Alan Wilder is unique among Paul Fraser Collectibles' interviewees. He's the only one whose autograph was once so desired that it sparked a near-riot involving 20,000 people. The resulting chaos was reported all over the world.
It was back in 1989 that the LAPD were called out in full-force, when Alan and his bandmates of the pioneering '80s pop group Depeche Mode appeared in Los Angeles' Wherehouse records to sign copies of their new Violator album.
Violator is one of many pioneering pop records Wilder helped to create during his time as a keyboardist and arranger for Depeche Mode. Since then, the group has racked-up more than 100 million sales with hits including Personal Jesus and Enjoy the Silence. Alan quit Depeche Mode in 1995 to start his own project, Recoil.
Alan Wilder: 'During my time in
The LA riot may have happened 20-odd years ago, but this weekend, on September 3, fans will once again have a chance to get Alan's autograph when he auctions more than 400 lots of his vintage equipment, vinyl and clothing at Manchester's Omega Auctions.
Alan's collection - expected to bring up to £200,000 ($329,600) - could herald a new era of collectibles where the synth pop pioneers of the 1980s increasingly make their mark at the world's top auctions.
We were therefore very excited when Alan kindly took time out to answer our questions. Here, Alan reveals how his mammoth collection was born, his unusual love of dentists' chairs, and why Depeche Mode and The Beatles aren't as different as you might think...
PFC: Director Martin Vladar's 'Collected' documentary (made to coincide with the auction) shows your devotion to collecting throughout your music career. How and when did you first catch the 'collecting bug'?
Alan Wilder: My first recollections of wanting to hoard come from the age of around eight or nine when I was taken by my father to my first football match, at Queen's Park Rangers' (QPR's) Loftus Road [ground].
Just like my son, Stan (aged 10), who is now crazy about Match Attack football cards, I found myself almost more entranced by the peripheral stuff that went with the occasion. The floodlights, the crowds, mascots and the smell of the freshly printed match programmes.
Before I knew it, I owned a full season's collection of QPR's magazines for each home game. I would even visit the club shop to try and get hold of issues for away games (even though I hadn't actually attended), noting the different styles of each club's publications.
I still have two trunkfulls of football programmes. Mainly from QPR and Chelsea, but also West Ham, Fulham, FA Cup Finals and England matches at Wembley and so-on ranging largely from the late '60s to late '70s.
‘I was quite staggered when I met
During my time in Depeche Mode, I gained a reputation for being the list-maker, the organiser. I was the one who kept a record of everything, writing down all our options and exploring how best to go about things.
In fact, when it comes to making music, it is the small details that really interest me. My skills are mainly as an orchestrator/arranger. So I guess it's only natural that all these tendencies have resulted in me collecting and cataloguing many items from my life and in my career.
Paradoxically, I'm not that sentimental about a lot of the stuff I've collected. Obviously, I'm much more attached to certain things than others, and I am fortunate enough to have saved enough memorabilia to still keep a great collection for myself.
I certainly wouldn't get rid of everything. I am retaining items that I personally value and treasure the most. For instance, I have a huge photographic and home movie record of my time in Depeche Mode, which I would never sell.
But at the same time, I don't like to surround myself with clutter and in fact spend a lot of time trying to create a minimal and 'clean' space to live in.
PFC: The auction and documentary focus on collectibles from Depeche Mode, Recoil and the rest of your career. Is there anything else that you collect?
AW: Yes. In addition to the football magazines, over a period of time, I have also acquired a collection of industrial design furniture and other similar stuff.
I'm interested mainly in functional, utilitarian pieces from the period between 1920s-50s. Hence plenty of Bakelite radios, Bush TVs, vintage kitchen appliances... Plus dentists' chairs, cigarette dispensing machines and other unusual articles.
I even live in a house which was built in 1936 and retains almost all of its original features, particularly the bathrooms and kitchen areas.
In Martin Vladar's 'Collected' documentary, Alan Wilder shows you around
his collection. You can see part two here
I often wondered about my fascination for the period until I recently re-visited the school I attended between ages 5 to 11 in Acton, London, John Perryn Junior School. As soon as I saw the building again after so many years, everything clicked.
I instantly recalled the classrooms with their classic tiling, large old radiators, dark wooden polished floors and so on. The building's grand entrance supported the date on the front, in bold letters: "1936".
PFC: Martin Gore [Depeche Mode's main songwriter] has long been a collector of guitars, gizmos, synths and effects via eBay. Did you ever influence each other as collectors?
AW: I don't remember Martin showing any real hoarding tendencies when I was in the group with him. From what I gather, he only started serious collecting in recent years.
I was quite staggered when I met up with him for our little Depeche Mode reunion at Royal Albert Hall in 2010, to see that he had progressed from using two guitars on the Devotional tour (in 1993) to now employing around 20 guitars ready for action at the side of the stage!
'We were all so enthusiastic about
And no doubt there's plenty more at his home. I have no clue how many synths he has acquired in recent times.
PFC: The auction contains some items that seem quite personal. Is there a piece in the sale to which you are most attached, or are sad to be selling?
AW: The Steinway grand piano and the Devotional drum kit are two things I'm letting go with a heavy heart. [Alan learned drums for the first time so he could play them on Depeche Mode's 1993 Devotional tour.]
But, in each case, common sense is prevailing. It feels right to actually include these in the auction.
Thankfully I own a second piano. And if I feel like picking up drumming again, I guess I can easily find myself another (cheaper) kit.
PFC: 20,000 of your fans caused a near-riot trying to get into a Depeche Mode record signing. From your unique perspective as both a collector and rock star, why do things like autographs inspire such fervour in people?
AW: In the case of Depeche Mode, we've always enjoyed a particularly obsessed audience! Followers turn up at events with every single record that's ever been released under their arms, hoping to acquire a complete set of signatures.
Though it's flattering that people care so much, I've never fully understood the excitement over autographs. It has something to do with adding validity to an item - or occasion - of course.
Plus it's a way to get a moment together with an artist you admire, in a brief but one-to-one signing session. I'm always happy to sign people's autographs when they ask me.
PFC: Your fans from around the world will be bidding for a chance to own the equipment, clothes etc used by Depeche Mode. If you could own any piece of memorabilia of one of your idols from music history, what would it be and why?
AW: I guess I wouldn't mind owning the Beatles' old Mellotron, or something else that was used on the White Album or Abbey Road. Perhaps a homemade Kraftwerk [German electronic pioneers, often dubbed 'the electronic Beatles'] vocoder would also be quite special.
But I can imagine the days when they [The Beatles] were making their classics - The White Album, Abbey Road, Revolver and Sgt Pepper. I am reminded of when the Depeche Mode production team were first discovering samplers, that level of excitement with new technology.
We were all so enthusiastic about trying to break new ground, hopefully creating something innovative that no-one else had attempted before. I get the feeling that around the late '60s, it was very much the same for The Beatles.
They were doing things in the studio that no-one else would dare. They always wanted to do something different and not repeat themselves. The White Album epitomises that philosophy.
The auction is unique for the number of vintage synthesisers on offer:
PFC: Of the Steinway piano, you say in the lot notes: "they will always increase in value if looked after. It is definitely an investment." Are there any other pieces in your collection that you think would make particularly good investments?
AW: Most of the items in the sale I believe will make very good investments, particularly the more vintage studio pieces such as the Telefunken valve amps and the '70s synths. Even the early digital samplers such as the Emulators are becoming much sought after again.
Generally I would expect pretty much all of it to increase in value over time, especially unique and personal items like the bespoke stage clothing. The same applies to acetates, test pressings and any rare and iconic vinyl.
‘I would expect pretty much all
We all know that vinyl itself is making a massive comeback. [It] demonstrates once again people's need for physical, tactile objects as opposed to virtual, disposable products.
PFC: The strength of an artist's legacy affects the collectibility of their memorabilia. How would you like Depeche Mode to be remembered by future generations of collectors?
AW: As you say, the collectibility of any artist is a reflection of the legacy they leave. We all know that, with time, the legacies of certain artists tend to grow as does the value of any memorabilia attached.
For some time now, it's become clear that there exists a trend towards investment in tangible objects, especially in light of the banking crisis which we have all been subjected to. Confidence in banks, bonds, pension schemes and stocks & shares is at an all time low.
All I hear these days is that people are turning to collectibles as a more secure form of investment - with the added bonus for the purchaser of palpable gratification coupled with an emotional attachment.
This bodes well for me on many levels, not just as a seller or even a collector myself, but also in the knowledge that the new owners of this Mode memorabilia will certainly derive great pleasure from their possessions.
In fact, I think the satisfaction is even greater for one who has huge admiration for the work but who didn't take part in the actual event - the associated piece provides an almost magical, mythical value.
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