Depeche Mode is my favourite band of all time and I have without a doubt listened to their music more than any other music in my entire life. My history with Depeche Mode goes back to somewhere around 1984 when the amazing Some Great Reward album was released. I distinctly remember hearing Master and Servant and People are People played on the radio a lot and I was totally spellbound. I was already heavily into the British synth-pop new romantica sound, I was a huge fan of especially Duran Duran but also Yazoo, Bronski Beat, Ultravox, Visage, Tears for Fears, Pet Shop Boys and I am forgetting a lot I think. But that Depeche Mode sound was just something really special, especially on the Some Great Reward album which really was a massive leap forward. It was pop, it was melodic and catchy but it was also dark and industrial and that contrast really appealed to me and still does. I love it when music pushes against all the sides in the box, breaking rules. The next Depeche Mode album was of course the legendary Black Celebration in 1986 followed by the equally legendary album Music for the Masses in 1987, the best live album ever in 101 in 1989 (also an awesome concert movie that I re-watched while writing this) … and then the absolute masterpiece album Violator in 2000. That period for me is absolutely peak Depeche Mode. They have made a good amount of great songs since and some amazing world tours, but the peak for me is 1984-2000 with 5 absolutely amazing albums and Martin Gore, Dave Gahan, Andy Fletcher and Alan Wilder all at their very best. I have seen Depeche Mode live 4 times and it has been great, but if I had a time machine I would really love to catch a few shows in the late 80s and early 90s.
Fast forward to 2023 and Depeche Mode is now only Martin Gore and Dave Gahan. Alan Wilder unfortunately left the band in 1995 (Alan was a huge reason for why those 5 legendary albums were so amazing) and Andy Fletcher sadly passed away last year. Somehow through the loss and grief Martin and Dave found each other and made their best album in 20 years, and went on tour again. I was so thrilled when I learned in the Summer of 2022 that there would be a new album and a new tour. And now, we are at the now, the entire reason for this essay….
Depeche Mode, live in Copenhagen, Denmark, 27 June 2023. For the first time I was going to photograph Depeche Mode. To say I was excited and nervous was an understatement, even if I did really try to keep my expectations down. But I will get back to all of that later after the photos where this story continues. First is my short photo essay from the day I got to photograph my favourite band of all time for the first and probably only time.
Photographing Depeche Mode
Go back to Tuesday June 27th 2023 and this is the scene in my flat:
It was Depeche Mode day all day, I had all the albums on rotation, the 101 movie was playing, I was packing my gear and browsing through the Anton Corbijn book. I also discovered that I had a perfect outfit for cosplaying as Depeche Mode mid 1980s at the gig 🙂 I didn’t though, went for the usual full ‘stage black’ as I figured it was a bit much, and also a bit hot for Summer.
Oh a little backstory, for years I have said I would never photograph any of my favourite all-time bands unless I had full access working as the band photographer. I dislike ‘3 songs in the pit’ shoots especially if it’s a band I really love, and I always said if I am not working for the band then I would rather not photograph my heroes at all, especially Depeche Mode. I skipped Duran Duran when they played in Denmark in 2022 for that reason.
But when Depeche Mode announced the concert in Copenhagen I figured that it might be the last chance ever, who knows if they go on tour again, and also I am never going to be their band photographer anyway. So on the day the concert was announced, I asked the large Danish music media Soundvenue if I could shoot the show for them, and I am really grateful that I got the opportunity. To get accredited as a press photographer for these large international shows you usually have to shoot for a big well known media.
I know that I will only get 3 songs as a press photographer and we were told it was to be song 2, 3, 4 and we would only be allowed to stand on one side of the catwalk so I knew going in this would be a very restricted short shoot and to really lower my expectations. But it’s impossible not to get very excited when it is my favourite band that I love so much and that I am going to get to stand really close to them in the pit. It’s impossible to stay calm and neutral, I was too excited, overtaken by emotions. And I figured, it is a big stadium show, there is at least going to be high quality and interesting light production even during the beginning.
I arrive at the venue quite early, so there is no stress and also with plenty of time to shoot the warmup act Jehnny Beth. This, being led into the pit and seeing the stage setup for the first time is when the first disappointment came. It is a tiny stage for a stadium tour, with very few lights and all of them seemed to be placed to the sides and way above. I photographed the Danish band The Minds of 99 at this stadium and the production was about 3 times the size of this. I can’t believe DM is doing a stadium tour with this tiny of a setup. Why does this matter? Because you need some interesting light to make interesting pictures and in a massive stadium with small lights, that light is simply going to be eaten up by the space and the daylight. The stage is also quite tall and we are on the ground, in a tiny space and far away from the main area of the stage. These are far from optimal conditions, even for a ‘3 in the pit’ large shoot this is pretty crap.
Depeche Mode go on, we watch song 1 from the side until we are led into the pit for 2,3,4 and while it is extremely exciting it is already really evident that the tiny setup is struggling to make any light impact into the huge space of the stadium. As we are only allowed on one side of the catwalk, there is very little space to move and it also hardly makes any difference to move around. There is only a small area where you can get any shots with a tele lens and then one spot at the end of the catwalk to get a wider view of the stage. This is basically our view:
That damn ceiling ‘office’ light look does not help either and look at the amount of monitors and mike stands and cameras we have to fight too. All in all, just a super difficult shoot. Even the veterans who do these stadium press shoots often said it was appalling conditions. It is still incredibly exciting too, I am so overwhelmed by standing so (relatively) close to my heroes I am finding it hard to concentrate.
I made pictures, a lot of them, trying to make the most of it of course, this really is a case of trying to compose something interesting in the midst of a big mess of a stage. Most of the pictures are from Walking in My Shoes, song 3, as it had the most action. I spent a lot of time developing these pictures in Lightroom because the raw files are just ugly and in the end, there is 20 pictures or so that I like from the shoot and I guess that is not bad under the conditions they were made. I just wished there was a lot more variety in both the light and where I am standing. And I never got a good shot of Dave and Martin standing together, I really wanted that (the thumbnail for this post is a composite!). I always want a full band picture, not just singular portraits, and there was almost no opportunity here to get it as Martin was hidden behind a monitor and a mike stand and off to the side and Dave hardly joined him for those 3 songs.
After the 3 songs you are allowed as a press photographer at these big shows, you are escorted out the stadium. Over in 20 minutes. I hung around a bit, bought a nice tour t-shirt in the merch stand, I didn’t really want to leave and I must admit I was so disappointed I could barely face the upcoming task of riding my bike home and downloading the pictures. I eventually did, and delivered some decent pictures for Soundvenue (thank you again). But the pain of this when music is life, music is everything to me, the disappointment lingered and I was in a terrible mood the day after. Which happened to be the first day of Roskilde Festival so I had to pack my gear and somehow get going, that is June here in the music biz, a mad month filled with several festivals and gigs every single day. 20 hours after Depeche Mode and 40,000 people in the stadium, I was standing on the huge Orange stage at Roskilde Festival in front of 50,000+ people. The mind boggles a bit sometimes, so much happens during June in such a short time.
5 weeks later, and I am still not entirely certain I should have abandoned my principle of never doing a press shoot of my heroes. Actually I also did it back in June with The 1975, but that was a great shoot and went well. You win some and loose some, and I guess now with the pain and disappointment gone I am glad I did get to experience Depeche Mode as a photographer in the pit and I made a few pictures I like. Maybe I will even print a few, at least they are my Depeche Mode pictures. That is something. I am not going to make a habit of breaking my principle though, I don’t think I could go through all of this again. We shall see. Depeche Mode announced an indoor Arena concert for 2024 in Copenhagen. Maybe I will just be down the front, as a fan 🙂
FUJIFILM camera talk
I brought my normal ‘festival’ setup of which is:
2 x X-T5 cameras
For these shoots you just never know how much you can move, what conditions you will encounter so zooms are really handy as zooming with my feet (the best way) is often very limited. In the case of Depeche Mode a lot of the variety is just by zooming in and out, I could not change my own position much at all. I never used the 10-24mm at all as we were so far from the stage, so the 16-55 and 50-140 lenses did all the work here.