Thomas Fehlmann is an electronic musician whose storied career encompasses the Neue Deutsche Welle innovations of Palais Schaumberg and the ambient house of The Orb. Title image by Luci Lux.
I first met Depeche Mode in 1981, when they’d just released the first or second single. Daniel Miller [founder of Mute Records] had invited the band I was in at the time, Palais Schaumburg, over to England to play the Mute Night, Silent Night at the Lyceum. The headliner was Fad Gadget; we played first, then Boyd Rice did a contribution over the phone from America—which I think went over the heads of the audience because it was just some static noise and some noise noise—then Depeche Mode, then Frank [Tovey, Fad Gadget]. It was the same day that Computer World by Kraftwerk was released and we all had the record under our arms, keen to get it on the turntable. Obviously, meeting Depeche Mode at this point in their career felt like a normal thing, there was nothing spectacular to be thought of it; you couldn’t predict the kind of obverse curve they would take with their music, their career—not in the slightest.
This was the first time that I heard their music too, and I wasn’t even super hot on it; these were the first singles which were super electro-pop. But because of Daniel, we certainly had an open mind—we felt that he had something to contribute to the world of music. And we were very pleased that he asked us to go over, it was our first gig in England, and therefore a happy meeting—but as I said it wasn’t really something dramatic. Later we got to know each other, introduced ourselves. They invited us to come to the studio when they were recording their first album, and vice versa. I remember once Martin [Gore] and Alan [Wilder] came to my recording session, they were already at a whole different level at that time. The friendly contact has remained intact to this day.
It’s beyond imagination in a way how big they became. I remember when they first came to Hamburg and played at the Markthalle and it was alright: not empty or anything, but it wasn’t like they were the new hot shit either. It was really something we saw develop. What I’m really impressed by is that they have this continuity and still this urge to do something, for whatever reason, they certainly haven’t blanded out. Whether the new work has the same quality as earlier albums is not for me to decide; what is important is that they have this urge, the aim to be better than the rest. I feel that’s what good artists are about, always feeling the energy and the need to carry on, express yourself anew.
When I go to a Depeche Mode show these days, it’s far more emotional for me to see the audience than the band. The audience is so in awe, it’s totally like they are in love with them. This is something that I’ve rarely seen with other bands, especially over a long period of time. Now the fans bring their kids along and they’re into it, too. It has a strange way of touching people and everyone thinks it’s their own personal discovery—but they don’t mind if they see another 50,000 people there enjoying it. They still think, “It’s mine.”~
Thomas Fehlmann’s ambient mix of Depeche Mode’s “Little Soul”