When most bands announce a new tour, adverts and emails will suffice. When it’s Depeche Mode, Europe’s media is summoned to a theatre inside the towering design museum in Milan – journalists in the stalls while whooping fans occupy the balcony – to hear the news in person from chief songwriter Martin Gore, 55, lizardlike frontman Dave Gahan, 54 and keyboardist-slash-Easter-Island-statue Andy “Fletch” Fletcher, 55. Everything, from the bustling queues to obtain a silver octagonal admission lanyard, to the rock star gleam of Gahan’s ludicrous golden shoes, seems designed to remind you that this veteran group remain a very big deal.
Any fans who watched the event live on a Facebook stream on Tuesday will know that these things are sent to try us. The upbeat trio must tackle a Hungarian journalist who wants to know about their love of Hungary, an Italian who wishes to enquire whether “the rock” is “now completely dead” and a member of the German press who just wants to see Gahan dance. For we Brits, the real news is easy to spot: next summer Depeche Mode will perform at the London Stadium in the Olympic Park, their first UK stadium appearance since a lesser event at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in 1993. Tickets go on sale today.
“Crystal Palace was 23 years ago. It’s another life,” Gahan tells me later. After the masses have gone, he’s giving a handful of one-to-one interviews in one curtained-off room backstage, while Gore holds court in another along the corridor. “It was suggested by our manager that it’s time for us to do something a bit larger in England, maybe out in the open. My son Jack lives in London and is a West Ham supporter, so he was quite thrilled.”
The band, who emerged from Basildon in Essex at the start of the Eighties synthpop boom, have long been slightly prickly about the esteem in which they are held in their home country. Both Gahan and Gore have lived in the US for many years, in New York and Santa Barbara respectively, and it’s commonly mentioned that their menacing, tortured brand of electronic rock is far bigger in America and the rest of Europe, especially Germany, than it is here. When a map is displayed on the theatre’s screen with stars indicating the places they’ll visit on next year’s tour – 32 shows everywhere from Lisbon to Minsk – the single London star looks rather lonely.
“I don’t think there will ever be as much adulation in Britain as there is in the rest of Europe, but we have a loyal fanbase there,” says Gore. The band have been regulars at the O2 Arena since 2009, and Wembley Arena before that, so they’re hardly shadowy obscurities. “It wouldn’t be a wise decision for us to play five stadium shows in Britain. But it is time for us to play one at least.”
Gore, dressed all in black right up to his carbon fibre wedding ring, says Depeche Mode still see themselves “as a cult band”. Selling over 100 million albums while seeming like outsiders is a neat trick. On albums such as their biggest, 1990’s Violator, and their most recent, Delta Machine from 2013, they summon a spiritual turmoil and a dark physicality, a world in which sexiness is next to godliness, that sits far from the bright lights of the mainstream despite those sales figures. With no Grammys to their name and just one Brit Award (Best British Single for Enjoy the Silence in 1991) I mention that they’ve never had much official recognition. “Virtually none!” Gore laughs. “At the same time it doesn’t really bother us that much. Maybe it would be the death of us, if we suddenly started being recognised.”
What they have got is a proper, globe-straddling rock star for a singer, which never hurts. Dave Gahan could only be more of a textbook rock and roller if he was dead, which he was for several minutes in 1996, following an accidental overdose of cocaine and heroin. Clean since then, in 2009 he had an operation to remove a cancerous tumour on his bladder and must now undergo regular intrusive checks. “I’m very good, thank you for asking,” he says when I enquire after his health. “I just recently had all my check-ups and all my procedures done that need to be done.” There’s one positive, he says, that he can credit to his old life as an addict: “I have a great strength which is denial of what’s really going on! I use that to my advantage with this. I just put it to the side until it comes around.”
Nevertheless, he needs this tour to be slightly less mammoth than the ones that have gone before, especially as there are North and South American dates still to be announced. “My one stipulation about this tour was we have to do a little less shows each week. I don’t bounce back like I used to. I really give it my all in a show. Once I’m up there, I’m in another world and I enjoy that place, but the next day I wake up to reality. The spirit is young but the body is starting to decay, let’s put it that way.”
In contrast to Gore, who wants to get questions answered as quickly as possible and whose day’s catchphrase has become “We’re not here to talk about the new album”, Gahan is a delight to chat to, fidgety and energetic and happy to ramble away, even about the new album. Next spring the band will release Spirit, their fourteenth. It isn’t finished yet, but they can play us a minute or so of snippets which sound like a computer apocalypse, boiling over with electronic clanks, scrapes and buzzes. After three albums in a row with Ben Hillier, it’s being produced by James Ford, known for his work on albums by Arctic Monkeys and Florence + the Machine. “He’s a real sound master,” says Gore, when coaxed briefly onto the subject. Gahan says: “Working with James was really refreshing. We needed it. It was time to do something different.”
The clip of new material only contains one lyric: “Where’s the revolution? Come on people you’re letting me down.” I ask if that’s the key message, as it’s the one they’re revealing right at the start. “I would say it is. It’s quite a lynchpin on the album. We’re really asking that question of ourselves and of the world,” says the singer. “What’s happening? What’s happening? We’re all feeling it and none of us seems to have the answer. I would say that this album definitely refects what’s going on outside more than what’s going on inside. And the outside world is becoming too much.”
Neither of them will get a vote in the US elections, as they don’t have US citizenship. “It’s terrifying at the moment,” says Gore. “To me it just seems like the same thing as the Brexit vote: a lot of unhappy people who aren’t quite sure what to do with that unhappiness. Before the Brexit vote, even the Leave campaign people didn’t really expect it to win. And everyone’s saying Trump won’t win now. But until it’s over, I’m not gonna sleep very well.”
Whatever happens, they’ll keep on being the voice of the outsiders, with an album and tour like clockwork every four years regardless of the solo projects and family life that happen in between. “This is also another family,” says Gahan of the band and those who work with them. “I don’t know why we get to still do this. It’s something that I think has become much larger than any of the individuals that are involved in it.” The Depeche Mode machine rumbles onwards, as powerful as ever. They’ve more than earned their newfound stadium status in London.
June 3, London Stadium, E20 (0844 844 0444, depechemode.com)