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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… New Order, Movement January 28, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Let’s wind back to 1981 (and ignore, if we can, the news of the most recent split in the ranks of New Order – you can find Peter Hook and his band touring the two main Joy Division albums while New Order tour without him). After the death of Ian Curtis Joy Division had collapsed, but Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris soon regrouped as New Order with new member Gillian Gilbert and dragged Martin Hannett back for one last time to produce them and generate this curious amalgam of what they were and what they would be.

Granted, this is little off the beaten track in terms of New Order’s discography. It is an album that has been too readily dismissed as sounding Joy Division like. Yet to reposition this in its rightful place in their canon is in no way to dismiss the power of their subsequent albums. But their excellence – and the clear distaste the group itself had for Movement, has tended to overshadow its mastery of the post-punk form and its status as arguably their most cohesive single body of work.

A cold, almost tinny artefact, the album is filled with filter effects – Hannett was either the greatest chancer ever or an absolute stone genius, and I tend to the latter view. Despite the greater use of keyboards, the filters and the glacial production make it sound almost entirely unlike anything they would do subsequently. There’s lots of space here, but there’s also a layering that wasn’t present before. In part that’s due to the keyboards – which are used sparingly but with a determinedly elegiac quality. That this should sound almost retro but doesn’t is perhaps due the emotional cast of the album. Lyrically and vocally it’s far too easy to write this album off as depressed – and the near emulation of Ian Curtis’s vocal style probably doesn’t help in that regard, but that’s not quite it. The vocals are urgent, reflective and often balanced between weariness and also a sort of anger. But whereas with Joy Division they seemed at times to drive the music, here it is the reverse as Sumner and Hook eschew front man status and allow the music to carry that role – an approach that characterised much of New Orders output through the 1980s and after.

And as the album continues this increasing emphasis on tone and texture is ever more evident. It starts with “Dreams Never End”, vocal duties taken on by Peter Hook. A song with an almost perfect introduction that sounds initially like Joy Division redux but then sharpish moves into a more complex layered sound. “Truth”, the next track might have cosmetic similarities with Joy Division too, but with synth drums and some odd melodic foreshadowing of tracks off Power, Corruption and Lies it too represents a shift. Then we’re into “Sense”, propelled by a none-more-deep synthesised bass, which uses a bunch of filters to provide more synthesised percussion. “The him” starts and stops and starts again, the rush of instrumentation reflecting the lyrical concerns. But the fullness of the sound pushes out vocals entirely as the track moves to its end.

It’s the second but last track, “Doubts Even Here”, which in a way provides the bridge between Joy Division and New Order. Once more, and for the last time with New Order, Hook took over lead vocals and provided a sound remarkably close to that of Curtis. A keyboard courtesy of Gillian Gilbert provides stately chords. So far so Joy Division, albeit at a slower pace. But then the percussion goes slightly mad with crashes and bangs that cut whipcrack across the track [and Stephen Morris deserves recognition for just how central he is to the overall sound], and a woman’s voice, again Gilbert, intones matching spoken vocals, an absolute first for New Order (and in some respects a last – unfortunately), something that gives it a post-punk edge that positions it directly in 1981 but somehow doesn’t quite date it.

Listen to the bass line in “Chosen Time” which lopes along, the urgent reiteration of a simple succession of notes… Even 31 years later… gulp, that has a raw power and urgency pushing it forward. It’s different to that which was to come later, more primitive – but it strongly hints at an electronica and dance inflected future. Finally “Denial”, a track that also presages future developments with a rapidly strummed guitar sound and a bassline that although on the surface seems to reference back to Joy Division is by contrast faster, almost funkier. They were decisively changing gear. And if it’s not quite what they would do next, it does indicate where they might have gone.

Pervading the music is a sense that they couldn’t take their original sound much further – even if the last Joy Division album had seen the introduction of touches of keyboard here and there. The weight of their history, only three or four years old, but already cohering into a near mythic body of work, wouldn’t allow them, and some sort of further experimentation, something different, was the only way forward.

Perhaps that’s the real power of this album. There’s much less sense of a group constrained by their past than might be expected, instead it sounds like a group, despite pro forma nods to that past, which is willing, and almost enthusiastic, to try to break free of it and in the process mapping out a range of alternative paths forward.

I think that was an achievement in itself.

Dreams Never End

Senses

Doubts Even Here

Chosen Time

ICB

The Him

Denial

Dreams Never End (Live NYC 1981 and with Peter Hook on vocals)

Comments»

1. Jolly Red Giant - January 28, 2012

I have to say that I never liked New Order or Joy Division – and their apparent interest in fascism didn’t help. I believe they did a concert in Galway in front of a backdrop of the Nuremberg Rallies.

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WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2012

Hadnt heard about Galway, but I certainly wouldn’t have a moments time for them if I thought there was anything noxious about them politically, and the references to fascism are of a piece with much of punk post punk which I think represented an interest in iconography and terminology rather than political and structural aspects.

It was in most respects situationist messing about, a sort of kick against the tropes of their parents and grand parents generation, though Siouxsie made one or two reprehensible comments early on which she later disowned. The other thing is that I think that interest was not n itself a negative thing given it had little or no political form other than the pathetic nazi punk crowd and the truly obnoxious neo folkish outfits like Death in June et al and spin offs.

And I have to admit that I’ve spent half a life time interested in fascism myself without any attraction for the ideology such as it is. Which reminds me, interesting fact I heard yesterday on Little Atoms podcast, in 1933 half of all university based philosophy lecturers joined the NSDAP. I’m always fascinated by the motivations of hat Hal, and indeed those who didn’t.

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2. Brian Hanley - January 28, 2012

Not really a surprise that many German academics joined the NSDAP: the Nazis were pretty strong in the universities, among students anyway. There tends to be an assumption that it was the poorest Germans, or the unemployed (and hence the ‘uneducated’), who were first to embrace Hitler, when in fact the Nazis were under-represented if anything among the urban poor. Certainly the urban unemployed were much more likely to vote communist than Nazi, and the skilled workers pretty much stuck with the SPD until 1933.
What that has to do with Peter Hook et al, is of course another matter. In ’24 Hour Party People’ there’s a clash with Nazis at a Joy Division gig isn’t there?

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WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2012

True, though perhaps apocryphal re the fight. Peter Hook and IIRC New Order have both played at anti racism gigs and h idea tony Wilson was racist or fascist is absurd.

That’s also true re class structures and support in the face o nazism.

TBH I was thinking more of th philosophy angle, that the supposedly serious thinkers were suborned. And then there’s th depressing stat about th number of PhDs at Wansee.

Fucking technocrats, pardon my French.

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Jolly Red Giant - January 29, 2012

Many bands played anti-racism gigs for publicity purposes rather than any genuine opposition to racism.

In relation to New Order – my recollection was that they always were associated with the far-right. Members of the band did little to dispel this notion, often sending out mixed signals. Hook and Sumner did admit being ‘intrigued’ by fascism. The only member of the band to reject the accusations was Morris – and even he admitted that they continued to use nazi imagery in order to give two fingers to those who accused them of having fascist leanings. Morris is known for being an avid collector of military and army surplus items.

Some fascist groups do claim Joy Division and New Order as their own.

Many punk bands did flirt with nazi symbolism – mostly because they had no idea of the political implications. A video of Stiff Little Fingers playing Alternative Ulster shows Jake Burns having a swastika on his guitar strap. Jake said later that he didn’t realise the implications and it was intended as two fingers to the establishment. Needless to say it disappeared when he understood the implications and SLF were never ambiguous about their political leanings.

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WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2012

But given that they had no organic connections to the actual far right music scenes, that lyrically their work had no content that could be described as ‘fascist’ or fascist promoting I think tha thesis is a little hard to sustain that hey were ‘always linked with the far right’.

Then theres the point hat in the early 1989s they threw themselves into the US dance electronic scene, and their relationship withArthur Baker from then until more or less now, a man whose anti racist and anti apartheid activism is so strong that he was regarded officially by the UN as assisting the end of the apartheid regime. Seems a bit unlikely he’d work with a fascist or even far right band.

I genuinely think that what we are seeing here is a sometimes distasteful but essentially cosmetic use of a number, and a limited number at that, of fascist referents. But by the same token NO also have used film titles as song titles. It doesn’t make them cinema critics. There’s a danger here of detaching these groups from the contex they developed in , only a month o so ago we had a pos on Angelic Upstarts, filled with far left activists, but who also had a song decrying the imprisonment of Rudolf Hess. That doesn’t make them fascists, but it does indicate the situation as regards cultural expressions can be complex in how they develop.

I’d be very interested to know which fascist groups claim NO and JD as their own and in what way. They’d have to be a bit dim to do so.

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3. Crocodile - January 28, 2012

The name of the band – a stupid choice for which various people have been blamed – had a lot to do with it.

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WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2012

Yep, though a brilliant pun nonetheless, and dark whichever way one chooses to take it.

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4. Jolly Red Giant - January 29, 2012

WbS – just to clarify – I am not claiming that Joy Division or New Order were fascist – my recollection is that they were linked with fascism and did little to distance themselves from the links. Sumner also decryed the imprisonment of Hess. Deborah Curtis (Ian’s wife) in her biography of their relationship spoke about the fascination Ian had with fascism and that politically he was right-wing. Both Sumner and Hook have also admitted a fascination with fascism. Stromfront promote gigs of Joy Division tribute bands.

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WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2012

Absolutely, and I should add I’m not denying Curtis had an interest in fascism.

The Deborah Curtis bio is very interesting on this very topic.

She notes on pp90-91 about his interest in Nazi uniform but that this had ‘more to do with his interest in style and history’. She herself had a great grandfather who was Jewish. But what’s telling to me is that on the same pages she notes that his reading included Dostoyevsky, Hermann Hess, Sartre, Nietzsche, the work of antifascist John Heartfield [poster artist whose work was explicitly anti-Nazi] and revealingly JG Ballard. All this makes sense given the subject of the lyrics which are focused on alienation, etc. She says she knows he was lookign for inspiration for his songs but that this was ‘culminating in an unhealthy obsession with mental and physical pain’.

But politically she notes that in 1974/5 he took a lift from a Liberal party supporter to a polling station but that ‘he voted Conservative as he always would do.’ Now I can’t stand Tories, myself, but even so voting Tory through the 1970s doesn’t strike me as far right – particularly given the centre right face of that party under Heath.

A couple of further thoughts. Sumner or Curtis, not sure which, on one occasion in 1978 or so mentioned Hess’s imprisonment from a stage. As I noted previously Angelic Upstarts with members of further left parties amongst their number wrote a whole song about it.

As to Stormfront, that’s hardly New Order or Joy Divisions fault, and though we’d have to parse out the definition of ‘promotion’ [are the bands associated to Stormfront members or is it that some members on Stormfront want to go hear bands that play Joy Division songs?] only indicates that some fascists and Nazi’s like Joy Division or bands that sound like Joy Division.

If you’ve ever taken a look at the musical tastes of those infesting Stormfront it’s dispiriting to see how bands with no political content or even avowedly left wing content [Dead Kennedy’s etc] are liked by the self-appointed representatives of the next Reich.

The big problem though is that for all Curtis and the others making a handful of typically provocative punk and post-punk fascist referents and clearly this being at most an aesthetic and cosmetic thing with no political content and nothing else of any substance in that direction, there were actual white power and fascist bands in actual movements, some of the Oi bands were overtly so, such as Skrewdriver. And then there was the parallel ‘neo-pagan’ stuff of Death in June and others mentioned already. These were the real deal, no ambiguity, no sub-art school experimentation [though Death in June gloried in dancing up to the topics and then saying ‘nothing to see here gov’ stuff, but actual fascists with fascist political messages linking into far-right and fascist networks.

Compared to all that a quartet of Mancs in their late teens and early 20s [Curtis died at 22 IIRC] who cribbed a few referents for shock value, and no referents that were of any substance, don’t seem to me to have crossed any genuine political/cultural or aesthetic line that I as a socialist would find reprehensible [or I should add inexplicable outside the context of their time].

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