[16 March 2011]
In the early ‘80s, four young Englishmen formed a group that was cleverly named after the title of a French fashion magazine. A few years later, that band—Depeche Mode—became one of the most popular and successful creators of electronic music. Its members had varied influences, including new wave, rock and heavy metal. They were also were influenced by Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and like those bands, Depeche Mode managed to mold, and to make commercially viable, a musical style that was initially on the fringe. Their songs, including “Enjoy the Silence”, “I Just Can’t Get Enough”, and “Personal Jesus” are among the work that defines the soundtrack of the ‘80s and has influenced many other artists.
Depeche Mode Rewind: 30 Years at The Edge gives the band credit for creating “popular music out of dark themes” and claims to be “the story” of the band. It begins by describing Depeche Mode as a “band that fractured under the weight of its success.” This ominous statement seems to promise an in-depth, behind-the-scenes, and intriguing story about a group of complex, talented, and perhaps troubled, musicians. It implies that there is much to be revealed about Depeche Mode, such as: Who are they? What were their motivations? How did they interact with one another? Were they influenced by the cultural and social ideals of the ‘80s?
These questions, and the band itself, have the potential to provide a fascinating look inside an innovative musical group with a haunting sound—but unfortunately, most questions are either never answered, or answered in a way that sheds no new light whatsoever on Depeche Mode.
In fact, not one member of the band provides footage specifically for the documentary. All that is seen of these gentlemen are their music videos, still photographs, and clips from their performances. The band is spoken about by people in the music industry who knew them, and by a biographer and a music journalist. This lack of contact with Depeche Mode gives the documentary a flat and distant feel, and certainly causes it to lack credibility.
Other artists are featured, including ‘80s greats Thomas Dolby and Gary Numan, who provide a wealth of information about the genesis of electronic music. According to them, its roots were formed during the ‘70s disco era, when synthesizers began to be produced in a more manageable size than in previous decades. By the early-‘80s, the size had decreased even further, and the user-friendly equipment facilitated the new wave movement, which, combined with the “romantic movement,” produced Depeche Mode’s style of electronic music during the middle of the decade.
Dolby and Numan extensively relate their vast knowledge of music history and the mechanics of creating music, which might appeal to hard-core music enthusiasts, but is not likely to entertain a general audience. Dolby and Numan also discuss how “exciting” it was to be part of the electronic music movement, yet this excitement never comes to life. Their interviews are, for the most part, dry and technical, and the filmmakers seem unable to identify their subject, which wanders into dull territory that is far from Depeche Mode.
The title of this documentary is shockingly misleading. In the documentary, Depeche Mode is merely a phantom about which others are whispering and speculating, and most of the content has little to do with the band. The DVD, which provides no worthwhile extras, indicates that it is “not authorized by Depeche Mode” and this is quite telling. Those who appreciate the band would be better off just listening to its music.