New Order - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
New Order has proven to be one of the most enigmatic bands of their time. In the early 80’s the only information that was definitively known about the band, was that they were once called Joy Division, and after the suicide of their lead singer the remaining members reformed as New Order. Most critics throughout the 80’s had a hard time categorizing New Order’s fusion of dark alternative rock with underground electronic break beats but one thing was absolutely certain: New Order were blazing a trail that would influence the future of not only alternative rock but electronic music forever.
When Joy Division singer Ian Curtis committed suicide on May 18, 1980 he left behind a wife, daughter, and a legion of diehard cult followers, but he also left behind his best friends and band mates. Adhering to a promise they’d made with their late singer, guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris retired the Joy Division moniker and forged ahead as New Order. The name was suggested by their manager after he read a newspaper article titled, “The New Order of Kampuchea”. The name seemed appropriate at the time, however the neo-Nazi ties that haunted their previous incarnation (Joy Division was named after the prostitution wing in Nazi concentration camps) would continue to shadow New Order. The band was accused of taking their new name from a passage in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which described “the new order of the Third Reich”. New Order would vehemently deny any association with neo-Nazism throughout their career. A short time after their singer’s funeral, the band re-convened in their home city of Manchester in the North of England to begin rehearsals. Without a singer, they each took turns on vocals before settling on Sumner, only because it was easier for him to play guitar and sing at the same time. Seeking to round out their sound with a fourth member the band recruited Morris' girlfriend, Gillian Gilbert, to play keyboards and second guitar.
New Order’s first single, “Ceremony” b/w “In A Lonely Place” featured the last two songs written by Ian Curtis, and served as the band’s epitaph for Joy Division. Their debut full length, Movement (1981 Factory) would be the true test of New Order’s merit, unfortunately it was not well-received by critics nor by Joy Division fans. Produced by Martin Hannett, the album showcased a band with an identity crisis. Hook would later admit the album was a direct reflection of the band’s lowest point creatively and psychologically. The one good thing to come out of the session was the band’s continued experimentation with synthesizers and sequencers. Ultimately their fascination with electronics would lead them to the New York club scene. Interested in the freestyle, electro, and post-disco styles coming out of American underground dance clubs, the band decided to pursue this new sound back in England. New Order’s first single after Movement was “Procession” b/w “Everything’s Gone Green”. Their next single, “Temptation” although less experimental showcased New Order melding dance music and alternative rock in a way no one had heard before. All three singles, “Ceremony”, “Procession”, and “Temptation” broke the UK Top 40.
In 1982 the band and Factory Records owner, Tony Wilson, opened England’s first “superclub” called The Hacienda. Located in Manchester, the club would become the epicenter of Britain’s burgeoning club scene. The band spent the remainder of 1982 recording their sophomore full length, Power, Corruption, & Lies (1983 Factory UK, Qwest US). In March of 1983, New Order released what was to become the best selling 12-inch single in the history of rock, the epic seven and a half minute long “Blue Monday”. Power, Corruption, & Lies showcased the band’s signature fusion of electronic sensibilities with alternative rock structures and instrumentation. Unfortunately, the UK version did not contain “Blue Monday” but was later added to the UK cassette release (the US release contained “Blue Monday” as well as “The Beach” which was also absent from the UK version). New Order followed the album with another dance floor single, “Confusion” in August of 1983, which solidified their influence on the future of techno music.
New Order's third full length, Low Life (1985 Factory UK/ Qwest US) was their first release to reach Billboard's Top 200 (#94). It was also the first New Order release to feature photos of the members. Brotherhood (1986 Factory) followed a year later and spawned one of their definitive singles, “Bizarre Love Triangle”. Since New Order was largely a singles band, Factory Records released Substance (1987 Factory UK/Qwest US) a double LP/CD compilation of their singles with new remixes and two new tracks, “True Faith” and “1963”. Substance was a massive hit reaching #3 in the UK and #36 in the US. The single “True Faith” became a significant hit in both Europe and North America, mostly due to MTV’s heavy rotation of the surreal music video.
In the late 80’s the band became obsessed with the acid house electronic movement coming out of the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. New Order elected to record their next album on the island however they spent more time in the clubs than in the studio and at Wilson’s behest the band returned to England to finish the sessions. Technique (1989 Factory UK/Qwest US) was released to critical acclaim attaining the #1 spot in the UK charts (reached #32 in the US). Beat heavy house numbers like “Fine Time” and “Round and Round” flowed seamlessly with more organic rock tracks like “All The Way “ and “Dream Attack”. New Order embarked on an exhausting world tour with P.I.L. and The Sugarcubes. Upon their return to Manchester, the group teetered on the precipice of misfortune. The Hacienda had become a major financial liability and a breeding ground for violence and drug dealers, while Factory Records was on brink of bankruptcy due to mismanagement. Throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s, New Order were more wrapped up in business meetings with Wilson than with making music. However, the band did enter the studio again the following year to record the anthem for England’s national football team in honor of the 1990 World Cup, entitled “World In Motion”. Around this time, New Order entered their first hiatus. Bernard Sumner teamed up with ex-Smith’s guitarist Johnny Marr to form the side project Electronic, Peter Hook formed his side band Revenge, and Stephen Morris with Gillian Gilbert formed the Other Two.
During their hiatus, Factory’s financial situation grew worse. Wilson never signed formal contracts with his bands and it was costing him revenue. Personal and creative tensions within New Order were also growing steadily worse. Desperate to save Factory Records from financial ruin, the band decided to put their differences aside and record another album, but with Sumner and Hook barely on speaking terms the sessions proved stressful. Due to Factory's dire situation, the resultant album, Republic (1993 London UK/Qwest US), was released on London Records. Sumner later admitted to writing most of the record himself, due to the personal tensions within the band. Although Republic produced their highest charting single with the hook-laden rocker, “Regret”, the album was viewed as one dimensional and uninspired compared to their previous efforts. The band embarked on short European and North American tours before walking away toward an indefinite break.
New Order would not record again for the remainder of the 90’s. Sumner released two more Electronic albums, Hook formed Monaco with former Revenge singer David Potts, and Gilbert and Morris (now married) continued to record as The Other Two. Factory Records would also fail during the 1990’s, with Wilson not only closing down the label but also the doors to The Hacienda.
In 1998, at the behest of their manager, Rob Gretton, the band agreed to perform a reunion show on the second night of the Reading Festival. The show was hailed as a landmark not only because it marked New Order’s long awaited re-emergence, but it was also the first time the band had played Joy Division songs in 18 years. Rejuvenated, the band began writing for another album, however, Gillian Gilbert exited the band to raise her and Morris’ children before recording began. Get Ready (2001 Warner Bros.) was the most guitar-heavy record the band had released in almost 20 years. It was also the first album to feature guest artists with contributions from The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie. Heralded by critics as New Order’s comeback album, the band hit the road with Corgan in tow as Gilbert's replacement.
The following year, director Michael Winterbottom released the film 24 Hour Party People, a biopic of Tony Wilson and the fabled Factory Records label. The Joy Division/New Order story was heavily featured in the film, with music from both bands providing significant parts of the soundtrack. In 2005, the band recruited former Marion guitarist Phil Cunningham as their fourth member and released their final album, Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (Warner). More electronic based than its predecessor the album received lukewarm reviews from critics. Hook announced the band had recorded enough material for two albums and a companion record would be released the following year. New Order and Joy Division were given the Godlike Genius Award for lifetime achievement at the NME Awards and both bands were also inducted into the UK Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Short tours of Europe and South America ensued in 2006, before Hook decided it was time for the band to stop touring indefinitely. New Order remained relatively quiet throughout the rest of the year stating they were busy scoring director Anton Corbjin’s biopic of Ian Curtis titled Control. Ironically, a few weeks before the release of the film Hook announced the dissolution of the band via an interview on the British radio station XFM. Sumner and Morris immediately fired back stating they were unaware of Hook’s departure and wished to carry on as New Order. As of 2008, the future of the band remains uncertain.