The Guide to Getting into New Order

From post-Joy Division goth to acid house on The Haçienda dancefloor, New Order are masters of rebirth. Get to know Manchester's finest better as they approach 40 years of anthems.

Apr 5 2018, 5:00pm

The New Order story is the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend: one of the most forward-thinking young bands in music history loses their enigmatic, tortured genius to suicide before they even cross the Atlantic. Rather than stand in Joy Division’s dark, imposing shadow, in the aftermath of Ian Curtis’s death, the remaining members instead chose to regroup, retool, and repurpose their chemistry. Singer and guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris—joined by keyboardist and Morris’ partner, Gillian Gilbert—gradually ditched their formerly cold minimalism in favor of something bigger, bolder, and more charismatic. Their eventual merging of post-punk and club music cemented their status as one of the most important voices in pop music eve.—one that continues to be a primary source for all things indie and guitar-centric some thirty plus years after their debut release, Movement.

With help from Factory Records co-conspirators, New Order briefly defined a generation of British pop music, one that saw its center relocate from posh London to the decidedly seedier Manchester. That underdog hub was naturally centered around the Hacienda nightclub, a cavernous, drug-drenched playground that effectively birthed the UK’s oft-mythologized Acid House scene while nearly ruining the band and its label financially. Between the club and the band’s creative, art-driven record sleeves, New Order, at its height of critical and cultural appraisal, actually wasn’t much of a solvent operation. In fact, the “Blue Monday” 12” has the dubious, if perhaps slightly erroneous distinction of being one of their most beloved songs that actually lost them money.

But New Order was and is far more than angular guitars and ridged 808 drum beats. Across the group’s nine full-length efforts, they’ve embraced–and at times defined–everything from chiming guitar pop to hedonistic rave sendups and back again. They also had the foresight to let others into their musical alchemy, gifting fans with extended dance cuts and remixes from the likes of producers like Shep Pettibone and Andrew Weatherall, up-and-comers at the time who are now legends. While Joy Division’s limited but massively influential oeuvre provided something of a template for the “big music” of U2, Echo and The Bunnymen, and others, it was only the open-hearted pop of New Order that could, and ultimately did, reach similar levels of world-conquering pandemonium.

So you wanna get into: Fizzy Jangle-Pop New Order?

New Order didn’t become dance-punk leaders overnight—they eased into their role as beatmakers at a gradual pace. Here you’ll find jangle-pop New Order, a transition point between their guitar doom-and-gloom and the manic energy of their full-on club sound to come. Early singles including the brisk and bubbling “Procession” were actually salvaged from Joy Division writing sessions, and their 1981 debut album Movement is their most far-removed effort from dance music. Still, Movement cuts like the starry-eyed, jangly “Dreams Never End” hint towards a band with a growing sense of rhythm that would inform their future anthems.

There are plenty of similar guitar-driven numbers across New Order’s later efforts as well. New Order’s closest thing to a full-on dance album—1989’s Ibizia-made Technique—features “All the Way,” a track so jaunty it could nearly pass as a Teenage Fanclub song if not for Bernard Sumner’s trademark laconic vocals. Brotherhood’s “Paradise” and “Weirdo” stand as New Order’s strongest one-two punch on record as well as some of their finest work in the power pop realm. Other guitar workouts including “Love Vigilantes”, “Face Up”, and the eternally beloved “Age of Consent” pop up in between New Order’s growing body of synthesiser motifs. Even “60 Miles An Hour,” a highlight from their relatively safe 2001 record Get Ready, matches the nervous, catchy energy of their prime.

Playlist: “Procession” / "Dreams Never End" / "Weirdo" / "Age of Consent" / “The Village” / “Face Up” / “All Day Long” / “Love Vigilantes” / “Way of Life” / “All the Way” / “60 Miles An Hour”

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So you wanna get into: Pensive Goth New Order?

“[Manchester] was gothic romantic,” Stephen Morris told Noisey about New Order’s hometown in 2015. “Your environment will always end up in your music somewhere. It was just ruined, empty, derelict buildings… It was streets of nothing.” Movement, the former Joy Division members first album as New Order and without Ian Curtis, is just as dour, pierced only by bursts of frantic, nervous energy. Standout “Senses” is that hurricane in a bottle, bass drone, pummelling drums, and machinery colliding over and over. The storm was internal as much as natural—New Order’s 1981 full-length debut was emotionally difficult for the band to make. How do you follow your friend and singer’s death on the eve of your first North American tour, a life and opportunity suddenly gone? With four words: “See you at practice.”

New Order found their own colorful sound apart from Joy Division by their 1983 follow-up Power, Corruption & Lies. You can’t record beside a cemetery, however, without some reflection on the human condition. “Leave Me Alone” is a poignant moment for Bernard Sumner in particular, waning guitar and lyrics on isolation creating a shared sense of weariness. By Low-Life in 1985, New Order were far more confident with samplers and could employ synths to cast shadows as much as light. “Your name might be god but you don't say that much to me,” Sumner sings on “Sunrise,” an emotional synth wash questioning of faith that bleeds into a dark wave instrumental elegy for Ian Curtis. If you honor Joy Division as much, this is the New Order for you.

Playlist: “Senses” / "This Time of Night" / “Everything’s Gone Green” / "Paradise" / “We All Stand” / “Truth” / “Angel Dust” / “Leave Me Alone” / “Sunrise” / “Elegia” / “The Him” / “Guilty Partner”

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So you wanna get into: Haçienda Dancefloor New Order ?

With no words necessary, the hypnotic drum machine THUDTHUDTHUDTHUD and synth bass intro of “Blue Monday” seduces you to the dancefloor as if you’d locked eyes with a stranger. New Order’s first dance triumph in 1983 was part happy accident: Gillian Gilbert’s sequencer line in “Blue Monday” unintentionally kicks in off the beat, creating its now iconic, mesmerizing helix of sounds that commanded mainstream fans as much as club DJs. Three decades later, “Blue Monday” stands as the best-selling 12” single of all time and the ultimate synthesis of dualities at the heart of New Order: colorful American club beats and grey Manchester lyrics, Kraftwerk precision and post-punk rawness, art and accidental commerce.

New Order’s lasting impact on dance is best heard on the acid-heavy 1995 Pump Panel remix of “Confusion” that became a pop culture moment on its own as the blood rave soundtrack in Blade. As much as New Order strived to capture the sound of NYC nightclubs on the 1983 single, “Confusion” got a much-needed polish on their 1987 singles compilation Substance , strengthening its Italo-disco pallette and Bernard Sumner’s Chic-like guitar strut. Sure enough, the synths New Order embraced during the Power, Corruption & Lies era became as vital to their DNA as Peter Hook’s high-and-mighty bass. “Bizarre Love Triangle” is a shining moment on their 1986 release Brotherhood, refracting synthpop light at every turn like a discothèque.

Recording Technique in the throes of acid house, drugs, and Ibiza sunshine “was the most expensive holiday we ever had,” Stephen Morris told Noisey in 2015. “We had a lot of fun not recording.” Even with island distractions and an unlikely bleating sheep sample, Technique stands as New Order’s most cohesive and carefree dance record, with acoustic-led respites between dusk-til-dawn raves. The unforgiving low-end pulse on “Fine Time,” “Round & Round,” and “Vanishing Point” will cast away your inhibitions, all while seaside riffs on songs including “Run” mercifully fill your lungs with air before the next acid trip. It’s a euphoric bender of a record capturing New Order’s high spirits in the sun.

New Order’s dancefloor leanings grew to define their signature sound, but not without creative interruptions. 2015’s Music Complete, their latest album and first without rockist Peter Hook, was a welcome return to beat-heavy form after band tensions overshadowed 1993’s Republic and their play-it-safe 2000s rock discography. Gilbert’s return to the keyboards after a parenting hiatus defines the record far more than Hook’s departure—and for the better. Everything about Music Complete sounds free: A New Order embracing synths again. A New Order without inner turmoil. A New Order collaborating with everyone including La Roux on dance standouts “Plastic” and “People on the High Line.” It’s their strongest record since Technique and fertile ground to stand on as New Order approach 40 years of rebirth against the odds.

Playlist: “Blue Monday” / “Confusion ‘87 ” / “Confusion” (Pump Panel Reconstruction Mix) / “Bizarre Love Triangle” (Shep Pettibone 12” Mix) / “Fine Time” (Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley Remix) / “Round & Round” / “Vanishing Point / “Plastic” / “People on the High Line” / “Jetstream” (Richard X Remix) / “World”

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So you wanna get into: Accidental Arena Rock New Order?

New Order are very much anti-rockstars: they rarely gave interviews at first, avoid showing their own faces on album covers, and tour sparingly for an active band of their stature. At the same time, New Order’s music can be so anthemic without trying that even “that Bongo guy” would be jealous. It’s apparent right from their 1981 debut single “Ceremony,” one of the last songs the band completed with Ian Curtis. With a lighter, upbeat bass intro by Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner’s (later Gillian Gilbert’s) bright, loose electric guitar, “Ceremony” is an unlikely symbol of optimism in sound and context: Joy Division has died. New Order is risen. Songs will come again.

“Temptation,” their most-played number live, followed in its footsteps in 1982 with a pulsing synth intro that rises like the dawn and sunny electric strumming from Bernard Sumner. “The Perfect Kiss,” an odyssey of an outlier from Low-Life, is also the perfect testament to New Order’s live performance abilities. The extended version from Jonathan Demme’s 11-minute music video in 1985 is an essential layer-by-layer study of how New Order become New Order, incredibly-skilled keyboard, sampler, and guitar parts forming an even greater sum of new-wave ecstasy.

New Order’s 1986 album Brotherhood and 1987 singles compilation Substance are also packed with driving guitar and synth-led anthems. This where the “accidental” distinction of arena-ready New Order starts to fade. “True Faith” was designed to be a hit to promote Substance and it damn well worked: the keyboard-heavy meditation on drug addiction gave New Order their first Billboard Hot 100 single, expanding their success in America. Their best songs of the 90s and 2000s continued down a deliberate rock path, part sign of the times, part Sumner wanting a break from synths (?!?), and part Gilbert’s absence. At least New Order only went hair metal that one time.

Playlist : “Ceremony” / “Temptation” / “The Perfect Kiss” (Live Version From Video) / “Weirdo” / “Broken Promise” / “True Faith” / “Touched by the Hand of God” / “Thieves Like Us” / “Run” / “Regret” / “Slow Jam” / “Hellbent”

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So you wanna get into: What New Order Did on the Side?

Stories about New Order these days tend to circle more around the fractious relationship between Peter Hook and the remaining original core than anything else. Hooky continues to tour entire eras of the band with his own group Peter Hook & The Light in club and rock halls while the proper band soldiers at venues much larger. It’s a bit messy. Of course things weren’t always so bad.

Even when the full band was on the same page the members of New Order found plenty of time for side projects. The most notable of which has to be Electronic, a dance music partnership formed between Bernard Sumner and The Smiths’ Johnny Marr. In their eleven-year history, the group eked out three LPs (all of which made the Top Ten UK Charts) along with a smattering of singles and one-offs before effectively bowing out in 1999. While New Order’s sonic calling card nowadays may very well be its synth sounds, it’s been said that the band’s apparent caginess towards the instrument is what drove Sumner to starting the early stages Electronic as early as 1984. In 2009, Sumner returned after yet another New Order hiatus with Bad Lieutenant. The group, which also featured live member Phil Cunningham, released a sole power-pop friendly LP before yet again quiet disbanding once their day job recalibrated.

Of course, Sumner wasn’t the only member to collaborate with an ex-Smithsman, as Peter Hook once formed a bass-heavy supergroup with Andy Rourke and The Stone Roses’ Mani. Perhaps something of a drunken joke gone too far, Freebass is something like anglophile mana on paper, but in reality the project is nothing more than a curiosity. One that ended with some harsh words between Mani and Hooky, at that.

Not to be undone, Stephen Morris and Gilbert in turn also choose to step out of the marriage so to speak with their own dance music side project. Adopting the perfectly catty handle The Other Two, Morris and Gilbert’s two LPs–while not entirely essential–feel like a nice addendum to their real life marriage.

Playlist: Electronic: “Get the Message” / “Getting Away With It” / “Forbidden City” / “Until the End of Time” / “Make It Happen” / “Can’t Find My Way Home”; Freebass: “It’s Not Too Late” / “World Won’t Wait”; Bad Lieutenant: “Sink or Swim” / “Twist of Fate”; Stephen and Gillian Songs/Remixes: “Swing Robot” / Nine Inch Nails- “God Given Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert remix”

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Jill Krajewski is Noisey Canada's social editor. Follow her on Twitter. Dillon Riley is a freelance writer. He's on Twitter, too.