Saturday, 1 July 2017

DEPECHE MODE'S ESPRIT DE CORPS


The Alt-Right and the Boys from Basildon


Recently when Alt-Right potentate Richard Spencer declared the band Depeche Mode the official band of the Alt Right it caused laughter and perplexity in many circles. But I had to both laugh and agree with him as I knew exactly what he meant and what he was getting at. Having charted the band's career as a kid and teen in the 80s, through their 90s period of decadence and excess (like my own-haha) and then into their post-millennial, mature years, DM has been a major part of the soundtrack to my life. But is it the soundtrack of the Alt Right? It’s certainly a question worth asking so let’s take a look at the topic.

Of course, when the band learned of their new fan Herr Spencer, they went into immediate denial mode. But, what else could they do if they still wished to have a career in our age of left-wing, PC, soft totalitarianism? Dave Gahan made a few statements here and there in the US Media apropos Spencer and The Alt Right. But something tells me, from his still prominent Basildon accent, deep down he might lean a little bit towards Nigel Farage and UKIP, even he know resides in New York City. Martin Gore made some of the same signals, if slightly more muted, as he is the brains of the outfit and is no doubt hedging his bets a little. Gore was always the most "fashy signalling" member of the band in the past. 

Amidst all this recent ruckus I thought I would examine Depeche Mode as an Alt-Right band and review their new album Spirit for Alternative Right, and try to set the record straight a little. The new CD is rather good, by the way, a true return to form after their last less-than-stellar Delta Machine effort. And—surprise, surprise—it’s filled to the brim with political and Alt-Rightish-type messages, memes, misanthropy, and mischief.

But first a little history and a somewhat outrageous statement: I think Depeche Mode are the Rolling Stones or Beatles of the 80s. To anyone not aged 10 to 15 around 1980 to 1985 this may seem a rather odd statement to proffer in polite company. But to my alternative, Gen-X crew that grew up and came of age in the 80s, Depeche Mode were indeed a very important band. Almost a Religion to some of us die-hard fans. 

They survived the early 80’s synth pop revolution, the boom and the bust, and unlike many bands of their ilk they stuck stubbornly to their electronic guns—even as grunge and new metal became the hot new thing. They produced album after album of progressively more interesting, ambitious, dark, and intelligent electronic music. Until they came of age—sort ofwith Black Celebration, a landmark album, a dark synth pop masterpiece much loved by Richard Spencer, I believe, and have not looked back since.

Now apropos the accusations of right-wing or fashy politics. First let's consider the historical milieu from which they emerged—the New Romantic, New wave and  Electro Revolution. In the late 70s/early 80s, fashy right-wing signalling was surprisingly common. It was even very hip to do so. Bands like Joy Division, Kraftwerk, NON, Death In June, Current 93, and Throbbing Gristle, to name just a few, openly embraced fascist and right-wing aesthetics—probably taking after Bowie and his Thin White Duke period. And the lyrics in many songs and publicity shots reflected the same. 

Even more commercial bands like Ultravox, Human League, Gary Numan, Japan, Devo, Furniture, Visage, and Talk Talk embraced some fashy style imagery, as well as conservative ideas and lyrics. It was sort of a New Romantic and New Wave counter revolution against the destructive anarchy of punk and it’s aftermath. Funnily enough John Lydon recently said he backed Brexit and thought Trump was punk, so even he has come around and you can some early signs of this in his Flowers of Romance and PiL projects. "I could be Right, I could be wrong"from Rise, etc. 


After Ian Curtis of Joy Division, an open admirer of fascism, topped himself, the band looked across the channel to Portugal and Salazar’s regime and to Indonesia’s fashy Suharto to choose their new name, New Order. They went on to achieve global success, dominance, and importance, much like the subject of this essay, Depeche Mode.

The members of Mode all emerged from this fashy signalling New Romantic and avant grade electronic milieu. The band's first album, mainly written by the synth pop guru and genius Vince Clarke of later Yazoo (Yaz in the U.S) and Erasure fame, launched the band with their first album Speak and Spell

Politics was not so present on the first album, but was more reflected the band's name a reference to Fast Fashion and New Romance—a pre-Bret-Easton-Ellis type notion that celebrated the decadent 80s love of surface, fast living, young love, good looks, and high times. But, as soon as Vince Clarke left the band and Martin Gore took over the songwriting slot, they began signalling political ideas of both the Left and Right. 

This Left and Right synthesis was both progressive and forward-looking for the era, and really added to the band's power level, intellectual weight, longevity, and the ability of their work to sound as relevant today as ever. Some may laugh at that, but there were recent articles in NME and elsewhere reporting the "findings" of some university boffins that Depeche Mode has the most intelligent lyrics of any band ever.  

A Broken Frame, their second LP, featured a Neo-Realist folk type cover, reminiscent of both Nazi art and the Communist "Realism" that was favoured by the Stalin and subsequently China and North Korea. The follow up Construction Time Again was an open rebellion to Jacques Derrida’s openly nihilistic and destructive deconstructionism that was all the rage in the 80s intellectual scene. It also featured a fascistic cover of an Aryan man smashing down a hammer. From that image alone the Alt-Right could have been born. Again, the Left and Right symbolism were being mixed together. 

So, "construction time again" it was with Mode, and many of our generation who despised deconstruction and relativist bullshit! 

Mode went forward with leaps and bounds after Vince Clarke left, having smash hits like People are People and releasing dark, subversive dance masterpieces with an S&M flavour, like Master and Servant. That song gives off a Nazi vibe that wouldn't be out of place on The Night Porter

The album Music for the Masses featured a kind of overarching, fashy motif of a loudspeaker in the wilderness on the cover and an anthem and theme song on the record, Pimpf, given visual expression with the help of the wonderful Anton Corbijn.


This was quite openly the most fascist reference in their whole oeuvre. Pimpf was named after a Nazi Youth Movement, and at this time Martin Gore began making his most fashy statements in the media about politics. There is a side story here I might share.

Gore, the rumour goes, was getting into fascist aesthetics, fashion, and ideas from the mid to late 80s until the early 90s, until he discovered his real father was of mixed race, or something along those lines. Then he went silent on the issue. But he still continued to signal these ideas in his art, albeit in a slightly more diffused and subterranean way. But he was also signalling some left-wing Socialist ideas. With him, it seems, there’s always been a kind of dialectic at play.

With Violator the band toured Australia and I had the good fortune to meet them and hang out with them. They were nice guys. I only got to speed time with Fletch and Martin Gore, writing a long piece for Beat magazine that I was music editor of in the early 90s. Alan Wilder and Dave Gahan formed another duo/clique with a sort of split-off band. 

The album Violator is probably their finest work, and a true masterpiece of electronic music. The decadent 90s followed. Again there was some political ideas and rumblings within their Songs of Faith and Devotion that followed, which brings us up to the present day and their new long player Spirit, so let’s take a closer look at the new album.

Spirit opens with "Going Backwards," with a lyric that is an open attack on our age as retrogressive, as many John-Morgan-type Alt Righters have pointed out. The Alt-Right has often called the Progressive Left "the Regressive Left," and Depeche Mode seem to echo this statement in their opening track of their new album. It also ties in to ideas of devolution and the 80s band Devo, who also had an impressive career that riffed a similar vibe. Who can forget their New Traditionalist album and album cover, which was a total prophecy of the Alt Right? 

The second track on Spirit is "Where's the Revolution?" an open call for Revolution, a call to arms and mobilisation. Ernst Junger would have been proud of the spirit of "The Worker" on display in this new Depeche Mode single. It’s classic stuff and instantly affective and effective, soon having you sing a long. But what type of Revolution is the song calling for? Left or Right? Both are signalled in the new and impressive video by long-term Mode collaborator Corbijn.


Again the synthesis motif remains and the exact type of revolution being called for is obscure. But cleverly Martin Gore has, somewhat boldly, hidden references to Trump within the song. The lyric "The Train is coming/ the Train is coming/ get on board/ get on board" that is clearly the "Trump Train." Martin Gore, who lives in California, might miss out on a few neighbours' dinner parties this year for that little faux pas. So, how much more Alt-Right can you get than that?! Spencer is vindicated in his statements, it seems. 

The third track on the album is "The Worst Crime," where some future crime of a revolutionary elite is imagined and mourned. So, this can be both a warning and a prophecy apropos the Alt-Right and perhaps revolutionary politics in general, also, including the Communist Left or even the Bolshie new Labour that has emerged in the UK under Corbyn.

The fourth track on the CD, the most Alt-Right one the album, is "Scum," a total attack on the globalist elite, perhaps even the "you know whos," and a very ominous one at that. Here are some lyrics:

Hey scum, hey scum
What have you ever done for anyone
Hey scum, hey scum
What are you going to do when karma comes
A' calling and you're falling
And there's nowhere left to run
And you're weeping
And not sleeping
And you're begging for your gun.
The Chorus is simple: "Pull The Trigger!" My response to such a blunt song is: any questions? 

The next three tracks "You Move," "Cover Me," and "Eternal" deal mainly with typical Mode motifs of love, loss, pain and existential ennui. Yes they are still watering that New Romantic plant on their windowsill. 

"Poison Heart" deals with human evil and evil within people, and could be read as yet another anti-Globalist song.  This was written by Dave Gahan and is a very good song. Finally, the quality of his material is matching Gore's genius. "So Much Love" will be another single and is a classic Gore anthem to love and excess. The next track, a real goodie, "Poorman," counter-signals Leftist and Bolshie themes, and addresses issues of the working class and poverty. But these can also be considered from a right-wing perspective. 

Second last track "No More," is another dark piece written by Dave Gahan. Very strong, it harks back to the Black Celebration album. The album finishes up with "Fail" and is Martin Gore's nihilistic summary of our fallen age and the need to do something about it, both politically and spiritually, especially the latter, hence the albums title Spirit. It’s 4.5 Stars out of 5 in my book and is a great return to form for Depeche Mode, opening up new horizons for them.

So, whether you think they are Alt-Right or not, Depeche Mode are back and are as relevant as ever, and ready to face the New Dawn along with us here at the Alt-Right. Fellow travellers? I certainly think so.



Connected Content:
David Bowie: Visions of Swastikas
Laibach's Spectre


4 comments:

  1. Richard Spencer can't sing worth shit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Richard Spencer is the greatest singer of all time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The alt-right has its own humour (cartoons, memes, irony), explicitl White music (e.g. Synth-wave plus bands like Winglord, Saga) and of course fashion. As Millenial Woes points out, we are forming a culture which is why the left fear as.

    We are replacing the hideous neoconservatives/cuckservatives.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It is AMAZING how much this article and everything related to it connects with me! Both me in the mid 80's, and me now!
    I mean, it's stunning!


    Scott

    ReplyDelete

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