TThe first time I really thought about fandom was the night of July 8th. 1990. The occasion was a Depeche Mode fan convention at Camden Palace in London. I had only been one of them for 10 months, since I heard Personal Jesus on Radio 1’s Singled Out made my jaw drop, but he had been making up for lost time. Not only was I busy buying all the 7 and 12 inch albums that I could get my hands on, I was also transcribing Martin Gore’s lyrics into an exercise book, painting covers, and learning how to play the simplest tracks on a Casio keyboard. I don’t remember writing poems about them but let’s not rule it out. I wanted to be a true fan and do what I thought true fans did, which was join a fan club and attend a gathering of the faithful.
Around that time, I filled out a personality test that concluded that I was introverted and extroverted in equal measure, which is why Depeche Mode was my ideal band. They sang about many of my pressing concerns – sex, death, guilt, spiritual turmoil, awkward left wing politics – and I could dance with them. I also liked his story. After songwriter Vince Clarke resigned in 1981, Gore had to reinvent the band in the helmet, getting a taste of industrial angst and communist chic before finding that kinky sweet spot in the world. Black celebration album. At the same time, advances in synthesizer and sampler technology allowed his music to become grander and more elegant. At the time I joined them, they were the first electronic music band, but they had not yet lost their basic Basildon character. You could never be David Bowie, but you could, with a little luck, imagine yourself being the great Andy “Fletch” Fletcher, the great synthesizer producer.
However, there were other bands that I loved, so I wonder why it was so important to identify myself as a Depeche Mode fan. Thinking about it now, one of the reasons was ownership. Among my friends, Depeche Mode belonged to the holy trinity of post-punk pop groups that galloped through the 80s, getting bigger every year, but you had to choose one above all, the same way you had to have a favorite member of the X-Men. My closest friend adored New Order even more than I did, while another friend had an unrivaled obsession with The Cure. The Pet Shop Boys, my first love, were divided equally between the three of us, like West Berlin. Depeche Mode, however, was my band, there is no question about it.
The second reason, to be honest, was hormonal. The girls liked Depeche Mode, and one girl in particular. I went to a boys’ school that only admitted girls in sixth grade and only one of them in the year before me was registered as an “alternative”. She wore black eyeliner, dyed her hair the color of red wine, and loved Depeche Mode, which was enough to fuel a fierce and useless crush on me. At least he made me a cassette of his live album 101, with a 90 minute fill of some of his favorite tracks, including 1986 B-side But Not Tonight, which I found very impressive. Any old fool would like a hit single, but a B-side was the insider’s choice. (S called the cassette “DM for Jools” because he thought I looked like Jools Holland. As for the pianist he introduced later, this was not what he wanted to hear.)
Third, he knew how the Depeche Mode fans behaved. 101 was the soundtrack to a documentary of the same name, in which directors DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus made the radical decision to dedicate half of the film to the band and the other half to a group of winners of the competition they went through. America on a coach to see Dave & Martin & Alan & Fletch headlining the Pasadena Rose Bowl. Using the Breakfast Club taxonomy of American high school dudes, the “kids on the bus” were all Ally Sheedys, but sweet to her: the friendly face of alternative culture. Like one of them, Christopher Hardwick, told Vice years later: “Your [prided] yourself in being different and being at the forefront by being a fan. Wow, a bunch of people who have really cool haircuts, wear eyeliner, and wear all black? These are my people. They facilitated that acceptance. “
It’s a powerful thing to see your fandom represented on the screen. When the Beatles first toured the United States in 1964, many teenage girls sincerely felt compelled to scream, but they had also seen evidence of Beatlemania in the UK and knew that screaming was something that Beatles fans did. . To some extent, they lived up to expectations. Similarly, 101 gave me the feeling that fans were a crucial part of Depeche Mode’s history, even if the band themselves, in their incorrigibly English style, seemed to find this ardor disconcerting.
So I ended up at Camden Palace in 1990, but it wasn’t as fun as I expected. Everyone dressed up as Depeche Mode (black denim, band t-shirts, leather gear for the more adventurous) and talked about Depeche Mode, while the DJ played almost nothing but Depeche Mode. It was a bit like that scene in Ser John Malkovich where everyone has Malkovich’s face and they can’t say anything but “Malkovich.” At one point, we all gathered under a video screen to watch a prerecorded message from the band, like members of a cult receiving instructions from the leader. He came to feel oppressively monogamous, as if Depeche Mode were the only band in the world.
Fandom isn’t just about loving something; it’s about making it look like you love him and making it look like he is the type of person who loves him. It’s performative, hence the t-shirts and letters neatly placed on school bags. For me, however, the strange appeal of being the Depeche Mode kid in my school year was diluted by the presence of other fans. I found the community experience flattening rather than elevating; it made me one of many at an age when I needed to feel like an individual (cool, mysterious, unspeakably attractive). The tribal identity that Hardwick spoke of, wonderful as it was, was not what he craved.
I left my first and last fanclub convention thinking that I wasn’t cut out to be a true fan after all, and that was fine. My private relationship with the pulse and drama of music was enough for me and that lasted much longer than the urge to play Behind the Wheel on a Casio. When I interviewed Depeche Mode for the first time, in 2001, I didn’t tell them about the night I was under a screen, hanging on their every word, trying to be something that I wasn’t.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism