Richard Spencer, the white nationalist and unofficial Alt-Right leader whose previous connection to music was getting punched in the head repeatedly to different songs, perhaps unwittingly picked a fight with Depeche Mode at the annual conservative gathering CPAC on Thursday.
When asked if he likes rock music, according to New York magazine's Olivia Nuzzi, Spencer joked, "Depeche Mode is the official band of the Alt-Right." Though the "lifelong Depeche Mode fan" later told Rolling Stone, "My tongue was firmly in cheek," the 38-year-old speaker-provocateur expounded on his love of the group, prompting a quick rebuttal from the left-leaning band.
"They aren't a typical rock band, in terms of lyrics and much else," he tells Rolling Stone. "Depeche Mode is a band of existential angst, pain, sadism, horror, darkness and much more. It's not bubblegum pop, with frontmen who sing about 'luuuuv' and sugarplum faries [sic]. There was a certain Communist aesthetic to an early album like [1982's] A Broken Frame as well as titles like Music for the Masses but then there's a bit of a fascist element, too. It's obviously ambiguous, and as with all art, everything is multi-layer, contradictory and ambivalent."
When reached for comment, a rep for the band told Rolling Stone, "Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the Alt-Right and does not support the Alt-Right movement."
Unlike Spencer, who was an outspoken Trump supporter during the campaign, Depeche Mode has explicitly denounced the new president and his policies. "The things that he's saying sound very similar to what someone was saying in 1935," singer Dave Gahan told Italian media last October. "That didn't work out very well. The things that he's saying are cruel and heartless and promoting fear."
Speaking to Rolling Stone earlier this month, Gahan expressed worry about the future of America, where he's lived for the past 25 years. "As I get older, the things going on in the world affect me more," he said. "I think about my kids and what they're growing up into. My daughter, Rosie, was deeply affected by the election last year. ... She just sobbed, and I was like, 'Wow.'"
Many of the group's songs on their upcoming album Spirit deal directly with the general malaise felt by some after both Brexit and the U.S. election. Gahan sings of bigots "turning back our history" on "Backwards" and calls for change in "Where's the Revolution?" ("Who's making your decisions," he sings, "you or your religion?")
"If we want things to change, a revolution, we need to talk about it and about caring about what goes on in the world," Gahan said.
"We can all talk about whatever is going on until we're blue in the face but you have to take real action, and sometimes we don't know what that looks like," he added of new song "Worst Crime." "Individually, I believe people are inherently good, but we're really distorted by the information we get and we act out on that information out of fear."
Despite the band's longtime progressive politics – "Everything Counts" blasts corporate greed and excess while "People Are People" notes, "So we're different colors/And we're different creeds/And different people have different needs/It's obvious you hate me/Though I've done nothing wrong" – Spencer sees an aesthetic similarity between the group and the Alt-Right.
"There's always been a certain nostalgic synth wave vibe to the Alt-Right in terms of aesthetics," he says. Asked to clarify "nostalgic synth wave vibe," he adds, "It might have something to do with generations. People my age are griping for our childhoods; younger kids are grasping for an imaginary childhood. There's some '1980s' about Trump, too. That's clearly the decade that defined him. It might have been the last moment that there was a recognizable White America (or in the case of Depeche Mode, White Britain)."
Additional reporting by Sarah Posner