How to Dance to New Order

The Ghost That Haunted One of the Biggest Bands of the '80s

How to Dance to New Order

getty / Kevin Tachman

NEW ORDER Members of Joy Division continued after the death of one of the gloomiest figures in UK pop.

I must begin with a line in the Eagles' classic rock tune "Hotel California." The line in question is this: "Some dance to remember, some dance to forget." Why is this a useful place to begin a piece about the British band New Order? Because the kind of dancing one does to their music (which is a blend of dance music, new wave, and rock) is not for forgetting. You dance to forget when you listen to A Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie," or Madonna's "Holiday," or Rihanna's "Birthday Cake." These dance tunes annihilate not only the past but also the future. (Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," for example, annihilates the past but opens the future.) When you move to this kind of music, the kind that forgets, you are very present, very much in the now. You're "just happy," you've "left your cares behind," you "don't have a trouble in the world." That is dancing to forget. Now, what is dancing to remember? This happens when a dance tune makes you kind of sad or reflective at the same time you are getting down. New Order make this kind of dance music, and there is a good reason why. The thing we always remember in the dance music they made during their peak years (which is almost every year in the '80s) is the death of Ian Curtis.

For those who may not know this (and if you don't, I expect you were born yesterday or on another planet—my guess is the former), New Order are what Joy Division became after their lead singer, Ian Curtis, committed suicide in 1980. Joy Division were born in Manchester, existed under that name for the last two years of the '70s, and made music that critics invariably describe as post-punk or pre-gothic. It is not unkind to call Joy Division depressing. One is certainly not cheered up by tunes like "Isolation," "Disorder," "Transmission," and "Love Will Tear Us Apart," the band's biggest hit (and one that successfully incorporated the new wave sound and mode). Indeed, much of Joy Division's commercial success is owed to Curtis's suicide, which morbidly fascinated the music press.

After the death of one of the gloomiest figures in UK pop, the remaining band members decided to continue under a new name, New Order. But here was the problem the new band faced: Were they going to continue the gloom of Joy Division, which by the late '70s was earning them a good amount of fame? Or were they going to choose another course? One only has to listen to the singles released between Curtis's death and New Order's first LP, Movement, to hear this uncertainty, this indecision, this search for an identity. Which way would they go? Along the lines of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (a catchy tune), or along the lines of "She's Lost Control" (a grim and raw tune)?

Two such tracks are "Leif Erikson" and "Procession," both of which were recorded during New Order's stay in New York City in the middle of 1981 and released in the late summer of that year (the former in August, the latter in September). In "Leif Erikson," what we hear is a New Order that is entirely dominated by the ghost of Ian Curtis. Indeed, it's not exaggeration to say that the singer is practically possessed by the dead man. He is not himself at all, but a kind a medium to the other world of shades, the world Curtis entered after he hanged himself in his kitchen. The ghost is in the voice, in the music (it's not for the dance floor at all), and in the lyrics, which seem to be about the affair Curtis had with the Belgian journalist Annik Honoré: "She says it helps with the lights out/Her rabid glow is like braille to the night/She swears I'm a slave to the details/But if your life is such a big joke, why should I care?" New Order can count themselves lucky that this single went nowhere. No one bought it. What people did buy, eventually, was the music direction that is heard on "Procession," which features the voice of Bernard Sumner.

Sumner's approach was nowhere near as heavy, as dramatic, as tortured as Curtis's (he always sang as if the whole world was about to end), but instead like a mild-mannered dandy who has a cold soul. Recall what the 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire once said about the nature of a dandy: "[He] is a setting sun; like the declining star, it is magnificent, without heat and full of melancholy." This is Sumner, and this is exactly what we hear on the dance-floor-friendly "Procession," later on some tracks on Movement (a transitional album), and on the electro track "Confusion," which the legendary Arthur Baker ("Planet Rock") produced. The album Power, Corruption & Lies marks the point at which Sumner permanently established the band's sound and orientation.

The ghost of Curtis, however, never entirely left New Order's music. It's there on "Confusion" (listen to the bass), it's there on "True Faith" (listen to the lyrics), and it's there on "Fine Time" (listen to the meaningless bleating of the sheep at the tune's end). When you dance to these and other New Order tunes, you are dancing to remember the dark life and tragic death of Ian Curtis. recommended

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Comments (41) RSS

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ilikefood 1
i disagree- transmission totally cheers me up. its one of the greatest songs ever.
Posted by ilikefood on July 1, 2014 at 11:37 PM · Report this
2 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Post_Mortem 3
'Disorder' and 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' feel pretty good to me.

As far as I'm concerned, once New Order stopped recording with Martin Hannet and using Curtis' lyrics, they had a clean break. By the height of their popularity, they were something else entirely, without a trace of death rock or punk.

As to how many people know about Ian Curtis, man, my experience says very few.
Posted by Post_Mortem on July 2, 2014 at 10:31 AM · Report this
i don't recall any new order song named 'leif ercikson'. a few minutes of search yields nothing. although the lyrics cited by the article and attributed to new order are from a song 'leif erikson' by a group named 'interpol'

Posted by izquierda unida on July 2, 2014 at 10:35 AM · Report this
"Lief Erikson" isn't by New Order-- it was written by Interpol almost 20 years later.
Posted by solipsistnation on July 2, 2014 at 10:37 AM · Report this
Post_Mortem 6
Also, where the hell did you find a New Order version of 'Leif Erikson'? That's an Interpol original. It definitely wasn't a New Order single, else it would have been on Substance. I can't even find mention of it as attributed to New Order except in this article. Nevermind that the title is all wrong for that era of Joy Division penned and New Order performed material. I think someone has played a prank on you, Charles.
Posted by Post_Mortem on July 2, 2014 at 10:46 AM · Report this
#6 exactly. this to me sounds like the author was passed some bad information, or even pranked. in my opinion, the whole of paragraph 4 should be re written
Posted by izquierda unida on July 2, 2014 at 10:52 AM · Report this
Blue Monday got me started on New Order. I once worked with a guy who was very familiar with Joy Division and New Order and he called Joy Division Homo Death Rock. I don't know (or care) about the sexuality aspect but they were mostly hard to listen to for me because I liked danceable stuff back then. For those wanting to know more about Ian Curtis, I suggest a movie called Control.
Posted by RickFromTexas on July 2, 2014 at 11:41 AM · Report this
Post_Mortem 9
'Control' is fantastic. There are a couple decent documentaries on Joy Division, as well, though their titles escape me at the moment.
Posted by Post_Mortem on July 2, 2014 at 12:07 PM · Report this
"24 Hour Party People" is a fictionalized account of Factory Records, which covers Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays (and a few other bands). It's entertaining, even if it takes some liberties.
Posted by solipsistnation on July 2, 2014 at 12:25 PM · Report this
Sorry dude, but "Procession" dance-floor friendly? Did you mean listen to the bass on "Ceremony" instead of "Confusion"? Also "Leif Erikson" is by Interpol. Sorry to sound so old and cranky.
Posted by Peter Hook on July 2, 2014 at 3:25 PM · Report this
Another poorly researched article by Charles! I'm amazed he didn't talk about the African influence on New Order's drumming.
Posted by Tyler Pierce on July 2, 2014 at 10:40 PM · Report this
#12 STFU

for anyone wanting to look into good flicks about joy division
'here are the young men' is a concert film, shot in video, it was an official factory records release, FACT 37 from '82

Posted by izquierda unida on July 3, 2014 at 12:16 AM · Report this
released in '82, post humously
Posted by izquierda unida on July 3, 2014 at 12:22 AM · Report this
Joy Division was already popular (in Europe) before Ian Curtis committed suicide (just before Joy Division was to tour the USA), and the band's name ended with his suicide, so Joy Division's commercial success was not due to his suicide.
Posted by John Smith on July 3, 2014 at 1:41 AM · Report this
ean 16
Charles is right, the sadness of poor old Ian's story adds something appealing if a bit unhealthy to New Order's music.
Posted by ean on July 3, 2014 at 6:30 AM · Report this
This is the worst article about New Order I've ever read. If you'd bothered to speak to friends of Ian you'd know that quite apart from being the gloomiest man in music he was a very lively, friendly chap who loved his family and friends. Actually, you didn't need to speak anyone it's in countless books and documentaries. And as for calling an Interpol song a New Order classic despite being written 20 years after you said it was. Did you get paid to write this?!
Posted by Pazman on July 3, 2014 at 7:52 AM · Report this
Wow. You might be the worst music writer around. Making false statements, as if you've done the research, that are completely off the mark. Go find some integrity and write a real article after real investigation. And check out some Interpol. I'd recommend their first two albums.
Posted by kishan66 on July 3, 2014 at 11:52 AM · Report this
Emily Nokes 19
You guys. LOL.
Posted by Emily Nokes on July 3, 2014 at 12:58 PM · Report this
David Schmader 20
It's a joke! A joke that needs explaining! Like all good jokes!
Posted by David Schmader on July 3, 2014 at 1:13 PM · Report this
For it to be a joke, wouldn't it have to be funny?
Posted by solipsistnation on July 3, 2014 at 8:35 PM · Report this
Post_Mortem 22
I have been told by people who don't seem to understand the prefix 'meta' that humor which isn't funny is meta-humor, and therefore funny. So maybe Charles's pretending to be a nob is funny, just not in a way which makes people laugh, or smile, or nod knowingly.

It's good to know journalism was never a concern here, though. Wouldn't want anyone to think there might be some of that in a newspaper. That would be meta-humorous.
Posted by Post_Mortem on July 4, 2014 at 12:21 AM · Report this
snoopy 23
Anybody who writes "Indeed, much of Joy Division's commercial success is owed to Curtis's suicide" shouldn't be reviewing music.

As they say: "free your mind and your ass will follow."

Try it Charles.
Posted by snoopy on July 4, 2014 at 8:10 PM · Report this
snoopy 24
a joke eh? one that by all appearances only the Stranger staff gets... ha ha. so funny.
Posted by snoopy on July 4, 2014 at 8:15 PM · Report this
biffp 25
Imitating the style of a term paper by someone who didn't go to class or do any research seems kind of a waste of a reader's time. But slipping in Leif Erikson is pretty classic - although more of a Twitter joke (i.e., 140 characters).
Posted by biffp on July 5, 2014 at 4:23 PM · Report this
I'm a pretty huge New Order fan....I don't think they ever did a song called Leif Erikson...

Charles you are a solid writer and I am really surprised you flubbed this....also that no one there caught it?

Posted by Love Will Tear my Pop Tart on July 5, 2014 at 5:09 PM · Report this
Posted by CharlesMudedeSux on July 5, 2014 at 7:03 PM · Report this
jeeeeesus christ, charles. this was terrible. whatever it was, or was meant to be... fucking terrible. i'm not only mad at how bad this was, i'm mad at editors for letting it happen.

either you're straight-up trolling or just ass-to-elbow dumb as fuck, and neither is a good look.
Posted by deepconcentration on July 5, 2014 at 9:05 PM · Report this
pg13 29
R.I.P. Annik Honore (whose recent death, much like this article, actually has precious little to do with New Order.)
Posted by pg13 on July 5, 2014 at 9:12 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 30
trolling or trolled?

either way i'm not going to the show.
Posted by Max Solomon on July 6, 2014 at 8:41 AM · Report this
Keekee 31
Ha ha! Y'all been trolled.

There truly is nothing more funny than an indignant Joy Division fanatic.
Posted by Keekee on July 6, 2014 at 9:03 AM · Report this
Charles Mudede 32
@31) sadly this is a case of accidental trolling. the spirit of the piece was to make fun of interpol and only interpol. i had no plan to step on the toes of new order fans. i did not even know the toes were there.

im a huge fan of new order, and rate joy division's "love will tear us apart" as one of the greatest pop tunes of all time. 6th on my list.
Posted by Charles Mudede on July 6, 2014 at 11:17 AM · Report this
pg13 33
The better joke would have been to espouse the brilliance of "I Beg Your Pardon" as the best New Order song ever. (There aren't as many Kon Kan fans to upset.)
Posted by pg13 on July 6, 2014 at 11:43 AM · Report this
DOUG. 34
So the "joke" is that the dude from Interpol sounds like Ian Curtis? Wow, good one.
Posted by DOUG. on July 6, 2014 at 2:12 PM · Report this
35 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
This joke might have been funny, were it written in 2001 when Interpol were relevant.

Posted by Jeff on July 7, 2014 at 9:10 AM · Report this
The funny part is, of course, that Interpol sounds WAY more like The Chameleons (UK) than Joy Division. But who's done THAT comparison?

(Well, a couple of writers in 2001 did, back when Interpol were, as @Jeff says in @36, still relevant and hadn't disappeared into the black hole of crappy followup albums.)
Posted by solipsistnation on July 7, 2014 at 10:32 AM · Report this
biffp 38
Holy shit, the joke is 12 years old? Now, that is funny.
Posted by biffp on July 7, 2014 at 5:51 PM · Report this
I think the real joke here is that Charles downloaded an Interpol song that was tagged as New Order and couldn't tell the difference.
Posted by Laci Face on July 8, 2014 at 12:58 AM · Report this
@32 Dude. Charles. Really? That is how you try to cover it up? Why don't you ask New Order what they think of your article about their band? For someone to write a quarter of their article about a song by the wrong band is ridiculous and lazy.
Posted by mike hawk on July 8, 2014 at 1:10 AM · Report this
So a bad that's had a huge impact on music since the 80's is coming to Seattle, and the only thing the Stranger can write about is a badly written joke about a band that used to be relevant 10 years ago...

I think most of your readers assume that Charles is misinformed just due to sheer disbelief that you'd be making fun of a band no one can really remember or listen to, instead of actually covering the band that's coming to seattle...Sigh Seattle's only newspaper eh?
Posted by j2patter on August 12, 2014 at 10:22 PM · Report this

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