The passing of Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher — at 60, far too young — renewed the light-hearted debate about his role in the pioneering synth-pop outfit. “Martin’s the songwriter, Alan’s the good musician, Dave’s the vocalist, and I bum around,” he stated in the documentary Depeche Mode: 101.
Andy was aware of this ambiguity. One could guess it stemmed from the apparent influence of Kraftwerk. No one was certain of the individual Kraftwerkers’ contributions beyond what concert-goers witnessed on stage in the early days. In an interview for Electronic Beats, Andy acknowledged this: “… bands like Kraftwerk or Depeche Mode actually work as divisions of labor collectives. The contribution of each individual remains invisible. And because I don’t push myself to the fore, many mistake me for the fifth wheel.”
There are even jokes about how Andy didn’t even plug in his keyboard for concerts. Well, I saw Depeche Mode in 1991, and I had a terrible seat — if the band was facing in the direction of 6 o’clock, I was seated at ten past the hour. With that view from behind, I do remember looking down and seeing hands resting on the keyboard despite the sound of rousing chord changes.
But then we learn that Andy was ‘the glue’ holding Depeche Mode together, a phrase repeatedly mentioned in music press obituaries. Especially before the band achieved its massive popularity, Andy acted as a sort of manager, handling the band’s business affairs and making informed decisions. I imagine he interfaced with Mute, their label, had a hand in Depeche Mode’s unmistakable branding and public image, and made more than a few tactical recommendations as the band rocketed to fame.
In the 21st century, a band member of this sort is increasingly crucial and more common than you think. There are at least a couple of well-known electronic acts I’m acquainted with where one of the members is the business head rather than a studio boffin. Sometimes these folks are even the ones doing press and interviews, relieving stress from the shy bandmate who’d rather be programming a synthesizer.
The difference from an acting manager is investment. Like Andy, this individual is seen as a member of the band, does have some say on the musical output despite the lack of studio chops, and may even get songwriting credit (and publishing shares) for his or her indispensable contribution.
This arrangement is a great idea, and I encourage bands I advise to think this way. It’s pretty much impossible to get a (competent) manager to handle an act’s affairs before the band has reached some level of success. If self-promotion, social media posting, talking to promoters, and keeping track of schedules and finances bums you out, then add someone to the band with that responsibility. If you’re a solo producer, then become a duo. There are already a lot of electronic music duos out there that are duos primarily based on this idea.
This concept doesn’t downplay Andy Fletcher’s contribution one bit. As we’ve learned, he was ‘the glue’ and the one holding things down, so the others had more space to write and record. It’s hard to dispute that Andy had equal importance to the rest of Depeche Mode’s membership. That glue is the secret to an act’s success, and if it’s missing from your music career’s toolbox, you should find some straight away.