A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey en Español. Leer en Español.
Depeche Mode is for the children. If you want proof, look no further than DMK, AKA Depeche Mode Kids: a cover band that pays tribute to the iconic English electronic group from a familial point of view. It’s a dad-and-offspring trio, comprised of Dicken Schrader, the father, his daughter Milah, and his son Korben. It’s no surprise that their covers have garnered millions of views on YouTube—how couldn’t you click on a video cover of “Black Celebration,” in which a dad and his two little kids dress in entirely in black and don eyeliner to boot? The premise basically sells itself, and besides, family bonding is important (take note, Slayer fans). Combined with the high quality of their music, it’s DMK’s uniqueness that launched them into viral fame back in 2012, propelling them beyond their homeland of Colombia and onto live performances in Texas, Spain, and Poland.
As Depeche Mode continues their month-long tour throughout Latin America, we talked with Schrader about what it’s like to cover his favorite band with his own kids. The Bogotá resident has seen the band live four times and can’t fathom life without them—nor without his kids, who’ve helped make his dreams come true. He gets to pay tribute to the soundtrack of his life by performing live covers on stages around the world, with the added bonus that Depeche Mode apparently knows who his kids are.
Noisey: What’s up, Dicken? How are the kids?
Dicken Schrader: Everything’s good! [This] week, the kids come back from Miami. They haven’t been back [to Colombia] since last July. I’m super excited because we’re going to be in the first row [at Depeche Mode’s Bogotá concert], and it’ll be my kids’ first concert. It also looks like we’re going to have backstage passes and everything. So we’re actually going to meet the band. It’s a dream come true.
What are the band dynamics like? In a conventional group, there’s usually a leader who calls all the shots. In DMK’s case, do your kids have to do what dad tells them or something?
Well, sometimes it works like a traditional band. Sometimes we have problems—like somebody’s in a bad mood and doesn’t want to get on stage or the kids are picking on each other; or sometimes I’m the one who’s throwing a fit because of something that didn’t sound right to me. I’d say we have the same issues as traditional bands. When you add in the family factor and fights between siblings become the band’s problem, that’s difficult to navigate. But the idea has always been to have fun, and the role I play as the bandleader is more to teach them things. I’m not a professional musician and I’ve never taken formal lessons, but what I do know, I teach my kids. At the end of the day, we decide among the three of us what songs we want to do and in what order we’re going to play them live, so it’s pretty democratic and cool.
Do you think either of the two kids have a future career in music? I know it’s probably a little too early to tell.
Both have an impressive talent. Korben is a kid that who sits down to do songs with me and I’ll say 'This is a G flat.' And he’ll say, 'No, it’s not a G flat; it’s just a G.' And when we play the keyboard, I realize that he has a better ear than I do. It’s impressive. They’ve been [involved with music] from a young age and I don’t know whether they’ll go on to do it professionally, but if that’s what they want to do, they have a talent for it and they’ve got my full support. Do the kids get their musical talent from you or does their mom have a part in that?
Their mom is also an artist. She’s a designer and fashion stylist, and she loves music. The kids were raised in a house where music was playing all the time. I had a little Yamaha keyboard that my mom gave me many years ago, and one day I put little colors on the keys to identify the notes and so the kids would have an easier time understanding the instrument. In fact, we write our sheet music in colors. And the good thing is that, ever since they were really little, both kids have been curious about music, so much so that they supported me when I wanted to set up DMK.
How did you first discover Depeche Mode?
I don’t remember the precise moment, but what I do remember is that in 1987 I bought the album Music for the Masses—my first vinyl—and I couldn’t stop listening to it. That’s when I fell in love with Depeche Mode. I started to look for their earlier music because I’d heard some things, but they hadn’t really spoken to me in the same way. They’re the soundtrack to my life: I feel like their lyrics, beyond being super intelligent, are speaking to me personally, and that’s what turns a person into a great fan. In their heyday, how do you think Depeche Mode contributed to rock and music in general?
They were pioneers. Before them there was Kraftwerk, and they introduced the tech and synthesizers. They were the first to do something a little more poppy and dancey with those elements, but Depeche Mode was the first to put lyrics to that type of music, and so many groups of the past 20 years are their offspring—in one way or another, they have a touch of rock ‘n’ roll with an electronica vibe. Their biggest achievement was converting synth pop into something mainstream and widely known. And they continue to contribute credibility and stability [today], I think. These men who no longer have that youthful flame that makes you automatically able to generate different, new things, continue to show the world that—even after three decades—they’re still relevant. Even the most incredulous people have to admit that Depeche Mode has tremendous significance and staying power.
What do you think is their most underappreciated record?
Well, look, the second album, which is called A Broken Frame—I love it. It was the first album where Martin Gore took on the responsibility for the lyrics, because the first one was written by Vince Clark, who left the group to form Erasure. A Broken Frame has largely been forgotten and I think it’s really good—it has super beautiful songs that one should listen to in order to fully understand the jewel that Depeche Mode was even at the beginning.
You’ve told me that Depeche Mode’s lyrics speak to you. Did the band help you overcome complicated moments in your life?
Yeah, they’ve always done that. There are moments in my life that fit perfectly with certain lyrics. I can’t say that I haven’t had a happy life because it’s been cool, but I’ve had difficult moments and bouts of depression, and Depeche Mode has helped me deal with a lot of that. Listening to Gahan sing what I’m feeling is comforting. That’s why I believe that the most depressing lyrics have the effect of helping you move forward, because you realize that you’re not alone. When I ended my relationship with Milah and Korben’s mom, I started to listen to ‘Shake the Disease,’ and even though I’d heard it thousands of times, in that moment I rediscovered it. And that was exactly the first song we did with DMK. There are songs that you’ll hear your entire life, but you only really understand them decades later. There’s a certain permanence to that, and it’s genius.
So was it that separation from which DMK was born?
Yes, it was, and [the band formed] almost by accident. I never imagined that I’d go play music in Poland with my kids. It was serendipity, a pleasant surprise, that life had saved for me. As [Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro] Jodorowsky says, it was 'an act of psychomagic' that washed away my regrets and materialized my pain, and through which I was lucky enough to be able to start working with my kids.
The coolest thing about Milah and Korben is that they don’t hold back. Has there been a time when your kids have given you constructive criticism on the project—or on your life—that has stopped you in your tracks?
Nobody’s ever asked me that. Let me see… I think they’ve taught me more than I’ve taught them. When you’re in your 40s, you don’t believe you can create a band and that it will take off, but the kids, in all their innocence, just said to me, ‘Why not?’. Thanks to their encouragement, this thing is still going.
What do you say to critics of tribute bands who dedicate themselves to making covers?
Everything is worthwhile and acceptable in the world of art. There are Depeche Mode tribute bands who take that seriously—they dress the same and even get the same tattoos. That in of itself is an art form; after all, imitation is the purest form of flattery. But at the same time, I don’t consider DMK a traditional cover band. We don’t sound or look the same as Depeche Mode, and we’ve received comments from people who say they hate tribute bands but think our group has originality.
When someone is little, they may not understand just how important bands are. Do you think your kids already understand how big of a deal Depeche Mode is?
I think that Korben, who’s 11, doesn’t yet, but MIlah, who’s 14 already, does understand. She already likes her own music, whether it's Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift, and she realizes that none of them would exist if Depeche Mode hadn’t come first. She explains to her friends that what they listen to today comes from the past, in a certain way. And now that she’s going to see [Depeche Mode] in concert, she’s going to fully understand how important they are.
On the flip side, do you know if Depeche Mode knows who DMK is?
I've heard that they know who we are. Our concert in Poland was broadcast live and Stella, Dave Gahan's daughter, apparently saw it. And a friend of mine who works in a studio in New York talked with them once and mentioned that they know who we are.
Do you have any rituals before playing a show?
We share a RedBull between the three of us. I know I shouldn’t give RedBull to the kids, but it’s our ritual before going out on stage.
What’s going to happen with the project once your kids grow up?
Well, there’ve never been any expectations around that. It was born and grew organically, so it could die in the same way. We’ll see what happens!