Depeche Mode have built up one of the most musically influential and obsessive fan bases in the world, particularly in Berlin and the former East Germany. This is the fifth in a six-part series of conversations with the fans. Click here for more.
Sunday 6:15 pm, Basedow: Dennis Burmeister – Graphic designer and Depeche Mode archivist
There are hardly any sounds that you hear today that you’ve never heard before. With synthesis and all of the innovative and explorative electronics that have become a part of pop music today, it’s rare to listen to the radio and wonder, “What the hell is that?” With Depeche Mode, it’s an entirely different story. When I heard them in the beginning, I honestly thought the radio was broken. This sounded like nothing we’d ever heard. For me, it was a world of science fiction. Something that very, very few people know about me is that my first memory of electronic music goes back to the East German stop motion puppet show Sandmänn-chen. It was a children’s show about a little boy who traveled around and had these fantastic adventures. He actually had a little goatee, which supposedly made him look like the first president of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht. The show also prominently featured East German technology and the success of Soviet cosmonauts. In one episode, the main character took off in a rocket to space, and the whole thing was accompanied by these incredibly cosmic sounds—bleeps and blips and rocket ships. It blew me away. And when I heard it again in Depeche Mode, I knew I found something special.
I grew up as a Depeche Mode fan, but I’ve always listened to other music—The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, The Cure, Slayer, Einstürzende Neubauten, Dead Can Dance, you name it. I am not the type of obsessive fan that lets the band completely take over my personality, let it dictate what I wear, or how I see the world. Honestly, I don’t really understand people who only listen to Depeche Mode, and believe me, I know dozens of them. It doesn’t make any sense for the band either. I mean we’re talking about a group that was covered by Johnny Cash and The Cure. It’s insane. There are plenty of Depeche Mode parties—pretty much every week in Germany. But the whole thing is pure reenactment. I couldn’t give less of a shit about dressing up like Dave or Martin or Andrew. I care about their place in music history and about the historical documentation of what they’ve achieved as musicians. The parties today aren’t the same as the Depeche Mode parties we had in the GDR. We went to these parties to dance because you couldn’t do that anywhere else. And you also went to somehow find all of the information that wasn’t accessible. Even at “normal” discos, I had a friend who would always go to the DJ and request Depeche, even though he knew damn well that he would get his face smashed afterwards. He always said , “Fuck it!” and danced. He did it again and again and again, and got his face pummeled by the heavy metal crowd, because there were simply more of them than there were of us. But he has absolutely no regrets. Today, things like “Dave dancing” contests—people who actually compete to see who can do the more convincing Dave-twirl or Dave-kick—gives me goose bumps. The band and the music are trivialized and made to look “cute”. It’s a kind of fetishization I can’t stand.
DM had their big breakthrough in Germany with “People Are People”, and Martin Gore once said that the reason it caught in Germany so much is that people could understand the lyrics. For me though, it was never about the texts. It was about the sounds. In Germany, we had all sorts of electronic pioneers—Klaus Schulze and Kraftwerk—but introducing sampling in pop music, that was Depeche Mode. And long before the Wall came down, they had a very special place in East German music history. All of the things people put blood, sweat and tears into making themselves—that’s the stuff that fans from the East will never give up. And I think it at least partially explains how I became such an obsessive collector. And I have most likely the biggest and most complete collection in the world. Multiples of all albums and singles; releases from every country; AMIGA label dub plates of the only Depeche Mode album released in East Germany; the band’s very first demo tape, which has Vince Clarke’s handwriting on it. I’ve always been an information junkie. I suppose the GDR did that to a lot of us, but for me it’s a flame that still burns.
You’d think this more historical aspect would be interesting for, say, documentarians. But Nick Abrahams, co-director with Jeremy Deller of the DM fan film The Posters Came From the Walls, came to my house to interview me, checked out my records and my collection of memorabilia and told me how cool he thought it was. But in the end never used my interview. In hindsight, I can only say thank God, because Posters focused almost exclusively on weirdos and disturbed obsessives—not the type of people that made me proud to be a fan. In a sense, those aren’t even proper fans. Deller and Abrahams simply went looking for the most fucked up people—and they found them. Look: I’m a Depeche Mode fan. I’m a bit heavier than Dave Gahan, but this is my band too.