to be driving round in a Rolls Royce, but we still use buses. They see you in the chip shop or the Wimpy and they think it’s really odd.”
Is his mum excited? “Oh yes. Mum says to my aunts – make sure you see them on Razmatazz! She’s been really good about it - she’s kind of let me have my own way. She could have been harder.”
She had a banking career in mind? “No, no… I went to college doing Design and shop display, but I left. The College were pretty good about it.  They sent me a note the other day, saying congratulations on the success.”
Detached Dave quietly says goodbye to the NME, and straight away seems to have forgotten about them. What did I do today? He might wonder later that night. Tomorrow is just another day… but the day after? Depeche Mode can make intimate and challenging pop art out of routine and insecurity! Dave walks off towards sunsets and sunrises and certain surprises. Depeche Mode will grow and grow. Tomorrow… all the time in the world.
 - This sounds like a standard Gahan slip of the tongue for "College politely asked me to leave because I couldn't hold down a college course and performing with Depeche at the same time." - You can take the boy out of Basildon, but you can't take the Basildon out of the boy.