Trying to get hold of bands is very different in 2023 compared to how it was in the early '90s. Today, it just takes a quick search: type your question, click return, and there you go, in just a matter of seconds you have managed to ask Ben Howard why he thought this would make acceptable album artwork in 2023.
Back in the early '90s, however, it was a completely different kettle of fish. You had to wait outside venues all day, or chase bands down the street, or maybe your cousin knew someone’s mum who knew their mum, it was old school. But everything changed on this day (September 20) 30 years ago, when Depeche Mode took part in what is thought to be the first ever online fan Q&A for AOL – it was right that it was a bunch of electronic pioneers making the move, wasn’t it?
Ironically, given what we said earlier, transcripts from the chat are hard to come by online. But that is perhaps explained by an MTV news story from the day that describes the “cyber-punk” chat as a “cyber-farce”. “Following a suggestion from Lou Reed, who shares the band’s record label,” goes the briefing, “the band hooked up with the American online computer service allowing hundreds of fans to communicate with the group at once via their computer terminal.” Yes, it’s hard to believe that people talked like this in 1993 but they did – this was a time, remember, where we all still believed a hoverboard could be real back.
Unfortunately, Depeche Mode’s digital leap didn’t quite pan out as planned.
“It degenerated into farce,” continues the MTV host, “when the Depeche phoneline was kicked out of a wall socket and the cyber-space clamour became so great that it took nearly an hour for the band to break back into their own press conference.”
Watch the news report below:
It wasn’t the only technological mishap to beset the Basildon synth-rock titans in 1993. The band’s eighth record Songs Of Faith And Devotion, released that year, became what’s widely believed to be the first ever digital album to be leaked on the internet.
As documented in Steve Knopper’s 2009 book Appetite For Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash Of The Record Industry In The Digital Age, “in late 1993, a panicked secretary strode into Warner vice president Jeff Gold’s office to deliver an urgent message: Depeche Mode’s new CD had just leaked to fans in online chat rooms". Unfortunately, being a trailblazer means that you sometimes end up trailblazing in things you don’t even want to trailblaze in.