Contemporary dance band
The synthesizer-driven British dance outfit New Order had the birth of a phoenix—it rose from the ashes of an influential new wave band called Joy Division. Joy Division ceased to exist when Ian Curtis—the vocalist and core of the band—took his life on May 18, 1980. As a result, the new venture of surviving members Bernard Albrecht, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris, New Order, was guaranteed media attention, a decidedly mixed blessing in the midst of overwhelming shock and grief and the doomed reputation foisted on them by their colleague’s suicide.
Joy Division was developed gradually, in 1977 and 1978, by four teenage chums from Manchester, England. None were musicians or even terribly interested in music—until they went to a local club one evening in 1976 to hear the notorious punk band the Sex Pistols. The Manchester group was gripped by the musical and cultural revolution they saw happening there, and they were determined to be a part of it. Since none of them had any proficiency with the mechanics of music, they experimented for a while, each trying out a different
Members include Gillian Gilbert (born January 27, 1961, in Manchester, England), guitar, keyboards; Peter Hook (born February 13, 1956, in Manchester), bass; Stephen Morris (born October 28, 1957, in Cheshire, England; and Bernard Sumner (born Bernard Dicken on January 4, 1956, in Manchester; known as Bernard Albrecht while with Joy Division), vocals, guitar.
Hook, Morris, and Sumner were member of Joy Division; formed New Order, 1980; released single “Ceremony,” Factory Records, and album Movement, Factory/Qwest, 1981; established reputation as dance band with “Blue Monday,” 1983; after 1989, bandmembers pursued solo projects, including Sumner’s work with Electronic, Hook’s with Revenge, and Gilbert and Morris’s as the Other Two; collaborated to produce England’s World Cup theme, “World in Motion,” 1990, and album Republic, Qwest, 1993; headlined England’s Reading Festival, 1993.
Awards: BRIT award for best music video, 1987, for “True Faith”; gold record for “World in Motion,” 1990.
Addresses: Record company —Qwest Records, 3800 Barham Blvd., Ste. 503, Los Angeles, CA 90068.
instrument, except for Curtis, who quickly took charge of vocals and most of the songwriting. It was his hypnotic, hair-raising voice and style—characterized by enigma and raw emotional pain—that gave the band its identity.
The quartet remained in this embryonic stage, trying on a variety of names and maturing musically until 1978, when they released their first EP, An Ideal for Living. This earned them some notice in the Manchester music scene, where they generally fit into the industrial punk flavor of the moment but to which they also offered something unique, a slower, more dense, and somewhat dirge-like sound—one that would, in fact, become the progenitor of the new wave style known as “gothic.” In retrospect, author Brian Edge claimed in his musical biography of the band, New Order and Joy Division, that they were at the “forefront” of what amounted to a musical “renaissance.” It would be another year, however, before their reputation began to match their innovation; the album Unknown Pleasures, released in 1979 on Factory Records, catapulted Joy Division to the top of the English new wave scene, which was just becoming commercially viable.
Over the next year, the four young men toured the U.K. and Europe, appeared at music festivals and on English television, and weighed persistent contract offers from major record labels. But, they chose not to defect from Factory Records, the small label that had taken them on when they were still virtually unknown and which allowed them to focus on polishing their music. In May of 1980 they were preparing to leave for their first U.S. tour when Curtis hanged himself. There was no hard-and-fast evidence to explain why someone just emerging into fame and fortune would make this choice, but music writers and friends have since cited general depression fed by marital problems and an increasingly deteriorating epileptic condition as contributing to Curtis’s untimely death.
The singer’s bandmates never entertained the possibility of continuing Joy Division without him. Chris Heath, a music writer for Details, recalled, “In Britain, even before Curtis’s suicide, they were considered accessories to his vision. For the remaining three members to continue was equivalent to the Doors without Jim Morrison.” Instead, they tried to uncover the essence that remained. Naturally, the May tour scheduled for the United States was canceled, but Albrecht—who had now changed his name to Sumner (though he was born Dicken)—Hook, and Morris were forced to set up new dates for September in order to satisfy contractual obligations. After their return to England in October, they asked Gillian Gilbert to bring her experience on keyboards and guitar to their ensemble. At this point, vocal duties were shared, but Sumner gradually took over the role of singer, also playing guitar. By late December the four were in the studio recording as New Order.
The band released several singles and one album over the next few years, attracting attention from the media and the public because of their previous incarnation, but not quite breaking through in their own right. A London show scheduled for the Heaven Club in February of 1981, intended to be a secret, instantly sold out. But New Order’s releases of that year, the single “Ceremony” and the album Movement, could rise no higher on the U.K. charts than the Number 30 spot. In 1982, “Temptation” inched only to Number 29. The band’s showing in the United States was even less remarkable. Part of the problem was that the music still sounded too much like Joy Division, with the same dark intensity but without Curtis’s vocals, and therefore couldn’t seem to fulfill the immense promise that Curtis’s death had derailed.
In 1982, however, New Order happened onto a path that would prove the route to their distinct musical identity; the group invested in a new nightclub in Manchester, the Haçienda Club, which catered to a dance trend growing out of the Puerto Rican and gay dance clubs in New York City. New Order began to move away from the punk roots of Joy Division to embrace this movement, mastering its insistent rhythm and polished, synthesizer-laden melodies. When they released “Blue Monday” in the spring of 1983, they leapt to the vanguard of the new dance beat, claiming the Number 12 spot on U.K. charts and, by that fall, breaking into the U.S. Top Ten. Their virtual obscurity in America vanished overnight, their singles becoming requisite club fare across the Atlantic.
The next album, Power, Corruption, and Lies, reached the Number Four spot on the U.K. charts, establishing New Order’s importance in the English music market for good. While their releases still tended to jump around the charts in the U.S., their performance became stable in England, where Lowlife in 1985 and Brotherhood in 1986 held Top Ten positions. Qwest Records, which released the band’s work stateside, described their centrality to the English music scene in a 1993 press biography, stating, “By 1987, New Order’s Haçienda Club [had] developed the style which would become known as “Manchester”—a mixture of working class soccer fashions, [the drug] Ecstasy, and American house and acid house music.” “Blue Monday” garnered over three million in sales worldwide and become the best-selling 12” single ever produced. By the time 1989’s Technique was released, the band’s popularity was such that the record immediately took the Number One position on the British charts.
New Order had somehow become an English institution. They were hired to compose and record themes for British television, including one for televised soccer matches—as important as Monday Night Football in the United States—in 1989. The true laurel from mainstream English culture came in 1990, however, when the band received a commission to create a theme for England’s World Cup football squad. The resultant release, “World in Motion,” held the top spot on U.K. charts in the spring of 1990 and quickly went gold. Perhaps even more indicative of their importance, though, was the tremendous influence they were clearly having on the nascent “rave” music and its attendant dance-as-ritual subculture.
Despite the band’s unshakable popularity in England at this time, internal strife was threatening to tear it apart. First Sumner, then Hook, took time off from New Order to pursue work with separate bands. Sumner’s project, formed in 1988 with ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and called Electronic, was so successful with its 1989 single “Getting Away With It” that the singer was encouraged to take even more time off from New Order. Then the stress of New Order’s 1989 American tour wore the bandmembers down, landing Sumner in a Chicago hospital for what he described to Details contributor Heath as an “overindulgence of a naughty nature.” Hook began moonlighting with Revenge in 1990; finally, in 1992, Morris and Gilbert reinvented themselves as a duo called the Other Two. By this time, the putative sweethearts had already pursued various independent projects, including music for the network series America’s Most Wanted. By 1992 the band’s fans were beginning to suspect that New Order might have actually disintegrated for good.
The spring of 1993, however, saw the release of a new single, “Regret,” and a new album, called Republic, that did not necessarily guarantee the band’s future as an integrated entity, but which did prove that they could still produce music together—music that earned both critical and commercial attention, Republic landing at Number 11 in the U.S. and selling 500,000 copies—when they made the effort. Heath described Republic as “a record born of compromise between four people bound together by history and habit, which shows the fruitful corners into which compromise can force you.” In the June issue of Spin, however, Eric Weisbard expressed ambivalence, writing, “I especially like “Chemical” for being the one vigorous use of techno shimmy. Too bad there isn’t more like that here—a few less rainy-morning-after ponderances and some stains on its precious aura would have done this legendary band good.”
With the long break that preceded Republic, it remained unclear what the band would do—if anything—after its release. Heath pursued the question with Sumner and Hook, turning up only uncertain responses: “Will this be the last New Order album? I ask them if they believe, in their heart of hearts, there will be another. Bernard says, ‘I’m really enjoying being New Order at this moment, but the honest answer is I don’t know.’ Peter says, ‘I don’t know, really.’”
“Ceremony,” Factory Records, 1981.
“Temptation,” Factory, 1982.
“Blue Monday,” Factory, 1983.
“Confusion,” Factory, 1983.
“World in Motion,” 1990.
Movement, Factory/Qwest, 1981.
Power, Corruption, and Lies (includes “Blue Monday”), Factory/Qwest, 1983.
Lowlife, Qwest, 1985.
Brotherhood, Qwest, 1986.
Substance, Qwest, 1987.
Technique, Qwest, 1989.
Republic (includes “Regret” and “Chemistry”), Qwest, 1993.
Edge, Brian, New Order and Joy Division: Pleasures and Wayward Distractions, Omnibus Press, 1988.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers and Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.
Billboard, September 4, 1993.
Details, August 1993.
Musician, July 1993.
Rolling Stone, September 15, 1983; June 24, 1993.
Spin, January 1993; June 1993; September 1993.
Time, June 28, 1993.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Qwest Records publicity materials, 1993.
—Ondine E. Le Blanc
Formed: 1980, Manchester, England
Members: Gillian Gilbert, vocals, keyboards (born Manchester, England, 1961); Peter Hook, bass (born Manchester, England, 13 February 1956); Stephen Morris, drums (born Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, 28 October 1957); Bernard Sumner, vocals (Bernard Dicken; born Salford, Manchester, England, 4 January 1959).
Genre: Electronic, Rock
Best-selling album since 1990: Republic (1993)
Hit songs since 1990: "World in Motion," "Regret," "World (The Price of Love)"
New Order, the innovative synthesizer pop band, formed in the mid-1980s in the wake of the New Wave movement, which emphasized dance music that relied on keyboards and programmed synthesizer loops. New Order grew out of the influential New Wave group Joy Division, which collapsed after the suicide of its lead singer, Ian Curtis, in 1980. Surviving members, vocalist Bernard Sumner (also known as Bernard Albrecht), Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris, picked up the pieces and created New Order in 1981. In so doing, they became one of the most influential 1980s bands. Tinkering with New Wave, they forged a new sound from synthesizers, effects-processed guitars, and real drums, rather than drum machines; they created an alternative kind of dance music that brought together elements of disparate genres.
New Order received much media attention because of Curtis's death. Their first single, "Ceremony," was written when they were Joy Division though it was released under the name New Order. Their desire to explore electronic music and its incumbent technologies surfaced in songs like "Temptation," a Top 40 hit in England. Committed to the club culture, the band became part owners in the Manchester nightclub Hacienda, which went on to become one of the most well-known dance clubs in England.
Combining dance music with slightly morose lyrics, New Order exploited the music's therapeutic possibilities. The epic "Blue Monday," released in 1983 in a 12-inch format, with Sumner's cool and plain vocals, is a signature song. It became the biggest-selling single in U.K. music history. Continuing the twisted bittersweet love song theme, New Order put together one of their most popular dance hits, "Bizarre Love Triangle," for their 1986 album Brotherhood. It enjoyed new life on the Billboard charts ten years later, thanks to its inclusion in their album Best of New Order (1995).
Much of New Order's music has been repeatedly remixed, even during their heyday, which was a relatively new practice in the mid- to late 1980s. New Order broke ground by collaborating with New York hip-hop producer Arthur Baker on "Confusion" (1983) and "Thieves Like Us" (1984). In true dance style, these singles went on for nearly six minutes, but New Order was not aiming for heavy duty radio play: The clubs were their audience.
The mixing and remixing continued with updated versions of their singles, one by renowned R&B producer Quincy Jones, who set his handiwork to the previously released "Blue Monday." Pet Shop Boys producer Stephen Hague co-wrote and mixed the single "True Faith," which helped to boost the song up to number three on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. In 1987 the band collected and released their best singles as Substance: The Singles 1980–1987. They even caught the attention of filmmakers. New Order appeared in pivotal scenes in 1980s films such as Pretty in Pink (1986) and Bright Lights, Big City (1988).
Two years later they issued Technique (1989), an album with nine bass- and drum-driven tracks, tinged with gravelly, ragged guitar work. With tracks like "Fine Time" it is clear from the start that this is a different, more fully engaged band. The ferocity, energy, and intricacy indicate an ensemble hitting its stride. Technique mixes lean dance-pop songs, guided by deft guitar work with club-ready electronic tracks, such as "Fine Time" and "Round and Round." The album peaked at number thirty-two on the Billboard Top 200 chart in the year of its release.
Shortly after the release of Technique, New Order had a surprise hit single, "World in Motion," which went to number one in England. The song serendipitously became a national anthem because the band is accompanied by England's World Cup soccer team on the track.
A New Decade, a New Sound
In 1993 New Order released the bright and vibrant Republic, and though it did not spawn a host of singles, it peaked at number eleven on the Billboard 200 and sold more than 500,000 copies. Buoyed by the straight-ahead, unequivocal, pop-dance track "Regret," the band's first bona fide radio hit in the United States, Republic is the band's most mainstream effort to date.
New Order never officially broke up, but band members took time off after Republic to engage in side projects. Sumner left the group and formed the band Electronic with the Pet Shop Boys and ex-Smiths member, guitarist Johnny Marr; Hook formed Revenge, while partners Gilbert and Morris went on to create a duo they called the Other Two. New Order issued a new album after a lengthy absence, cheekily titled Get Ready (2001). It peaked at number two on Billboard 's Top Electronic Albums chart, although the album seemed no more electronically oriented than its predecessors. It was hailed by critics and well liked by fans as the welcome return of a band that had disappeared for too long. The guitar-and-reverb-drenched "Crazy" fared well on the dance music charts. An intriguing, layered sound pervades Get Ready.
Although New Order was most prolific in the 1980s, the band created their most memorable work at the cusp of the 1990s. They are best known for innovating the way guitars and electronic music work together to create unerringly danceable songs.
Power, Corruption and Lies (Qwest/Warner Bros., 1983); Substance (Qwest/Warner Bros., 1987); Technique (Qwest/Warner Bros., 1989); Republic (Qwest, 1993); Best of New Order (Warner Bros., 1995); Get Ready (Warner Bros., 2001); International: Greatest Hits (Warner Bros., 2003).
Pretty in Pink (1986); Bright Lights, Big City (1988).