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‘How Basildon ended the Cold War…’

A Depech Mode fan's bedroom

If you took a random selection of the population in the UK and asked them to name their favourite music group of all time, The Beatles, The Jackson 5, even Take That among many others would undoubtedly be mentioned. Then ask about Depeche Mode. Generally you might be met with a confused ‘What? Them?’ or ‘Sorry, who?’
Depeche Mode does not have automatic iconic status in the UK, unlike other bands, many of which disappeared long ago.

The Posters Came From The Walls highlights the near triviality with which the group are treated in their home country. One fan from their hometown in Basildon, Essex could not understand the locals disinterest to the band: they had either been forgotten or were dismissed as irrelevant. It is only until you compare other parts of the world and the mass of Depeche Mode devotees that you realise the group’s past and present music is still very current for fans. What makes this film interesting is that it is completely fan based; the band does not purposefully appear or perform in the documentary.

The original group formed in 1980 consisted of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher and Vince Clark. Since their debut, Depeche Mode has undergone two band changes with Clark leaving in 1981 to be replaced by Alan Wilder, who subsequently left in 1995. Since then the guys have been a trio, creating synthpop, dark and new wave and various forms of alternative dance and rock music with extreme success; to date they have sold more than one million records and recently released their twelfth studio album Sounds Of The Universe.

The fan inspired documentary The Posters Came from the Walls is named after a magazine article. Written in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it described the event as if Depeche Mode had literally come out of the posters adorning the walls of thousands of fans and become reality. The film focused strongly on Depeche Mode’s iconic past status. Sitting there, I watched amazed as two American teenage fans spoke of their obsession. One of them was not even born when the band performed in Pasadena, California for their famous ‘Music for the Masses’ tour in 1989 and yet their sincere adoration was not at all clichalthough at times it did feel uncomfortable.

For many of the Russian fans, Depeche Mode still represents a form of liberation, people in the UK take for granted. The Russian fans’ kooky behaviour, dated dress sense and complete dedication to ‘Dave Day’ on the 9th May is amusing, but when you see the comic book strip lovingly created by the talented artist Mischa, who will most probably never see her gift come to anything more than a exercise book full of amazing drawings, it makes you realise the music is significant in ways perhaps we will never be able to comprehend.

To paraphrase one fan, the British can never understand the music in the same way as a Russian: to comprehend you have to know heartfelt longing; in essence you have to be the romanticist poet like Keats or Shelley.

Russian fans on 'Dave Day'

Co-directed by Nick Abrahams and Jeremy Deller and produced by Jacqui Edenbrow, the documentary takes viewers on a journey around the world. Andy, an Iranian man recalls being beaten up for listening to Depeche Mode because western music had been banned for not conforming to Islamic doctrines. Now living in Canada, some twenty years later he attends his first concert. I cannot envision a life where my choice of music was so controlled and forced to conform to such severe laws. It is too terrifying to imagine.

Yet, despite the adversity, poverty and hopelessness of the situations, the film is not depressing! In fact its message is hopeful in the strangest of ways: all of the people involved were joyful. Their enthusiasm was infectious and because it was pure, it made me appreciate what it meant to really love music.

Will the film make you an ardent fan, willing to don the requisite black leather jacket and dye your hair bright blonde? I doubt it, but it is entertaining in the way only documentary filming can be. The Posters Came from the Walls will be screening across the UK on the 1st December with the DVD to follow in 2010.

Originally published December 2009 in CFM Magazine -

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