Anton Corbijn on working with Depeche Mode
It’s Sunday night at the London Lyceum and Anton Corbijn is waiting for his friend to take the stage. Frank Tovey, aka Fad Gadget, is the enigmatic star waiting for the new wave of British electronic bands set to take over the world, but right now he’s headlining an evening promoted by the independent label of Daniel Miller. The main support group is made up of four young guys from Basildon who recently scored a Top 10 shot. They barely care about the demanding young Dutch photographer, who has just made a name for himself in Britain, achieving a succession of often remarkable covers for the NME which would propel it to the forefront of its profession. Instinctively, he raises his camera to his eye and shoots nine or ten shots. Then he immediately forgets them.
It never really worked for Tovey in terms of mainstream recognition, but the act of support fared rather better. Their success transformed not only their own lives, but also that of Miller and his fledgling music label, Mute Records, who went on to release some of the defining albums of the next three decades, initially bolstered by the group’s sales. Depeche Mode, the opening act of that flagship London night in 1981, has become “the biggest cult band in the world”, as Corbijn now describes it. But not without a little help from the self-taught photographer turned filmmaker, who is now considered the unofficial fourth member of the group.
Almost 40 years later, browsing his archives during lockdown in Amsterdam in preparation for his latest book, Depeche Mode by Anton Corbijn (published by Taschen in May following a sold-out limited collector’s edition), Corbijn was delighted to rediscover his photos of the Lycée. Dedicated to its four decades collaboration with the group he barely noticed the first time around, the book’s more than 500 lavish pages reveal an almost unique relationship – a relationship that extends far beyond the role of official photographer, with Corbijn becoming their artistic director. de facto, taking photos and videos as well as designing elaborate sets, making books and even hand painting their logo with a different design for each album. Almost, because – remarkably – Corbijn has a long-standing relationship with U2.