Depeche Mode ought to reach out and touch British filmmakers Nick Abrahams and Jeremy Deller for making the most loving and life-affirming documentary about their fans. First off, Trent Reznor pops up for a sizeable interview, and when the elusive Mr. Self Destruct talks about his influences, you drop and give him 20.
But more importantly, The Posters Came from the Walls (a loose translation from an '80s German concert review) tracks down devotees from Bucharest to Berlin to Tehran who've had to overcome more than just pesky scalpers on Craigslist to experience their favorite band; poverty, politics, fear of ass whooping for wearing eyeliner. Try being a “Depeche-ist” in a Communist or Muslim country where pop music is considered contraband, and where seeing your idols live means having to sell your stereo and or wait two whopping decades.
L.A. being ground zero for the group's fandom, Angelenos are well represented; two kids dancing in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl (no need to explain its significance). But even we have nothing on the film's Russian contingency. Ever heard “Higher Love” translated into Ruski? Can you imagine spending four years doodling pictures of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore. Since 1992, Muscovites have even had an official Dave Day — Gahan's birthday, May 9 — which coincides with the country's national military day. We're either moving to Russia or Cambridge, England, where a church holds special mass for Goths. They've probably never heard “Blasphemous Rumors.”
Before they head down here, we asked Abrahams and Deller a few questions about their project. None other than former member Alan Wilder appeared at one of the screenings in the U.K. So who knows? Maybe Santa Barbara resident Gore will drag his blond curls in.
West Coast Sound: Which came first, the fans or the cities? Why did you choose certain countries over others, and how were able to find your subjects?
Nick Abrahams: The fans came first, as we put adverts out to get in touch on websites. But then we came to prune it down, we started to discover some cities seemed particularly important. Obviously L.A. has a huge Depeche Mode fan base, which we found interesting.
Jeremy Deller: The countries and fans chose us basically, we knew that historically there would be a strong fan base in certain territories and that was born out by the email response, we followed our noses and instincts too.
Weekly: The documentary goes back a few years. When did filming begin, and how long did the process take?
NA: 2007. Actually, we filmed most of it really quickly, in a matter of weeks, and then we edited it super quickly. Unfortunately, due to record company politics it has mainly sat on a shelf at Mute (the band's label) since then… but they've said it will come out as a DVD this year.
JD: It was actually 2006. We probably had 25 shooting days in total maybe a bit less.
For the past few years, certain bands like The Cure, Smiths and Joy Division have been attracting a new generation. Do you find that Depeche Mode listeners, especially in America, and especially in Southern California, are becoming increasingly younger?
NA: Alternative culture seems big in L.A. and in some ways Depeche were front runners of that whole “white boys into dance music” scene, so they're being rediscovered by younger people who are into bands that grew up listening to New Wave music.
JD: Like in Russia, there is a new generation of fans in there teens or early '20s. L.A. will always be special. The shadows fall harder here and the whole sunshine thing can be oppressive and encourage a more introspective approach to life and music. Brian Wilson is a precursor of this.
Why do you think the Russian fans in the movie seem to be the most passionate ones?
NA: Something to do with “the mysterious Russian soul.” The places where people had the least chance of actually seeing the band gave rise to their most ardent fans.
JD: Depeche were one of the few bands to penetrate the Iron Curtain and so have a mythical status there. They are held in great esteem and the fans are incredibly protective of them. They are part of the late C20 Eastern social history. It' s comparable to what the US went through with Elvis in the late '50s or the Beatles the following decade.
How did the Riverside Community College Marching Band playing “Personal Jesus” come about?
NA: One of Jeremy's better ideas.
JD: They were the first SoCal band we found on Google. It's bloody miles from L.A. and I nearly crashed the car getting there.
How were you able to snag Trent Reznor?
NA: We didn't want it to be one of those films with lots of famous people carping on about how great the band is. Trent is a huge Depeche Mode fan, so we thought it would be good to interview him. I like the fact that a lot of people don't recognize him, they just think he's a guy who used to be in a marching band or something. And what he says does say a lot about California and Depeche Mode.
JD: I have some compromising pics of him so he had to agree.
How about getting Alan Wilder to appear at one of the screenings?
NA: Alan saw the film and loved it, and was very keen to talk about different aspects of fan culture. We're hoping to do some more shows with him this year, maybe in Russia.
Have you received any feedback from the other band members?
NA: Not really, although one of the guys in the film met Martin Gore, who apparently said he loved it.
JD: We have not been admitted into the court of Depeche, which is only appropriate considering the film's theme.
Any feedback from those who appeared in the movie?
NA: The ones who have seen it have all loved it. We really want to get it shown in Russia next.
JD: No complaints so far!
And how devoted are you two as Depeche Mode fans?
NA: Jeremy's a bigger fan than me. Although in England, if you're a certain age you grew up listening to them, from their first single onwards. But they were an electronic band and that seemed very radical when I was younger. My neighbor had a Wasp synthesizer and we wanted to form a band like OMD. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that's as far as it went. And wearing a lot of black.
JD: My sister was into them early which meant I could not like them, obviously. But I mellowed around 1990. I lived in Pasadena in '85 and I remember how big they were then, which I thought was funny at the time. They are viewed differently in the UK.
The Posters Came from the Walls screens at Cinefamily (As part of Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair), Fri., Jan. 29, 7:30 p.m. (followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers) and 10:30 p.m.; and Sat., Jan. 30, 8 p.m.