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Dark knights: Depeche Mode (from left, Martin Gore, Dave Gahan, Andy Fletcher), backstage at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto, 3 September, 2017 .

At the core of every great group, there is a dysfunctional relationship that’s being managed against all odds. Titans of dark electro-pop Depeche Mode epitomise this. They’ve beaten heroin, alcoholism and breakdowns to be bigger now in middle-age than ever. Niall Doherty travels to New York to hear singer Dave Gahan’s key to survival, and then joins the trio on tour. “I’m very placid,” sound architect Martin Gore tells him. “Which comes in handy in Depeche Mode.”

Photographs: Alex Lake



Living on borrowed time? Depeche Mode, Toronto, September 2017 .


arrived home in New York from a recent Depeche Mode tour, Dave Gahan received an email from Martin Gore. “I enjoy being onstage with you,” wrote Gore to his bandmate. “You are taking it to another level, I don’t know how you do it.” “I don’t know how I do it either,” the singer replied, “but something comes over me onstage up It’sIt’s likelike aa PeterPeter PanPan thing.”thing.” ItIt isis almostalmost 40 years since Gahan, Gore, Andy “Fletch” Fletcher and early departee Vince Clarke formed their trailblazing electronic band in Basildon, Essex and the brotherly, often fractious relationship between Gahan and Gore is at the heart of what makes them tick. Gahan realised long ago that it doesn’t matter whether the band like each other or not, it’s the chemistry that counts. He’s reminded of it every night on tour, greeted by the hysterical faces in the front rows of their sold-out shows. Over nearly four decades and 14 studio albums, Depeche Mode have sold more than 100 million records and their synth sound has helped to reshape modern music. They are the ultimate cult band, pioneers who have left their mark on a range of artists far more recognisable than they ever will be. You can hear them in the communal pop of Lady Gaga, the bombastic rock of Muse, the industrial thud of Nine Inch Nails and the fist-clenched anthems of The Killers. Their fans are diehards who know every word and the band are as popular as they’ve ever been, playing packed arenas and stadiums around the world. But Dave Gahan knows this can’t go on forever. The singer feels the band are living on borrowed time, and he appreciates it now more than he ever has. Depeche Mode have triumphed over heroin and alcohol addiction, nervous breakdowns, cancer scares, failed marriages and members leaving. Now, at the very top of their game, it feels like they might be reaching the end.

N ew York, July 2017. It is a scorching summer’s day, and the guests entering the palatial, air- conditioned lobby of the Crosby Street Hotel look relieved to be out of the heat. Dave Gahan lives a stroll away with his wife Jennifer, daughter Stella Rose and adopted son Jimmy. He likes sitting in places like this, watching and listening to people, getting ideas for songs. He’s been home for a few days as the band take some time off before resuming the world tour to accompany their latest album Spirit, and he’s still readjusting to life as a mere mortal rather than

the flamboyant frontman of Depeche Mode. Life on the road is relatively monastic for the singer these days, his whole day geared towards being in tip-top condition for showtime. “All I really care about when I’m on the road is the show,” he says, settling into a seat in the hotel’s restaurant. Dressed in a white T-shirt and black jeans, he’s as slight as a 55-year-old man could be. He has the frame of a ballerina and the inflection of a cabbie. He keeps his sunglasses on. “It used to be lots of other things, but now it’s all I care about. How can I do the best performance? I’m old now, there are lots

“Dave is always pushing and pushing to get more tracks on the record. It came to a head.” Martin Gore

of things I have to do.” On tour, he wakes up at 9am, drinks a lot of water, has an omelette for breakfast, does some stretching and yoga, then starts to get his head into gig mode. “You have to be all-in,” he says. “It’s all or nothing. I have a lot of fun with it and let go of any inhibitions I have onstage. I know I’m good at what I do.” Gahan blagged his way into the band from the beginning. “They were already a band, Vince, Fletch and Martin. They needed a front guy. I was an Essex lad. Vince thought he heard me singing ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie in a rehearsal room next door with this other band.” He says he was technically singing it, but others were too. When Clarke asked if it was him, he claimed the glory. “I had nothing else going on,” he says. Clarke was being smart when he invited Gahan to join the band. He knew that Gahan knew the right people in Basildon and Southend-on-Sea to get them gigs. Propelled by early hits Just Can’t Get Enough and New Life, they were a pop success – Fletcher has described them as “the world’s first boyband” – and spent much of their formative years doing what pop successes were expected to do. There were many awkward appearances on Saturday morning kids shows. “In those early years, we’d do anything,” says Gahan. “If someone said to us, go on Swap Shop, we’d be there. And we always felt uncomfortable. Of course





The members who jumped ship along the way.

Boys in the ’hood:

a youthful Depeche Mode (with Vince Clarke, second right) in London, 1980 .

Gahan returns and explains the awkward situation that just played out. Reznor had to introduce him to his associate, the producer Alan Moulder, despite the fact Moulder has worked with Depeche Mode on numerous occasions. “I didn’t recognise him,” admits Gahan. It’s not the first time something like this has happened. It is bittersweet for Gahan that the band’s imperial phase came at a time when his heroin addiction

1. VINCE CLARKE, 1980-’81

Depeche Mode were, for all intents and purposes, Vince Clarke’s band. He was the original vocalist and main songwriter in Composition Of Sound, before he invited Dave Gahan to join and the quartet changed their name to Depeche Mode. “Vince was knocking on my door. He knew that I knew the right people to get us gigs and he knew that I could sing, so he got me in,” says Gahan. “Vince was the real driving force. He was writing songs every week and he was desperate to get out of Basildon,” says Andy Fletcher. Clarke, who was born Vince Martin but changed his name when a local paper did a piece on the band and he feared his dole officer would see it, wrote every song but two on the band’s 1981 debut LP, Speak & Spell, including early hits New Life and Just Can’t Get Enough. Clarke left the band soon after its release, wanting to take his music in a poppier direction and, as one rumour goes, because he wasn’t the biggest fan of Gahan’s vocals. He went on to form Yazoo, The Assembly and multi-million-selling pop duo Erasure.

it’s me at the front, like a fish out of water. All the teenybop stuff was weird.” There is one excruciating interview online from 1985, with Gahan interviewing ex-bandmate Clarke on live TV. It’s uncomfortable viewing even before Timmy Mallett turns up and pretends to serve them tea. Gahan credits Daniel Miller, the Mute label boss who has acted as a mentor throughout the band’s career, for steering

them towards being more creatively daring. “Full respect to Dan,” says Gahan. “If he hadn’t have found us and took us under his wing, God knows what would’ve happened. We would’ve been some awful fucking Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran-type thing.” Gahan’s voice is a composite of 90 per cent Essex and 10 per cent New York. It’s always a bit of a surprise when his Estuary twang is suddenly ambushed by a New York drawl. Ordering some drinks, he says “can ah’ get a boh’l ah still waugh’a,” in pure East Ender,

before switching to a Transatlantic, “and a ka’fee?” His natural speaking voice is like when Ray Winstone tries to do an American accent. There’s a tenderness and slight jitteriness to Gahan. Even when he’s extolling the thrill of playing to 50,000 people, you want to interrupt to check he’s alright. Suddenly, Nine Inch Nails’ singer Trent Reznor appears in the restaurant and beckons him over to say hello. A few minutes later,

was so bad he has trouble recalling much of it. “There are periods when I bump into people like this and they mention something and I’m like, ‘I don’t remember that.’ There was a period when I was too out there to really appreciate how good it is.” Gahan went off the deep end for the first half of the ’90s. He remembers leaving the country house in Sussex he lived in with his first wife Jo and son Jack to embark on the tour to support Violator and looking back and thinking, “I’m not coming back here.” “And that’s what happened,” he said. “Once we went on the [1993 album] Songs Of Faith And Devotion tour, I don’t remember much about it. Once that shift changed for me, where the drugs were more important than anything, I knew I was lost. I knew it, but I couldn’t stop. I tried, but I didn’t care about anything. I don’t even know how I maintained that.” It’s a testament to Gahan’s constitution that if you search for

“If I didn’t have all this, all the attention, people wanting me to do well, I’d have been dead years ago. No one would give a shit, some guy from Essex, a kid in a

council flat.” Dave Gahan

“All the teenybop stuff was weird”: (left) live on TV show The Tube in 1983 (with new recruit Alan Wilder, far right); (inset, left) Dave Gahan onstage in Leeds, 1981 ; and (below) at home in 1982 .

footage of the Devotional tour shows on YouTube, he’s fantastic. He had transformed from a gawky young frontman into a fully-fledged rock god, the sort of gloriously clichéd showman that Hollywood screenwriters come up with when they write a rock singer. “I’d put everything I had into it,” says Gahan. “There would be problems, definitely. A lot of hospital visits. I didn’t think nothing of it, I thought I was invincible. I soon found out, in the mid-’90s, that that was not the case. I’ve been very lucky. If I didn’t have all this and all the attention and people wanting me to do well, I’d have been dead years ago. No one would give a shit, some guy from Essex, a kid in a council flat.” A few years ago, Gahan was in London for Gore and Fletcher’s joint 50th birthday party. He had Jimmy and Stella Rose with him and wanted to show them where he grew up, so he took them for a drive to Basildon. “I went back to that little house and the little bit of grass at the front and I was like, ‘How did we all live in that little house?’” His son pointed at the row of terraces and said, “So that’s where you lived?” “No,” said Gahan, “that bit there is another house, it’s not one house.” He looked around the block, across the road, and nodded at the mum sitting out on the lawn with a kid on her lap. No one recognised him. Recently, he was watching Supersonic, Mat Whitecross’s film about Oasis. He thinks Liam and Noel Gallagher have “just gotta fucking talk. The ego stuff will always be there but the music is more important.” He says it’s like a brother situation with him and Gore. They know each other and yet they don’t. “We’re very similar,” he says.

“We’re two drunks trying to do it a little different. He liked booze,

I liked drugs. I liked booze too, but I liked drugs more.” He and Gore have always had a “weird” relationship and there has been extra tension since Gahan began writing songs for inclusion on

Depeche Mode albums in 2005. During the making of Spirit, he and chief songwriter Gore “had it out”. “Mart was just like, ‘This is what

I do, I write the songs and I can’t do it onstage without you, that’s

what you do, we do it together.’ He said, ‘Your songs are really good,

but I need this.’” The talk cleared the air. “I love the communication of a musical idea,” says Gahan. “We don’t need to like each other but

I like the idea that somehow this musical idea surpasses anything

that’s going on between us. It’s beyond personal shit, ego stuff.” The closest Gahan has come to leaving the band was in the aftermath of his 2003 solo debut Paper Monsters. He’d enjoyed it to

the point that he thought to himself, “How can I go back?” But he did, “because they’re my family. I love Martin. He’s given me everything

I have. Martin could make records on his own forever, he could do that, but with Depeche Mode, he needs me. And I need him too.”

“There was a period when I was too out there to really appreciate how good it is.”

Dave Gahan







“You have to be all-in. It’s all or nothing”: Dave Gahan and Martin Gore pull out the stops for 20,000 fans in Toronto, September 2017 .


The members who jumped ship along the way.

Dave Gahan says it’s all a bit of a game, life, and he’s enjoying it. “I’m a car thief from Basildon that got lucky. I’m fucking lucky, look at me!” He’s going to give Depeche Mode his all for the next eight months, until the end of the tour, and then he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. “I’m very aware of the fact it’s gonna end,” he says. “When we go onstage together, I feel like, ‘This is it, I’m done, I’m happy.’ But if [Gore] sends me a few songs in a few years that I’m like, ‘Wow’ [about], I’ll get pulled back in. There’s always a couple…”

T oronto, September 2017. Andy Fletcher is sat in the bar of the Four Seasons, a hotel of “unparalleled luxury” according to its website, the sort of opulent accommodation that members of Depeche Mode have got used to. During their ’80s rise, the band were hiring a bigger PA when the man at the rental company said to them, “See you on the way down.” “We never got to that stage,” smiles Fletcher. The 56-year-old is affable company, with a cool-dad vibe about him and an assured matter-of-factness to his conversations. “We’re one of the biggest groups in the world but

we lead very normal lives,” he says, as if he’s telling you about a decent house insurance deal he’s just discovered. The synth player is the most musically limited of the trio but has acted as the band’s chief communicator, especially in his de facto role as manager until they got a proper one in the mid-’90s, a mere 15 years into their career. Traditionally, Fletcher and Gahan have never seen “eye-to-eye” but they’ve been getting on better recently. He and Gore, though, have been best friends since school – “he’s quite shy, I’m extroverted,” he says. “I suppose that’s why we make a good couple.”

The band are six dates into a sold-out North American tour and Fletcher is settling into his on-tour routine. He tries to go to the gym as much as possible and plays a lot of online chess. “There’s a lot of dead time on the road,” he says. “That’s why a lot of artists, including

ourselves, get into drinking a lot cos there’s nothing to do.” Fletcher is the only member of the band who still drinks. He has a couple of lagers before he goes onstage, and a couple after. “I used to drink a lot before the show, we all did, onstage a lot, and after.” He says the partying

during the Violator tour was under control, but it was during the 1993 tour to support Songs Of Faith And Devotion where “it all went into the abyss.” “Unfortunately for me, I’d suffered a nervous breakdown during the making of the album,” he says. “I had to do 185 shows on the back of a nervous breakdown. Martin was drinking for England and Dave was, as we know…” During one gig in New Orleans, Gahan had a drug-related heart murmur onstage and they couldn’t do the encore. Gahan was carried off to the hospital while the rest of the band partied on at the aftershow with strippers. Fletcher relays all this with the airy demeanour of a neighbour telling you about his new lawnmower, then comically adds, “but the excess was only for a relatively short period of our career.” Later that evening, Fletcher sips from a bottle of water onstage at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. It used to be pints

2. ALAN WILDER, 1982-1995

West Londoner Wilder was 22 when he answered Depeche Mode’s Melody Maker ad looking for Vince Clarke’s replacement. He joined as a touring keyboardist in January 1982, before becoming an official band member shortly after the release of second album, A Broken Frame, later in the year. His influence steadily grew over the next decade and he became an integral part of their sound, particularly in the studio – it was Wilder who transformed Gore’s plaintive demo Enjoy The Silence into a euphoric anthem with a house beat. “I love Al, he did some amazing work with us,” says Gahan. “Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion are records that he helped to arrange.” Wilder left in 1995 after the hedonism of the Devotional tour had plunged the band into crisis. “After that, I think he thought it was over. He looked at me, looked at everyone and thought, ‘He’s gonna die, he’s mental, I’m out.’ I don’t blame him.”

of wine but Depeche Mode gigs are a slick operation these days. It’s a spectacular two-hour show and Gahan is pumped-up from the start, with slicked-back hair and a pencil-thin John Waters-style moustache etched across his top lip. He wiggles his arse a lot and stomps around the stage like a Moulin Rouge Mick Jagger. He’s a master at ramping up the crowd. Gore is more of a steady presence, only veering from his stage-right position a few times to take lead vocals on Home, a stripped-back version of A Question Of Lust and the ballad Somebody, while Fletcher embarks on some excellent dance moves from behind his synth. They range from one where he looks like he’s directing traffic and another where he’s an amateur hypnotist. The show concludes with Gore and Gahan laughing manically at each other over the end of Personal Jesus. The stage is their safe place.

“We’re two drunks

trying to do it a little different. Martin liked booze, I liked drugs.

I liked booze too, but

liked drugs more.” Dave Gahan


Like a Moulin Rouge Mick Jagger: Gahan gets some pre-gig encouragement from band PR Barbara Charone.

N ext morning, Martin Gore strolls into a conference room on the third floor of the Four Seasons. There aren’t many things that could pierce the euphoria of playing in front of 20,000 fans, but looking down and seeing the words “conference room” on your itinerary must surely be one of them. Even so, the 56-year-old is bright and cheery, with a schoolboy smile (although they’re possibly not the same teeth he had as a schoolboy) and a Californian tan. He lives in Santa Barbara with his wife and young children. He has an easy manner about him, the sort you’d expect from someone

who describes where they live as paradise. Gore says the band don’t see much of Gahan on tour. They all travel together and stay in the same hotel but Gahan, “for good reason, isolates himself a lot.” They travel to the venue at different times and see their frontman in the evening before they go onstage. He says that the singer’s energy during the show is probably pent-up from being in his room for 24 hours. The clear-the-air chat with Gahan during the recording of Spirit set a boundary, he says. “When Dave first started writing, I understood that he had a need to get out his creative side, I understood that. It wasn’t a big deal. But as the years have gone by,

Dave is always pushing and pushing and pushing to get more tracks on the record, so it came to a head. James [Ford, producer] said that if the album starts having too many songs written by Dave, it becomes a Dave Gahan solo record and that there’s something unique about my songwriting and if it goes too far towards Dave, it’s not Depeche Mode. We needed to have that discussion because Dave, at the time, was suggesting a new song every day.” Gore says that his best trait is that he’s non-confrontational. “I’m very placid, which comes in handy in Depeche Mode.” He says there are certain people who seem to love arguments, and Fletcher is one of them. “I think he likes taking contrary positions on virtually anything,” he laughs. Gore was an alcoholic who quit drinking during 2005/’06’s Touring The Angel tour (“I just dealt with it,” he shrugs). These days, the wildest he gets is sloping off for an afternoon nap. “I never thought in a million years I could actually have an afternoon nap. I’ll go back to my room, put on the Tibetan bells, start chanting and then 10 minutes later I’m fast asleep. I feel supercharged for the show!” Gore has noticed that Depeche Mode’s crowd has been replenishing itself, with a new generation of fans at the gigs and teenagers joining older diehards in waiting outside their hotels. He still feels like an outsider. He says the fact that the band have never been part of the mainstream is an important part of their personality.

DEFINITIVE DEPECHE The Basildon trio’s five greatest albums in their own words.


(MUTE, 1986)

Martin Gore was coming into his own as a songwriter by the time of their fifth LP, combining pop hooks with a gloomy intensity. “Black Celebration wasn’t our biggest-selling album, but it was unique,” says Andy Fletcher. “The thing with [our] albums is that they take time, they’re not instant. Tracks like Stripped are now regarded as classics but at the time they weren’t received well.” Dave Gahan says that while making Black Celebration, they realised they weren’t a part of any scene in England. “We were doing our own thing,” says the singer. “Our radio plugger was like, ‘Where’s the song for the radio?’ But it was more important for us to be making a body of work.”


(MUTE, 1990)

Emboldened by the success of 1987 album Music For The Masses, the band’s next record was their masterpiece. It was a stratospheric success, taking them to a level that only a few bands in a generation reach. “Violator is a Perfect 10 record,” says Fletcher. Gore attributes part of the album’s success to an incident in LA when the police shut down a record store signing and portions of the 17,000-strong crowd began to riot. “That riot made us national news,” he says. “I think that tipped us over the edge in America. All these people in rural areas, places we’d never been, were seeing us on the news and thinking, ‘Who is this band? Maybe I’ll check them out…’”


(MUTE, 1993)

Enamoured with the prevailing grunge scene, Gahan encouraged the band to add dirgey guitars to the mix on their eighth LP. Despite the singer’s heroin problem, they listened to his advice and the thrilling Songs Of… is their most live-sounding album. The debauchery was starting to take its toll, though. “Bands make great albums on drugs, but you can’t make album after album on drugs,” says Fletcher. “You can make one, maybe a second, but you can’t keep on doing it cos it just combusts.” “We were young and we hit new heights; it went in at Number 1 in 17 countries or something,” says Gore. “I think we kind of went off the deep end a bit with that.”


(MUTE, 2005)

The trio sound reinvigorated on the first of a triptych of albums with producer Ben Hillier. Gahan had considered leaving the band in the wake of his 2003 solo LP Paper Monsters, but was encouraged to return when Gore sent him some tracks. “Mart was still drinking,” he says, “so that’s all he really cared about at that time, but he’d written some good songs and I was up for it.” The first Depeche LP to feature songs written by Gahan, the new dynamic gave them a fresh lease of life. “Depeche Mode is different; it’s Martin, and me, and Fletch too,” says Gahan, “and it’s who we bring into that, whether it’s Ben Hillier, or Flood, or Daniel Miller, or James Ford. That’s what makes it interesting to me.”


(MUTE, 2017)

A stand-off between Gore and Gahan stilted progress on Spirit until producer James Ford made them sit down and work out their issues. “We faced each other and had it out for the first time in 30-odd years,” says Gahan. “It cleared the air.” What emerged was their most vital album in years, Gahan’s songs of confusion and displacement dovetailing with Gore’s state-of-the-union anthems. “I felt the world was in a complete mess and I wanted to address that,” says Gore. It showed the band were still a modern creative force. “We think we’re ‘now’,” says Fletcher. “We don’t feel we’re elders. We’re capable of making great records and better records.”

Sign of the times: “No one can predict the future. We’ve always said we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“It’s why, especially in Europe, we’re seen as being more than just a music band. It’s almost like a cult phenomenon.” He says Depeche Mode has to be seen as a finite thing, because every band is. “It just depends when that is,” he says, suddenly wondering aloud in a very Depeche Mode way, “will it be because of death? No one can predict the future. We’ve always said we don’t know what’s going to happen.” He can’t guarantee if there will be another Depeche Mode album. But he says he’s been saying that since 1986. Our time is up, and Gore has to get his things together to meet the rest of the band in the lobby. Their private jet awaits to take them to Montreal for tomorrow night’s show.

T he Bell Centre is a 21,000-capacity arena in downtown Montreal. Usually home to the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, tonight it has been taken over by Depeche Mode and their 100-strong crew. Backstage, there are signs pointing off from the boulevard-style walkways for “Massage Room”, “Wardrobe” and “Catering”. Down another corridor and past “Dave Gahan’s Room”, you enter the “Lads Room”, where Andy Fletcher is sat on an armchair drinking from a big can of Fosters and Martin Gore is hollering from the top of some stairs. It’s close to showtime and excitement is

building. The band are in their stage gear – a grey, sleeveless jumpsuit and a handful of eye glitter for Gore and a bomber jacket, black jeans and bright orange trainers for Fletcher. Out of the



“I love Martin. He’s given me everything

I have. Martin could

make records on his own forever, he could do that, but with Depeche Mode, he needs me. And

I need him too.” Dave Gahan

corner of our eye, we see Gahan being ushered into his dressing room. The singer is like a mythical figure backstage at his own shows:

you are more likely to bump into Timmy Mallett than you are the band’s own frontman. “Do you like my big can?” says Fletcher, holding up his impressively-sized beer. “It’s a pint and a half,” he says, thrusting one leg forward as part of his pre-gig stretch routine. Talk turns to how the band’s early shows in Essex shaped their approach to playing live. “It all comes down to Southend or Rayleigh,” says Fletcher, thrusting the other leg forward, “when we had a residency at Croc’s. We had an audience on a Saturday night where we had to get them to dance, get them to move, to react, so we learnt even in the early days how to get audiences going.” Martin Gore finishes making his Chinese herbal tea and strolls over. He talks about the petition online to get the band back to Croc’s [the club is now called The Pink Toothbrush], wincing over a documentary from the band’s early days that he watched recently. It’s almost time for them to go to the stage so Q grabs a drink out of their fridge (“you can have one of my big cans, if you like!” offers Fletcher), and heads back out. A few minutes later, Iggy Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog blares out of Gahan’s room and the frontman’s guttural roar bounces down the hallway. Fletcher, doing some arm stretches, and Gore await their bandmate alongside touring musicians Christian Eigner and Peter Gordeno. “Fuck yeah!” shouts Gahan, riled-up behind his shades. The band enter into a huddle and the intro tape begins to roll. It’s another brilliant and celebratory show. The crowd holler along to every word, turning understated tracks such as Wrong and Poison Heart into huge anthems, and the huge anthems into something that feels more joyous and emotional than a roll call of old hits. The end of Enjoy The Silence, in particular, is spine-tingling. Depeche Mode don’t know how to go through the motions. They savour the applause at the end, Gahan staying on last to milk every second, blowing kisses to the crowd. It’s times like this when the singer thinks that, yeah, they could go out on a high and finish the band. He’s happy, he’s good, he’s done. He’s been doing it for nearly 40 years and he knows it has to end at some point. But then maybe they’ll have a break, and maybe Martin Gore will send him some songs, and perhaps Gahan will listen, and he’ll think “wow,” and Depeche Mode will go again.