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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Dream Fulfilled




Somewhere just outside Kiev there's a bus shelter with the words "Bazildon is a wonderful place" scrawled on it.


It's not. Basildon, as it is correctly spelled, is a dull-as-ditchwater little town a few kilometers outside London. Even if there was a Basildon tourist board, it would never even think of using the adjective "wonderful" anywhere close to the word Basildon.


But for a large number of people in the former Soviet Union, Basildon, the home of Depeche Mode, is as cool as it gets. On Saturday, the most famous leather-clad citizens of the small Essex town give their first concert in Russia at the Olympiisky Sports Complex.


It's been a painful wait for some of Depeche Mode's most loyal -- one could even say obsessive -- fans.


"We've waited for such a long time that even now we don't believe it," said Kate Davy, a Russian fan who changed her name in honor of lead singer Dave Gahan and runs a Depeche Mode fanzine and a Depeche Mode web site. "In our hearts, we [still] don't believe that they'll come here and that there will be a concert."


Formed in 1980, Depeche Mode -- which is French for "Fashion Dispatch" -- began as a stereotypical teenybopper group, but soon grew fashionably dark and morose. Lyrics such as "Death is everywhere/There are flies on the windowscreen for a start" sped them to wild popularity among alienated teenagers the world over, and music critics nicknamed them "Depressed Mode."


In the late 1980s, Soviet youth fell head over heels for the Basildon crew. Although their music could be only found on black-market tapes of dubious quality, a new breed of fans, known as depeshisty, was born.


"In 1991-92 they were the most popular Western band in the country -- bigger than the Rolling Stones, bigger than U2," said Artyom Troitsky, a rock journalist who in 1990 became the first Russian to interview the band and thus became something of a cult figure among depeshisty. "They were absolutely monumental in the Soviet Union. Right now they're not as big as they used to be but they're still very big. Their last album was the best-selling Western album in Russia last year."


In the heyday of depeshism, thousands from across the Soviet Union would flock to Moscow every year on the birthday of lead singer Dave Gahan. Dressed in an overdose of black leather and topped off with the boyish haircut Gahan used to favor, they would march down Tverskaya Ulitsa chanting and singing.


Unfortunately, Gahan's birthday is May 9 -- Victory Day in Russia -- and the sight of thousands of young people in leather shouting out the lyrics to "Personal Jesus" tended to alarm the local police, who naturally assumed they were Nazis.


After the Tverskaya rally, the fans would head off to a club for an orgy of Depeche Mode fandom -- DM music all night long, along with competitions for the best Gahan fashion sense and the best Gahan haircut. Davy once ran a competition where fans listened to 10 seconds of a song and then had to name the date and place of the concert it was from.


"They were so popular in this country because they suited our life, such melancholy music," said Davy, 22, who signs her e-mails


GAHAN


O


DAVID.


In an e-mail, Davy wrote that the lyrics to the DM song "Strangelove" are particularly relevant to her life:


Pain, will you return it?


I'll say it again -- pain


Pain, will you return it?


I want to say it again.


"That is how we feel about Depeche Mode," she wrote.


In the early '90s, the letters "DM" appeared on many Moscow walls, confusing some less hip Muscovites, who thought it was capitalist propaganda for the Deutsche mark. With no Depeche Mode memorabilia on sale in the Soviet Union, DM fans would buy shop assistant badges from the toy store Detsky Mir -- which just said DM -- to wear in support for their band.


Fewer fans gather now -- only a few hundred each year -- but they are no less devoted. Ilja Judeikin from Tallinn has told friends he is going to the DM concerts in Tartu, Riga, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Helsinki, Stockholm and possibly Gothenburg and London. There are at least 10 Russian-language web sites devoted to the band, a number of fanzines and even a d?ppelganger Russian group, Tekhnologia, who reaped a healthy dose of second-hand fame in the '80s and '90s by shamelessly aping the group.


There are even plans for a Russian tribute album to Depeche Mode, to mirror the recently released international one, which features the Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure. Tequilajazzz, Deadushki and Bravo are slated to record tracks for the Russian tribute.


The most committed of the depeshisty also gather on the birthdays of the other members of the band -- June 1 for Alan Wilder, July 8 for Andrew Fletcher and July 23 for Martin Gore.


But it's not easy being a DM fan. The group's dark and often disturbing songs have been surpassed by the drama in their own lives.


After the success of the band's 1990 album "Violator," Gahan left his wife and son and moved to the United States, where he reinvented himself as a garish rock god -- complete with long hair, a mass of tattoos and the de rigeur heroin habit. The days of the boyish, short-haired, sweetheart of Russian fans were gone. When the other members of the band were reunited with Gahan for the first time several months after his move to Los Angeles, they hardly recognized him and merely stood and stared, Q magazine reported.


Meanwhile, the other band members were having their own problems -- so much so that on their last tour, a massive 14 months on the road, DM brought along their own therapist as a permanent member of the crew. Not that it helped much: Fletcher had a nervous breakdown, Gore had seizures and Gahan overdosed.


In 1995, Kate Davy was celebrating Depeche Mode's 15th anniversary with other fans when she heard that Gahan had killed himself.


"I just sat down and listened to DM," said Davy. "I was in a terrible state."


Only a week later did Davy learn that Gahan had actually survived his suicide attempt.


A year later, she would live through the trauma again. On May 28, 1996, Gahan's heart stopped beating for two minutes after he took a speedball concoction of heroin and cocaine. He survived and checked into rehab. This time, fortunately, Davy heard the good news straight away.


Now, clean and rejuvenated after the success of its last album, "Ultra," Depeche Mode is on tour to publicize a greatest hits album due out later in the year.


The band members have promised to play all of their old crowd-pleasers -- good news for the older DM devotees, for whom the band is still epitomized by black leather and the short-haired, youthful-looking Gahan.


Looking out into the crowd on Saturday, Gahan can expect to see multiple Russian versions of his old self.


"All my friends say they will put on their best DM-like clothes," said another fan, Andrei. "Everyone's going to show their best."


Depeche Mode plays Saturday at 7 p.m. at Olympiisky Sports Complex. Nearest metro: Prospekt Mira. Tickets were priced from 40 rubles to 1,000 rubles at the box office but are now sold out. Some may be available from kiosks or from scalpers. After the concert, depeshisty will head for the Luch club for a special Depeche Mode night. The club is located at 5/3 Monetchikovsky Pereulok. Tel. 321-4581/9463. Nearest metro: Paveletskaya.


Radio Maximum is paying tribute to the band this weekend with competitions to win concert tickets and an interview with the band.