I Went to Depeche Mode Day at Los Angeles City Hall

Dave Gahan and Martin Gore of Depeche Mode with Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez at Los Angeles City Hall for Depeche Mode Day December 13 2023 (Photo: Liz Ohanesian)
Dave Gahan and Martin Gore of Depeche Mode with Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez at Los Angeles City Hall for Depeche Mode Day on December 13, 2023 (Pic: Liz O. )

“This is incredible,” Martin Gore said from the steps of Los Angeles City Hall before thanking Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez for declaring December 13 Depeche Mode Day and the crowd for showing up on the occasion. Over the roar of cheers, he spoke of Depeche Mode’s connection to L.A., how the band played their first stadium show here and about “the Wherehouse fiasco.” 

“Sorry we didn’t sign the records, but thank you,” he added. “It helped our career a lot because we made nationwide news.” 

I wondered how many people here were actually at The Wherehouse back in 1990. 

“The Wherehouse fiasco” is something that comes up often when talking about Depeche Mode and Los Angeles, maybe more often than that time they played at the Rose Bowl, which was immortalized in the film Depeche Mode: 101. There’s actual an entry about the event on the Depeche Mode Wiki. I suspect that people mention the 1990 in-store gone awry so often because it is so on-brand for my beloved hometown. There’s a depechemode.com video that pieces together loads of archival footage into a captivating 18-minute mini documentary of the event, so watch that. (If you want to get deep into this, listen to the radio broadcast of the event that’s in the Depeche Mode archive.)

The short version is that there was an in-store at The Wherehouse that existed near Beverly Center, thousands of people showed up, things got intense and it became known as a “near-riot” or “riot” depending on which news broadcast you heard. 

I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you what happened. In 1990, I was at an age where I was mostly reliant on parents whose favorite word was “no,” especially for anything that would involve missing school so that I could make one of them drive me to West Hollywood, where I would spend all day in a line to *maybe* meet my favorite band. I do recall hearing updates from the event on KROQ and being overcome by a sense of FOMO. I wanted to be part of the pandemonium too!

The cool thing about growing up, though, is not needing to ask permission to do stuff. I wanted to see Depeche Mode at City Hall, so I did. I intentionally didn’t schedule any pressing work on Wednesday specifically because I didn’t want to miss this. I also didn’t ask any editors if I could cover this for them because I just wanted to go and enjoy it as a fan.

There is another truth about growing up. The risk of Depeche Mode-related pandemonium, or that of any band you love, significantly decreases as both the band and you age, which is probably for the best. 

I had walked down to City Hall with my husband, Carlos, from Chinatown, following the trickle of people dressed in black as we passed the barricade at Spring that kept a portion of the street closed to car traffic. I don’t know how many people were hanging out in front of City Hall. It was a large crowd for a band whose fans are now decades away from their screaming teenage years. 

Dave Gahan and Martin Gore of Depeche Mode with Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez at Los Angeles City Hall for Depeche Mode Day December 13 2023 (Photo: Liz Ohanesian)
I zoomed in on the top photo, just so that you know it’s really Dave and Martin on the City Hall steps. (Pic: Liz O.)

There were a lot of Depeche Mode shirts in the crowd. I bought one off a guy standing on the sidelines of the event, but just held onto it. This felt too close to a concert and I’m still of the mindset that one does not wear the shirt of the band you’re going to see to the show. Songs from Momento Mori played as Carlos and I roamed around looking for a place to stand. We found a spot far back, but directly in sight of the center of the City Hall steps. I scanned the mix of people in attendance. Some were dressed like they were going to a club. Others looked as if they just took their lunch break from jobs at one of the local government buildings. To be honest, I don’t think Depeche Mode Day in L.A. would be possible were it not for a fan base of grow-up club kids and government employees. 

In the moments before Councilwoman Rodriguez and Depeche Mode took to the mic, it felt like a concert. The screams gradually grew louder, as if we were expecting Dave to spin onto the stage and bust into the first song. But, this wasn’t a concert. 

Ultimately, everything happened very fast. Councilwoman Rodriguez opened with a few remarks about the band. “I want to thank you all for coming out to honor a very treasured band that has meant so much to Los Angeles,” she said. Then Martin spoke, Dave added a quick thank you and Councilwoman Rodriguez asked the crowd to help commemorate Depeche Mode Day. We all screamed. The whole pronouncement took less than five minutes. After that, people milled about the street, posing for photos in front of the Depeche Mode Day sign. I only ran into one person I knew there, although from the looks of Instagram, there were many more in attendance. 

I didn’t even try to get tickets to see Depeche Mode on tour, just because we’re living in the everything-is-so-expensive era and I have seen them live twice. So, it was great to have the chance to see them up closer— definitely closer than they would have appeared in an arena— at a free event that happened to be walking distance for me. Nothing crazy happened. It was just a very nice, joyful event and I’m glad I went.

Liz O. is an L.A.-based writer and DJ. Read her recently published work and check out her upcoming gigs.