‘MODISH MUSINGS' article from Sounds magazine 7|11|1981
#DepecheMode making noises on Moogs ARP’s & other things
“Stop that clacking!” Depeche Mode couldn’t win. Even when they plugged headphones into their synthesisers, Vince Clarke’s mum complained about the noise – of clacking keys. But those eerie, silent rehearsals when they sat around in a drafty Essex garage have brought them exciting rewards.
They can make as much noise as they like, now that ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ has blasted round the nation’s jukeboxes and turned them into a band everyone wants to hear. With their last hit single selling well over 500,000 million copie
s all the mums of this band of 20 year olds will be glad they didn’t stay with nice, safe, boring jobs as assurance clerks.
Depeche Mode sound like they should be part of the Futurist Movement, striking dramatic poses and clad in the latest satins and feathers from Chez Knickers. In fact they are busy, earnest and slightly nervous young synthesiser operatives (first class), who have been swept along by the tide of events. And the last thing they want is to be mixed up with some kind of spurious fashion cult. At the same time they don’t want to be seen as techno freaks, only happy while poring over wiring diagrams or synthesiser manuals. The only label they won’t wince at too much is when they are called a pop group. It leaves their future wide open, and they are only just beginning.
“Remember,” say Depeche Mode, “we are a very young group”.They were busy rehearsing and checking out their keyboards in readiness for their first
major tour in a South London studio last week and there was a faint hint of apprehension in the air, as they pondered on the realities of “live” gigging.
The band have been accused of being too subservient to the gods of mechanisation, particularly because they have ditched the idea of using a drummer. Andrew Fletcher, one of the triumvirate of keyboard players, explains. “When we started rehearsing, using a drummer was impractical because of the noise, and lack of room. So we used various drum machines, which were all bad! The first one was like one of those they put on organs. It had rumba and samba, and rock/waltz. All the drum machines we tried have their limitations, but now we pre-record all the drum rhythms and play tapes on gigs. We don’t use any machines at all now.”
Singer David Gahan told how they had also tried putting all their drum sounds on a cassette and then having it programmed, But when they got the tapes back, and played th
em in the studio the sounds had altered. “We’d tried computerising them but it didn’t work. So now we use our own tapes. The evolution of synthesisers, which has resulted in the [equipment] becoming more adaptable, portable and cheaper, has enabled bands like Depeche Mode to flourish. None of them can play piano, and Martin Gore only got his first synth a year ago.
Their new album is called ‘Speak And Spell’ and reflects the knock on effect where the human species is being more and more influenced by its own creations. It’s quite likely that a whole generation of kids will grow up talking in flat, robotic voices, and learning only the information that is stored in retrieval systems. But Depeche Mode remain disarmingly human, Martin admits he had his synth for a month and didn’t know he could change the sounds. “You know that sound that goes – WAUGH? I was stuck on that for ages. And when we made our
first demo all the tracks have the same sounds on it.” He chuckles at their amazing naivety. Did they find it hard to come up with new fresh sounds, for each number?
“It’s not hard,” says Andy, “but if we do find something new, it hardly ever fits in with everything else. We normally stick to the regular synth sounds. Bad really. But if we keep on searching all the time, the band would never work.”
Andy says that they are becoming more and more involved in keyboards and have long discussions with their mentor, Daniel Miller, who is “Mr. Mute”. He runs their label and does a spot of destiny shaping. Between them they sit around and discuss the significance of the Moog synthesiser. "Daniel does everything but the menial duties,“ laughs Martin. "I ‘phoned him up the other day about our tee shirts, and he said ‘Don’t talk to me about that. That’s just menial’.”
they are experimenting with more and more instruments, even if they reject some of the tones they produce. And he gave a demonstration of a particularly discordant row on the nearest machine to hand.“We are still trying to find a drum machine to connect up with, and Vince is into it as well. He’s making a collection of synths. It’s an expensive hobby. There’s definitely fashions in synthesisers. F’rinstance. Billy Currie [of Ultravox - BB] uses an ARP Odyssey and I’m sure loads of kids go out and buy one so they can go ‘Wreeeeeeeee!’ They all want to do their Billy bit.
When Depeche Mode start imitating their own instruments they tend to sound like a paper and comb band entertaining the troops. They may have to resort to such primitive methods on occasions, as synths are still temperamental beasts and when they bought one famous and expensive make, according to Andy’s simple but graphic description, "It broke”.&nbs
p;"We started out with the cheaper modes in the £200 range, like the Moog Prodigy. They were all little monophonic synths.“
Depeche Mode represent the grand tradition of British home taught musicianship, using the electronic equivalent of tea chest basses and washboards. "None of us play piano,” says Andy. “And it would take a long time to learn. "You’d have to go into it seriously, and we haven’t got the time. Obviously I would like to have proper keyboard lessons. The synths have given us freedom it’s true. And it’s a nice little hobby as well – music.” He said it with irony, and the band laughed at some hidden joke. “I’d recommend it – this rock’n’roll business. I used to be an assurance clerk for two years. I’ve always been an assurance person. It wasn’t too bad actually, just monotonous." They concealed their excitement about having a succession of hits and their
debut album all within a matter of months, perhaps anticipating that the real testing time for the band lies ahead.
"We’re not going to put out a single from the album, and there won’t be a new one until January. It’s not worth it,” says Andy. “I think it’s bad to put out a single at the same time as an album." David says ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ took an age to record because they still had ‘New Life’ on the boil and a lot of their time was taken up with interviews.
"We just couldn’t concentrate on recording and the first time we did ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ it was terrible. We got rid of most of what we had done, and recorded more tracks. It was a relief when it came out. We wouldn’t say it was music for dancing, just in case we decide to do something else. But most of the songs are dancey. Vince wrote ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ and it’s massive in Portu
gal we hear. Perhaps we should do a concert there and the whole population would come to the gig."Was their hit wholly representative of the music of Depeche Mode? "It’s much more varied, as you can hear on the album. If they played a track on the radio, you wouldn’t be able to say, ‘Oh, that’s Depeche Mode’.”
How far had they got with coping with audiences, and their strange animal demands for satisfaction? "We’re still learning,“ says Andy. "Really we just get up and play. We’re only young and we’ve only been going 15 months as a band, and it’s only now we’ve started to have quite big audiences.”
Says David: “I’d like to sit down and design a show, but none of us have had time to think about it. Maybe we’d like to have a light show…" The band have their priorities. Much needs to be done in all departments. Their ambition is eventually to be able to take out a
road show with props and sophisticated equipment, much more than just a blowing gig.
"We face a dilemma,” says Andy, “because a lot of our audience are under 18 and the places we play, only older kids are allowed in. So a lot of people can’t come to see us. We tried early evening shows, but it’s really tiring playing twice a night." Dave objects to getting wet with sweat and then having to wait around two hours for the next show and the possibility of a different and decidedly dodgy atmosphere. "You say, ‘Oh no, I really don’t fancy it!’ I do jump around, and work up a sweat, but that’s mainly due to the lights. It depends how much I’m enjoying it and what the audience is like.”
A keyboard line up tends to restrict movements anyway, but it was the price of breaking free from the guitar tradition. “We’ve got nothing against guitars, and we have played them in the past,” says Andy. “We m
ay experiment with guitars again one day, but it’s so much easier with a synthesiser. There is a lot of good guitar music around but you have to be pretty good to use the guitar." Martin quoted Daniel Miller on the subject: "He says that if you have really good ideas in your head, you have to be a technically good musician to get them out. But a synthesiser helps a lot!”
“Rock musicians say you can’t express yourself with a synthesiser. Soulless is the word. But what is there in whacking a guitar? Every heavy metal riff is near enough the same anyway." The band look a bit baffled when it comes to discussing their influences, because they have grown up listening to synthesiser music and have absorbed its language in unconscious fashion.
"It’s a hard question,” says David. “People ask who inspired us. But I can’t say who inspired me to get up and sing or write a song. Some people listen to the same artists all the tim
e and learn from them. All the moody bands will give some obscure name from the past like Velvet Underground." "We’ve been influenced by everything we’ve heard since we were eight years old,” says Andy. “Every time you hear a record on the radio, whether you like it or not, the influences combine.”
Depeche Mode clearly haven’t modelled themselves on any other band, although they will admit to quite liking Kraftwerk. "We didn’t want to stay in garages, and obviously the dream is to be successful,“ says Andy. "But we never thought it would happen. It just has! We’ve never struggled and we haven’t been gigging for years and years. When we first took our plugger ‘Dreaming Of Me’ and he said it was amazing, we didn’t really believe him.They started by making a demo tape which they took around all the record companies, and they were totally convinced they would get a deal. They listen to it now and
think it’s terrible, but they were confident they had some worthwhile music to offer, even if they didn’t believe it was chart material.
Said David: "We got turned down, and no-one was interested. All of a sudden, everyone was interested and the majors were queueing to sign us. Suddenly that style of music came in, and they were all after us. We were associated with this movement and we had a tag. But we weren’t really anything to do with this Futurist thing, or New Romantic whatever." The one immediate bonus success has brought them is that the band who started out playing small local clubs and pubs are no longer a support act. "When we used to support, we got treated so bad,” said Dave. “Especially at certain places in London, which I won’t mention. They tread all over you, and to the PA blokes, you’re nothing. It’s always ‘Where’s the support?’ They won’t even mention your name. Now we are the headl
iners – they love us. We’re playing two nights at the Lyceum – so we are the big band now!
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