With Major Syncs in ‘Cocaine Bear’ and ‘The Last of Us,’ Music Supervisors ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ of Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode, the pioneering ‘80s U.K. technopop band, has long had a strong following in Los Angeles — thanks to their exposure on local alternative stalwart KROQ — and now they’re proving a favorite of film and TV creative executives.

The group, consisting of co-founders Martin Gore and vocalist Dave Gahan after the death of keyboardist Andrew Fletcher in May 2022, is on a roll following its 2020 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where they were introduced by Charlize Theron, who called them “the soundtrack of my life.”

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Depeche Mode’s new Mute/Columbia Records album, “Memento Mori,” comes out March 24, their first since 2017’s “Spirit” and 15th overall, which will be followed by a year-long tour that launches March 23 in Sacramento and includes a show at L.A.’s Kia Forum on March 28 and four concluding area shows in December, two apiece at Kia and Crypto.com Arena.

Thanks to the current usage of “Just Can’t Get Enough” during the riotous ambulance-chase in “Cocaine Bear” and two syncs — including a cover version — of “Never Let Me Down Again” during two crucial episodes of HBO’s acclaimed video-game-based “The Last of Us,” Depeche Mode has become a darling of Hollywood music supervisors as well.

Julianne Jordan, co-founder of music supervision company Format Entertainment, and colleague Julia Michels, who worked with “Cocaine Bear” director Elizabeth Banks previously on “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Charlie’s Angels,” admitted the jovial use of “Just Can’t Get Enough” over the scene of a rampaging beast with a snout full of marching powder was the filmmakers’ plan from the very start.

“That’s an example of the attitude we wanted to strike,” says Jordan. “If you had put serious score under that, it would be a whole different scene and emotion.  Same with Mark [Mothersbaugh]’s score. It was trial and error trying to figure out how to let people know they should have fun with this.  It was definitely a balancing act between the comedy and horror.”

The result is a combination Chuck Jones Looney Tunes cartoon and a Keystone Cops silent movie, the centerpiece of a film that deftly combines terror and laughs.

“Editorial put the original version of that song into the scene right away because it had to be cut to the music,” explains Michels, who commissioned the remix by Math Club, the duo’s “go-to” production team.  Ironically, while the band and management had to approve the usage, it seems the groups two members claimed to be unaware of its usage until now, with Gahan recently telling KROQ, “That song has been used in so many forms, for so many different metaphors, but the bear with his face in a bowl of cocaine has got to take the biscuit.”

The rest of the film, based in 1985, is a potpourri of ‘80s MTV music, from Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines” (a Pusha T remix was created after the film was done to promote its release), Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” (which also opens “Wet Hot American Summer,” Banks’ first major acting role), Berlin’s “No More Words,” Scandal f/Patty Smyth’s “The Warrior” and soul classics from Commodores (“Too Hot Ta Trot”) and Jeffrey Osborne (“On the Wings of Love”). And, of course, the score was by another ‘80s figure in Devo’s Mothersbaugh, who helmed music for Banks’ “Pitch Perfect 2” as well.

Jordan says that, without these songs, “Cocaine Bear” would have been a far different experience. “Liz wanted people to have fun in the movie theaters seeing this film. Music was such a big part of it.”

“We wanted to keep it real, because it is based on a true story,” adds Michels of the song choices. “Very early on, we discussed using songs from the period, basically the MTV era. When we first talked to Liz, she insisted she wanted people to root for the bear. That kind of clicked for us as to what we were doing.”

Maggie Martin, Sony Music Publishing’s VP of creative marketing, film and TV, has overseen the Depeche Mode catalog since she began her career at EMI Music Publishing in 2005, and through its integration with Sony, when it acquired EMI in 2018 for $2.3 billion.

“It’s by far one of my favorites to pitch because there’s such an iconic coolness that comes with the songs,” she says. “They’re dark, edgy, sexy, but they can also be fun, with a wink, in the right context, as we saw in ‘Cocaine Bear.’ It’s an evergreen, a robust group of songs.  I can bring these songs to contemporary artists because they never get old.  They sound completely modern.”

Indeed, indie L.A. artist Vaja, whose current cover of Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” is already attracting attention on Spotify (where she was top artist of March alongside Depeche Mode as well as Tiesto, Massive Attack, Metallica and Odesza), commented, “The moment I heard this song in the ‘80s, I realized the depth of their message to end racism and start loving humanity.  It’s an anthem for unity.”

Other recent Depeche Mode placements include “Shake the Disease” (Fox’s “Welcome to Chippendale’s”), “Enjoy the Silence” (Netflix’s “Freeridge”), “Personal Jesus” (Netflix’s “Russian Doll”) and “Never Let Me Down Again” (HBO’s “Euphoria”).

The two “Never Let Me Down Again” syncs in “The Last of Us” illustrate the versatility of the band’s deep catalog.  The initial usage, which closes episode one, is set up by the show’s young heroine Elle (Bella Ramsey) discovering a ragged “Number One Hits” book which uses a different code when a song from the ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s comes on the radio. She quickly figures out an ‘80s song signifies danger ahead, as “Never Let Me Down” ominously plays, foreshadowing trouble as she and Joel (Pedro Pascal) prepare to leave Boston’s Quarantine Zone on their cross-country odyssey.

The second version, which Martin calls “a haunting, stripped-down cover,” closes episode six, as Elle attends to a wounded Joel on the cusp of death. Don’t try Shazam-ing it, though; it’s an original take sung by co-showrunner Craig Mazin’s daughter Jessica.

“I thought that usage was beautiful and very creative,” says the Sony executive. “Two totally different vibes. You couldn’t ask for better placements.”

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