Depeche Mode Before They Were Actually Depeche Mode: Stream Their Early Demo Recordings from 1980

After their 1986 album Black Cel­e­bra­tion, new wave leg­ends Depeche Mode ful­ly com­mit­ted to being the most glo­ri­ous­ly gloomy band next to The Cure to appear on sta­di­um stages. Earnest pleas for tol­er­ance like “Peo­ple are Peo­ple” and play­ful­ly sug­ges­tive vamps like “Mas­ter and Ser­vant” gave way to atmos­pher­ic dirge‑y wash­es and fune­re­al tem­pos made for mop­ing, not danc­ing. The move defined them after their ear­ly break­out with an image as a kind of New Roman­tic boy band.

The Depeche Mode of the ear­ly 80s was always edgi­er than most of their peers, even if they looked clean cut and cheru­bic. They were also more exper­i­men­tal, draw­ing from Kraftwerk’s dead­pan Ger­man dis­co in their min­i­mal­ist first sin­gle “Dream­ing of Me” and mak­ing indus­tri­al pop in Con­struc­tion Time Again’s “Every­thing Counts.” Theirs is a body of work, for bet­ter or worse, that launched a hun­dred dark­wave bands decades on, and their very first incar­na­tion may remind indie fans of oth­er lo-fi indie pop artists of recent years.

Before they were Depeche Mode, they were a min­i­mal­ist post-punk/new wave band called Com­po­si­tion of Sound. They record­ed two demo tapes under the name, “one with Vince Clarke on vocals and gui­tar,” notes, “Andy Fletch­er on bass and Mar­tin L. Gore on syn­the­siz­ers, and one [above] just after the arrival of Dave Gahan in the band, short­ly before they were renamed.” These tapes, from 1980, are the first record­ed man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Depeche Mode line­up.

Clarke and Fletch­er began play­ing togeth­er in the 1977 Cure-influ­enced band No Romance in Chi­na. They formed Com­po­si­tion of Sound with Gore, who’d played gui­tar in an acoustic duo, in 1980 and recruit­ed Gahan that same year whey they heard him sing Bowie’s “’Heroes’” at a jam ses­sion. By that time, they’d most­ly giv­en up on gui­tars, after Clarke—who left Depeche Mode after Speak & Spell to form the huge­ly influ­en­tial syn­th­pop band Yazoo (or Yaz in the U.S.)—encountered Orches­tral Maneu­vers in the Dark. The three-song demo at the top rep­re­sents that evo­lu­tion­ary step in action.

The first track, “Ice Machine,” was released as the b‑side of “Dream­ing of Me,” Depeche Mode’s first artis­tic state­ment of intent on their long­time label Mute. Fletch­er plays bass gui­tar on this and the oth­er two tracks, “Radio News” and “Pho­to­graph­ic,” but the songs are oth­er­wise rudi­men­ta­ry ances­tors of Depeche Mode’s synth-dom­i­nat­ed sound, which would per­sist until they brought gui­tars back into the fore­ground in the 90s.

It appears they did play a “hand­ful of gigs” in the tran­si­tion­al phase of Com­po­si­tion of Sound, as Mar­tin Schnei­der writes at Dan­ger­ous Minds: “The first COS show with Dave Gahan on vocals hap­pened on June 14, 1980 at Nicholas Com­pre­hen­sive in Basil­don.” The gig went well, accord­ing to Clarke, “because Gahan ‘had all his trendy mates there.’” Their last show in this incar­na­tion “sounds like some­thing out of This is Spinal Tap.” 

They played at a youth club at Wood­lands School in their home­town of Basil­don. “Their audi­ence con­sist­ed of a bunch of nine-year-olds. ‘They loved the synths, which were a nov­el­ty then,’ remem­bers Fletch­er. ‘The kids were onstage twid­dling the knobs while we played!”  One won­ders if any of those kids went on to start their own fash­ion­ably min­i­mal­ist syn­th­pop bands….

via Dan­ger­ous Minds/Post-Punk

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lost Depeche Mode Doc­u­men­tary Is Now Online: Watch Our Hob­by is Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode Releas­es a Goose­bump-Induc­ing Cov­er of David Bowie’s “Heroes”

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Donato Di Maso says:

    Amaz­ing demo by the most influ­en­tial band out of the 80’s. A true gem.

  • Martin says:

    Sounds like Com­modore 64 games.

  • Thumper says:

    I was at Spir­its of the For­est screen­ing last week, beau­ti­ful film, have to remem­ber these guys were still kids in 1980’s and with in 5/6 years fill­ing sta­di­ums in the USA, seen DM in Man­ches­ter for the Spir­it Tour, seen a lot of bands live and DM are the best I’ve seen.…even have Vio­la­tor rose tat­too on my arm

  • Telstar says:

    If this is sup­posed to be a Com­po­si­tion Of Sound demo … why does it say “Depeche Mode” on the tape?

  • Some Dude says:

    I’m not entire­ly sure about DM being Cure influ­enced in the begin­ning unless they were hang­ing around the Cure when it was Easy Cure and even before they did an album. They are for sure influ­enced by Kraftwerk. The Cure start­ed out soft punk with lots of gui­tar. DM is absent of gui­tars and is a total­ly elec­tron­ic band. But who knows. But I would go with Kraftwerk being the influ­ence here.

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