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Depeche Mode: The “Anti-Easy Listening” Band

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When people ask me about my favorite bands or singers, I never include Depeche Mode in my answers. Which is strange if you think about it.
While it’s true that I can sometimes go several years without listening to them, they’ve been a part of my musical life for almost 40 years. (the only musicians I’ve been listening to longer than them are Queen and David Bowie – I pride myself on having been a Queen fan since age four and Bowie not much longer after)

I can’t really tell when I heard Depeche Mode for the first time. They were strangely more or less mainstream in France in the 80s. Yes, today’s kids may have trouble understanding this, but until the late 1990s or so, good music was easily available on regular TV and radio, at least in France. I’m pretty much self-educated as far as my musical culture goes (friends helped, but it’s not coming from my parents or other older family members) and I did that mostly by just turning the radio or the TV on. And I don’t want to brag, but during most of my twenties, I was the one most of my friends turned to when they wanted to discover new good music.

So, yes, they were somewhat mainstream in France from their beginnings.
Listening to them, before starting to write this article, I stumbled upon them singing on prime-time French TV. It was one of the biggest TV shows in France at the time. The kind of show everyone watched on Wednesday nights, my grandma included.
So, yes, Depeche Mode has always kinda been around since junior high school at least.

OMG, look, I even found this. Probably their first time on French TV. That was in 1982, they were babies!!! (I was still in elementary school at the time, but I seriously doubt I knew them then).

 

So, yes, they’ve been famous since at least the mid-80s in France, but the truth is that, while I didn’t dislike them, I didn’t care much for them either. Partly because their fanbase was considered to be “teenage girls.” I’m not even sure if it was true, but as a teenage boy, I didn’t want to be associated with such a band (it was the 80s and I was a kid, don’t judge me). And the few times, I actually stopped and listened to them, I did find them a bit dark and disturbing. I blame Martin Gore’s outfits at the time, probably more than the music itself, although I did feel for him when he begged “Understand me” in Shake the Disease.
I mean, at the time my favorite musician was Michael Jackson and the edgiest music I listened to was U2, so you can imagine. I know… A band that’s for “teenage girls” and that’s dark and disturbing at the same time sounds a bit antithetical, but that was my perception of them, somehow. Teenagers don’t make sense.

Also, to be honest, in the 1980s, there were quite a few bands that sounded a bit similar and who looked like them (well, they looked more like Dave Gahan than Martin Gore), although most were one-hit-wonders, Depeche Mode was the only one that lasted (because they were actually good).

I really only started to actually be interested in them after high school, in the early 90s. I remember a friend of mine and her sister being huge fans. I still remember them skipping some post-graduation party/event/something (not high school graduation, but the computer degree I got after high school – it may have been the sister’s high school graduation) because Depeche Mode was playing that night and they had tickets (and with the magic of the internet I could even find what day it was: July 5th, 1993, almost 30 years ago to the day – now, I’ll let you find where the concert was).

In retrospect, I wish I had tickets too.

The first album I got was 101 (the famous live in Pasadena), and I may have listened to it hundreds of times.

However, while they seem mostly famous for the music from the 80s, it’s their music of the past 30 years that I find the most interesting somehow; starting with Songs of Faith and Devotion (the tour in 1993 was for that album).
I remember my feeling listening to that album for the first time.
And it’s a similar feeling to the one I experienced, last March, listening to Memento Mori for the first time. Actually, the past few years were years when I didn’t listen to them much if at all, but I bought this latest album by chance on the day it came out. I had heard they had a new album, the first one since Andy Fletcher’s passing last year. I told myself that I would eventually listen to it, whenever I stumble upon it. And well, I was in a shop that sold music on that day, the new album was there, so I bought it. Yes, I still buy CDs and so should you, but that’s a topic for another day.

 

And, so yes, listening to Memento Mori for the first time gave me the same feeling that I had when listening to all their albums post-1990 for the first time.

Let me explain. For me, Depeche Mode really is the “anti-easy listening” music.

Listening to any of their albums for the first time is never “easy” for me.

I just never instantly like any of their albums when listening to them for the first time. I need time to get used to them. I need to familiarize myself with the album and its songs. I need to “tame” them. And it’s only after a certain number of listening sessions that I finally can form an opinion about the album (usually a positive one).

I find this totally fascinating because it’s probably the only band – that I like and listen to – that has this effect on me.

Every other band that I follow and love, I almost always instantly love their new music when listening to it for the first time, even if sometimes, once the novelty has faded, I may like some tracks and albums more than others.

With Depeche Mode, it’s the opposite. I never instantly love a new album. Never. Only with time, I can reach that stage.

Why? is that? I have no idea.

 

What about you? Do you have any band that has that effect on you?

 

Of course, I need to end this post with a song from them.

How about “Wrong” from Sounds of the Universe? Probably one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs.

(warning: the video was nominated for some awards, but it can be a bit disturbing and scary to some people):

 

Alright, how about “It’s no good” (from Ultra) probably their funniest video? Yes, Depeche Mode can be funny. In the video, they play some sort of caricature of themselves or rather of what they could have become if they had stayed together for decades but never became famous, keeping on playing sketchy gigs in sleazy bars.

 

One final thing: when I say that they’re the “anti-easy listening” band, they really are. When I first started typing this (not that long) text, I started listening to them at the same time, but passive listening (in the background, as I typed) turned out to be impossible. I had to actively listen to the songs and I just couldn’t focus on my text until it was time to go to bed.

 

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