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SOUND OF THE SUBURBS

THEY CAME FROM COMMUTERVILLE, SCHLEPPING THEIR SYNTHESISERS ON THE TRAIN TO THE BIG CITY’S BRIGHT LIGHTS. BUT SOON THEY WOULD BE AIRBORNE AND FIRST-CLASS, JET-SETTING A NEW POP SOUND AROUND THE WORLD…
Depeche Mode during the 1981 sessions for Speak & Spell in the grounds of Blackwing Studios, a deconsecrated church in South London

The story starts in Basildon, Essex; 30 miles from the centre of London. One of England’s new towns, developed in the aftermath of WW2, Basildon was where Vince Clarke (born Vince Martin) grew up. After beginning his musical life on violin, Clarke took up guitar, learning the songbooks of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. Playing music at Boys Brigade and church, he encountered Andrew Fletcher. The pair formed a group, No Romance In China, with Clarke on guitar and vocals and Fletcher on bass, though their name soon changed to Composition of Sound. Early influences veered from The Cure to Phil Spector/The Crystals’ Then He Kissed Me. Post-punk alienation and pop euphoria were worming their way into Clarke’s musical mind – a man whose unassumingly shy exterior belied a big inner life.

Accompanied at gigs by a Selmer Auto-rhythm machine, they switched from guitar and bass to synthesisers. Then Clarke heard OMD’s Almost, the flipside of 1979’s Electricity. The otherworldly sounds (from a Korg) and heartfelt sentiments collided in a song that felt homemade, and approachable, unlike the glossy, remote Gary Numan, synth-pop’s first pin-up, storming the charts the same year. Synths had become cheaper and more portable. They sounded much like Basildon; new noises for a new town.

The duo next found Martin Gore, a former classmate of Fletcher’s and the owner of a Yamaha CS5. A fan of glam, early Human League and Sparks, with stints in local groups Norman and the Worms and French Look behind him, Gore had purchased the synth with wages earned working at a branch of NatWest Bank in London’s Fenchurch Street. Nearby, in the Borough, Fletcher worked at Sun Life Insurance. Clarke did various jobs, including emptying port-a-loos at airports; he soon got his own keyboard, a Kawai 100FS.

Working alone, Clarke recorded demos of his compositions, including the upbeat Let’s Get Together. But he was no frontman. They found Dave Gahan, who had mixed sound for French Look (Gore was briefly in both bill-sharing groups), and his rendition of Bowie’s Heroes impressed Clarke. The more extrovert Gahan was exactly what the group needed, a face about town, a good-looking clothes-hound (no wonder: he was studying retail display). Well-connected, he’d been to London’s hippest nightspots, Blitz, Studio 21 and Camden’s Music Machine, where fashion and music merged. This stylish new member coined the group’s stylish new name, found in a French fashion magazine. Once they dropped the accent, ‘Depeche Mode’ (translating roughly as ‘fashion dispatch’) was perfect.

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About Classic Pop Presents

In our latest special edition 132-page magazine we explore the world of synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode. We follow the band’s epic story – decade-by-decade – from their genesis in Basildon as synth-loving adolescents with Vince Clarke at the helm, through to the present day as a globally famous three-piece with over 100 million record sales under their belts. Classic Pop Presents turn the spotlight onto classic albums from every era of the group’s evolution including Speak & Spell, Black Celebration, Violator, Songs Of Faith And Devotion, Exciter and latest LP Spirit – plus, we go behind the scenes via exclusive interviews with Depeche’s Martin Gore and Dave Gahan, as well as producers Tim Simenon, Ben Hillier and James Ford. We also sit down with the two directors of pioneering tour film 101 to hear how they captured the reality of ‘Mode on the road’. Also inside, we deliver our definitive Top 40 Depeche Mode playlist as well as highlighting some lesser-spun gems; we survey the band’s videography and revisit their mammoth global tours through the years. Add to that our in-depth feature on Depeche’s many collaborators, our investigation into collectable vinyl from their back catalogue and much more besides – it’s an unmissable issue!