Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order altered the course of pop music, go see him live
Three decades after its initial release, New Order's Power, Corruption, & Lies (1982) might sound deceptively ordinary. From the early '90s successes of Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, to more recent outfits like LCD Soundsystem and Cut Copy, it's easy to take for granted just how completely the Manchester band's hybrid of guitar rock and sequenced dance music has permeated the modern musical landscape. Yet, as bassist and co-songwriter Peter Hook would have you believe, that fateful LP was the moment that started it all.
"New Order [was] one of the first rock bands that used dance elements, and now everybody does it," Hook tells the Bay Guardian over the phone from a hotel room in Vancouver.
In continuation of a recent tour that featured song-for-song replications of both Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980) by Hook's previous band, the equally revelatory post-punk outfit Joy Division, his current ensemble, Peter Hook & the Light, is set to grace the Mezzanine stage on Fri/27 with front-to-back covers of New Order's first two LPs, 1981's Movement, and of course, Power, Corruption, & Lies.
Citing fellow Manchester band Primal Scream's recent tour of its seminal 1991 LP, Screamadelica as inspiration,Hook waxed enthusiastic about the potential of front-to-back interpretations of records in the live setting.
"The idea for playing the LPs in full -- which these days is a very underrated art-form, especially amongst the young -- came from [Primal Scream bandleader] Bobby Gillespie… [who] simply said the reason they were playing Screamadelica in full, was because he felt that over the path of his career, he had ignored songs that were fantastic, because they were of a different mood on the album than how they played them live,” Hook explains.
"It comes down to the fact that when you play an album live, it is more challenging to listen to than a greatest hits set. I must admit, like picking at a scab on your arm or on your knee, it appeals to you for an insane reason."
However, while many musicians revisit their back-catalogues with the intention of embellishing or refining their past work, Hook seems intent on replicating his formative LPs as faithfully as possible, right down to the production sound of Factory Records legend Martin Hannett, whose esteemed work on Unknown Pleasures, Closer, and finally Movement, bridged Joy Division and New Order as significantly as any official member of either band.
"The interesting thing about the Joy Division recordings and the first New Order recording," Hook contends, "is that Martin Hannett actually had a lot of input on the sound and the ambience and the feel, shall we say, of the music… I [strive to be] truthful to the way the records were put together, and the little tricks that Martin used, and the sound that Martin used to immortalize those records."
Hannett's radical use of reverb, echo, and empty space, equally suggestive of Lee "Scratch" Perry and Berlin-era David Bowie, saturated "I.C.B," "Senses," and other tracks on Movement with the same sense of brittle gloom that defined signature Joy Division cuts like "She's Lost Control," and "Disorder." Yet, Joy Division bandleader Ian Curtis' suicide in 1980 (whose death motivated bandmates Hook, Bernard Sumner, and Stephen Morris to reform under the New Order moniker) left the band in a state of crisis, unable to escape Curtis' shadow, but desperate to move on.
"Movement, to me, seems like a Joy Division musical record, with New Order vocals," Hook observes. "There is a struggle on that record, between the two bands. Now unfortunately, the biggest struggle was with Martin Hannett, [who] was very badly affected by Ian's death, and I think the music reminded him of what he'd lost… When we came to sing, he fucking hated it. It was a real frustration for him, to have this wonderful music, and yet these… in his words, these three idiots singing." Hook laughs.
"Because it had coincided with a rather heavy drug addiction, it was a pretty bad time for Martin, and Bernard and I did make the conscious decision that we would have to get rid of him, or he was going to have to get out on his own. That was the feeling. But, because of those feelings, and because of Martin's attitude, the vocals on Movement were really removed, and sound very shy, very reluctant, and very distant. And that's one thing that's very nice about playing the album now, is that finally, you're able to relish the music, to give the vocal a bit of oomph that only 30 years' experience can get you."
Aching to start afresh, Hook, Sumner, and Morris fired Hannett, whose reputation began to wane once the Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio, and other bands on the Factory Records roster opted to self-produce as well. This shakeup, introduced on Power, Corruption, & Lies would result in New Order establishing its identity and purpose, as Sumner and Morris' affinity for electronics and Hook's penchant for rock conventions would coincide to irreversibly alter the course of pop music.
"There was a certain confidence in us [on Power, Corruption, & Lies.]," Hook says. "Bernard and Steven, in particular, threw themselves into the drum machines and the sequencers with great aplomb, and really did take it as far as they possibly could go. Them two were like kids in a toy shop. I can't say that the approval was 100 percent on my part, because I preferred to be in a group that rocked...as opposed to waiting for the 'click, click, click' of the sequencers to begin. So, there was a battle between us all, but that battle actually resulted in you getting that perfect melding of rock and sequencers that now is taken for absolute granted in music."
"Age of Consent," "The Village," and "Blue Monday," (still the UK's bestselling 12" single of all time) rejected Hannett's creative influence, with their seminal blend of candy pop hooks and the relentless drive of club music, while Sumner's introduction as lead singer abandoned Curtis' doomy, gloomy lyrics and vocal stylings in favor of a sunnier, more optimistic approach.
"The whole feel of life, after you got over the grief of Ian dying… the '80s were much more optimistic, a much lighter period than the '70s. And, I think you can hear that in our approach to the lyrics," Hook says. “Other than that, Ian's [voice] is a baritone, and it sort of leads to gravity, whereas Bernard is much more of an alto, which leads to levity."
Livelier by nature than Joy Division, New Order's records would find a devoted following of musicians, rock fans, and ravers alike. Yet, the band arguably made a deeper cultural impact with its creative and financial support of Factory Records' Manchester nightclub, the Haçienda, and its subsequent curation of UK club culture.
"The Haçienda became, in itself, a marriage of rock, with very many live groups performing, and dance in the way that you started to see the rise of the DJ, and the rise of sequenced dance music. So, we were in the right place, in I suppose you have to say the right time," Hook says. "People of Manchester responded very well. The gigs were very well attended. But, once ecstasy and acid house hit in '87, you had a completely different complexion, and then the Haçienda became the most important place in Manchester."
Inspired by New Order's brand of sequenced pop, as well as the sexy, druggy hedonism of rave culture, bands like Primal Scream and Happy Mondays emerged in the late '80s and early '90s to form the Madchester scene, resulting in a more ecstatic synthesis of rock and electronic elements than ever before.
"Madchester was the bastard offspring, shall we say, of what do they call it… a one night stand New Order had with [club culture.] I just might put that in my book," Hook says, with a hearty laugh.
After 25 years as a band, having continued its trajectory on records like 1985's Lowlife and 1986's Brotherhood (both of which Hook plans to tackle on his next tour), New Order's balance of rock and electronic elements began to veer further into sequencer territory, resulting in personal and creative differences that would lead to the group's disbandment in 2006. Tensions reached an all-time high, though, in 2011, when Sumner and Morris reunited under the New Order moniker, leaving Hook behind.
While he denied forming Peter Hook & the Light as a response to his bandmates' betrayal, Hook was quick to criticize New-Order-circa-2013's "greatest hits" treatment of the group's back catalogue, scorning the new lineup with the dreaded "tribute band" tag, and making the case for his full-album method as a better approach.
"I think playing albums live brings with it its own set of difficulties," Hook says. "In albums, you put light and shade quite a lot, and the mood is constructed like someone would construct a piece of art, like a painting, where you put shadows in the corner, and something bright in the middle. Whereas, when normal bands play, if we're gonna reference it to, say, New Order, you just play the hits, so that you get a sugar high.
"If I just went onstage and played 'Bizarre Love Triangle,' 'Krafty,' 'Round & Round,' 'True Faith,' 'Blue Monday,' and 'Temptation,' everyone would just go mental at the start and mental at the end. But, I don't think it would've satisfied me. I think I would've found that too easy."
In opposition to nu-New Order's mishmashed approach to the band's repertoire, Peter Hook & the Light (whose lineup consists of Hook's son, Jack Bates, on bass, in addition to several members of his retired Monaco project) seek to focus on one specified chunk of the discography at a time; Movement and Power, Corruption, & Lies arguably present the most revealing succession of albums in the New Order catalogue, offering Friday's audience a glimpse into the creative and emotional process that transformed a sullen, introverted post-punk outfit into an effervescent explosion of guitars and sequencers.
"It actually appeals to me that we're going through a list, ticking everything off," Hook says. "Maybe Bernard's aim is to throw legal letters at me, as my aim in life would be to play every track that I'd ever written and recorded, once, before I go and shuffle off this mortal coil."