“Depeche Mode The Dark Progression”: Pioneering ’80s electro synth-pop for the masses

By on December 8, 2017

Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression — just one of the many music documentaries you’ll find streaming over on Night Flight Plus — details the sometimes surreal over-thirty-year musical career of one of the pioneering British electro synth-pop bands of the ’80s who went on to become one of the most successful bands ever, selling over 100 million records worldwide.

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This unauthorized UK-made music doc was produced and edited by Alec Lindsell and released back in 2009 by our content partner, MVD.

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Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression features archival footage of rare live performances by the band, snippets from their music videos, location shoots, news reports, home movies and exclusive interviews with members of the band and contributions from friends and a few of their electronic music contemporaries, including: Gary Numan, Thomas Dolby, Orchestral Manœuvres in the Dark’s Andy McCluskey, Daniel Miller (the Normal); band biographer Jonathan Miller; producers Gareth Jones, Dave Bascombe, Phil Legg and Steve Lyon; and electronic music experts Mark Pendergast and David Stubbs.

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Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression features Depeche Mode’s recordings of “Just Can’t Get Enough,” People Are People” (#13 US), “Stripped,” “Never Let Me Down Again,” Strangelove,” “Personal Jesus” (# 28 US), Enjoy The Silence” (#8 US), “Walking In My Shoes,” I Feel You” and many others.

Read more about Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression below.

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Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression chronicles the entire saga of one of the original innovators of the 80s electronic dance-pop sound, beginning with their formation in the working-class London suburb Basildon, in Essex, England in 1980 by Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher and Vince Clarke.

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The focus here is on an almost reverent celebration of Depeche Mode’s recordings and less so on the personal lives of the band members themselves, although there was certainly enough grist for the rumor mill had the producers of this excellent documentary decided to go that way (in other words, don’t expect to see too much focus on Depeche Mode’s hard-partying drug-addled front man Dave Gahan).

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The film’s oral history continues with Depeche Mode’s early flirtations with London-based New Romantic movement before moving forward in time through the rest of the 1980s, focusing on some of the cutting-edge developments in their sound — a blend of airy synths and deep dark vocals with bold dynamic melodies — through the stark urban industrial landscapes envisaged on A Broken Frame (#177 UK, 1982), Construction Time Again (1983) and Some Great Reward (#51 UK, 1984), albums which would all help to define the early ’80s synth-heavy pop sound.

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Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression continues on, exploring Depeche Mode’s darker middle-period albums, such as Black Celebration (1986), Music for the Masses(1987), and Violator (#7 US, 1989), leading up to the release of their #1 U.S. album Songs of Faith and Devotion album and the resulting Devotional Tour (1993/1994) that followed.

The film concludes with the departure of keyboardist and co-founder Alan Wilder in 1995, which arrived at a time when each member of the band were facing personal challenges (both Martin Gore and Dave Gahan have had well-publicized battles with drugs) and likely had already achieved the peak of their commercial success with a handful of dark-themed radio-friendly synth-pop hits.

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Wilder had himself joined the band after the departure of founding Depeche Mode keyboardist Vince Clarke, replying to an ad they’d placed in Melody Maker which said: “Keyboard player needed for established band – no timewasters.”

The ad said the band were looking for someone under 21 years of age, but Wilder lied about his age (he was 22) in order to join the band in January 1982, initially as a tour keyboardist, and soon thereafter as a full member.

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Most of the documentary’s focus is on this period following Clarke’s departure — after the release of their 1981 dance beat-ridden album Speak and Spell (#192 UK), Clarke formed Yazoo, with Alison Moyet, and then later went on to form yet another well known band, Erasure, with Andy Bell — as they expanded their fanbase and grew into a more mature group than that of their earlier pop singles, a period which is referred to in the film as “the dark progression” of Depeche Mode.

At the time he left, Wilder cited a general lack of “respect and acknowledgement” for his part in Depeche Mode’s success as the main reason for his departure.

There’s much more to their story, of course, including their late ’90s resurgence with Ultra (#5 US, 1997) and other successful albums, singles, tours and what-not, but that part of their story will have to be told elsewhere.

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These days, Depeche Mode — whose name was inspired by a French fashion magazine — continue on as a three man operation, with Gore and Fletcher handling the music while Gahan still belts out the lead vocals.

A recent Bloomberg article claimed that — despite not having a #1 song in the U.S. — Depeche Mode in 2017 are currently enjoying one of the most remarkable tours in modern music and its most-successful concert run ever, selling more concert tickets (1.27 million) than some of the biggest pop stars in the world, including Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars.

“In October, the band became the first act to sell out four consecutive shows at the Hollywood Bowl, an open-air theater in the hills of Los Angeles that’s hosted everyone from the Beatles to Luciano Pavarotti. Now Depeche Mode is back on the road for its second tour through Europe this year and will head to Latin America in 2018. Not bad for a group whose album sales peaked more than 20 years ago.”

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Watch Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.