Heroes of their
By Stephen Dalton
Friday, September 30, 2005
Heroes of their degeneration
By Stephen Dalton
Depeche Mode, the band that gained the world and lost their souls, tell all
A saga of Essex, drugs and rocknroll, the tortuous history of Depeche Mode is
one of pops great long-running soap operas. But in person, it is difficult to
reconcile the cheery normality of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher with their
melodramatic past and equally dramatic, doom-laden music. After 25 years together, the
Basildon trio are turning into one of Britpops oddest survival stories.
Many critics still dismiss Depeche Mode as naff electropop nerds, but their albums
routinely outsell rocks premier league. They receive patchy support from radio and
television, but retain one of the coolest and most devoted fanbases on the planet.
Increasingly they function less like a working band and more like a religious cult. Even
so, as people they seem surprisingly anonymous. Despite having sold more than 50 million
albums they can walk down most streets unmolested.
I live in New York and no one really gives a s*** there, Gahan shrugs. I
walk down the street and pass Lou Reed walking his little dog, and nobody cares. LA, now
thats a whole different story.
Indeed. Los Angeles is where Gahan overdosed on fame and everything else for
much of the 1990s. Naturally, LA is also where he confronted the cult of Depeche Mode at
its most deranged. I actually had to get a restraining order on this particular girl
who would literally camp outside my house, he recalls. She somehow felt she
was living with me and was my wife. It was really psycho.
But not as psycho as Roy, a middle-aged male stalker who kept all-night vigils outside
Gahans Hollywood home. Youd look out the window at four in the morning
and Roy would still be standing there, the singer laughs incredulously. I
ended up assaulting him well, I headbutted him and broke his nose. And I actually
got sued! He sued me for $500,000 and he ended up getting $40,000. He claimed I gave him
brain damage, but he was pretty f***ed up to start with.
The cult surrounding Depeche Mode is now a free-floating force, operating independently of
the band. Every few weeks, in Berlin or Barcelona or Buenos Aires, armies of kohl-eyed
devotees gather in clubs for Depeche nights. Its very weird, grins
Fletcher, but great for us.
Fletcher felt the full surreal effect of this virtual fame when he was booked for a DJ set
in Barcelona recently. After playing to a reasonably full upstairs room, he
went to the clubs main hall to discover 5,000 teenagers having a Depeche Mode party.
It was a humbling experience, being upstaged by his own back catalogue.
Countries with high suicide rates, former military dictatorships and repressive religious
regimes tend to breed the most rabid fans, they find. It used to be really difficult
for us to walk around the streets in Budapest or Warsaw, says Gore.
Theyd be chasing us, trying to grab pieces of us. It was very similar in
Sometimes the cult of Depeche Mode has overwhelmed the band themselves. A decade ago they
almost imploded into bitter acrimony and suicidal self-destruction. Disgusted with their
pop-friendly image and sound, Gahan was the most visible victim, a hollow-eyed junkie who
overdosed countless times on heroin and cocaine cocktails. At his lowest ebb he became a
paranoid ghost with a serious death wish, sleeping in a coffin and randomly shooting holes
in his apartment walls.
Less publicly, Gores excessive drink and drug intake resulted in seizures, blackouts
and hospital visits. Meanwhile, Fletcher almost quit during a sustained barrage of
depression and band friction. A spell in the Priory, years before it became a byword for
celebrity rehab, offered only a temporary respite. It was horrible, he
recalls. Thats the only way to describe it. Things were spiralling out of
control, the excess got worse and worse. All of us had quite big personal problems for a
long time. But in some ways all bands need to have that tension.
Although Gahan has been drug-free for almost a decade, the power struggles and self-esteem
issues that fuelled his selfdestructive behaviour are only now being resolved. Having
broken away from Depeche Mode with his first solo album in 2003, he seriously considered
leaving for good. During initial discussions for the bands excellent new album,
Playing the Angel, he demanded an equal share of songwriting credits with Gore. After much
delicate backstage negotiation, he finally settled for three songs out of 12.
It was a question of having to accept that or not carrying on with the band,
Gore says. I wouldnt call it an ultimatum, but it was obvious to everyone
involved that if Dave wasnt going to be contributing then he probably wouldnt
be interested in carrying on.
This creative conflict may be pure Spinal Tap, but there is also something touchingly
innocent when Gahan reports that Gore recently complimented his songwriting skills in an
interview. For multimillion-selling rock stars, Depeche Mode often appear oddly childlike
and vulnerable. Youve got to get vulnerable if youre creating
something, Gahan insists. I did that by trying to slowly destroy myself over
those years, and that didnt work. But thank God Ive turned that around, and I
feel very confident and happy about my position not only in Depeche Mode but in my life in
Maybe being faceless superstars is not such a burden after all. Perhaps, thanks to the
cult of Depeche Mode, the original Essex geezers have finally become cool rock gods?
Of course not, Gahan laughs. We are getting better at it, but were
still a bunch of nerds. Were the guys who got beat up in Basildon. But, you know,
revenge has been sweet.
Depeche Modes new single Precious is out next week. Playing the Angel is released on