“There were riots, police helicopters everywhere!”: Mute boss Daniel Miller on the moment he realised Depeche Mode were blowing up big

Depeche Mode in the 80s
(Image credit: MPIRock/ MediaPunch via Getty Images)

Daniel Miller is one of the most trailblazing forces in modern music. Miller founded the iconic Mute label in 1978 as a way of releasing a single he’d recorded under the handle of The Normal, but since he’s been more than just a label boss to the myriad artists who have passed through Mute’s doors. His closest and perhaps most famous association has been with Depeche Mode, acting as producer and then mentor once he stepped away from the mixing desk to see what magic other collaborations could inspire.

Despite the fact Depeche Mode hit the ground running in the UK though – even if they had to put up with some snarky comments from the music press along the way – Miller told this writer that it took a few years for the US to get up to speed. It all coincided with the point where the major labels across the Atlantic started to take little old Mute a bit more seriously, he said in 2021. “I think when Depeche started having really big success in America, people started to wake up. I remember going to Warner Brothers for a meeting , because Warner Brothers were doing marketing and stuff like that for [Depeche Mode’s US label] Sire. Depeche had just sold out three nights at The Forum in LA, about 10 or 12,000 seats each night. We went to the head of Warner Brothers at the time and he was kind of, ‘Okay, these limey indie kids, we'll have a chat.’ We told him we’d sold out three nights at The Forum and he just looked at us in shock and then he started calling all his marketing people into this meeting. It was really funny. You can do really well in the UK, in Europe, but when you get America, that's when people start to take you seriously.”

Still, Miller said, they doubted him, treating the decision for the group to play the Rose Bowl in California in 1988 with suspicion. “Everybody in the business over there thought it was a ridiculous idea,” Miller recounted. “It sold out in a minute, 80,000 people at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles.”

That was only the beginning of Depeche Mania, though. By the time the Basildon synth-rock dons began promoting 1990’s Violator, all hell was breaking loose. “There were riots when the band were doing a signing in a record shop there,” Miller remembered. “A thousand people camped for two nights outside and the police were involved, police helicopters everywhere!”

As anyone who witnessed Dave Gahan and Martin Gore on their recent UK run, hysteria for Depeche is still at fever pitch. Daniel Miller is the man who helped make it all happen.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.