Depeche Mode – Everything Counts
Apparently there are very few points of contact between the Middle Ages and the Berlin Wall, since the latter is the symbol of a very different era, and it was built in 1961. But we know that in the 1980s everything was possible, and these two very distant elements were also present in the same video. After all, the Berlin Wall was one of the absolute symbols in the history of the 1980s, and it’s a fact that the end of the 1980s coincided exactly with the fall of the Wall, on November 9, 1989. I am not referring only to the time coincidence, but also to the fact that with the Wall also collapsed that two-sided vision of the world on which much of society and common thought of the 1980s was based.
Not only was the Wall one of the symbols of the 1980s, but all of Berlin itself was. The city, incredibly divided into two near but very distant parts, was in the first years of the decade one of the absolute centers of creativity and innovation from a musical point of view. (West) Berlin hosted best production studios, the most advanced electronic instruments, the discos where the new trends were formed, which would quickly spread the Neue Deutsche Welle (and not only) throughout Europe. In fact, many British pop stars shared their recordings between London and Berlin.
And this also happened to Depeche Mode, who were at home in Berlin, meaning that they often spent time there not only to record, but to experiment and draw new inspiration. In early 1983, the group digested the release of Vince Clarke, who formed Yazoo with Alison Moyet, and spend some time in Berlin looking for new ideas for the next album. Legend has it that Martin Gore goes to the concert of an experimental music group called Einstürzende Neubauten, which means “collapsing new buildings”, and is fascinated by their technique of using industrial noises in their productions.
From this contamination stems an intuition that marks not only the next Depeche Mode album, Construction Time Again, definitely a meaningful name, which will be released in August 1983, but probably the entire career of Depeche, who begin a turning point that takes them away from the pop sounds of Just can’t get enough and early albums, and directs them towards more complex sounds and more committed lyrics.
And so we come to July 11, 1983, when the first single of this new album comes out (one month in advance), the beautiful Everything counts, which was considered by many to be one of the best hits of this great group. Lyrics are quite explicit: the song is an invective against the greed of the English record industry. They explicitly talk about handshakes that seal contracts that constitute the turning point of entire careers, giving fame, fun and well-being, but in reality with the hands of record companies that grab everything they can for themselves.
The video is obviously shot in Berlin: from the first frames we see fragments of writings and signs in German, then the elevated subway viaduct becomes the protagonist, and ideally takes us to the heart of this city. And of course, the Wall, die Mauer, clearly visible in some lightened frames almost in black and white, cannot be missing. Then there are other characteristic views of the city.
Yes, but what does the Middle Ages have to do with all this? If we look closely at the video, we see some rather unusual instruments – even if we know the sounds of this beautiful song very well. Martin Gore plays a melodica, and that’s okay, while Alan Wilder plays a xylophone. But the strangest instrument is played by Andy Fletcher, who plays a shawm, a twelfth-century wind instrument that still survives in popular and religious music of some parts of Europe (for example, it is often played at Christmas by bagpipers). To be honest, the sound we hear in the video is not the original one of the shawm, because it was reproduced by Martin Gore with one of the most advanced and expensive synthesizers\samplers of the time, the Synclavier (which incidentally was also used in albums like Thriller by Michael Jackson, and in songs like Wild Boys by Duran Duran). In the video, however, we see the real shawm, which was also used in the group’s TV appearances.
In short, it takes genius to join a medieval instrument and the European center of musical innovation, but the Depeche Mode definitely never lacked genius!
Depeche Mode on Wikipedia