Depeche Mode, Wembley Arena, London; <br/>Peaches, Trash, London; <br/>Aphex Twin, Barbican, London

Three chords and the truth? No, three pins and an empty socket
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The Independent Culture

Depeche Mode

Kraftwerk. The Beatles. At any given time, one of these two polar opposites is the dominant unseen hand behind popular music. Five years ago, you couldn't move for fake Lennons and wannabe McCartneys. In 2001, with Kylie's Kraftwerk-inspired single atop the charts and the likes of Ladytron on the rise, electronic pop is back, and "three chords and the truth" is being usurped by three pins and a socket. Depeche Mode, synthesiser fundamentalists for 20 years, have always kept the faith.

In 1993, I spent a whole week in LA on Depeche Mode's credit card, waiting to interview the band. Each day, for reasons which remained mysterious, the interview would be postponed, and I killed time travelling around Los Angeles in a complimentary limousine. Eventually, and reluctantly, I accepted it was never going to happen, and my free holiday ended.

I later discovered that this trip roughly coincided with Dave Gahan's heroin-related breakdown. The album they were promoting was Songs of Faith and Devotion, and, without attributing too much morbid cause-and-effect here, it was the last decent record they've made. Exciter, the flimsy new album from the cleaned-up Gahan, Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore, reeks of junkie self-pity and pleas for redemption.

If misery loves company, then Depeche Mode (2001 incarnation) should be in their element at 12,000-capacity Wembley Arena. For tonight's show, the D in DM stands for "Dreary" (the "M" is up to you). The set's largely culled from Exciter and their later, darker material (if you wanted "Just Can't Get Enough" or "People Are People", tough: the Singles Tour was three years ago), and the sombre visual clichés don't help: 15 years after The Joshua Tree, Anton Corbijn is still shooting grainy time-lapse sunrises over Marlboro Country.

A bare-chested Gahan, without wishing to be cruel, has the skinny-yet-flabby torso of a wartime dad about to get into a tin bath, and doesn't convince as the messianic rock god. Gore, with his white, wing-like marabou epaulette very much the angel to Gahan's devil, causes many fond "aahs" with "Breathe" and "Freelove". It's 12 tracks, though, until a bona fide classic ("Enjoy The Silence"), rouses a slumbering crowd, and the tempo is cranked higher with the industrial blues of "I Feel You" and "Personal Jesus". Their best moment, "Never Let Me Down", is saved until last. It's too late: the let-down has already happened.

You'd lay money on Peaches owning the odd Kraftwerk record. Merrill Nisker, the 34-year-old, Toronto-raised, Berlin-resident, is a Sandra Bernhard lookalike who specialises in sexually confrontational white-girl rapping over a pulverisingly minimal Suicide-meets-Stooges lo-fi techno backing.

Defiantly anti-pretty and hirsute of armpit, she's become an underground lesbian icon, although her lyrics are ultra-hetero ("Alright. Show me whatcha got. Rub it up against my thigh."), a provocative inversion of rap's usual predatory male/submissive female roles.

Last year's album The Teaches of Peaches, recorded entirely on a Roland MC505 Groovebox, has become a surprise slow-burner. Peaches' popularity, in London at least, has much to do with the pioneering Trash club itself. Tonight's rammed, shoulder-to-shoulder show is the kind that will be talked about for years, and the absent will swear they were present.

The quicksilver pace of electronic dance music has always perplexed the armchair connoisseur. This is why the mythology of The Aphex Twin – the crazy teenage loner building his own Heath Robinson computers in a shed in Cornwall and recording hundreds of hours of mad material – was so marketable a hook. A solitary genius figure – a Mozart with a Moog – was required, and Richard D James fitted the bill. We all bought into the myth, we all bought Selected Ambient Works, and made RDJ a very rich man.

Admittedly, he repaid us with some intermittently brilliant music. Unfortunately, his perversity – chief among his virtues – has gotten the better of him. I'm no advocate of authenticity in pop, but on the evidence of tonight's "show" (under the pseudonym Pritchard G Jams), James is surely taking the proverbial. Each ticket holder is given a pair of radio headphones and sent into the Barbican's tropical conservatory to listen to what is presumably a minidisc of his new album, Drukqs. For the record, this consists chiefly of chattering arhythmic beats, atonal bleeps, indecipherable voices, brief bursts of old skool rap, and the sound of insane laughter (that'll be James on his way to the bank). I can only be certain he is even in the building because he was spotted in the audience for a Stockhausen performance earlier. Outside the hall, a sign has been vandalised. "The Aphex Twin is taking you for suckers. Enjoy it?" If the forensic graphologist calls, I ain't at home.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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