‘On Your Silent Face’, the fifth track from New Order’s album Power, Corruption & Lies, Bernard Sumner sings, “It’s never been quite the same.” Perhaps he is singing a testimonial of Ian Curtis, a former band mate of Sumner’s and the Dostoyevsky-like lyricist of Joy Division, who committed suicide on May 18, 1980. Though maybe Sumner wasn’t signing about the past, but the future. With their 1983 album Power and their single, ‘Blue Monday’ (the best-selling 12″ of all time), they would transform from the post-punk pioneers Joy Division to pop icons New Order that made rock music danceable. When Sumner sings the line “It’s never been quite the same” he was singing the truth; it would never be the same.
When two normal men attended the July 20, 1976 Sex Pistols show at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, did they know they were taking a step towards changing music forever? Their names: Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. Now known throughout the world as members of Joy Division and New Order, at the time they were just a pair of Manchester boys at a rock concert. The effects of the concert were instant. As put by Sumner, the concert “destroyed the myth of being a pop star, of a musician being some kind of god that you had to worship.” Inspired, Sumner purchased a guitar and Hook a bass, set on forming a band. After several lineup changes, the band settled with Sumner, Hook, Stephen Morris and Ian Curtis. This was Joy Division. Joining the famous Manchester label Factory, run by Tony Wilson, the band produced two studio albums: Unknown Pleasures in 1979 and Closer in 1980, before the suicide of Ian Curtis ultimately led to the formation of New Order and a change of sound, which Christopher Shepard – one of the “24-hour party people” and Toronto musician, a pioneer of the Toronto Dance scene of the ’80s and ’90s, and famous for his groups Love INC and BKS – explains was inevitable even if Curtis had remained in the group.
“Ian’s music tastes were basically the same as the other five. You have to include Rob Gretton as a member; often referred to as the silent member of Joy Division/ New Order and the band’s manager ’till his death in ’99. Rob had a huge influence on the sound of Joy Division [and] New Order. And was arguably the greatest band manager of all time. Everything was so brand new at the time. And, globally, we all moved in unison. It was evolutionary what New Order did. And Joy Division became New Order. Same group, really, musically. It was just the advent of technology and the need to keep moving ahead into the future, to continue to pave brave new roads. And I think New Order succeeded.”
As fame caught up to New Order and Factory Records, the band and label explored other undertakings. One of them was the Hacienda, the nightclub in Manchester that brought the DJ to the mainstream and popularized the acid and rave scenes. Opened in 1982, financially the club was mostly supported by New Order record sales and often experienced money problems. According to Chris the reason being was that “Tony [Wilson] was no businessman. . . the cause seemed to over-ride the money.” In shambles, the Hacienda closed in 1997. Being completely cliché, the spirit of the Hacienda still lives on. . .
Like all music, Joy Division’s and New Order’s is unalike to each individual. Nonetheless, would you prefer a gothic poem of self-deprecation and sorrow, or a synth-pop dance ballad with a rich upbeat? Like the particular disposition that exists in all music, the listener also has to be in a certain temperament to appreciate certain music. As Christopher explains, mood plays a big role when choosing a preference of Joy Division or New Order.
“It depends on my mood [who I prefer]. Joy Division and Ian in particular was a lyricist whose poetic justice was equal to Dostoyevsky, Joyce or Poe. I am sure a few hundred years from now, Ian will receive the same accolades as the aforementioned. Still Bernard’s work as a lyricist cannot be ignored. I consider Bernard to be one of the greatest lyricists of our time, yet it’s very difficult for Bernard to receive his just accolades when he is compared with Ian. New Order pushed the envelope in music and basically wrote the soundtrack for my life. All and all and at the end of the day when push comes to shove, I would have to say New Order would be my face.”
Thirty-seven years and eleven studio albums later, Joy Division and New Order have created a legacy that continues to loom over the industry. Their revolutionary styles have stood the test of time and, because of this, strands of Joy Division/New Order continue to pop up in today’s music. Like others in the industry, Christopher continues to see the effect Joy Division/New Order first hand.
“New Order not only have an influence on today’s music but also art, fashion, actors, writers or whoever it be that is at the top of their game. All you have to do is go and see a New Order show and notice all the celebrities in attendance or in awe. When New Order go on tour my e-mail lights up with requests for tickets. Everyone from bankers to zoologists ask me for tickets to the always sold out shows. New Order not only wrote the soundtrack for my life. . . But, obviously, everyone whose formative years were/are spent listening to their timeless singles. I guess I am not surprised that their music has stood the test of time and that the new generation have gone mad for Manchester it was a very special time. New Order/Hacienda/Manchester ignited the dance music revolution/rave culture. That is still being felt very strongly today. I always have said New Order were 50% dance music and 50% rock. That formula has been credited by Blur as kicking off the whole Brit pop phenomenon. Radiohead, whose Joy Division isolation can be heard throughout their music, went as far as even covering ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. And now Thom seems to be finally feeling the dance music. The Killers name itself comes from the alter-egos of New Order in their ‘Crystal’ video. No Doubt have admitted their influence as a combination of New Order meets Duran Duran meets ska. Really, today, every rock band who matters incorporates that dance element. That element was not found before New Order in rock music.”
The third track of Power, Corruption & Lies is called ‘The Village’. On the track, there is a verse where Sumner sings, “We shall remain forever.” Though inevitable that New Order will not always be around, as the song suggests, it’s likely their legacy will be.