Depeche Mode - 10/01/1993

Depeche Mode 1993

My first Depeche Mode show (detailed here) was a watershed moment in my musical history. Only three years later, I was already jaded to the point that seeing the same band again felt perfunctory. In the intervening time I had seen lots of smaller bands at intimite venues with just a few dozen to a few hundred people, so the spectacle of a big arena-sized rock show was no longer a positive. I'd also started making and performing my own music, so my eye was attuned to the technical aspects of putting on a show in ways that it hadn't been my sophomore year of high school when my dad was the one driving me to shows.

My impression of Depeche Mode when I re-discovered them around the time of Music for the Masses and 101 was that they were a very big indie band, who had a cult following that still wasn't mainstream enough to be a household name. I say re-discovered because I can honestly say that one of my favorite songs in 1985 was "People are People" and I never forgot that the band responsible for it was Depeche Mode, even if I never bought one of their albums until much later. As it turned out, my impression of the band and reality were not exactly on the same page.

Depeche Mode was already a major label, big money act by the time of 101. That fact should be obvious by the presence of the Depeche Mode private jet in the 101 documentary film. When Violator came out, it was a hugely anticipated release. I found articles about it in every magazine and newspaper I picked up (and I had a clipping collection for years that I eventually shredded.) While Depeche Mode was still something my parents didn't necessarily understand and while the presence of a flower on a shirt was still cause for the jocks at school to taunt me with "fag" in the hallway, Depeche Mode was already a bona fide presence in popular music. The non-stop onslaught of MTV coverage of every video from Violator for the next 18 months certainly helped to push them over the edge.

So by the time that Songs of Faith and Devotion came out, everyone in my basic demographic knew of Depeche Mode and either had a copy or had a close friend with a copy of Violator. This was where my interest in an underdog, indie pop band that I had obsessed over for years and the reality that I was no longer the "biggest DM fan in the world" that I thought I was diverged. At this show, everyone knew every word to every song, but not everyone had a weird haircut, combat boots, or left-leaning political views. Though the same thing was happening with other breakout bands from the alt-rock scene (Nirvana, the Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins), seeing an audience of frat boys and 'normal people' getting into Depeche Mode took me a little while to process. Sure there were still some freaks who were now wearing 5 year old DM t-shirts or shirts for more obscure bands, but mixed in for the first time at a show I was at were people who looked like the same folks who used to call me fag or who used to ostracize those of us who liked strange music and movies. This wasn't making sense to me--Depeche Mode hadn't really changed all that much (save for easing up a little on the S&M gear), and as far as I could tell, the jocks and other dipshits hadn't really changed that much, but somehow we were all collected in the same building, trying to enjoy the same show!

Needless to say, I hated most of this show. We were up in a balcony level, far, far away from the stage and while I appreciated Anton Corbjin's design work with the stage show, it all felt too manufactured. I was now used to seeing bands who had maybe one roadie, or who set up and tuned their own instruments, and here was a band of four guys who probably had a road crew of 20 or more people behind the scenes. I was finding it harder and harder to relate to that kind of experience and the fact that I felt that a large part of the audience liked the music because it was popular and not because of all of the counter-cultural stuff that Depeche Mode symbolized to me made for an unpleasant evening.

I've never had any interest in seeing Depeche Mode since this tour, and in fact I've not kept up with them at all since Ultra. The music just doesn't work for me anymore, and even when they go back to making the kinds of songs that I fell in love with as a kid, I just can't stay in that space. We've moved on, Depeche Mode and I, and it's for the best.