Readying a new album and stadium tour next year, Depeche Mode feels free. The group, which helped bring electronic music into the mainstream with a flurry of hits, finally is setting its own pace.
Spirit, the first Depeche Mode studio album since 2013, will come out in the first half of 2017 with the group announcing a 32-city, 21-country tour across Europe starting in May.
The shows together could pull in more than 1.5 million fans, even before dates in North America and Latin America expected later next year. But the group is relaxed.
“I think there is more freedom at the moment,” keyboardist Andy Fletcher said as the group announced its plans in Milan, the site of one of Depeche Mode’s numerous live albums.
Martin Gore, a fellow keyboardist and the group’s main songwriter, said that Depeche Mode grew accustomed to cranking out albums annually in the early 1980s after the band’s birth in Basildon, just east of London.
“To put an album out every year, that’s quite a lot of pressure, you need a lot of creativity, and maybe you can do that when you’re younger,” said Gore, 55.
“I think, when you get older, you need more time if you want to keep the standards of the record,” he said.
Amid rapid advances in electronic music, Gore said that Depeche Mode was attentive to staying up-to-date on technology — and was proud of rejuvenating the group’s fan base.
“We are fortunate that we keep appealing to young people. It’s not just the people who grew up with us and were fans of us in the 1980s,” Gore said.
Made ‘electronic music acceptable’
Depeche Mode has not yet finished recording Spirit, its 14th studio album.
The group is working out of studios in Santa Barbara, California, where Gore lives, and New York, the home of frontman Dave Gahan.
The band has taken advantage of breaks to work on side projects. Gahan, through solo albums and the group Soulsavers, has turned to a heavier, bluesy rock sound that is apparent on late Depeche Mode albums, while Gore in his solo work has experimented more widely with electronic form.
Depeche Mode triumphed with a string of hits in the 1980s and early 1990s such as Just Can’t Get Enough, Everything Counts and Personal Jesus at first becoming synonymous with danceable synth-pop but gradually adopting a darker sound.
“We helped to make electronic music acceptable,” Gore said.
“When we started out it was a constant battle. People didn’t take electronic music seriously, it was considered like a novelty that wasn’t real music and that would go away very soon.
“Now it’s just so prevalent, for good or for bad, we’ve helped to get it to this point,” he said with a laugh.
Depeche Mode sees one of its legacies as bringing over listeners of other genres, including rock fans who would have rarely stepped into a dance club.
“One of our legacies is to make electronic music popular to the masses,” Fletcher said.
World ‘is in a mess’
Fletcher, who has taken on a side career as a DJ during Depeche Mode’s hiatus, joked that the group had a rule to record albums during every US presidential election.
Depeche Mode completed each of its last four albums amid US presidential campaigns, as evidenced by the four-year gap between each of them.
The group is rarely considered political although one of its best-known songs, People Are People, takes on prejudice and the early album Construction Time Again tackles poverty and environmental degradation.
Gore and Fletcher again have questions about the world’s direction. Both are distraught by Britain’s shock June 23 vote to leave the European Union.
“The whole world is in a mess. I think Brexit happened for the same reasons Donald Trump is doing so well,” Gore said.
“It’s frightening — there are a lot of people that are not happy with their lives and don’t know quite how to express that, and they go to weird options that are not necessarily good options.”