Depeche Mode is rid­ing a late-ca­reer surge

Band whose al­bum sales peaked 20 years ago is out­selling Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran on tour

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - LU­CAS SHAW Bloomberg

An old New Wave rock band that’s never re­leased a No. 1 song in the U.S. is sell­ing more con­cert tick­ets than the big­gest pop stars in the world.

Depeche Mode, the Bri­tish syn­th­pop group formed in 1980, is hav­ing one of the most re­mark­able tours in mod­ern mu­sic and its most-suc­cess­ful con­cert run ever. The band sold 1.27 mil­lion tick­ets through the first nine months of 2017, more than Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars — much younger pop acts at the peak of their fame.

In Oc­to­ber, the band be­came the first act to sell out four con­sec­u­tive shows at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl, an open-air theatre in the hills of Los An­ge­les that’s hosted ev­ery­one from the Bea­tles to Lu­ciano Pavarotti. Now Depeche Mode is back on the road for its sec­ond tour through Europe this year and will head to Latin Amer­ica in 2018. Not bad for a group whose al­bum sales peaked more than 20 years ago.

“Ev­ery time we go out and tour, we’re play­ing to more peo­ple,” said Martin Gore, 56, the band’s gui­tarist and lead song­writer. “It’s just in­cred­i­ble at this stage in our ca­reer.”

Depeche Mode’s suc­cess speaks to the en­dur­ing power of old rock groups, which ac­counted for a big chunk of the $7.3 bil­lion North Amer­i­can con­cert in­dus­try last year. The best­selling fes­ti­val of 2016 was Desert Trip, a bac­cha­nal in Cal­i­for­nia’s Coachella Val­ley fea­tur­ing acts that came to promi­nence half a cen­tury ago. Ac­cord­ing to re­searcher Poll­star, the top tours of 2017 are Guns N’ Roses and U2, which re­leased their best­selling al­bums 30 years ago.

Yet Depeche Mode’s late-ca­reer surge is also a trib­ute to a band that has care­fully nur­tured and ex­panded a loyal army of fans known as the Black Swarm (or Devo­tees) who fol­low it all over the world. The ma­nia for the group’s dance pop is strong­est in Ger­many, but it reaches ev­ery cor­ner of the globe.

Delly Ramin Mo­radzadeh was just 14 when she de­vel­oped an ob­ses­sion that has gripped teenagers from Munich to Buenos Aires. Lis­ten­ing to Los An­ge­les ra­dio sta­tion KROQ in 1984, she heard the song “Peo­ple Are Peo­ple,” and im­me­di­ately asked her mom to take her to Tower Records to buy Depeche Mode’s new al­bum.

She had to wait two years be­fore see­ing the band at Irvine Mead­ows, an ex­pe­ri­ence that ce­mented her de­vo­tion. Mo­radzadeh has seen Depeche Mode live more than 30 times since that fate­ful first taste, in­clud­ing seven times on this lat­est tour. She es­ti­mates she has spent more than $2,000 on tick­ets and mer­chan­dise this year alone.

“I warned my hus­band be­fore we got mar­ried that I have this ob­ses­sion you have to deal with once ev­ery lit­tle while,” Mo­radzadeh said.

She praises the band for con­stantly re­ward­ing fans with shows at small venues and spe­cial re­leases. While other groups have re­united af­ter years apart for a big pay­day, Depeche Mode has re­leased a record about ev­ery four years since the mid-1980s and de­votes much of its cur­rent set to mu­sic from its lat­est al­bum, “Spirit,” the band’s 14th.

The group has never stopped tour­ing, even dur­ing a drug-ad­dled era that man­ager Jonathan Kessler dubs “the ex­per­i­men­tal years.” Lead singer Dave Ga­han, whose dis­tinc­tive bari­tone is one of the band’s sig­na­tures, has grown more con­fi­dent as a per­former with each tour, strut­ting across the stage like a man pos­sessed. Where the band once strug­gled to sell more than a cou­ple thou­sands tick­ets in Nashville, Tenn., it now plays be­fore crowds more than triple that size in the cra­dle of coun­try mu­sic.

Pe­ri­ods be­tween tours give band mem­bers time to recharge and leave fans want­ing more, es­pe­cially be­cause the group doesn’t ven­ture to the same cities ev­ery tour. Salt Lake City was the first stop on the 2017 U.S. tour, a place that hadn’t hosted Depeche Mode since 2009. Eight years is also enough time for devo­tees to in­cul­cate their chil­dren with a love of songs like “Per­sonal Je­sus” or “En­joy the Silence.”

Depeche Mode doesn’t sell records like it did in the 1990s, nor has it ever reached the heights of fel­low Bri­tish rock­ers Cold­play or Oa­sis. But a group whose mu­si­cal genre was once de­rided has earned lon­gover­due re­spect. Crit­ics raved about the lat­est tour, while Mar­i­lyn Man­son, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Ri­hanna all cited the band as a ma­jor in­flu­ence.

“They weren’t ap­pre­ci­ated be­fore,” said Kessler. “Peo­ple didn’t get who they were or why they mat­tered mu­si­cally. It’s one of the first elec­tronic bands.”

Search­ing for the proper way to pro­mote this lat­est tour, Depeche Mode opted to let a dif­fer­ent fan take over its Face­book page ev­ery day to share sto­ries and pho­tos. Face­book is an ideal medium for Depeche Mode, whose core au­di­ence is be­tween the age of 35 and 60. Fans have al­ready created more than a dozen dif­fer­ent fan pages.

This project gave those fans con­trol of the band’s of­fi­cial page for the first time. Devo­tees from all over the world have shared their favourite mem­o­ries, in­clud­ing some who say they’ve seen the band more than 40 times just this year. The page has 7.3 mil­lion “likes.”

While a sin­gle TV ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign would cost mil­lions, the Face­book pro­mo­tion is free.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Depeche Mode: Martin Gore, left, Dave Ga­han and An­drew Fletcher in 2009.

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