It’s hard to imagine how shocking four guys with nothing but synthesizers and experimental haircuts was back when Depeche Mode first emerged in the early 80’s. But Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher, and Vince Clarke veritably launched the synth-pop revolution by devising a middle ground between Kraftwerk’s gleaming, Teutonic minimalism and Giorgio Morodor’s oversexed futuro-disco. Now, as yet another generation of buzz-worthy acts – Austra, Cold Cave, CLAPS – clamor to worship at their sonic altar, Remixes 2: 81-11, being released June 6 by the electro godfathers, is another stunning reminder that while many will imitate, all are doomed to stumble in Depeche Mode’s footsteps.
As Gahan recently told BlackBook, “Coming out of punk, we knew we weren’t going to blag our way through guitar, bass and drums. But we could just plug in our synthesizers, and play all these little clubs in London. At the time, it was not considered ‘real’ music.”
Clarke would shortly leave the band, replaced by Alan Wilder, who also eventually departed, in 1995, in the wake of the depravity parade that was the Devotional Tour — marked by Gahan’s heroin addiction, Gore’s reputed alcoholic seizures, and Fletcher’s total nervous breakdown. The fact that both Clarke and Wilder are featured remixers on this ambitious new collection (available as one CD or three) says much about everyone’s desire to leave all the acrimonies where they belong: in the turbulent past.
Unlike most such projects, which tend to be exercises in self-indulgent naval gazing, R2: 81-11 finds the majority of collaborators not piling on the superfluities, but rather stripping the tracks down to the bone. Some of the highlights: Dan The Automator turns “Only When I Lose Myself” into an eerie bit of dub-noir; in the hands of Digitalism, “Never Let Me Down Again” becomes a raw, ferocious, robotic screecher; and Clarke’s unimaginably brilliant reconstruction of “Behind The Wheel” results in a new dancefloor classic that is part house, part trance, and yet almost militaristic in its icy electro-precision. The “guest list” is a veritable international who’s who, from Peter Bjorn & John to Royksopp to M83 to Tim Simenon, and massive chart toppers like “Personal Jesus” and “Strangelove” are countered by the inclusion of such fascinating curiosities as “Puppets” and “Tora! Tora! Tora!.”
It’s often said that if you asked several people to each write a paragraph about you, you might be shocked and surprised to find out what you have learned about yourself from the exercise. R2: 81-11, rather than some soulless, bank-account-padding roll call of hip, seems instead to be a genuine attempt by the estimable talents enlisted to plunge even deeper into a many-faceted Depeche Mode collective psyche and musical quintessence, which is often lazily pegged as overarchingly doomy, in order to find something new still lurking beneath the surface.
“I’ve never quite understood why people think our music is just so depressing,” Gahan also confided.
Indeed, at points haunting, harrowing, sexy, romantic, hopeful, anguished, fragile and exhilarating, R2: 81-11 is an awesome testament to the monumental scope and influence of one of the greatest bands in history.
Reach out and touch faith…again.