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The Sound Universe of Depeche Mode

What the new Depeche Mode remixes tell us about the artists

During all eras of their career, Depeche Mode had always a very open mind for the re-interpretation of their songs in remixes. From the 80s until now, from DM’s own garage made electro to a 2011 Röyksopp remix of the same song material – Depeche Mode (and their remix artists) always set the standard for state-of-the-art sound production and song writing.

One very interesting point is for me, when listening to the remixes of Depeche Mode, that I can discover a lot about the artists behind the sound machines and what they thought about the original song and what they tried to achieve with their own approach – regarding sound and composition.

depeche mode

Last week, Depeche Mode released their new remix album. During the last days, I spent some time analysing the remixes, trying to find out what the new song versions tell us about the artists. Well, here we go:

The new Depeche Mode Remixes – what’s in it

On the 3 CD edition, there are lots of brilliant remixes, from already released mixes like the Trentemoller Remix of Wrong or A Pain That I’m Used To, remixed by Stuart Price (the Jacques Lu Cont Remix) to brand new remixes by artists like Digitalism, members of Miike Snow, Peter Bjorn and John, Röyksopp – or the former DM companions Vince Clark and Alan Wilder.

The new remixes are brilliant versions that enhance the compositions of the songs with the artists own musical and sound style. In many of them, you can hear a totally new dramaturgy with often a new harmony of the songs – where the original melodies and lyrics fit in in a very new, challenging way.

To understand what’s in the artists mind when producing a remix, we have to know a little bit more of Depeche Mode’s background and Martin Gore’s songwriting.

Back to the start – where remixes come from

In the 80s, where remixes were normally more like long versions that were stripped :-) down to their core, Depeche Mode did some very innovative and non-commercial remixes of People Are People (called Are People People), Pimpf (called Fpmip) or Something To Do (the Metalmix).

Later, in the 90s, Depeche started what is nowadays standard in remixing culture: The assignment of other artists to remix their songs. In that era, some remixes were quite interesting dance versions with a new approach to the song rhythm: I Feel You, once with a shuffled beat, had got a faster techno beat in its remixes; Underworld redefined and left no stone unturned with their Barrel Of A Gun hard and soft remixes.

But other remixes really enhanced the original song to a new dimension. The Zephyr Remix of In Your Room by Butch Vig – the man behind Garbage and the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind – is a totally new song: Butch Vig extracted the introverted mood of the song, stripped down its dark, slow atmosphere, and enhanced the song with a new, totally affecting guitar melody. Depeche Mode took this version of In Your Room to play it live in their last years’ tours.

Weird beauty – the songwriting of Depeche Mode

In one of my former musical projects, I adopted unplugged cover versions by Depeche Mode, together with a friend. It was very challenging to strip down the songs’ compositions and arrangements only with acoustic instruments like piano, acoustic bass, acoustic guitars and drums. In this band project, called obviously Stripped, I learned a lot about the way Martin Gore composed (and still composes) his songs: Taking two or three musical harmonies, and combine their chords in a way that you have minor chords where major chords would normally be used – always supported by a challenging melody and interesting sequencing schemes.

Take the verse chords of Enjoy The Silence or Halo, the Reach-Out-Touch-Faith-Chords in Personal Jesus, or the Your-Favourite-Price-change in In Your Room – or take one of the oldest Gore-songs, Tora Tora Tora. You know what I mean.

Remembering that innovative songwriting, the more interesting it is now for me to listen to the new Depeche remixes:

The Norwegian Jesus – Personal Jesus (Stargate Remix)

Personal Jesus in the Stargate Mix by Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen change the Reach-Out-Touch-Faith-chords from descending semitone-chords to a harmonic 4-chord-scheme, with a dry 80s retro synth sound. Very athmospherical, very rhythmic, very modern, very addictive.

Harsh Electro Shuffle – Never Let Me Down Again (Digitalism Remix)

Digitalism changed Never Let Me Down to a harsh and distorted electronic shuffle, banished the existing chords, and replaced them with new disharmonic chords. Who needs the refrain nowadays? No-one. Digitalism just left the first verse and the NLMD-claim in their remix. With that, the song is much more a Digitalism song than a Depeche Mode song anymore.

Dancing Skandinavian – Puppets (Röyksopp Remix)

The Röyksopp Remix of Puppets is really remarkable: Originally a dark song from DM’s first album, written in a minor key, Puppets now really morphed into a happy Scandinavian dance machine. The song could now be as much an original Röyksopp song as it is still Depeche Modish.

Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland, the two guys from Norway, changed the minor key into its parallel major key – what leads to the same song hamonics, but makes the song sound a lot more positive. The sound is typical Röyksopp: Analogue sound sequencing, smart organic melodies, great rhythmic details. What an evolution from 1980 to 2011.

Erasure these crappy chords – Behind The Wheel (Vince Clark Remix)

What does Vince Clark tell us with his remix of Behind The Wheel? I can hear him saying, while sitting in his hangar-sized studio: “Hey Martin, I look through your crazy harmonies, yes I do, but for me it’s crap. I make a two-chord-song out of it. OK, I use your crappy chords in a needless intermezzo. Hey, and I tell you what: I make it sound like World In My Eyes, just to bewilder you. And you know what: This light the song now sounds like, this is the way DM should have always sounded like. If I would have stayed with DM, there would have been no Black Celebrations, but many more Hey-You’re-Such-A-Pretty-Boy’s, dude.”

Alan put himself – In Chains (Alan Wilder Remix)

DM also hired Alan Wilder to remix one of their newer songs, In Chains. I imagine Alan just leaving his Boesendorfer Grand Piano after playing his daily sad solitary version of Somebody and saying: “Thanks, Martin, for remembering me. With my version of In Chains, I will show you what your song would have sounded like if I would have stayed with Depeche Mode.”

Alan Wilder’s version of In Chains seems to be almost an ingratiation: It nearly sticks to the original song and structure, but with a much more better rhymical drum sound. Alan also changed the main chord of the “In-Chains“-Refrain from a minor chord to a 4 semitone deeper major chord – what makes the refrain even bigger. The big drums really sound like the Songs Of Faith And Devotion live drums, played once by Sir Alan himself. The strings added to the second verse are thick, thicker, thickest. The whole remix is, from my point of view, a single megaphone yelling “Hey Martin, here I am! Let me arrange your songs again, I won’t harm your ideas! And I know it better than your crappy bitcrusher-pseudo-retro-producers!” Well, if so, I couldn’t wait for Alan to re-join the band. And I would be looking forward to hearing the results.

(Image Source: www.toonpool.com/user/739/files/depeche_mode_226035.jpg)

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