Simon Spence is a London-based music writer and journalist, who has most notably collaborated with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham on the popular biographies Stoned and 2Stoned. He has written for the NME, Dazed & Confused and the Independent.

In Just Can’t Get Enough: The Making Of Depeche Mode, Spence charts the early years of a group of four fresh-faced friends experimenting with keyboards who would end up being a cult band and stadium-filling legends. It’s an unlikely story powered by the ambition of Vince Clarke and wily management from Mute boss Daniel Miller, set against the backdrop of the experimental new town of Basildon. Depeche Mode progress from playing ‘ultra pop’ at a residency a tiny Essex nightclub at the start of the 1908s to facing tens of thousands in huge stadiums in Europe and America by the middle of the decade with the stark dark sound of Black Celebration.

Depeche Mode are now one of the ten bestselling British acts of all-time, ranked alongside such exalted company as The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie, but they were always more popular in Europe than they were the UK. Spence’s book goes some way in to explaining why this might be – the band themselves wanted to distance themselves from any particular musical trend in the UK in that decade and Miller was able to cut some deals, particularly in Germany, that saw the band heavily promoted across the channel.

Dave Gahan is often quoted as saying that Depeche Mode were a “new sort of band from a new sort of town.” What Spence’s book makes clear is that there were a number of bands, many sharing musicians, in Basildon at that time, who could have made it too, but there was something different about Depeche Mode.

Indeed among the friends, ex-girlfriends and music industry associates who Spence interviewed for the book we come across the likes of Alison Moyet for instance who went on to form Yazoo with Vince Clarke when he left Depeche Mode after Speak & Spell. Basildon it seems was a melting pot of fashion and musical trends from punk, to new romantics, to new wave electronica. Some might say Depeche Mode were just lucky somehow, and those people aren’t wrong per se. Founding member Vince Clarke had a lot to do with the band’s initial success and wrote all the songs on the debut album.

Here’s an interesting interview with Clarke who went on to success after success with a number of other bands before sticking with Erasure.

Basildon itself, Spence argues, defined Depeche Mode’s attitude, music and lyrics (Clarke’s and subsequently Martin Gore’s) – the town’s brutal Modernism imposed on a rural landscape dotted with abandoned shacks was the backdrop for the dark yearning and loneliness of the band’s energetic pop music.

What sets Spence’s book apart from the multitude of other Depeche Mode biographies is how he concentrates solely on the early years, exploring the development of Basildon before then drawing on first-hand interviews. The author has meticulously researched the material and what really brings it alive are the reminisces from those real-life characters who really knew the band members.

I listened to the early albums with fresh insights into the writing and the production, and an appreciation for what a lowly beginning the band had. I’m sure other bands have similar origin stories, but of course I’m not particularly interested in reading about them. Also I can understand some fans’ frustration about all the stuff at the start of the book about the new towns in the UK, but I quite enjoyed it, and I also appreciated the fact that Spence chose not to just reuse existing interview material with the band, but create something new. I hope he writes a sequel, as I was left wanting more.