60 Songs That Explain the '90s: Depeche Mode, the Synth-Pop Gods Who Shaped the Decade (2023)

Dirty. Wu-Tang Clan. lightning head. "Wall of Wonders". '90s music was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does this say about timing and why is it still important?60 songs that explain the 90sis back for another 30 episodes to try and answer those questions. joinBellmusic writer and '90s survivor Rob Harvilla as he walks through the soundtrack of his youth, one song (and one embarrassing anecdote) at a time. Follow andlisten for free on spotify. In episode 86 of60 Songs That Explain the 90s—yes, you read that right, we are exploring "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode. Below is an excerpt from the transcript of this episode.

Depeche Mode was formed in Basildon, Essex County, eastern England, in 1980. Original line-up: Vince Clarke, Andy Fletcher, Martin Gore and Dave Gahan. original concept:And if punk rock, but with synthesizers?I'm paraphrasing. I'm exaggerating, this is a little unpleasant. But at least Depeche Mode in 1980 is confrontational in spirit, in instrumentation. They play synthesizers. They often play synthesizers.exclusively. That's weird for 1980. Dave Gahan, speaking toRolling Stonein 1990, he says: “I think without knowing it, we started doing something completely different. We took these instruments because they were convenient. You could pick up a synthesizer, tuck it under your arm and go to a concert. You connected directly to the PA. You didn't have to go through an amp, so you didn't need a pickup. We used to go to shows on trains.”

He also says: “At that time, everyone used electronics in a very morbid and dark way. All of a sudden here was this pop band that was using the material, these kids that made everyone dance instead of standing around in gray raincoats about to kill themselves." Alright. It's time to hit them with "Just Can't Get Enough".

Depeche Mode's first album,speak and spell, came out in 1981, with most of the songs written by Vince Clarke, who won't be with the band much longer. And as a result, this album will be by far Depeche Mode's most poppy, or at least their most upbeat. This is a niche culture reference, but if you're like me, you'll never hear the song "Just Can't Get Enough" without thinking of Karl Pilkington again. Starting in the late '90s, future TV kingpin and polarizing comedian Ricky Gervais used to have a radio show, then a podcast, then a TV show where he and his friend Stephen Merchant would sit and terrorize. quaint, unsmiling gentleman named Karl Pilkington. And then in 2010 they did a reality show calledan idiot abroad, where they have Karl travel the world being dour and aloof, and there's a famous scene where Karl is wandering around the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza in Mexico, and he's got headphones on to listen to a guided tour, but he's so bored, he puts on "Just Can't Get Enough" and dances. It is one of the silliest and most beautiful sequences ever shown on television.

Depeche Mode, not Human League, Karl, he corrects himself. However, you can understand their confusion, because after this record, Vince Clarke leaves Depeche Mode. Vince goes on to form the excellent synth-pop duos Yazoo and Erasure. There are two great Yazoo records and, like, 19 great Erasure records. But in his absence, Depeche Mode will now become increasingly gothic. The band's second album,a broken frame, comes out in 1982 with Martin Gore now as the main songwriter, and these guys already seem to have had a lot more than enough.

For their third album, 1983build time again, Depeche Mode adds another super-talented multi-instrumentalist, Alan Wilder, and the line-up of Alan, Martin, Andy and Dave will go on for quite some time. Andy Fletcher would later sum up the band's dynamic by saying, "Martin is the songwriter, Alan is the good musician, Dave is the lead singer, and I play." He's being polite. Meanwhile, shit, we're not even halfway through 1990, we need to shift focus, but this recordbuild time againthere's "Everything Counts", which for me is still one of Depeche Mode's most catchy songs.

the hands that grab
take all you can
everything for them
After all

"Everything Counts" has just as catchy a hook, just as strong as "Just Can't Get Enough", but now there's a refreshing cynicism - or realism! - in lyrics, in sentiment. But yeah, this is taking too long. New focus! So this Failure version of “Enjoy the Silence” that I adore dearly appeared on a Depeche Mode tribute album calledfor the masses, released in 1998. As an '80s kid and a grumpy '90s teenager, I never thought much of Depeche Mode, and yet, by the time I turned 18, I knew about 15 Depeche Mode songs by heart. just because of MTV and pop radio and then alternative rock radio. One tended to unconsciously breathe in this band the same way one would breathe oxygen or anxiety. So this tribute album, which from what I can tell was not much loved and is now super out of print unfortunately was a huge revelation for me as it revealed how many different types of bands from the 90s owed a huge debt to Modo.

The sinister synth-pop vibe that Depeche Mode cultivated throughout the '80s will, of course, have a huge effect on electronic music, a huge effect on the darkest corners of dance music, a huge effect onindustrial musicin the future, even if they are sometimes used as a contrast, as enemies, as overly popular types of cheese balls and poppies. German industrial band KMFDM, the scariest band I could think of as a teenager and the funniest band I can think of now, there is a famous rumor that KMFDM stands for Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode.rotateinterviewed Dave Gahan in 2007, asking him if he thought that's what KMFDM stood for, and he said, "All I know is I think it's true."

But Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, the coolest kind of band I could have imagined growing up, Trent was much more complimentary. In 2017, on Facebook, at Tony Hawk's insistence, and I'm pretty sure I got it right, Trent wrote a short tribute to Depeche Mode that read: "It was the summer of '86. I dropped out of college and was living in Cleveland trying to find my way in life. local music scene. I knew where I wanted to go with my life, but I didn't know how to get there. A group of friends and I went to the Blossom Music Center amphitheater to see the Black Celebration tour. (album Depeche Modeblack celebrationIt was released in '86; Blossom is a great place but the parking situation sucks. That's me saying it, not Trent, but Trent would totally agree with me. Anyway, continues Trent.) “DM was one of our favorite bands and theblack celebrationdisco took my love for them to a new level. I've thought about that night a lot over the years. It was a perfect summer night and I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The music, the energy, the crowd, the connection... it was spiritual and truly magical. I left that show grateful, humbled, energized, focused and in awe of how powerful and transformative music can be... and started writing what would eventually becomepretty hate machine.”

pretty hate machine, Of course, being Nine Inch Nails' first record, it was released in 1989 and helped define '90s rock, dance music and industrial music as we know it. Depeche Mode is also one of those businesses where it's now a bit of a challenge to convey how revolutionary these guys were in the late 80's.music for the masses, on sale in 1987, is the disc with "Never Let Me Down Again" and "To Have and to Hold" and "Strangelove".

And the title of the album was supposed to be some kind of joke, right? That's pretty dark and prickly and S&M adjacent to pop music. Dave Gahan talking toweekly entertainmentin 2017, he says: “Withmusic for the masses, we were being quite arrogant. We weren't really making music for the masses, but suddenly we were playing sold out arenas in Texas and in strange places that we thought we would never sell records. It was like a cult following. DA Pennebaker, who filmed our show, described it almost like a Grateful Dead experience: people who were as mad at Depeche Mode as Dead fans were at Dead. We talked to people who felt a little different, those who wore a lot of eyeliner, those who were in school and were bullied or had to go home. We were the outsiders and we accepted that, because that's what we were too, growing up."

This is D.A. Pennebaker, the legendary documentary filmmaker for Bob Dylan and David Bowie, among others, who co-directed the 1989 filmexit path 101, culminating in Depeche Mode culminating in a triumphant US tour with a show on June 18, 1988, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, which was attended by over 60,000 people.

The band grossed $1.3 million at that show, according to the band's accountant, on camera, during that movie, talking about holding hands and grabbing as much as they can.exit path 101probably needs more love on lists of the greatest music documentaries of all time. There's a fan-oriented aspect: we've had a tour bus full of Depeche Mode fans for quite some time. There is a precursory aspect to reality television; very prophetic, very instructive. But the most amazing thing is just seeing Depeche Mode on stage. Dave Gahan looks, acts and sings like you asked one of those AI generators to create Elvis synth-pop. As you just told the AI,Do Elvis but give him a synthesizer, and the AI ​​says:Howl:Dave Gahan. great profile. Big chops. Big turns, your pirouettes. It radiates grandeur, it radiates melancholy, it radiates just a little silliness. You can draw a line between him and Freddie Mercury, or at least write a line of binary code.

then you takethis typeand you put him onstage in front of three sexy, idiot-looking gentlemen, all behind these huge, elaborate keyboards. No Drummer: An offstage reel-to-reel tape machine handles all the drumming. Lovely little guitars if any. That's rock and roll now. This is sand stone. This isStadiumstone. This is the rock that fills the Rose Bowl. This is the future. Depeche Mode played a crucial role in building the 90s.weI mean anyone in the 90s who listened to the radio for more than five minutes. As this tribute album makes clear, many '90s bands and artists with rather mixed personal temperaments would flourish, thanks to '80s Depeche Mode. Everytime. Mode comes out in 1990.

To listen to the full episodeclick here, and make suresiga no spotifyand come back every Wednesday for new episodes of the decade's biggest songs. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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