Wednesday, October 24, 2007


This isn't a proper post about New Order, but some barely connected threads. First of all: I found my copy of Substance by New Order in my Mum's bookcase around 15 years ago. It's in a white rectangular cardboard box (like this one) marked Fact 200c, one of those typically Factory commodity-fetish devices, with a slip with artwork and two cassettes inside. Nobody knew who it belonged to. A lot of people came and went in that house, so presumably someone left it after a 'social' - occasions in which sweaty Trots would get together, argue, smoke rollies and eat homemade ratatouille and flapjacks, all in aid of the 'fighting fund'; quite exciting, as a vision of what adulthood would be like - and never returned to claim it. I was aware of 'World in Motion', but these tapes were, if such a thing be possible, even better. It would be almost permanently lodged in the car stereo driving round the Isle of Wight, leading to the curious fact that when I hear 'Everything's Gone Green' I see rolling hills and empty roads as much as I do post-industrial bleakness. My Dad used to sing along to 'Procession', of all things.

At the weekend I bought a copy of TheNewOrderStory on video for a quid at Save the Children, which I hadn't seen since I watched it with someone I used to live with, a very highly strung art student who had been the only person I had the slightest thing in common with in a halls of residence, who would quit his Goldsmiths place within a year and skulk around the Tate cafe as a cleaner, occasionally arguing with Germaine Greer or Jeremy Deller if they happened to be there. He had all the other things that weren't on Substance, like a gorgeously sleeved Low Life and the baffling Movement. I frantically taped them all off him before I moved out, sometime after he abandoned his camp gestures and quiff for shellsuits and No Limit records in an attempt to not stick out quite so much in Peckham. He gave me his copy of 'Video 586', with Jon Wozencroft's dazzling artwork. He wasn't satisfied as a SE15 rude boy any more than he was as an out-of-time new romantic from Kendal. The last I heard of him he'd erected a tent on Peckham Rye, whether as an art project or out of neccessity I'm not sure. The documentary is annoying and silly, with too much Keith Allen and one of Paul Morley's most self-parodic scripts, but I was glad to see it again. I've not seen the person in question for 6 or 7 years, and would be less pleased to see him again.

The impressively youthful End Times has a fine post about Substance, drawing out the strangeness of New Order, usually suppressed by the blokeishness and the shadow of their rather more dramatic past. New Order are very strange indeed. I was always convinced that Bernard was gay. Not just because of that 'woooah, I am boy you can enjoy!' on 'Hurt' and all the shirtlessness, but also the tete-a-tete on 'Perfect Kiss', where he wonders whether he should have stayed in and committed the sin of Onan rather than go out with his 'strange' friend with his 'gun' - oh, and then there's the exquisitely melodramatic '1963' where a seemingly very intense male friendship is ended by a surprising, phallic gift. Maybe this is why I've never heard in them the lumpenness they get accused of, instead the non-sequiteurs and hesitant, boyish tones always sounded ambiguous and mysterious.

There's the sublimely cool gesture of replacing Ian Curtis with an impassive, deadpan female keyboardist, rather than a charismatically sexual frontperson or focal point. Technocratically marshalling blocks of metallic compulsion, as in the film footage of 'Everything's Gone Green', where the entire sound is dominated by her grids. Watching live footage of New Order it always occurs to me that female synthesiser players (see also - Candida Doyle, Lisa of Wendy and fame) are consummately my feminine ideal. Each of the versions of 'Blue Monday' - even those live ones where the lyrics are improvised and the bass rumbles in bizarre places - is equally exciting, something that shouldn't work but does. A rhythm held down 'with pins' as Quincy Jones admiringly put it, with all manner of strangeness allowed to happen around it. Especially the 22 minutes of 'Video 586' where the arpeggios are put through a schaffel stomp morphing into a seemingly endless kosmische loop. Maybe even the mythic Sunkist advert, or the innumerable bastard pop versions that I used to hear when I used to go out in the evening. This is what, maybe because this little box was one of the first things I ever really listened to, rather than being merely aware of, I always imagined pop music was, and would be like. Cold, driven, electronic, odd, and somehow considered normal.


Blogger Dan said...

"impressively youthful" - hahaha, thank you!

Interesting you should bring up Bernard's ambivalence about sexuality, part. given their relationship with disco, and their affinity with a certain strain of glam (Roxy, Eno, Berlin-era Iggy, Bowie in 'The Man Who Fell To Earth' and the Berlin trilogy, where sexual ambiguity=glamour=alien identity/sound) and the way they presaged and then interacted with house. (You could prob. also mention DAF in that context.) And until I read this post I thought '1963' _was_ a proper gay love song, like 'I Bloodbrother Be' - you've spoiled my fun now.

4:50 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

He does look like one of DAF in the video clip, doesn't he...? And they had that arpeggio-grid thing that connects Moroder-Italo-N.O going on as well, a very gay lineage.

5:06 pm  
Blogger Dominic said...

Blue Monday had a tremendous effect on me when I first heard it - me and a couple of friends who had various electric keyboards (the Casios and Yamahas that were just starting to come out at the time) put a fair bit of time and energy into futile attempts to reproduce it. The video posted here is really amazing - and, I agree, really quite gay.

The second YouTube clip also shows one of the things about JD/NO that still makes them stand out for me, which is the extreme denaturalisation of their guitar sounds. Rock guitars have plenty of midrange and crunch and fill up the ear in a satisfying sort of way; NO's guitars invariably sound tinny and processed (all the libido goes into the bass...). Strangely enough, I was listening earlier on today to some Striborg stuff where the guitar tone is similarly deliberately weak and thin, and which is actually not a million miles away from "Everything's Gone Green" in its mesmerising use of heavy delay. Mark k-p was making the point recently about the connection between JD and Xasthur; I think he's on to something there, although it's an obscure lineage to say the least...

9:31 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

(Just noticed: the HRC are using 'Temptation' to soundtrack their 'National Coming Out Day 2007' video. ( *raises eyebrow*)

9:53 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

It's a very coming out song, isn't this case NO finally finding their own voice and emerging.

The skinny, brittle, echoey guitar sound, at least on 'Everything's Gone Green' is via Chic, isn't it? Becoming less 'black' via a 'black' source. Actually though JD, without Hannett are very metal indeed: listen to the pre-79 tracks on the boxset, and the likes of 'Shadowplay' have much axe heroics.

Even later on, as pointed out by a comment on this fantastic super 8 footage of 'Colony'...

9:08 pm  
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7:20 pm  
Anonymous ILYA said...

There was a live TV broadcast, don,t ask me when, but probably The Tube era, when a studio session from New Order was gleefully played in front of large amps bearing the spray stencil legend 'GAY SPERM'.

So I think it's,s probably fair to wonder.

1963 is a favourite track of mine, for various reasons, not least it,s the year I was born. Didn't they later pen an obvious follow up to story of 'Johnny'?

11:16 am  

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