Outside looking in
In October last year, the British electronic pop pioneers Depeche Mode announced a new world tour five months before dropping a new album. By the time Delta Machine arrived in March, a majority of the arena and stadium dates sold out – no small feat for a band whose singles haven’t conquered the charts for more than a decade.
To say Depeche Mode are a fans-only affair is an understatement. Their fervent followers wipe the floor with Duran Duran’s patient Duranies and Lady Gaga’s contrived Monsters.
The band’s guitarist, keyboardist and chief songwriter Martin Gore says there is truth to the statement that Depeche Mode are the world’s biggest cult band. “The Depechies” are not a normal lot, he says.
“I don’t think that we genuinely appeal to the average person,” Gore says. “We are outsiders and we attract outsiders and there are a lot of them around at the moment.”
Alienation is a prevalent theme in Depeche Mode’s oeuvre.
The group formed in 1981 after feeling disenfranchised from the music scene.
“We felt rock came to a dead end and electronics were a way forward. We started out as a purist electronic band as we felt that was the only way to go with the music,” Gore says.
“At the same time we are very traditional but we try to present the songs in a very modern way.”
Depeche Mode’s 1981 debut Speak and Spell was a calling card that was led by the atmospheric debut single New Life and the danceable Just Can’t Get Enough.
The group’s sound and image took an increasingly darker turn with each release.
By the time the group’s twin masterworks – 1990’s Violator and 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion – arrived, the singer Dave Gahan transformed from pop posterboy to a writhing mascara-clad frontman.
On the music front, the chilly synths of earlier albums made away for harder blues and rock elements.
Despite the paranoid sounds, the band still managed to crank out crowd-pleasing anthems such as the dazzling Enjoy the Silence, the pensive Personal Jesus and the rocking I Feel You.
While admitting the band always had an eye for the future, Gore says Depeche Mode songs are always down-to-earth.
“The way I always try to describe it is that we try to capture the emotion and passion in music,” he says. “I find that if you can make that real for yourself it will somehow translate to other people. We want to be realistic and honest with our music and not create some false world.”
Another aspect the band are honest about are the tensions within the group.
The group’s internal ructions included both Gore and Gahan battling heavy substance abuse and the founding member Vince Clarke quitting the band after their debut album to find success with Erasure.
With numerous albums recorded in fraught circumstances, Gore is delighted Delta Machine was created with relative ease.
While still imbued with its fair share of darkness, the 13th album has shards of light and hope.
The lead single Heaven is as close as the boys get to a gospel song.
While the slow-burning ballad is an odd choice to introduce the album, Gore says it summed up the new-found belief within the group.
Making Depeche Mode music is not a torturous affair anymore, he says.
“We have a really good formula going,” says Gore. “Dave puts a lot of time and effort into working on the vocals, which makes the recordings so much easier. He would go in every day and do vocal warm-ups so when the time comes to record, it will be three or four takes and we’ve got it.”
Ever the outsider, Gore has no deep interest in following the big race before the band’s Abu Dhabi performance.
“I don’t drive,” he says, then laughs. “I never had a licence and never took a driving lesson, so I may feel a bit odd around there.”
Despite the success, the band’s outsider status continues.
Depeche Mode perform on Sunday at du Arena. Doors open at 7pm. A two-day race pass with entry to the show (and the Muse concert on Saturday) begins from Dh1,785 at www.yasmarinacircuit.com
Updated: October 29, 2013 04:00 AM