Depeche Mode’s ‘101’ concert was 25 years ago. Feeling old?

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Music history was made on Saturday, June 18, 1988. Depeche Mode wrapped up their massively successful worldwide Music For The Masses tour in Pasadena, CA, with what then-keyboardist, Alan Wilder, dubbed as a ‘Concert for the Masses’. The sold out event presented 70,000 fans in SoCal with the single greatest gathering of synth-pop acts the world had ever seen before or since. With a bill that featured Wire, Thomas Dolby, and OMD as warm up acts, it’s difficult to argue the magnitude of the talent that graced the stage of the Rose Bowl that day.

That was 25 years ago today! Where the hell did the time go?!? 

What made this event so unique is that Depeche Mode were the main draw and headliner in one of the largest football stadiums in America. Consider the musical climate in America in 1988; Def Leppard, Poison, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue were the darlings of MTV and mainstream radio. It was during the hair metal era. Guitars and long hair were where it was at. Depeche Mode were a relatively unknown fringe band to the eyes and ears of most Americans. They were the very antithesis of rock & roll to most Americans in 1988. The prospect of the all-synthesizer & black leather-clad Depeche Mode being able to draw a capacity crowd at the Rose Bowl was a big gamble to say the least. The band seldom got airplay on mainstream Top-40 stations in the US outside of Southern California, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Salt Lake City…… all of which were bastions of synth-pop fandom in America. Yet fortune smiled on the Boys from Basildon, and despite the odds, and an American music media that largely ignored and/or outright dismissed them, Depeche Mode sold out the Rose Bowl.

Take a moment and let that sink in……

Depeche Mode………. Sold. Out. The. Freakin. Rose Bowl!

By 1988 Depeche Mode had only been in existence for 8 years, yet here they were selling 70,000 tickets, and filling the most prestigious stadium in the United States of America. The press was stunned. To them, in most circles Depeche Mode weren’t even a real band. They had no drummer, they played synthesizers, their music was made on computers, and they made no apologies for it. This was a major no-no in the deeply traditional rock and roll culture of 1988 America. Nevertheless, Depeche Mode were quickly becoming the band that wouldn’t go away. No matter how hard the critics tried, Depeche kept gaining momentum.

In a stroke of sheer genius, Depeche Mode decided to capture this special event on film. They hired legendary music documentarian, D. A. Pennebaker to film it, and created an opportunity for a handful of fans in Long Island to travel across the country in their own private tour bus to follow the band out to Pasadena for the climactic final show of the tour. It was a pre-cursor to MTV’s ‘Road Rules’ and ‘Real World’ reality dramas that focused on the band’s notoriously avid fans.

The end result was the brilliant documentary, ‘Depeche Mode 101’.

The film featured stunning images of the band performing their greatest hits (up to that point) live, with witty & engaging behind-the-scenes candid moments from both the band, and a lucky group of fans who won a radio contest to travel across the country to meet their idols. Like most reality-based programs and/or documentaries, there were genuinely warm and funny moments that gave us an unprecedented insight into the band’s personalities, and outright embarrassing and mortifying moments as the band’s fans travelled across the country and encountered the ‘normal’ citizens of mid-western and rural America…… eye-liner and all! It was, and still remains a very engaging piece of film. 

I became a Depeche Mode devotee in 1987. I had fallen head-over-heels for their Black Celebration and Music For The Masses albums. I was introduced to the synthesizer by way of Kraftwerk in the mid 1970s, but listening to Depeche Mode’s work with the two afore-mentioned albums is what made me want to pursue electronic music for a living. 101, to me, represents the single greatest live album and music documentary ever recorded. At the time, I was a teenager living in rural Upstate NY. Depeche Mode didn’t perform anywhere near me in those days, so the 101 album and documentary were the next best thing.

To this day, the recordings of Stripped, Somebody, Pleasure Little Treasure, Everything Counts and Never Let Me Down Again as featured on 101 represent the best examples of Depeche Mode’s music ever to see the light of day. This monumental moment in Depeche Mode’s history was just the beginning of their world domination, as they saw their worldwide popularity increase exponentially with the releases of their Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion albums that would follow. 

Depeche Mode have always been a band that is best experienced in a live setting, and 101 captures that essence perfectly. You don’t truly gain an appreciation for DM until you’ve seen them live. It’s now 2013 and while Alan Wilder departed the band in ’95, Depeche Mode are still together. They’ve just released Delta Machine, their 13th studio album since 1981. They’re STILL selling out football stadiums in America and all over the world.

So why is it important to mark this special occasion? Why should anybody even care? Well, for me and my fellow synth-pop fans the 25th anniversary of 101 serves as a reminder of just how special and unique Depeche Mode are. 101 stands as a testament to the profound influence and impact this synth band from Basildon, Essex has had on the world of pop music. They’re the band that everybody ignored and that all the critics loved to hate. Yet this wonderful documentary film, with its accompanying live album, has withstood the test of time. It remains as fresh and exciting to listen to in 2013 as it did in ’88/’89. 

There just aren’t shows like this anymore. And that’s truly sad. But we will always have this glorious historic moment to remind us of how special Depeche Mode truly are.

To that end, I extend a very warm Happy Anniversary wish to Depeche Mode, and say thank you for 25 years of the greatness that is……. Depeche Mode 101.

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My Top-5 favourite live performances from Depeche Mode 101:

Number 5: Pleasure, Little Treasure:

Number 4: Just Can’t Get Enough:

Number 3: Somebody:

Number 2: Stripped:

Number 1: Never Let Me Down Again:

Cheers for now!

 

Jimm Kjelgaard – 18 June, 2013

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