It is arguably the UAE’s biggest concert of the year. The Abu Dhabi Formula One race-day concert is a guaranteed opportunity to catch some of the biggest names in pop in addition to music legends. Over the years, the Sunday night concerts have had epic performances by the likes of Aerosmith, Prince, Sir Paul McCartney and the 2012 headliner Eminem. While these artists perform different genres, they all have crossover hits and the showmanship needed to translate to a 20,000-strong crowd of families, youth and petrol heads.
One of the biggest-selling English pop groups of all time, Depeche Mode have notched up more than a dozen hits and sold in excess of 100 million albums in their 32-year-career. Formed in Essex in 1980, the group led the way in merging the chilly sounds of synthesisers with pop harmonies to create a sound both futuristic and irresistibly catchy. Named after a French fashion magazine, the group’s image was as important as their sound. Video clips were sensual and broody while the band managed to remain an enigma despite the numerous magazine covers. In a 1993 press release, the group described themselves as: “Dave [Gahan] is the singer, Alan [Wilder] the musician and Andrew [Fletcher] the coordinator.”
The singer Dave Gahan is the group’s poster boy. With brooding movie star looks, the 50-year-old’s shape-shifting vocals owe a lot to David Bowie, with some singles exhibiting a sweet croon while others a deeper growl. It was Gahan who came up with the idea for the band name after spotting a copy of the French fashion rag Dépêche Mode. On guitar and keyboards is Martin Gore. As the group’s chief songwriter and lyricist, penning the hits including Enjoy the Silence, I Feel You and People Are People, Gore’s responsibilities were foisted upon him after the departure of the former band member Vince Clark (who went on to form Yazoo and Erasure) in 1981. The latter wrote most of Depeche Mode’s debut album Speak and Spell, including the breakout single Just Can’t Get Enough. Keyboardist Andrew Fletcher rounds out the trio with the distinction of not having written a single song for the group. Previous interviews stated that he failed miserably at the task and is content for Gore and sometimes Gahan to do all the writing.
The group experienced the peaks and troughs associated with a three-decade career. Their 1981 debut, Speak and Spell, was more of a calling card than a game changer. The unbridled energy expressed in Just Can’t Get Enough and New Life had them viewed as the next young hot band. Depeche Mode’s stature rapidly grew with their 1983 breakthrough album Some Great Reward – home to the big hit People Are People. From then on, the group took on a darker and more gothic sound that may not have yielded commercial results but influenced a whole generation of aspiring musicians. The 1986 album Black Celebration used innovative sampling to create a more atmospheric sound. The group didn’t lose all their talents for an earworm melody, however, 1990’s Enjoy the Silence was a big hit in both Europe and US. After a troubling period, which saw the group exhausted from extensive touring and Gahan battling substance abuse, Depeche Mode experienced a second wind with their 1997 chart topping album Ultra, home to the hits Barrel of a Gun and It’s No Good. Future albums saw them experiment in more minimalist compositions with this year’s Delta Machine having them sound their most hopeful.
Even if you don’t know all the songs, Depeche Mode are a sonic treat. Audiences should be enthralled and kept on their toes with a set exhibiting a myriad of sounds, recalling the heyday of 1980s synth-pop to hard rock. Gahan is also a formidable frontman who twitches and writhes his way through the set. Of course, most of the hits will be played, so audiences will get a chance to exercise their vocals, too.
Depeche Mode have become mostly a fans-only affair in recent years. While they have the ability to sell out arenas, it is mostly due to having one of the most dedicated fan bases around – so much so they have been labelled as “the biggest cult group on the planet”. Their challenge is to create a performance accessible enough to engage the uninitiated – and those who lost interest 20 years ago.
Ÿ Single tickets for race-day concerts are on sale now from Dh365 and are available at yasmarinacircuit.com
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