Interview with Dennis Burmeister
Interview with Dennis Burmeister, one of the authors of “Monument”, a fan book about the successful electronic band that is Depeche Mode. All the information about the German book and where you can buy it, you will find in our feature (click here for the German edition
). Since December there is also an English edition that differs from the German one – eg. includes an interview with Mute’s Daniel Miller (click here for feature about the English edition
Hi Dennis, we’ve known each other for many years now. Actually I can not remember where we met for the first time but I’m sure it had something to do with Depeche Mode. Now you have co written a book about Depeche Mode, called “Monument”with Sascha Lange. I think it’s a good reason to have this interview with you …
You’re a life long fan – When did you start listening to Depeche Mode? Were they your favorite band right after the first listen – a kind of love at first sight? Were there other artists who have had the chance to be your favourite?
Love at first sight … hmmm … this is probably not true in my case. I’ve just heard a lot of music in the 80s of different genres. I grew up in a small town in the north of east germany. Everyone there listened to Neil Young and Bob Dylan, AC / DC, Motorhead or Iron Maiden. But I was fascinated by the strange and different sounds of let’s say Sique Sique Sputnik for example, but here in the small town nobody was into this kind of music really. Tbh i found it rather strange to be a “fan” of just one band …
My first real memory of Depeche Mode is that I’ve heard “Pipeline”on the radio. I can’t remember which station it was, but I actually thought the radio was damaged. The second, quite intense memory I have was in 1986 at Ronny’s Pop Show, a popular music show in the 80s (which was presented by a talking chimpanzee) and the video for “A Question of Time” was shown. That was one of those certain moments because it was so different … The song sounded so incredible “new”, the tune was pretty catchy and got stuck immediately. The video of it was so different than what we knew from those 80’s bands. This really was a very special experience. I also find it sad that there no longer are such moments these days, because there are hardly any sounds or visuals that you have not heard, or seen … I’m grateful and happy that I grew up in the early 80s. In 1987, the Greatest Hits of Amiga (the only record company in the GDR, editor’s note) I’ve got the cassette and immediately fell in love with “Shake The Disease”.
Well, any Depeche Mode fan will certainly remember his first time with the band. I’ve had these conversations over and over again. I always have the impression that Depeche Mode fans are very nostalgic and treasure their memories of certain parts in their “MODE-Life”. But I was not the classic Depeche Mode fan, dressed in black with all the gear and stuff like others did. As I said, I heard a lot of bands, especially from other music genres. Moreover, access to western music in the GDR was quite limited. Could you ever be a fan of a band you only had on some dodgy tapes at home? I don’t think so … but the term “fan” is always a matter of definition.
(Fan video for Depeche Mode’s “Pipeline”, taken from “Construction Time Again”, Mute 1983)
I remember in the early 90s when I started listening to Depeche Mode there where already special DM Parties to celebrate the band. Did you went to these parties? Did you styled the way Dave Gahan and Martin Gore did back then?
Were we not all a little Dave? hahaha … Dave Dancing events I always found rather odd and stupid. But in the end, it is up to you. Everyone celebrates the band the way they wants. Not only Depeche Mode fans push it to the limits in terms of style and looks. The dress code was set: black clothes, leather pants, heavy Docs and especially the “brush” (Dave’s haircut, editor’s note), had been adopted by the scene in the late 80s already. In some cases you couldn’t figure out if it was a Depeche Mode fan or basically EBM or just someone who loved all this electronically stuff generally. You’ll find similarities in the goth-scene when their teased hair, pale faces and blurred make-up of Siouxsie Sioux and Robert Smith took over as scene feature. This all resulted in numerous mainly Dave Gahan and Robert Smith look-a-likes.
(Dennis Burmeister, 1991)
Before the release many fans, especially the elderly and “long-term” ones have moaned about the last work of the band. However “Delta Machine” (click here for more infos about the album
), pleases many for the first time in years and they are satisfied with the result. Do you prefer the older stuff? What do you think has changed in their recordings soundwise (based on their early music up to the albums in recent years)?
Sure, I like the old stuff and probably more than the newer recordings and I also belong to the “Alan Wilder Come Back” Group … haha … kidding. But seriously, IMHO the loss of Alan Wilder is absolutely audible. The song structures were much more complex in the past and there were great harmonies. The special sounds and melodies in such varieties you won’t find them these days,. Sure, the songs are still catchy but it is different, somehow too monotonous for my taste. I’m not sure why that is, but the band exists twice for me there is one “once before” and a “after Alan Wilder’s” departure. The only constant on every Depeche Mode album are the Gore songs. Wouldn’t it been for them it would somehow no longer sound Depeche Mode. But that does not mean that I do not like the band, and I’m less interested in their work. Of course I’m still a fan, but maybe more critical than I was before. Why? No idea, but you have personal claims which have changed over the years. Perhaps it is only me that the albums do not work for me the way they did before? Who knows …
(Official video of Depeche Mode’s “Soothe My Soul”, taken from “Delta Machine”, Columbia/Sony 2013)
I’m not sure if people still remember it, but you were the german webmaster of the official website for the Toast Hawaii label, which was founded by Andrew Fletcher in 2002. Did you run it because you were a fan or was it more of a regular job as a graphic designer? Did you had regular meetings with Andrew to discuss the content and design? How did it worked?
The job was rather more a job than anything else. There was some interest in Fletch’s new label and the label first band CLIENT. I liked their first album and attended some shows of the band. There were also plans for a DJ tour by Andy Fletcher as there were numerous interviews and booking inquiries to MUTE, but as a classical record label they had other tasks. So they decided to establish a German label side. Booking and interview requests, i forwarded straight to the UK. All the press related material, news and other information about Toast Hawaii, i was supplied by the wonderful Judith Frankenberg, who was working for MUTE Germany at that time. For the design and content of the website, there were no rules. But Fletch liked it very much, because a german organiser send me one day a warm greeting from Fletch via e-mail, who sat somewhere in a German hotel and was looking at the website.
(Official video for Client’s “Here and now”, taken from “Client”, Toast Hawaii 2013)
But let’s talk about your book. It is very different from the already published Depeche Mode books. What was your intention to write the book?
I couldn’t hear the stories about the band in these one-sided views anymore. This really annoys me, especially in the current press articles about the album and the tour all the tabloids reporting about the band, but it is based almost exclusively on drugs and near-death experiences of the front man. Sure, it’s pretty naive to believe the media would even begin to care about their music, but this type of coverage were also found in several Depeche Mode-books again, which hit the market in previous years. It was too superficial and private stories about the band barely interested me at all in the end.
In our book, it‘s all about the music-historical background of this great band. The book idea was not new, and there were requests in recent years to contribute or participate in a book project with my collection, but I remained incredulous for a long time. I had, and have a very good relationship with Intercord, MUTE for years now and have worked for them as an illustrator and organizer from time to time in recent years, and label CEO Anne Haffmans got aware of my Depeche Mode collection. Anne was also able to convince me to do the book project and it was her who made me think about it and she ended the last doubts I had. She developed a genuine interest in my collection. I think Anne just liked the approach, how I dealt with music in general and with the band’s history. My collection was also suitable for press work around the band and I got more and more requests via MUTE when the press needed information or material for the band, as for articles in various music magazines or on-site press articles for new Depeche Mode releases. Anne brought me together with Sascha Lange from Leipzig, who had worked on a documentary for the 1988 Depeche Mode concert in East Berlin in 2008. I met him in the MUTE office and from then on it took off somehow…
But … did you decide not to interview the band itself. Or is there another reason why they not quoted in your book?
We agreed from the start of our project that we will not interview the band. The idea was actually to find witnesses and get them to talk as that would allow a completely new perspective on the band. In retrospect it was the right decision. The success of the band is not only based on sales of four attractive poster-boys. The collaboration with Daniel Miller, Mute in the early 80s, or the INTERCORD in Germany, who turned out to be a really important market for the band, would probably fill a book itself. I think this concept is still very refreshing. For the english edition, we are preparing some other interviews that probably more interesting to read for international fans. But we remain true to our concept.
(Depeche Mode, photographed by Anton Corbijn 2013)
Depeche Mode were discovered by Mute founder Daniel Miller and worked with him for a long time. Daniel Miller was even involved in the production of the new album “Delta Machine”, although it is the first album that is not released on his label Mute. Did you tried to interview him about his experiences with the band?
As you perhaps already know, there is an interview with Daniel for the english edition of the book planned and I think we are going to ask him about the work relations etc. Even if there was already a very interesting interview with Anne Haffmans about the subject. Daniel Miller will answer the question as usual very diplomatic. I do not think he gets carried away too much by personal or emotional expressions. Also, yes it seems to all have resigned themselves to the current situation.
(Fan video for The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette”, taken from “Warm Leatherette”, Mute 1978)
Since you have already mentioned it, you’re not only interested in Depeche Mode as you listen to many other mute bands with passion. Was it not a bit crazy to meet all the people who stood behind your favourite music or work in the background?
I was simply amazed by the very positive, friendly and almost warm response to our interview requests, for example, by Herbert R. Kollisch who has offered us images from his private archive. I mean Herbert R. Kollisch over years a very successful CEO known for Intercord Media GmbH, one of the most successful labels in Germany and one of the creative centres of the international music market! Those are the small miracles around the book, which made the work on the book not only very exciting but we knew because of such reactions, that we are on the right track and the recent success of the book gives us even more confidence to think so.en auch, dass wir auf dem richtigen Weg sind. Auch der bisherige Erfolg des Buches gibt uns dabei Recht.
Do you have specific wishes, what Depeche Mode should do in the near future?
No, there are no real desires … or is there one? Alan Wilder … a comeback would be a dream … but do I really want this? No … I don’t think so …
Thank you very much for the interesting interview, Dennis. And a special thanks to Markus Räbiger for the translation.