How Depeche Mode conquered the world: The Dark Side of the Force.
Depeche Mode was considered a teen pop band during its initial period in the United Kingdom, being target of the interest of teen pop magazines like Smash Hits. After Vince Clarke left, their music started to take on a darker tone. While A Broken Frame deviated just a little from previous work, from 1983 onwards, Gore's songs developed more secure and sophisticated. The composer would claim that, while the band's music contains an element of hope, he feels that themes related to isolation and loneliness are a better representation of reality, while happy songs are false and unreal.
For the third album, Construction Time Again, Depeche Mode worked with producer Gareth Jones, at John Foxx's Garden Studios and Hansa Studios in West Berlin (where much of David Bowie's trilogy of seminal electronic albums with Brian Eno had been produced). The album saw a dramatic change in the group's sound, due in part to Wilder's introduction of the Synclavier and Emulator samplers, and in part by Gore's compositions, with lyrics that included themes such as sex, religion and politics. By incorporating noises of everyday objects, with darker lyrics, the band created an eclectic sound of industrial influence.
Wilder would later be called the band's "Musical Director", responsible for sculpting the band's sound until his departure in 1995. According to producer Flood: " [Alan] is sort of the craftsman, Martin's the idea man and [Dave] is the attitude".
In 1984 Depeche Mode broke barriers and achieved great success in several markets, with the release of the single People Are People. The song exploded, reaching number two in Ireland and Poland, number 4 in the UK and Switzerland and number 1 in West Germany, the first time that a single from Depeche Mode topped a country's singles chart, where it was used as a theme for West German TV coverage of the 1984 Olympics. In addition to this European success, the song also reached 13th place on the American charts in mid-1985, the band's first single appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, it was also a Top 20 hit in Canada.
"People Are People", an anthemic plea for tolerance, became a hymn to the LGBT community, played regularly at gay establishments and gay pride festivals in the late 1980s. Sire, the band's North American label, released a compilation with the same name, which included tracks from A Broken Frame and Construction Time Again, as well as several B sides.
In September 1984, Some Great Reward was released. In contrast to the political and environmental themes addressed in the previous album, Some Great Reward's songs focus on more personal themes, such as sexuality (Master and Servant), adulterous relationships (Lie to Me) and the arbitrariness of divine justice (Blasphemous Rumors), in addition to the first ballad provided by Martin Gore (Somebody).
At the end of the year the band would release their first video, The World We Live In and Live in Hamburg, filmed during the Some Great Reward Tour. With great success in Eastern Europe, in July 1985 the band played their first shows in Budapest and Warsaw. In October 1985, Mute released two compilations with slightly different tracks, The Singles 81 → 85 for the European market and Catching Up with Depeche Mode for the United States.
In this period there were a sharp contrast in the band’s image in the United States and Europe, while in Europe the band struggled to get rid of the image of youth idols, and appeared regularly in European magazines for teenagers, in America, the band gained prominence through college radio stations and modern rock stations, like KROQ in Los Angeles, KQAK ("The Quake") in San Francisco, WFNX in Boston and WLIR in New York, attracting mainly an alternative audience.
Launched in March 1986, Black Celebration, consolidated the somber sound created by Alan Wilder, maintaining the creative sampling work. The band was starting to move away from the "industrial pop" sound that characterized their two previous albums, bringing a sinister, highly atmospheric and textured sound to their compositions. Gore's lyrics also took on a darker tone and became more pessimistic.
Black Celebration achieved high commercial success by entering several music charts around the world, including fourth place on the UK album chart, second in Germany and first in Switzerland. Three years after its release, Spin ranked it 15th on its "25 Greatest Albums of All Time" list.
The video for "A Question of Time" was the first to be directed by Anton Corbijn, starting a collaboration that lasts until today, with the artist directing 20 of the band's videos, some of his live performances, being responsible for scenarios and visual effects from various tours of the band, as well as designer of most album covers and singles from the album Violator and on.
Music for the Masses:
Music for the Masses, from 1987, saw other changes in the band's sound and working methods. For the first time, a producer unrelated to Mute Records, Dave Bascombe, was called in to help with the recording sessions. The band, however, already felt quite sure about how they wanted to sound and how to achieve that sound in the studio, so, according to Alan Wilder, Bascombe's role was more of a sound engineer than a producer. On this album, the band started to move away from samplers and started experimenting with sound design on synthesizers.
The Music for the Masses tour lasted 8 months, starting on October 22, 1987 and ending on June 18, 1988, and featured 101 performances (hence the name of the live album and the documentary recorded during the last leg of the tour). On March 7, 1988, without any prior announcement that he would be the headliner, Depeche Mode played in Werner-Seelenbinder-Halle, East Berlin, becoming one of the few western groups to perform in Communist East Germany. They also held concerts in Budapest and Prague in 1988.
The world tour ended on June 18, 1988 with a concert at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, with 60,453 spectators, the largest audience in eight years at the venue. The tour was a huge success in the United States, consolidating the band status of mega stars in that country.
The masses were at their feet, but instead of protecting retreating to a comfort zone, Depeche Mode decided to innovate, according to Wilder “We were starting to have a problem with boredom, because we feel that we have reached a certain level of achievement when doing things in a certain way. ", Gore added" In the past five years, I think we have perfected a formula (...) We decided that our first record of the 90s should be different".
But that story is for part III…