Depeche Mode released their debut album Speak & Spell in 1981, bringing the band onto the British new wave scene. Founding member Vince Clarke left after the release of the album; they recorded A Broken Frame as a trio. Gore took over as main songwriter and, later in 1982, Alan Wilder replaced Clarke, establishing a lineup that continued for 13 years.
The band's last albums of the 1980s, Black Celebration and Music for the Masses, established them as a dominant force within the electronic music scene. A highlight of this era was the band's June 1988 concert at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, where they drew a crowd in excess of 60,000 people. In early 1990, they released Violator, an international mainstream success. The following album, Songs of Faith and Devotion in 1993 was also a success, though internal struggles within the band during recording and touring resulted in Wilder's departure in 1995.
Depeche Mode has had 54 songs in the UK Singles Chart and 17 top 10 albums in the UK chart; they have sold more than 100 million records worldwide.Q included the band in the list of the "50 Bands That Changed the World!". Depeche Mode also rank number 98 on VH1's "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". In December 2016, Billboard named Depeche Mode the 10th most successful dance club artist of all time.
Depeche Mode's origins date to 1977, when schoolmates Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher formed a Cure-influenced band called No Romance In China, with Clarke on vocals and guitar and Fletcher on bass guitar. Fletcher would later recall, "Why am I in the band? It was accidental right from the beginning. I was actually forced to be in the band. I played the guitar and I had a bass; it was a question of them roping me in." In 1979, Clarke played guitar in an "Ultravox rip-off band", The Plan, with friends Robert Marlow and Paul Langwith. In 1978–79, Martin Gore played guitar in an acoustic duo, Norman and the Worms, with school friend Phil Burdett on vocals. In 1979, Marlow, Gore and friend Paul Redmond formed a band called the French Look, with Marlow on vocals/keyboards, Gore on guitar and Redmond on keyboards. In March 1980, Clarke, Gore and Fletcher formed a band called Composition of Sound, with Clarke on vocals/guitar, Gore on keyboards and Fletcher on bass.
When explaining the choice for the new name, taken from French fashion magazine Dépêche mode, Gore said, "It means hurried fashion or fashion dispatch. I like the sound of that." However, the magazine's name (and hence the band's) is "Fashion News" or "Fashion Update" (dépêche, "dispatch", from Old Frenchdespesche/despeche or "news report", and mode or "fashion").
Gore recalled that the first time the band played as Depeche Mode was a school gig in May 1980. There is a plaque commemorating the gig at the James Hornsby School in Basildon, where Gore and Fletcher were pupils. The band made their recording debut in 1980 on the Some Bizzare Album with the song "Photographic", later re-recorded for their debut album Speak & Spell.
The band made a demo tape but, instead of mailing the tape to record companies, they would go in and personally deliver it. They would demand the companies play it; according to Dave Gahan, "most of them would tell us to fuck off. They'd say 'leave the tape with us' and we'd say 'it's our only one'. Then we'd say goodbye and go somewhere else."
According to Gahan, prior to securing their record contract, they were receiving offers from all the major labels. Phonogram offered them "money you could never have imagined and all sorts of crazy things like clothes allowances".
While playing a live gig at the Bridge House in Canning Town, the band were approached by Daniel Miller, an electronic musician and founder of Mute Records, who was interested in their recording a single for his burgeoning label. The result of this verbal contract was their first single, "Dreaming of Me", recorded in December 1980 and released in February 1981. It reached number 57 in the UK charts. Encouraged by this, the band recorded their second single, "New Life", which climbed to number 11 in the UK charts and got them an appearance on Top of the Pops. The band went to London by train, carrying their synthesisers all the way to the BBC studios.
The band's next single was "Just Can't Get Enough". The synth-pop single became the band's first UK top ten hit. The video is the only one of the band's videos to feature Vince Clarke. Depeche Mode's debut album, Speak & Spell, was released in October 1981 and peaked at number ten on the UK album charts. Critical reviews were mixed; Melody Maker described it as a "great album … one they had to make to conquer fresh audiences and please the fans who just can't get enough", while Rolling Stone was more critical, calling the album "PG-rated fluff".
Clarke departs and Wilder joins (1981–1982)
Clarke began to voice his discomfort at the direction the band was taking, saying "there was never enough time to do anything. Not with all the interviews and photo sessions". Clarke also said he was sick of touring, which Gahan said years later was "bullshit to be quite honest." Gahan went on to say he "suddenly lost interest in it and he started getting letters from fans asking what kind of socks he wore." In November 1981, Clarke publicly announced that he was leaving Depeche Mode.
Soon afterwards, Clarke joined up with blues singer Alison Moyet to form Yazoo (or Yaz in the United States). Initial talk of Clarke's continuing to write material for Depeche Mode ultimately amounted to nothing. According to third-party sources, Clarke offered the remaining members of Depeche Mode the track "Only You", but they declined. Clarke, however, denied in an interview that such an offer ever took place saying, "I don't know where that came from. That's not true." The song went on to become a UK Top 3 hit for Yazoo. Gore, who had written "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and the instrumental "Big Muff" for Speak & Spell, became the band's main lyricist.
In late 1981, the band placed an anonymous ad in Melody Maker looking for another musician: "Name band, synthesise, must be under twenty-one."Alan Wilder, a classically trained keyboardist from West London, responded and, after two auditions and despite being 22 years old, was hired in early 1982, initially on a trial basis as a touring member. Wilder would later be called the "Musical Director" of the band, responsible for the band's sound until his departure in 1995. As producer Flood would say, "[Alan] is sort of the craftsman, Martin's the idea man and [Dave] is the attitude."
In January 1982, the band released "See You", their first single without Clarke, which managed to beat all three Clarke-penned singles in the UK charts, reaching number six. The following tour saw the band playing their first shows in North America. Two more singles, "The Meaning of Love" and "Leave in Silence", were released ahead of the band's second studio album, on which they began work in July 1982. Daniel Miller informed Wilder that he was not needed for the recording of the album, as the core trio wanted to prove they could succeed without Vince Clarke.A Broken Frame was released that September, and the following month the band began their 1982 tour. A non-album single, "Get the Balance Right!", was released in January 1983, the first Depeche Mode track to be recorded with Wilder.
"Everything Counts" rose to number six in the UK, also reaching the top 30 in Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany. Wilder contributed two songs to the album, "The Landscape Is Changing" and "Two Minute Warning". In September 1983, to promote Construction Time Again, the band launched a European concert tour.
Some Great Reward and growing international success (1984–1985)
In their early years, Depeche Mode had only really attained success in Europe and Australia. This changed in March 1984, when they released the single "People Are People". The song became a hit, reaching No. 2 in Ireland and Poland, No. 4 in the UK and Switzerland, and No. 1 in West Germany — the first time a DM single topped a country's singles chart — where it was used as the theme to West German TV's coverage of the 1984 Olympics. Beyond this European success, the song also reached No. 13 on the US charts in mid-1985, the first appearance of a DM single on the Billboard Hot 100, and was a Top 20 hit in Canada. "People Are People" became an anthem for the LGBT community, regularly played at gay establishments and gay pride festivals in the late 1980s. Sire, the band's North American record label, released a compilation of the same name which included tracks from A Broken Frame and Construction Time Again as well as several B-sides.
On the American tour, the band was, according to Gore, "shocked by the way the fans were turning up in droves at the concerts". He said that although the concerts were selling well, Depeche Mode struggled to sell records.
In September 1984, Some Great Reward was released. Melody Maker claimed that the album made one "sit up and take notice of what is happening here, right under your nose." In contrast to the political and environmental subjects addressed on the previous album, the songs on Some Great Reward were mostly concerned with more personal themes such as sexual politics ("Master and Servant"), adulterous relationships ("Lie to Me"), and arbitrary divine justice ("Blasphemous Rumours"). Also included was the first Martin Gore ballad, "Somebody" — such songs would become a feature of all following albums. "Somebody" was released as a double A-side with "Blasphemous Rumours", and was the first single with Gore on lead vocal. Some Great Reward became the first Depeche Mode album to enter the US album charts, and made the Top 10 in several European countries.
In the United States, the band's music had first gained prominence on college radio and modern rock stations such as KROQ in Los Angeles, KQAK ("The Quake") in San Francisco, WFNX in Boston and WLIR on Long Island, New York, and hence they appealed primarily to an alternative audience who were disenfranchised with the predominance of "soft rock and 'disco hell'" on the radio. This view of the band was in sharp contrast to how the band was perceived in Europe, despite the increasingly dark and serious tone in their songs. In Germany, France, and other European countries, Depeche Mode were considered teen idols and regularly featured in European teen magazines, becoming one of the most famous synth-pop bands in the mid-'80s.
Black Celebration (1986)
Depeche Mode's musical style shifted slightly again in 1986 with the release of their fifteenth single, "Stripped", and its accompanying album Black Celebration. Retaining their often imaginative sampling and beginning to move away from the "industrial pop" sound that had characterised their previous two LPs, the band introduced an ominous, highly atmospheric and textured sound. Gore's lyrics also took on a darker tone and became even more pessimistic.
The music video for "A Question of Time" was the first to be directed by Anton Corbijn, beginning a working relationship that continues to the present day. Corbijn has directed a further 20 of the band's videos (the latest being 2017's "Where's the Revolution.") He has also filmed some of their live performances, and designed stage sets, as well as most covers for albums and singles from Violator and onwards.
Music for the Masses and 101 (1987–1988)
1987's Music for the Masses saw further alterations in the band's sound and working methods. For the first time a producer not related to Mute Records, Dave Bascombe, was called to assist with the recording sessions, although, according to Alan Wilder, Bascombe's role ended up being more that of engineer. In making the album, the band largely eschewed sampling in favour of synthesizer experimentation. While chart performance of the singles "Strangelove", "Never Let Me Down Again" and "Behind the Wheel" proved to be disappointing in the UK, they performed well in countries such as Canada, Brazil, West Germany, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland, often reaching the top 10. Record Mirror described Music for the Masses as "the most accomplished and sexy Mode album to date". The album also made a breakthrough in the American market.
The Music for the Masses Tour began 22 October 1987. On 7 March 1988, with no previous announcement that they would be the headlining act, Depeche Mode played in the Werner-Seelenbinder-Halle, East Berlin, becoming one of the few Western groups to perform in the Communist East Germany. They also performed concerts in Budapest and Prague in 1988, both at the time also Communist.
In mid-1989, the band began recording in Milan with producer Flood and engineer François Kevorkian. The initial result of this session was the single "Personal Jesus." Prior to its release, a marketing campaign was launched with advertisements placed in the personals columns of UK regional newspapers with the words "Your own personal Jesus." Later, the ads included a phone number one could dial to hear the song. The resulting furor helped propel the single to number 13 on the UK charts, becoming one of their biggest sellers to date; in the United States, it was their first gold single and their first Top 40 hit since "People Are People", eventually becoming the biggest-selling 12-inch single in Warner Records' history up to that point.
"I think in a way we've been at the forefront of new music; sort of chipping away at the standard rock format stations."
Released in January 1990, "Enjoy the Silence" reached number six in the UK (the first Top 10 hit in that country since "Master And Servant"). A few months later in the US, it reached number eight and earned the band a second gold single. It won "Best British single" at the 1991 Brit Awards. To promote their new album, Violator, the band held an in-store autograph signing at Wherehouse Entertainment in Los Angeles. The event attracted approximately 20,000 fans and turned into a near riot. Some who attended were injured by being pressed against the store's glass by the crowd. As an apology to the fans who were injured, the band released a limited edition cassette tape to fans living in Los Angeles, distributed through radio station KROQ (the sponsor of the Wherehouse event).
Violator was the first Depeche Mode album to enter the Top 10 of the Billboard 200, reaching Number 7 and staying 74 weeks in the chart. It was certified triple platinum in America, selling over 4.5 million units there. It remains the band's best selling album worldwide. Two more singles from the album — "Policy of Truth" and "World in My Eyes" — were hits in the UK, with the former also charting in the US.
"I remember going to see them in Giants Stadium, and they broke the merchandising record; of Bon Jovi, U2 — all these bands — Depeche Mode were the biggest!."
The World Violation Tour saw the band play several stadium shows in the US. 42,000 tickets were sold within four hours for a show at Giants Stadium, and 48,000 tickets were sold within half-an-hour of going on sale for a show at Dodger Stadium. An estimated 1.2 million fans saw this tour worldwide.
In 1991, Depeche Mode contribution "Death's Door" was released on the soundtrack album for the film Until the End of the World. Film director Wim Wenders had challenged musical artists to write music the way they imagined they would in the year 2000, the setting of the movie.
Songs of Faith and Devotion and Wilder's departure (1992–1995)
"There's so many sounds that are created from the voice that you wouldn't know were taken from the voice, like rhythm sounds. The number of times I've been sitting in the studio and said, 'I wish I could get a bass that would just go [mimics wet, thick hip-hop bass-drum sound].' Then I think, 'Why can't I just go [repeats noise] into a mic and sample it?' It's obvious; you spend all day trying to get a synthesizer to try and create this sound but you can just go [repeats noise] and you've got it. Then you can send it through some other device after that, and you've got something that sounds absolutely nothing like a voice, but the source was a voice. ... It is a very interesting process."
Alan Wilder on the genesis of some of the sounds on Songs of Faith and Devotion, stated to Pulse! magazine – May 1993.
In 1993, Songs of Faith and Devotion, again with Flood producing, saw them experimenting with arrangements based as much on heavily distorted electric guitars and live drums (played by Alan Wilder, whose debut as a studio drummer had come on the Violator track "Clean") as on synthesizers. Live strings, uilleann pipes and female gospel vocals were other new additions to the band's sound. The album debuted at number one in both the UK and the US, only the sixth British act to achieve such a distinction to date. The first single from the album was the grunge-influenced "I Feel You." The gospel influences are most noticeable on the album's third single, "Condemnation." Interviews given by the band during this period tended to be conducted separately, unlike earlier albums, where the band was interviewed as a group.
The Devotional world tour followed, documented by a concert film of the same name. The film was directed by Anton Corbijn, and in 1995 earned the band their first Grammy nomination. The band's second live album, Songs of Faith and Devotion Live, was released in December 1993. The tour continued into 1994 with the Exotic Tour, which began in February 1994 in South Africa, and ended in April in Mexico. The final leg of the tour, consisting of more North American dates, followed shortly thereafter and ran until July. As a whole, the Devotional Tour is to date the longest and most geographically diverse Depeche Mode tour, spanning fourteen months and 159 individual performances.
Q magazine described the 1993 Devotional Tour as "The Most Debauched Rock'n'Roll Tour Ever." According to The Independent, the "smack-blasted" Gahan "required cortisone shots just to perform, borderline alcoholic Gore suffered two stress-induced seizures, and Andrew Fletcher's deepening depression resulted, in the summer of 1994, in a full nervous breakdown." Fletcher declined to participate in the second half of the Exotic Tour due to mental instability; he was replaced on stage by Daryl Bamonte, who had worked with the band as a personal assistant since the beginning of their career in 1980.
In June 1995, Alan Wilder announced that he was leaving Depeche Mode, explaining:
Since joining in 1982, I have continually striven to give total energy, enthusiasm and commitment to the furthering of the group's success, and in spite of a consistent imbalance in the distribution of the workload, willingly offered this. Unfortunately, within the group, this level of input never received the respect and acknowledgement that it warrants.
Despite Gahan's increasingly severe personal problems, Gore tried repeatedly during 1995 and 1996 to get the band recording again. However, Gahan would rarely turn up to scheduled sessions, and when he did, it would take weeks to get any vocals recorded; one six-week session at Electric Lady in New York produced just one usable vocal (for "Sister of Night"), and even that was pieced together from multiple takes. Gore was forced to contemplate breaking the band up and considered releasing the songs he had written as a solo album. In mid-1996, after his near-fatal overdose, Gahan entered a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program to battle his addiction to cocaine and heroin. With Gahan out of rehab in 1996, Depeche Mode held recording sessions with producer Tim Simenon.
Preceded by two singles, "Barrel of a Gun" and "It's No Good", the album Ultra was released in April 1997. The album debuted at No. 1 in the UK (as well as Germany), and No. 5 in the US. The band did not tour in support of the album, with Fletcher quoted as saying: "We're not fit enough. Dave's only eight months into his sobriety, and our bodies are telling us to spend time with our families." As part of the promotion for the release of the album, they did perform two short concerts in London and Los Angeles, called "Ultra Parties."Ultra spawned two further singles, "Home" and "Useless".
A second singles compilation, The Singles 86–98, was released in 1998, preceded by the new single "Only When I Lose Myself", which had been recorded during the Ultra sessions. In April 1998, Depeche Mode held a press conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Cologne to announce The Singles Tour. The tour was the first to feature two backing musicians in place of Alan Wilder—Austrian drummer Christian Eigner and British keyboardist Peter Gordeno.
In October 2002 the band won the first-ever Q magazine "Innovation Award".
In 2003, Gahan released his first solo album, Paper Monsters, and toured to promote the record. Also released in 2003 was Gore's second solo album Counterfeit². Fletcher founded his own record label, Toast Hawaii, specialising in promoting electronic music.
A new remix compilation album, Remixes 81–04, was released in 2004, featuring new and unreleased promo mixes of the band's singles from 1981 to 2004. A new version of "Enjoy the Silence", remixed by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, "Enjoy the Silence 04", was released as a single and reached No. 7 on the UK charts.
In October 2005, the band released their 11th studio album Playing the Angel. Produced by Ben Hillier, the album peaked at No. 1 in 18 countries and featured the hit single "Precious". This is the first Depeche Mode album to feature lyrics written by Gahan and, consequently, the first album since 1984's Some Great Reward featuring songs not written by Gore. "Suffer Well" was the first ever post-Clarke Depeche Mode single not to be written by Gore (lyrics by Gahan, music by Philpott/Eigner). The final single from the album was "John the Revelator", an uptempo electronic track with a running religious theme, accompanied by "Lilian", a lush track that was a hit in many clubs all over the world.
To promote Playing the Angel, the band launched Touring the Angel, a concert tour of Europe and North America that began in November 2005 and ran for nine months. During the last two legs of the tour Depeche Mode headlined a number of festivals including the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the O2 Wireless Festival. In total, the band played to more than 2.8 million people across 31 countries and the tour was one of the highest grossing and critically acclaimed tours of 2005/06. Speaking about the tour, Gahan praised it as "probably the most enjoyable, rewarding live shows we've ever done. The new material was just waiting to be played live. It took on a life of its own. With the energy of the crowds, it just came to life." Two shows at Milan's Fila Forum were filmed and edited into a concert film, released on DVD as Touring the Angel: Live in Milan.
In August 2007, during promotion for Dave Gahan's second solo album, Hourglass, it was announced that Depeche Mode were heading back in studio in early 2008 to work on a new album.
Sounds of the Universe (2008–2011)
In May 2008, the band returned to the studio with producer Ben Hillier to work on some songs that Martin Gore had demoed at his home studio in Santa Barbara, California. Later that year it was announced that Depeche Mode were splitting from their long-term US label, Warner Music, and signing with EMI Music worldwide. The album was created in four sessions, two in New York and two in Santa Barbara. A total of 22 songs were recorded, with the standard album being 13 songs in length while many of the others were released in subsequent deluxe editions.
On 15 January 2009, the official Depeche Mode website announced that the band's 12th studio album would be called Sounds of the Universe. The album was released in April 2009, also made available through an iTunes Pass, where the buyer received individual tracks in the weeks leading up to official release date. Andy Fletcher says the idea for their iTunes Pass was a combination of the band's and iTunes': "I think the digital and record companies are starting to get their act together. They were very lazy in the first 10 years when downloads came in. Now they're collaborating more and coming up with interesting ideas for fans to buy products." The album went to number one in 21 countries. Critical response was generally positive and it was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Alternative Album category. "Wrong" was the first single from the album, released digitally in February 2009. Subsequent singles were "Peace" and the double A-side "Fragile Tension / Hole to Feed". In addition, "Perfect" was released as a promotional-only (non-commercial) single in the United States.
In May 2009, the band embarked on a concert tour in support of the album — called Tour of the Universe; it had been announced at a press conference in October 2008 at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. There was a warm up show in Luxembourg and it officially started on 10 May 2009 in Tel Aviv. The first leg of the tour was disrupted when Dave Gahan was struck down with gastroenteritis. During treatment, doctors found and removed a low grade tumour from the singer's bladder. Gahan's illness caused 16 concerts to be cancelled, but several of the shows were rescheduled for 2010. The band headlined the Lollapalooza festival during the North American leg of the tour. The tour also took the band back to South America for the first time since 1994's Exotic Tour. During the final European leg, the band played a show at London's Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust, where former member Alan Wilder joined Martin Gore on stage for a performance of "Somebody". In total the band played to more than 2.7 million people across 32 countries and the tour was one of the most profitable in America in 2009. The concerts held at Palau Sant Jordi, Barcelona, Spain were filmed and later released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc release entitled Tour of the Universe: Barcelona 20/21.11.09. In March 2010, Depeche Mode won the award for "Best International Group – Rock / Pop" at the ECHO Awards in Germany.
In October 2012 during a press conference in Paris, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher announced plans for a new album and a 2013 worldwide tour starting from Tel Aviv and continuing in Europe and North America. Martin Gore revealed that Flood mixed the album, marking the producer's first studio collaboration with the band since 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion.
In December 2012, the band officially announced signing a worldwide deal with Columbia Records and releasing a new album in March 2013. On 24 January 2013, it was confirmed that the album was titled Delta Machine. "Heaven", the debut single from Delta Machine was released commercially on Friday 1 February 2013 (although not in the UK). The release date in the UK was pushed back to 18 March 2013 (17 March 2013 on iTunes). The physical release still bore the Mute Records logo, even though the band have now severed ties with their long standing label. Andy Fletcher mentioned in an interview this was due to their "devotion" to the label and with the band's insistence.
In March, the band announced North American dates to its Delta Machine summer tour, starting 22 August from Detroit and ending 8 October in Phoenix. In June, other European dates were confirmed for early 2014. The final gig of Delta Machine Tour took place in Moscow (Russia) on 7 March 2014, at Olimpiski venue.
That month, Depeche Mode won the award for "Best International Group – Rock / Pop" at the ECHO Awards in Germany. Also they were nominated at the category "Album des Jahres (national oder international)" for Delta Machine, but lost against Helene Fischer's Farbenspiel.
On 8 October 2014, the band announced Live in Berlin, the new video and audio release filmed and recorded at the O2 World in Berlin, Germany in November 2013 during the Delta Machine Tour. It was released on 17 November 2014 worldwide.
In a 2015 Rolling Stone interview celebrating the 25th anniversary of Violator, Martin Gore stated that Johnny Cash's cover of "Personal Jesus" is his favorite cover version of a Depeche Mode song.
On 25 January 2016, Martin Gore announced a projected return to the recording studio in April, with both Gore and Gahan having already written and demoed new songs.
In September, the official Depeche Mode Facebook page hinted at a new release, later confirmed by the band to be a music video compilation, Video Singles Collection, scheduled for release in November by Sony. In October 2016, the band announced that their fourteenth album, titled Spirit and produced by James Ford, would be released in spring 2017. The group has also been nominated for the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Where's the Revolution", the lead single from Spirit, was released 3 February 2017, along with its lyric video. The official video was published a week later, on 9 February. The Global Spirit Tour officially kicked off on 5 May 2017 with a performance in Stockholm, Sweden, at the Friends Arena. The first leg of the tour covered European countries only, ending with a final stadium show in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, at the Cluj Arena. The second leg of the tour covered North America and returned to Europe. The North America leg of the tour kicked off in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 23 August, at the USANA Amphitheatre. The band remained in North America until 15 November when they left for Dublin to resume the European leg. The band ended the tour in Europe with a final show on 25 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany, at the Waldbühne.