Published May 01, 2005There was a time, before 2002, when little was known about New Order. The blond one played guitar, it was thought, and the paunchy one, we were quite sure, occasionally wore a beard. Then Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People was released and the adored yet private band became exceedingly more public. Newfound interest emerged in a group that forged a career on concerted anonymity; card-carriers of that diminishing sect of artists pre-press releases, postered city blocks and Pepsi endorsements that spent more time making music than they did talking about making music. Thanks to this elevated profile, today it would not be curious to spot Barney and Hooky on the glossy pages of Hello magazine, Beck's bottles in hand, at some entrepreneur's celebration of surfeit or ceremony honouring excellence in poultry breeding. Yet we smile and grant them this suspended recognition out of sympathy for their internal tensions, personal loss, spectacularly bad financial decisions and, most crucially, for their impossibly hardy music.
1976 to 1980
Singer Ian Curtis, guitarist Bernard Sumner (born Bernard Dicken) and bassist Peter Hook form Warsaw after seeing a 1976 Sex Pistols gig in Manchester (also among the 42 attendants of the show: Steven Morrissey, the Buzzcocks' Peter Shelley, Mick Hucknall and Factory Records boss Anthony Wilson). One year later drummer Stephen Morris joins and the band rename themselves Joy Division the Nazi term for prostitute compounds in concentration camps. If this were a Joy Division timeline, I would begin the indulgent pleasure of restating their vitality, their essential output in a brief, coruscating existence, but as this is a New Order timeline I will only mention the art and the event. The dyspeptic, wholly original Unknown Pleasures (1979), Closer (1980) and a substantive group of singles are recorded before 23-year-old Ian Curtis hangs himself on May 18, 1980, two days before Joy Division are set to depart on an American tour. "Ian would have fucked his way across America," Hook would reveal in the book From Joy Division to New Order: The True Story of Anthony H. Wilson and Factory Records. "He would have been fine if he made it to America."
On July 29, 1980, just ten weeks after Curtis's death, Sumner, Morris and Hook are preparing to make their debut as New Order in a Manchester club called the Beach. Sumner has never sung publicly before and has never performed without his friend Curtis. "I'm shitting myself," he would recall in an interview with The Guardian 22 years later. Needless to say, the remaining members of Joy Division continue on as New Order, with the addition of Morris's girlfriend, Gillian Gilbert, on guitar and keyboards. The new name denotes a new direction for the band, who are eager to shake the disconsolate carapace of Joy Division for a more vibrant, dance-oriented sound, although Sumner believes their oeuvre would have been consistent had Curtis lived. The band's new name, like Joy Division, manages to generate those twin media addictions: controversy and overreaction. At the time, NME's Chris Bohn (writing under the nom de plume Biba Kopf) accuses the band of insensitivity and PR tactics saying, "It is a stupid choice of name. The term New Order is irrevocably associated with Hitler's version of a racially pure Europe." Of course, he was wrong. The new name has an entirely different fascistic link, this time to 70s Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. Joy Division/New Order manager Rob Gretton proposes the name after reading an article on "The people's New Order of Kampuchea" in The Guardian. But most crucially, Hook says, "we just thought it sounded pretty good." Also in 1980, New Order signs a deal with Factory Records on the back of a napkin. It stipulates a 50/50 profit share with the label, musician ownership of everything, all publishing costs to be covered by Factory and the artists' right to opt out at any time.
Difficult is a word that, rightly, has been applied to New Order/Joy Division producer Martin Hannett. There are stories of him dismantling drum kits for the faintest crepitation and walking out on Factory for not buying him a synthesiser; he orders studio isolation, pedantic retakes, outtakes and takeaways; in nearly all aspects, the man seems to court difficulty. And the last thing that New Order needs while recording their debut album, after the loss of their friend and singer, is difficulties. Still, the band employs Hannett for 1981's Movement, largely because they know he's a genius. Sonically, the results are fructuous but the mental outcome is predictably demoralising, with Hook calling the sessions "a real low point." Apart from demanding a gram of cocaine before even contemplating recording, Hannett would "sod off" most of the time "to the little room in the back." According to Hook, "He wouldn't come out until he heard something that he liked. I didn't think we stood a cat's chance in hell of getting anywhere without Ian."
New Order begin their arduous joint-ownership (in partner with Factory Records) of the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. Originally bought as a place for manager Gretton "to get pissed," the club's profits never reflect its popularity. But a Royal kidnapping would have been necessary to recoup the inordinate capital investment it took to build the Manchester-scene ganglion. "You invest a hundred grand to start a club," Sumner said. "You employ loafers to work there because you want to give them a chance. But they're useless. You get an estimate for the building: triple it. By the end of the first year they go, So far it's cost you 175 grand if you want to see any of that money again we need another hundred grand off you.'" Beyond the money, Sumner feels the strain artistically, too. "I remember going to meetings while we were trying to make a record and we'd get called out of the studio to discuss if we were going to serve cheeseburgers and whether we could afford metal detectors and bullet-proof vests for the bouncers." The bouncers, historically, rarely let New Order's Morris into the club. Telling them that he is the drummer of the band would typically draw the response, "yeah, you and a thousand others. Now piss off." In addition to protecting the club from Stephen Morris impostors, the bouncers are needed to combat the drugs being brought into the club (while the metal detectors are needed to combat the guns being brought in by the drug dealers). This pharmaceutical-free edict doesn't even attempt to transfer itself to the band's private life. In a London studio in 1982, Sumner is finishing his vocal duties on "Temptation" while on LSD. Also on acid is Hook, who whips in from outside and stuffs a snowball down his singer's shirt. Sumner's girlish ululation still survives, faintly, in the song's intro.
"Every time it went up in the charts, it was bad news for us." Bernard Sumner might not have sounded so oppressively pathetic had he not been referring to his own song, "Blue Monday." But he was. Because of the costly, mock floppy-disc packaging (designed, as with all New Order and Joy Division sleeves, by Peter Saville) and New Order's implausible deal with Factory, each copy of the single sold actually costs the label two pence. With near-artistic irony, the record becomes the highest-selling 12-inch single in history. After years of having to trudge out the number live, the band can't stand the song anymore, "I actually call it Fucking Blue Monday' now," Sumner would tell NME in a 2005 interview. "Because I'm so sick of it." It's rumoured that Sumner's exemplars, Kraftwerk, are so staggered after hearing "Blue Monday" that they ask to visit New Order's studio to examine their equipment. Upon seeing the relatively abject technology, they leave, disappointed, soon after. The same year, New Order releases their masterpiece, Power, Corruption and Lies. Drawing inspiration from trips to New York discotheques, the band forges a distinct sound incorporating elements of rock, pop and dance music. Suddenly, there's a queue to work with New Order, which they take advantage of by collaborating with New York hip-hop producer Arthur Baker on "Confusion" (1983) and "Thieves Like Us" (1984).
1985 to 1987
The band manages three releases in three years, Low Life (1985), Brotherhood (1986) and a greatest hits/b-sides compilation, Substance (1987), which becomes New Order's highest-selling album. After the success of Substance, Hook oversees the release of Joy Division's greatest hits package, creatively also entitled Substance. The reasons for the undertaking are twofold: Hook, of all the surviving Joy Division members, is arguably the most proud of his first band's achievements; and he is weary of being broke. "We never made any real money until 1985, 86," Hook recalls. "I can remember really struggling to pay my gas bill. I recall thinking about this standing in the Hacienda, which was full for a change, wondering why all of the students could afford to go and drink and I couldn't and I owned the fucking place."
Quincy Jones, august producer of Michael Jackson's Thriller, remixes "Blue Monday"; it reaches the top five of the charts five full years after the song's original release. Perhaps in a catchpenny effort to recoup some of their Hacienda losses, New Order licenses and re-records "Blue Monday" to be used in a SunKist orange juice advertisement. The re-recording, an obsequious drum and vocal overdub, is wisely (and swiftly) destroyed and replaced with Jones's remix. "We could have gotten an absolute fortune if we had stuck with those stupid lyrics," Hook says. "But we just couldn't do it to Barney [Sumner]." In 2005, the original "Blue Monday" forms the soundtrack of a Mars bar commercial.
The seminal Technique is recorded in an Ibiza studio chosen by Hook, who proposed and endorsed the idea on the evidence that "the studio's shit, but it's got a pool and a bar." It proves to be an ideal creative milieu; the album, along with releases from the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, becomes a bellwether for the Madchester sound.
New Order produce the British World Cup soccer theme, "World In Motion," arguably the only palatable sports-themed song ever. Despite the best efforts of then-England footballer John Barnes, who contributes an offensively bad rap, and the employment of the rarely used tri-syllabic form of England ("Eng-er-land"), the track maintains respectability, but only just. After ten years as New Order, a near-fatal side-project endemic strikes the members. Hook forms the aggressively mediocre Revenge; Sumner and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr conceive of their outfit, Electronic, in the Hacienda's washroom; and Morris and Gilbert work on an album under the self-deprecating moniker the Other Two. That at least is a logical, mildly clever method of titling, differing from New Order's style which, in an interview with Chaos Control in 1993, Morris describes as "just writing down words that are completely abstract and don't relate to anything. And then when you've written the songs, it's just like pin the tail on the donkey."
The debt of Factory Records lurches to two million pounds in November of 1992. "I thought there was definitely something wrong when the quality of the chicken at the studio started dropping off," Morris says in a 2001 interview with Schuh Magazine. "I think it was their way of telling us." In its history, Factory did many things that conventional labels didn't do, or wouldn't have needed to do, such as allowing their artists to release singles with no imminent album ("Blue Monday") or ask its highest-selling artists for a loan. "Every time [Factory] had a problem they would come to us to sort it out for them," Sumner says. "But we just don't say Well look, if we've got a problem with music, what do we do, come to you? Can you explain MIDI to us? I don't know why this lead isn't working, could you fix it for us?'" Sensing Factory's insolvency, and an opportunity to distribute New Order releases, PolyGram Records begin negotiating to buy Factory out. Meetings and negotiations are promising until Factory's general contract is unearthed. It reads: "The musicians own all the music and we own nothing!" (their exclamation mark). It is signed A.H. Wilson. From this point on, PolyGram approaches the artists directly.
After 14 years together, Morris and Gilbert are married in 1993. And after 13 years in New Order, Bernard Sumner feels like an attack victim. "Every time I did something with New Order it was like being hit with a stick," he recalls in a 2002 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. These preoccupations and animosities show on 1993's Republic, an uncharacteristically poor effort that costs an exorbitant 430,000 pounds to make. For the first time since Movement, New Order hires a producer to work on the album, yet in addition to this role, Stephen Hague is forced to function in the more pitiable capacity of babysitter. Infighting is so bad that, after the band tours Republic, none of the members speak to each other for five years (with the obvious exception of Morris and Gilbert). The last straw comes at a meeting in New York regarding further delusional tour plans and Hacienda fissure-plugging failures, in which Sumner retreads the staple bad-art line, "If I never see your face again, it'll be too soon," to Hook. Sumner does have to see Hook's face again, but only from a separate limo, since they have a clenched white fistful of dates left on a tour. Once those dates are fulfilled, the band is tacitly dissolved and Sumner gets heavily into the club scenes in London, Manchester and Ibiza, concurrently getting heavily into drugs. His reasoning is that while he needs a break from New Order, he "still wanted to get shit-faced." He soon needs a break from getting shit-faced too he is admitted to a Chicago hospital where doctors tell him that compounded drug use has burnt away expanses of his stomach lining. It's been reported that Sumner spends close to an hour each morning retching.
After continual problems with drugs, gangs and foundering profits, the Hacienda closes its doors in June of 1997. Eighteen months later, Sumner ceremoniously starts the bulldozers responsible for demolishing the club. In a move that surely brought a wry smile to Tony Wilson's face, bricks from the building are auctioned off for five pounds each. All proceeds go to a Manchester charity.
1998 to 2000
As if pitching the Bat symbol in the sky, Gretton faxes the members of New Order to ask if they'd play three shows: a summer festival, a hometown concert and a New Year's Eve party in London. Out of sheer pity for their manager who's had the unenviable function of fielding the question "Has New Order split up?" for five years the band agree. The summer gig turns out to be the Reading Festival, which has the feel of a comeback show, albeit one in which both bassist and lead singer are mashed out of their gourd. The Reading performance, released on DVD in 2002, features the rarity of New Order performing Joy Division material. "When Ian died we dropped all our old music and basically started again," Sumner says in a 2001 interview with Schuh Magazine. "It was a brave thing to do or maybe it was stupid. But we figure we put all that work into writing those songs, why not play them?" In 1999, Sumner collaborates with the Chemical Brothers on "Out of Control" for their album Surrender, stunning Chemical Brother Tom Rowlands with his work ethic. "That was quite inspiring, really," Rowlands says. "Because he's made all this amazing music in the past and yet he's still up at seven in the morning trying to find a gold-plated guitar lead. At the time you're like my God, what are you doing?' But then when you wake up the next evening you're like it was worth it.'" Girding for their next album, New Order contributes the song "Brutal" to Danny Boyle film, The Beach. On the reunion of the band, Hook says, "I have a hard time getting my head around the idea of playing The Perfect Kiss' in my 50s. But you can only do what feels right. I still think we're the greatest band. How can you turn your back on that?"
New Order prove they're still relevant, if not vital, with the release of Get Ready, their first album in eight years, featuring appearances by Billy Corgan and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie. Former Marion guitarist, Phil Cunningham, replaces Gilbert for the recording and touring of Get Ready after one of Morris and Gilbert's daughters becomes seriously ill. Cunningham has since been made a permanent member while Gilbert doubts she'll ever return to the band.
24-Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom's film about the rise and fall of Factory Records, is released in theatres. A replica Hacienda is built for the film and New Order attends a party in the mock club. Hook says, "I walked about for an hour just looking around. It was mind-boggling. And all of the people in Manchester who used to go to the Hacienda all our friends knew about it and made sure they got in. It was the most bizarre moment of my life. I went up to Barney after a few sherbets and said, This is unbelievable. The only thing that's missing is Rob Gretton [who died in 1999].' And he tapped me on the arm and went Look!' and there was Rob with his glasses on, or at least the actor playing him. And then Ian Curtis walked past he looked at me and ran off." 2002 also sees New Order joining the rock pantheon with their first box set release, entitled Retro. New Order 316, a concert video, hits shelves in 2002 as well. The DVD features a 1981 show from New York and the 1998 performance from the Reading Festival as well as an interview with a wizened New Order.
Waiting for the Sirens' Call is released by a group of men, three of whom are in there late 40s, who sound like a gang of eager, devastatingly talented kids. They're still called New Order, only now they're working with people who grew up idolising them, like the Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic, who appears on "Jetstream." Also new is the appellation Godlike Genius, a title bestowed on the band at the 2005 NME awards (accepted graciously for a band who, as Joy Division, avowed that the "music press, we are swiftly learning, are all idiots.") But the overwhelming impression of the awards show is one of a musical climate that, 20 years on, is finally catching up to New Order's work. There is a paucity of bands in attendance, namely the ones just beginning to shave, who wouldn't cheerfully admit to being influenced by New Order. In an interview with RememberTheEighties.com, Hook says, "The nicest thing about doing the NME Awards and having [young acts] there was that you didn't feel like the old granddad trying to get away with it. You actually felt like you were still part of it."
The Essential New Order
Movement (1981 Factory/PolyGram)
Relatively confident-sounding considering the band lost its lead singer and friend just a year previous, Movement is understandably, yet uncharacteristically dour for a New Order release. A new sound is hinted at, albeit one heavily influenced by Joy Division. For these reasons, Movement is one of the most compelling (and underrated) transitional albums in popular music.
Power Corruption and Lies (1983 Factory/PolyGram)
This is the album on which New Order ceased to be a Joy Division offshoot and became a genuine, seminal band. Bernard Sumner found his voice while the rhythm section created a wholly original blueprint for intricate electronic pop. But, perhaps most importantly, you can dance to it.
Technique (1989 Factory/PolyGram)
Part of the joy of New Order is that none of its LPs seem able to decide whether they're dance records or rock records. And of all of the band's work, Technique is the most blithely ambiguous on the matter, meaning that hits like "Love Less," "Round and Round" and "Run" can be enjoyed seated, standing or ambulating.