Old band outselling young pop stars

Lead singer David Gahan of Depeche Mode performing in Stockholm, Sweden, in May. The band have sold 1.27 million tickets through the first nine months of this year, more than Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars.
Lead singer David Gahan of Depeche Mode performing in Stockholm, Sweden, in May. The band have sold 1.27 million tickets through the first nine months of this year, more than Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • An old New Wave rock band that have never released a No. 1 song in the United States are selling more concert tickets than the biggest pop stars in the world.

Depeche Mode, the British synth-pop group formed in 1980, are having one of the most remarkable tours in modern music and their most successful concert run.

They sold 1.27 million tickets through the first nine months of this year, more than Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars - much younger acts at the peak of their fame.

In October, the band became the first act to sell out four consecutive shows at the Hollywood Bowl, an open-air theatre in the hills of Los Angeles that has hosted everyone from The Beatles to Luciano Pavarotti.

Now, Depeche Mode are back on the road for their second tour through Europe this year and will head to Latin America next year.

"Every time we go out and tour, we're playing to more people," said Martin Gore, 56, the band's guitarist and lead songwriter. "It's just incredible at this stage in our career."

Old rock groups accounted for a big chunk of the US$7.3-billion (S$9.8-billion) North American concert industry last year. The best-selling festival of 2016 was Desert Trip, a bacchanal in California's Coachella Valley featuring acts that came to prominence half a century ago.

According to researcher Pollstar, the top tours this year are Guns N' Roses and U2, which released their best-selling albums 30 years ago.

Yet, Depeche Mode's late-career surge is also a tribute to a band that have carefully nurtured and expanded a loyal army of fans known as the Black Swarm (or Devotees).

Depeche Mode do not sell records like they did in the 1990s, nor have they reached the heights of fellow British rockers Coldplay or Oasis. But the group, whose musical genre was once derided, have earned long-overdue respect. Critics raved about the latest tour, while Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Rihanna all cited the band as a major influence.

"They weren't appreciated before," said manager Jonathan Kessler. "People didn't get who they were or why they mattered musically. They were one of the first electronic bands."

He has urged the band to embrace new technologies. Inspired by the Grateful Dead, which allowed fans to make recordings of live shows, Depeche Mode have often fought their record label to leave unlicensed videos on YouTube. 

To promote this latest tour, they opted to let a different fan take over their Facebook page every day to share stories and photos. The page has 7.3 million "likes". While a single television advertising campaign would cost millions, the Facebook promotion is free.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline 'Old band outselling young pop stars'. Print Edition | Subscribe