This month sees the release of two peachy Depeche Mode-related items: As well as Imposter, singer Dave Gahan’s album with Soulsavers, there’s a rather good, nicely priced photo book: DREAM, the work of Mode fanatic turned band photographer Michaela Olexova . David Nobakht spoke to her about it.
In June 1988, Depeche Mode played to over 60,000 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena: a show immortalised in a film titled 101 the following year by D.A. Pennebaker. Yet that same week, when the Essex synthpop stars’ new head of promotion Mick Paterson sat down to read through the band’s press cuttings, matters were less rosy.
Despite the Mode’s growing popularity worldwide: “The British press write-ups were all very snide and dismissive … there was no acknowledgement of what they were doing musically at all,” is what Paterson, a Mute Records employee, told writer Ian Gittins for the Depeche Mode: Faith And Devotion book. However, fans that wanted to bypass such write-ups” could subscribe to Bong magazine, which took its name from the catalogue prefixes that Mute gave Depeche Mode releases.
In that same year, Czech teenager Michaela Olexova got hooked on their Music For The Masses album. As Olexova recalls to Buzz, “I first heard of Depeche Mode from a friend at school at the beginning of 1988. She mentioned they were going to play in Prague in March, which was a huge deal as we were still living in the dark ages of communism and having a band from Western Europe was like a breath of fresh air. After my graduation in 1990, I decided to move to Prague, got an admin job and co-founded a Czech and Slovak DMcfan club called Depeche Mode Friends where I was in charge of producing the fan club magazine Halo.”
On a visit to London in 1991, Olexova knocked on Mute Records’ door, “to tell them about our fan club and magazine.” A few months later she received a letter from the Band’s management and got invited to DM’s London office.
“That’s when I met Lynn Wood (Newcombe) who was in charge of their official fan club at the time. We became friends and I started coming over to the office on regular basis, helping out with the admin or fan club stuff. Eventually, I was offered to join the team and help with the Bong magazine and conventions, because of my previous experience. It was a dream come true moment and something I’ve been visualising for months!”
Since the age of 10, Olexova had been taking and developing her own photos. “I was self-taught, but I learned a lot from my dad and stepdad as they were both into photography,” she recalls. With her impressive photography skills, it was not too long until she started taking photos of Depeche Mode for Bong. Moreover, she says, “I was actually producing the whole magazine in Prague in the end because it was still really hard to get a long-term visa to live in the UK at the time. Typically, we’d plan and develop content ideas throughout the year, then I’d prepare the magazine copy, photos and design of each issue in Prague and fax it to Lynn at the DM’s office for approval before sending off the final artwork to London for printing and distribution.
“I’d often come to London as and when needed or whenever there was an opportunity to interview or photograph the band. If you wanted to know what the band’s up to on and off the stage, you’d get it in Bong!” Olexova also went on tour with the band on numerous occasions, and her photos match the standard of photographic work that Anton Corbijn was also doing for the band both on and off stage at the time. “The most important thing in all my photographs was to capture the emotions or energy of the band because that speaks to people more than anything else,” Olexova says.
In 2002, Bong was wrapped up, the internet having become the place to find Depeche Mode-related info. Olexova, though, went on to snap the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nitzer Ebb, REM and many others for record labels and magazines. After a while, needing a change, she became a yoga teacher after moving to London from Prague. Starting to miss creating and designing things, she also “set up a brand and website design studio to help women launch their dream business online”.
In 2017, Olexova was asked to manage Mode’s Facebook page for a day, as had various stars and long-term DM devotees. “I was going through my photo archive and realised I’ve got over 1,000 photos of the band which have never been fully digitised – only a small percentage of the photos were published in Bong,” she says. “Then when COVID-19 hit and everything slowed down, I suddenly had a chance to organise the archive and it brought me an incredible sense of joy which I wanted to share with all the other fans. Moreover, it’s exactly 30 years since I showed up at Mute with an idea to publish a book about Depeche Mode, so what a better way to celebrate their music genius!” This is how Olexova’s book DREAM took shape: 300 photos from that thousand-strong archive were shortlisted, with 73 making the final cut for the book.
The photos are outstanding both on stage and off, many getting their first public airing. DREAM kicks off with up-close live photographs from the Exotic tour of 1994 and ends on the 2001 Exciter tour via the Singles tour of 98. Off-stage pics span from 1994 to 2001, among them shots of Martin Gore relaxing with his dogs.
“The photos were taken at Martin’s country house in May 1995. I was just preparing my exhibition of portraits in Prague and he kindly agreed to do a quick photo session with me. A few months later, the exhibition went on to receive an award for the best music exhibition of the year,” says Olexova. Also within DREAM are some behind the scene photos of the recording of 1997’s Ultra. “I took photos of Dave [Gahan] when he was rehearsing for the song The Love Thieves at Rak Studios in St. John’s Wood, London in 1996. It was just him on the mic and me taking the photos inside the vocal studio – a pretty special moment.”
Some proceeds from the sales of each copy of DREAM will go to the mental health charity Mind. Says Olexova: “I’ve always been socially conscious and believe that our purpose is to use our special gifts to serve and support others, so it was a natural decision to use my work and this book to help make a bigger impact.”
DREAM is published via The Baoli Ltd on Thurs 4 Nov. Price: £25. Info: here
words DAVID NOBAKHT photos MICHAELA OLEXOVA
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