Alles gute zum geburtstag Schaffel – The musical repercussions of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”

The following entry originally appeared on the Amoeblog

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the infamous Depeche Mode Riots, in which half a dozen people were treated for minor injuries. Another Depeche Mode milestone is upon us as on 29 August 1989 the band released their 23rd single, “Personal Jesus” and basically invented the “schaffel” subgenre.

It wasn’t their first single to prominently feature electric guitars — preceding non-album single “Route 66” (a cover of Bobby Troup‘s standard “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66“) had made use of them to good effect. However, I was always suspicious when electronic musicians added guitars to their synthpop because so often it seemed like a calculated effort to appeal to the musical conservatives. It was with suspicion that I first approached “Personal Jesus” but after the release of the guitar-less “Enjoy the Silence” I breathed a sigh of relief.

Truth be told, Iggy Pop was probably the first to recognize that combining electronics with the glitter stomp of T. Rex and Chinnichap was a good idea. “Nightclubbing” was released as a single in 1977 and featured aGlitter Band-inspired riff paired with a drum machine. I’m willing to bet, however, that a fair few of the schaffel crowd didn’t hear that song until it resurfaced on the soundtrack of 1996’s Trainspotting.

When Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” arrived in 1989, twelve years after “Nightclubbing” it seemed to take another 11 years to inspire followers Covenant to resurrect the sound with “Like Tears in the Rain.” By then it was apparent that a gimmick, if good enough, can be the basis of an entire movement and “shaffel” was born and And One, SuperpitcherE NomineT. Raumschmiere, ElectronicatWighnomy BrosGoldfrappAssemblage 23, CombichristWumpscut, Addam Bombb, and Zombie Girl all got in on the act. In 2004, Marilyn Manson released a cover that answered the previously unasked question, “What would ‘Personal Jesus’ sound like if massacred at karaoke by someone with terminal vocal fry?”


Covenant’s “Like Tears in the Rain” (2000)

And One’s “Wasted (Naghavi-Mix)” (2000)

E Nomine’s “Mitternacht” (2001)

Quarks’ “I Walk (Superpitcher Schaffel Mix)” (2002)

T. Raumschmiere’s “Monster Truck Driver” (2003)

Electronicat’s “21st Century Toy” (2003)

Wighnomy Bros & Robag Wruhme’s “Bodyrock” (2003)
Goldfrapp’s “Train” (2003)
Assemblage 23’s “Dirt” (2007)


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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