There have been three ages of Depeche Mode: pioneering (1980s), great (1990s), and atrocious awfulness (2000s). At some point during the late 80s, they went from being poppy, moody Basildon boys, to stadium-filling behemoths beloved by Americans and Eastern Europeans who, despite the decline in musical quality, still worship them today with an incomprehensible fervour. So a couple of bright men have made a film about them.
A couple of years ago, documentary-makers Jeremy Deller and Nicky Abrahams travelled the world to meet these extremists. The Posters Came From the Walls introduces us to a diverse array of fans – from the homeless guy whose life was saved by the band, to the Iranian who used to get beaten by police just for wearing a leather jacket, to the German couple who dress their little kid up and make their own Depeche Mode videos.
The film is screening in selected UK cinemas next Tuesday, 1 December (find out more here) and will be out on DVD next year. I met the directors in a tea house to find out why there are no statues of Depeche Mode lead singer Dave Gahan in Basildon town centre.
Vice: How did you get start getting in touch with the fans?
Jeremy: We went through the band website, and thousands of emails were sent in.
Nick: Orlando, the teenager in Los Angeles, was the first one we visited. He wrote to us and sounded interesting because he was young and really into the band, but each time I telephoned him he was monosyllabic, and I thought visiting him would be a pointless disaster. But he was absolutely charming, and his mum was charming.
Jeremy: He fancied her.
Nick: Yes, she was very pretty.
Jeremy: The best bit was when he started dancing in the car park. When I saw him do that I knew we had something, because it was a really personal thing, and he did it and he was embarrassed, it was so teenage.
Nick: It was like being in a John Hughes movie for a moment. Just to see that the music really does make a difference to him. Him and his mum live in this tiny apartment, and she can see that the band mean a lot to him, but not in a creepy way. There's an assumption with bands that that could be obsessive and weird, but it can be good.
[caption id="attachment_14194" align="alignnone" width="614" caption="The directors. Photo by Alex Godfrey"]
I heard somewhere that you had some night in Russia watching some Depeche Mode-themed strippers.
Jeremy: Well, a lot of the band's videos from the 90s have a very strong visual element, and the strippers were wearing costumes from those videos – cowboy or king outfits or big masks – and they'd dance and eventually get naked. They do this at a lot of the parties in Russia.
Jeremy: Depeche Mode parties. The ones the fans have to celebrate Dave Gahan's birthday. They were good strippers. The weird thing is the audience for these parties are mainly women. So it's women looking at women taking their clothes off. It's brilliant.
What was the vibe like in the crowd?
Jeremy: It was like a hen party. But with young, really quite attractive women. We weren't allowed to put it in the final cut. [Depeche Mode's record label] Mute just thought it was a bit too much. But we filmed it, we've got it. I watch it most nights.
[caption id="attachment_14195" align="alignnone" width="717" caption="Fans in St. Petersburg."]
So, the German couple who dress their kid up is one of those surprisingly positive things?
Jeremy: No, it was creepy.
Do you think it's a little unhealthy?
Jeremy: Well, is being into Manchester United unhealthy? That's how I see it.
I'm talking specifically about dressing your three-year-old up as Depeche Mode all the time.
Nick: They've got two kids actually.
The other one doesn't like Depeche Mode?
Jeremy: He likes rap actually. Eminem and Public Enemy.
Nick: That's pretty healthy. That's what kids do. And the younger one will probably do the same when he gets a bit older.
I just got the impression that maybe they wanted to give birth to [guitarist] Martin Gore.
Jeremy: Well actually he's called Dave, the kid.
Nick: I suggested at one stage that the younger kid dresses up as Martin Gore, and the mother went, "No! He dresses as David!", like shocked that I would think that.
Jeremy: I understand what you mean, it's quite extreme, but they talk rationally about it. They know what they're doing. She runs a fancy-dress shop.
Nick: I think German fans think these two misrepresent the German fans.
Jeremy: The German fans hate them.
Nick: But it's just one individual story.
Jeremy: I think we treat them quite fairly; we don't stitch them up at all. We could have done.
[caption id="attachment_14196" align="alignnone" width="717" caption="German fan. Photo by Jeremy Deller"]
I was reading the thread about the film on the Depeche Mode forum last night. There are mixed opinions, but there's one guy on there, one of the guys who runs the forum, who's not very happy. He says: "I cringe every time I see it. It paints DM fans as truly scary people. If people get to see this in a public forum, you will definitely take your DM stickers off of your car, and stop wearing DM T-shirts. You won't want people thinking you are like the people in the doc."
Jeremy: He cringes because he's not in it. We show all different kinds of fandom. From people who wear a T-shirt every day to people who just really like the band.
Nick: One does tend to remember the people who dress up or whatever, but some of them in the film are really normal teenagers. The English guy at the end, he's really normal. We never asked him why he was homeless, he fell out of society somehow, but that doesn't make him abnormal.
Jeremy: The superfans aren't going to be happy about anything, are they.
Nick: The people who run the website, quite often they're the hardest ones to please, because they're quite controlling people, that's why they run websites.
Jeremy: They're the gatekeepers to the flame of Depeche.
Nick: The people who have all the pristine DVDs, unopened, good for them, but we didn't put them in the film because they're collectors, and their passion comes out in the fetishisation of the product from the record company, whereas we were more interested in people who do things for themselves, who use it as a starting point and take it somewhere else. The people who won't like it are the ones who take Depeche Mode as something written in stone.
I went to Basildon.com and typed Depeche Mode in the search box. There wasn't anything there.
Jeremy: That is incredible.
Nick: We went to Basildon a few times and there's nothing. It's weird because it's a nice thing, that you can start off anywhere and do something strange.
Basildon's only existed for 60 years.
Jeremy: Yeah, it's a new town, isn't it? It's like Eastern Europe in that respect. It's a totally new town, with modern, not particularly nice buildings.
Nick: When I was there last time I met all these people who were originally from the East End and were suddenly dumped in Basildon after the war. That would have been an interesting place to start the documentary but it would have been too complicated to go into for people who don't know about English history.
Was there anything Mute made you cut out of the film?
Jeremy: There's a great quote where one fan says, "Dave Gahan's like a straight Freddie Mercury." We had to take that out.
Jeremy: Because Freddie Mercury was gay.
Nick: There's a subtext in the film.
Jeremy: It's quite a gay film.
Nick: Lots of straight fans wear the make-up, Martin cross-dresses.
Jeremy: There's that sort of an electronic Bowie thing going on.
Nick: That guy who said the Freddie Mercury thing also said the band are like the bi-sexual Kraftwerk.
Jeremy: That sounds like the best band in the world.