When Dicken Schrader heard “Strangelove” on the radio for the first time in 1987, he immediately went out to buy Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses. “I was expecting a dance record,” he says, “but it had this spectrum of musical colors.” There was “Little 15,” “Never Let Me Down Again,” “To Have and To Hold” and so on. Transfixed, the album kicked off a lifelong devotion to the band from the Bogotá, Colombia, native.
This is just part of one story told through the lens of longtime Depeche Mode collaborator, photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn in Depeche Mode: SPIRITS in the Forest. The documentary (distributed by Trafalgar Releasing), which digs into the lives of six superfans and their personal journeys with the band, will screen for one night only in over 2,700 theaters in 76 countries on Nov. 21.
The film isn’t the first crack at unraveling Depeche Mode’s world of fans: In 2007, Mute Records released Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode/The Posters Came From the Walls, a documentary from Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams. SPIRITS’ roots grew out of a 2017 Facebook campaign by Depeche Mode leading up to the release of its 14th studio album, Spirit (Mute Records), when the band turned its Facebook page over to fans for an entire year. Each day, one fan was given carte blanche as administrator of the page, where they could share stories, photos and other Depeche Mode-related content. It also served as a forum for millions to share how the band had impacted their lives.
In the end, Corbijn, who has worked with the band since the 1986 Black Celebration video “A Question of Time,” weeded out six fans from the thousands who had applied to take over the Facebook page: Schrader, Liz Dwyer, Christian Flueraru, Daniel Cassus, Carine Puzenat and the youngest of the group, 22-year-old Indra Amarjargal from Mongolia.
Corbijn trekked to different parts of the world to introduce fans like Dwyer in Los Angeles, whose life forever changed when she was 11. It was 1983 when she just had won a pair of headphones for selling a bounty of school chocolate, and while listening to her transistor radio late one night, she heard “Just Can’t Get Enough” for the first time. The film taps into Dwyer’s life now as she’s raising two sons and her battle with breast cancer — she always played Depeche Mode during chemo sessions.
Indeed, SPIRITS depicts the band as being a driving force throughout the good and the bad in its fans’ lives. Depeche Mode’s music helped Cassus, who grew up in Brazil and now resides in Berlin, as he moved from a very LGBTQ-oppressive environment and struggled to come out as gay. For Puzenat of Perpignan, France, the band was the only thing she remembered following a 1999 car accident that left her in a coma. Flueraru discusses growing up in communist Romania (which ended in 1989), how difficult it was to hear a Depeche Mode song with government-controlled radio and how he learned English so he could finally understand its lyrics. In the Far East, Amarjargal, a Mongolian tour guide who lives with her grandmother, first heard the band when she was eight and watched their concerts with her dad on his computer.
“I feel like you’re watching history,” says Dwyer of SPIRITS. “Listening to Christian talk about communism and the fact that when he was a child he would not be able to come to that show in Berlin, to Indra from Mongolia, it shows how much has changed in our lives.”
Interwoven with fan stories is footage from the last two shows of Depeche Mode’s Global Spirit Tour, which ran through 2018 and culminated in Berlin, a city known for having the band’s most rabid fans. Nearly 40 years since the group first formed, SPIRITS clearly reveals that its fandom has far from waned. For Dwyer, her adult life can be broken down by album or era — she even taps into specific Depeche Mode soundtracks she created (for activities like running or writing) to get her through the days. “Everybody has something that they love,” says Dwyer. “It might be Depeche Mode, a certain novelist or a city. We always have something that reminds us of who we are, why we’re here and that we’re still alive and still going.”
Today, Schrader has a Depeche Mode family tribute band with his daughter Milah and son Korben, DMK, an acronym for their initials that also stands for “Depeche Mode Kids.” The band’s first video “single” in 2010 was a cover of 1985 track “Shake the Disease,” which they re-created with various toys, cans and cheese graters. The band has since performed around the world, and Depeche Mode has been a major force in keeping Schrader, who lives in the United States, connected to his children. Schrader is proud to say that Milah and Korben, now teens, are lifelong fans. “They call me and say, ‘Hey, Dad, I heard Depeche Mode on the radio today, and I thought of you,’ ” says Schrader. “So the day that I’m gone, they will remember me thanks to that.”
SPIRITS is not exclusively about Depeche Mode, but about fandom in general, according to Schrader. “This movie speaks to everyone who has ever loved a band,” he says. “They will see themselves represented in this movie, and that is what I hope comes across. It makes me so proud to know that I have expanded this knowledge of Depeche Mode to people around me. I know it’s going to be forever.”