With just 420 seats available this promotional screening (to celebrate a 5.1 surround sound DVD release) of Depeche Mode's 1989 film 101, this was a quick sell out. Band member Andy Fletcher was in attendance firstly to introduce the screening and secondly to take part in a Q+A session with two of the film's three directors after the film. All three sat among the audience to watch the film. The cinema had been kitted out with several additional large speakers especially for tonight's screening so that the DVD's new 5.1 surround sound audio mix could be fully appreciated by the enthusiastically partisan crowd.
Stunning is probably a good word to describe the impact of the new audio mix. In a 5.1-equipped theatre this was the closest you could get to being at a Depeche Mode gig without actually attending one. The bass was thunderous but clear, and the clever split between the music mostly coming from the front channels (beneath the screen) and the screams of the audience coming from behind and at the sides were so effective that on numerous occasions people (including myself) turned around thinking that certain screams were coming from within the cinema audience.
It was hard to believe that the film was already fifteen years old, but sequences featuring HUGE brick-like mobile telephones caused a few laughs and immediately dated the events. The scene in which Fletch describes the role of each band member to an interviewer: "Alan is the musician, Martin is the songwriter, Dave is the singer... and I just bum around!" prompted cheers of delight and applause from the packed cinema. Fascinatingly, when American promoter Teresa Conroy first appeared on screen, there were several boos from the audience (Dave Gahan divorced his first wife for Conroy shortly after the film was released and entered into a short-lived marriage with the American).
If there was one take-home musical message from this, it was just how incredibly impressive Depeche Mode have been in the past. The soundtrack is crammed full of first class songwriting that sadly only serves to remind us how relatively mediocre the last few releases have been. The screening over, this is where the evening really came to life. Andy Fletcher stepped up on stage took a microphone and immediately said "Depeche Mode in happier times". This blatant public acknowledgement of the bands recent public infighting (largely between Gore and Gahan who both released solo albums this year) was a shockingly honest and controversial way to open up a Q+A session. And probably not what the promoters had imaged. Even more amazing was the huge mixture of loud boos and cheers from the audience in response to the statement. The boos presumably expressing their sadness over the internal conflicts and the latter cheering the fact that there were happier days still worth celebrating. Either way, Andy Fletcher's characteristically frank, if somewhat surprising, statement cast an odd shadow over the Q+A and coloured the questions that followed.
Responding to the (predominant) boos, Fletch quickly added "Let's hope there are more to come", which, unsurprisingly, prompted a more united round of applause and cheers. He then called up D.A. Pennebaker and (wife and co-director) Chris Hegedus to the stage. The period that followed lasted approximately twenty minutes with most of the questions, understandably, aimed at Fletch. So much so that he had to ask for questions specially aimed at the two directors who had flown over from America to promote the launch of the DVD. Unfortunately, the answers they gave were either monosyllabic or almost identical to all previous press they did when the film was first released. Given the hardcore nature of the audience, most will have heard much of both director's views before.
But again, it was the answers given by Fletcher to questions aimed at him that gave rise to several other controversial moments. When asked if Alan Wilder would rejoin Depeche Mode, Andy responded first by saying that it was unlikely Alan would even be interested in being asked, then added "Anyway, he's a hermit!". It may have been said in jest but again the reaction from the audience, many of whom still carry a torch for the departed Wilder, was a bizarre mixture of amusement, shock and disapproval. Although he did add a simple desultory filip of "... but we still all love each other". Yet this didn't stop him (either deliberately or unwittingly) expressing his views and he continued in a similar vein. It was as if he was oblivious to the effect his openness was having on this increasingly frenzied audience.
When asked if he saw Dave Gahan's solo gigs and if so what he thought of them, he confirmed that he had "Yeah, at the [Shepherd's Bush] Empire [in London in July]". The questioner added "What did you think of it?", to which Fletch simply and abruptly replied "It was good". There then followed a brief but decidedly pregnant pause, before again the female questioner shouted back at him "Good? Is that it?!". Amazingly, Fletch chose not to elaborate further. So, there are still some issues between him and Gahan then.
Thankfully, it wasn't all doom and gloom. When asked when the next Depeche Mode album would be out, Fletch confirmed recent press reports, saying that Martin Gore is currently writing songs for a new DM album which will be released early in the new year. Moreover, he said there would be a tour to support its release - cue big cheer of approval (and probably some relief) from the audience. He went on to say, and this was clearly a very personal statement, that he hoped "that the individual projects will come together to form an ever stronger Depeche Mode sound". It doesn't require much insight to read into that statement something other that what it says. We learned too that his favourite Mode album is Violator and that if pressed to use one word to describe his years in Depeche Mode "Fun" would be his choice. Pennebaker and Hegedus confirmed that there was no intention of releasing a 'director's cut' of 101. Pointing back to the screen, Pennebaker said "That is the director's cut". They said too that, given the opportunity, they'd love to do a follow-up film. Although this seems extremely unlikely, Chris Hegedus said of the band members: "They can never be apart for too long".
The former quiet man of the band also confirmed that he is very busy with his label Toast Hawaii and promoting its first band Client. A fan then asked if Toast Hawaii will still looking to sign new acts and accepting demos. Fletch confirmed this was the case, and the fan promptly ran up to the stage and handed over a CD-R much to everyone's amused delight. This was a nice, light-hearted way to end the evening and with time slipping away Fletch and the directors thanked the attendees for coming along. The assembled masses showed their appreciation for Fletcher, Pennebaker and Hegedus and slowly filtered out of the Prince Charles into a chilled London night. What should have been a simple screening event almost wound up being a public therapy session for Andy Fletcher. The personal wounds were obviously still tender and it will be fascinating to see what happens over the next year to the still-developing rock saga that is Depeche Mode.
Martin Gore - Astoria, London - 2 May, 2003
Dave Gahan - Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
- 9 July, 2003
Depeche Mode gigs