10 Surprising Facts About Depeche Mode

L to R: Depeche Mode members Martin Gore, Dave Gahan, Alan Wilder, and Andrew Fletcher in Berlin in July 1984.
L to R: Depeche Mode members Martin Gore, Dave Gahan, Alan Wilder, and Andrew Fletcher in Berlin in July 1984.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Few bands inspire faith and devotion like Depeche Mode. Over a career spanning four decades, the boys from Basildon, England, have redefined what electronic music can look and sound like. With albums like 1987’s Music for the Masses and 1990’s blockbuster Violator, Depeche Mode forged a dark, sexy, mature synth-pop sound that has rocked stadiums across the globe. The 2019 documentary Spirits in the Forest shows just how deep a mark the band has left on diehard fans. For relative newcomers, here are 10 things you might now know about Depeche Mode.

1. Depeche Mode got their name from a French fashion magazine.

The name Depeche Mode carries a mysterious air of artsy European sophistication. But it’s not as exotic as you may think. Lead singer Dave Gahan cribbed the moniker from a French fashion magazine. Many fans believe Depeche Mode translates to “fast fashion,” but it’s apparently closer to "fashion news" or "fashion update."

2. Martin Gore got in the band because he owned the right gear.

Martin Gore of Depeche Mode photographed in West Berlin in July 1984.Michael Putland/Getty Images

There was a simple reason Vince Clark tapped Martin Gore to join Composition of Sound, the group that would become Depeche Mode: Gore owned a Yamaha CS5 synthesizer. “That’s why we got him in—because he had a synth, not for any other reason; certainly not for his outgoing personality!” Clarke said.

3. Depeche Mode underwent a major lineup change after their first album.

The original Depeche Mode lineup featured Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher, and Vince Clarke, the group’s primary songwriter. Clarke penned nine of the 11 songs on 1981's Speak & Spell, the band's debut album, including the international hit “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Clarke quit that same year, leaving Gore to carry the songwriting burden.

4. Vince Clarke had a pretty good second (and third) act.

After leaving Depeche Mode in 1981, Clarke teamed up with powerhouse singer Alison Moyet to form Yazoo (or Yaz, as they were known in America). That soulful synth-pop duo released two albums and scored three top 5 hits in the UK including “Only You,” a song Clarke reportedly offered to Depeche Mode. In 1985, Clarke linked up with Andy Bell to form Erasure, an electronic duo that has scored 35 top 40 hits in the UK as of 2019. In America, Erasure is best known for the late '80s hits "Chains of Love" and "A Little Respect."

5. It took America a long time to catch on to Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode scored a number of U.S. dance hits in the early ‘80s, but it wasn’t until 1985’s “People Are People” that mainstream American audiences finally warmed to these leather-clad synth-popsters. The anthemic plea for tolerance reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained the band's biggest American pop hit until “Personal Jesus” in 1989.

6. Everyone in Depeche Mode has a specific job—sort of.

L to R: Depeche Mode's Andy Fletcher, Martin Gore, David Gahan, and Alan Wilder backstage at Madison Square Garden in 1987.Michel Delsol/Getty Images

In the 1989 documentary 101, keyboardist Andy Fletcher sums up the band like this: “Martin’s the songwriter, Alan’s the good musician, Dave’s the vocalist, and I bum around.” Fletcher may have been selling himself short—he apparently handles a lot of behind-the-scenes managerial duties—but from 1982 through 1995, that was the basic division of labor. Martin Gore wrote the songs, classically trained keyboardist Alan Wilder helped to shape them, and Dave Gahan sang them. Since Wilder’s departure in 1995, Depeche Mode has essentially been a trio, and beginning with 2005’s Playing the Angel, Gahan has co-written three songs per album.

7. Depeche Mode sold out the Rose Bowl before a lot of people knew who they were.

On June 18, 1988, Depeche Mode wrapped up their Music for the Masses Tour with sold-out performance at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Paid attendance was 60,453. It was a major moment in the band’s career, especially since they’d only scored one Top 40 hit in America up to that point. Much of Depeche Mode's popularity in Southern California was due to KROQ, the pioneering L.A. radio station that championed alternative music in the ‘80s. Filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, who famously documented Bob Dylan in the ‘60s, captured the concert for the 1989 documentary 101.

8. Depeche Mode's signature song was inspired by Elvis and his missus.

“Personal Jesus” isn’t Depeche Mode’s biggest American hit. That would be “Enjoy the Silence,” also off the Violator album. But thanks to covers by Johnny Cash and Marilyn Manson, “Personal Jesus” is arguably their most famous. Gore’s lyrics were inspired by Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir Elvis and Me. “It’s about how Elvis was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships; how everybody’s heart is like a god in some way,” Gore told SPIN. “We play these god-like parts for people but no one is perfect, and that’s not a very balanced view of someone, is it?”

9. Dave Gahan nearly became a rock ‘n’ roll casualty.

In the mid-’90s, Dave Gahan became enamored of the burgeoning alternative rock scene in L.A. He grew his hair long and developed a serious drug problem that nearly claimed his life on more than one occasion. In 1995, he attempted suicide by slashing his wrists, and the following year, he overdosed on a speedball—cocaine and heroin—at the Sunset Marquis Hotel. His heart stopped for two minutes, and he felt his soul leave his body. Fortunately, the courts allowed him to pick drug treatment over jail, and he’s been clean ever since.

10. Depeche Mode are huge in Eastern Europe.

Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode performs at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on June 6, 2018.Taylor Hill/Getty Images

From their first shows in Hungary and Poland in 1985, Depeche Mode has enjoyed a special relationship with Eastern Europe. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it was illegal to own Western music, fans behind the Iron Curtain somehow got their hands on Depeche Mode tapes and even copied the band’s fashions. According to some, the appeal lies in the melancholic, industrial nature of Depeche Mode’s music. The fact that it was banned made it all the more enticing to young people beginning to question authority. Eastern Europe’s love affair with The Mode continues to this day: One of the six superfans profiled in 2019’s Spirit In the Forest hails from Romania.

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When Europe's First Female Orchestra Conductor Foiled the Nazis While Defying Gender Expectations

Frieda Belinfante (left) and Henriëtte Hilda Bosmans, her then-partner.
Frieda Belinfante (left) and Henriëtte Hilda Bosmans, her then-partner.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Frieda Belinfante was a child, she was teased for her small hands—but no one who mocked her could ever have imagined what she would achieve with them. Before her life was over, Belinfante would use her hands to master instruments, conduct orchestras, and undermine the Nazis.

A Dream Disrupted

Music was important to the Belinfante family—in fact, it was the reason the family existed: Frieda's Jewish father, Aron Belinfante, had met her Christian mother, Georgine Antoinette Hesse, when he gave her piano lessons. Frieda, the third of their four children, started learning cello from her dad when she was 9 or 10 years old.

“He was a very good pianist,” Belinfante said of her father [PDF], but “he was a very bad teacher.” She even said he “didn’t know anything about strings!” After her father died when she was 17, Belinfante continued her musical education with others. She quickly realized she wasn’t destined to be part of the orchestra—she was meant to lead it.

In 1937, Belinfante accomplished a musical milestone: She became Europe’s first professional female orchestra conductor, leading the Het Klein Orkest chamber orchestra. But her success was short-lived. Just three years later, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Performances were no longer possible during World War II, especially considering her orchestra was composed of Jews and non-Jews playing together.

After the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, Belinfante—though she was half-Jewish herself—stayed in the country and became a Resistance activist, making forged identity documents for fleeing Jews. She disguised herself as a man to hide from the Nazis. She once even passed her own mother on the street, who failed to recognize her. “I really looked pretty good,” Belinfante later said of her handsome camouflage.

Belinfante was a member of the CKC, a small group of mostly LGBTQ activists in the Dutch Resistance. As an out lesbian herself, she fit right in. In 1943, the CKC bombed a records office, destroying hundreds of documents showing where Jews lived so that the Nazis couldn’t find them.

Later in the war, after many in the CKC had been captured and executed, Belinfante escaped the Netherlands. She and a Jewish man named Tony traveled by foot across four countries in deep snow from December 1944 to February 1945, traversing the freezing Alps with no jacket. They hiked from 9 a.m. every morning to 10 p.m. every night. When Tony told Belinfante he was exhausted, she replied: “There is no stopping in the snow. We have to walk until we stop somewhere in Switzerland.” Once, they had to strip naked to wade through a river of icy water that came up to their necks, bundling their clothes over their heads so they’d remain dry. A Swiss doctor later told her that the journey was so strenuous, she could have lost her legs if she had gone on much longer [PDF].

Upon crossing the border, Belinfante and Tony were arrested and interrogated by the Swiss. She answered truthfully that her companion was not her husband, but she didn’t know the gravity behind this statement. Because so many people were fleeing to Switzerland, the government had begun limiting immigration by no longer accepting single men as refugees. Belinfante’s answer sent Tony back to the Netherlands, where he was killed. That knowledge haunted her to the end of her life, but she did go on to find moments of joy.

Coming Alive Again

While in the Swiss refugee camp, Belinfante got ahold of a cello, even performing a concert with a visiting couple that had a violin and viola. Decades later, she told a historian that after playing music, “I started to come alive again, because I had felt that I wasn’t even alive.” Unfortunately, the gossip of homophobic refugees in the camp soured her musical experiences there [PDF].

In 1948, Belinfante immigrated to the United States, trading the dark and icy winter of her past for a fresh start in sunny Laguna Beach, California. A decade after the start of her career as a conductor, she picked it back up again and led the Orange County Philharmonic. But while she had survived extreme discrimination in Europe, sexism took music from her again in 1962: The Philharmonic pushed her out because they felt a male in her place would raise the orchestra's profile.

Despite the professional disappointment, Belinfante lived to see Orange County designate February 19 as “Frieda Belinfante Day” to honor her contributions to the arts. In 1991, she moved to New Mexico, where she spent her final days. She told the Los Angeles Times, “I should be born again. I could have done more.”

She died of cancer at the age of 90 in 1995 at her Santa Fe home.