It's hard enough to make it once in the music industry; it's exceptionally rare for luck to strike twice. But that is exactly what happened to Joy Division. From the tragic demise of lead singer Ian Curtis, the band's remaining members (bassist Peter Hook, drummer Stephen Morris and guitarist Bernard Sumner) formed New Order. Although Joy Division and New Order featured almost identical lineups, their musical agendas were far different. Led by Curtis' baritone vocals, Joy Division was a pioneer of the post-punk sound that would go on to inspire scores of acts, including Bauhaus, Nine Inch Nails and the Smashing Pumpkins. New Order (with Sumner on vocals), on the other hand, was built around synthesizers and focused more on bringing post-punk to the dancefloor, inspiring Moby, producer Stuart Price and the Chemical Brothers. The best-known New Order track, “Blue Monday” (Factory, 1983), is also the best-selling 12-inch single of all time, and it's been a massive influence for many contemporary bands, electronic acts and club DJs. To date, “Blue Monday” has been covered numerous times by artists including Orgy, Flunk and Nouvelle Vague.
Looking past the roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, New Order proved to be influential not only for its sound, but also for the band's production methods. The late producer Martin Hannett, who was heavily influenced by dub music, guided Joy Division and New Order in the studio, bringing several of that genre's production techniques to the foundation of both bands' sound. He put great emphasis on the bass and the drums by placing the instruments much higher in the mix than was customary. Instead of focusing on guitar sounds like other bands did, Peter Hook's melodic bass became the focal point. “The style I play is harmonious, and that's just what I like,” Hook says. “I never wanted to be a bass player in the way that most people are bass players. I guess I'm a frustrated lead guitarist.”
After the release of several EPs and amid a large buzz from the UK music press, Joy Division released its Hannett-produced debut record Unknown Pleasures (Factory) in 1979. In 1980, Joy Division returned with its second and final album, Closer (Factory). Considered by some to be one of the greatest post-punk albums of all time, the depressed feel of the music foreshadowed Curtis' own suicide just as the band was to embark on its first U.S. tour later that year. Thus began the era of New Order.
“There were a lot of emotions at the time, but we began rehearsing the Monday following Ian's funeral,” Hook says. We didn't know why or what we were doing or how it would work, but it was all we had. All we had was music.”
As New Order forged ahead, the turning point in the band's career came in 1981 during a trip to New York City. Included in the trip was some studio work with producer Arthur Baker, who offered production suggestions that led to New Order writing “Blue Monday.” That track highlighted 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies (Factory), a synthesizer-based dance record that turned out to be the band's breakthrough and most influential album. While Baker's not willing to take credit for the track beyond offering suggestions, he did co-produce singles “Thieves Like Us” (12-inch, Factory, 1984) and the hip-hop leaning “Confusion” (12-inch, 1983; Factory), which received club play and became a crossover smash; some even credit the song with first igniting the remix craze. “[Baker] taught us to listen to music in a different way and not to be afraid of technology,” Hook says. “He's like a kid with a new toy in the studio.”
New Order would continue to release albums featuring hits such as “Bizarre Love Triangle” (Brotherhood, Factory, 1986), “True Faith” (12-inch, Factory, 1987) and their highest-charting U.S. single, “Regret” (Republic, London, 1993). Along the way, New Order became part of a cultural phenomenon, having affiliations with the “Madchester,” England music scene — including The Smiths, The Buzzcocks, The Fall, Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses — the legendary club The Haçienda and the burgeoning acid-house scene.
Despite some fantastic achievements throughout New Order's career, the band was often plagued by dissention within the ranks, most recently manifesting itself in June 2007. At that time, Peter Hook announced that New Order had officially disbanded. One month later, however, Sumner and Morris issued a statement expressing their disappointment at Hook for making the announcement, adding that the breakup wasn't true. Who knows if the classic New Order will ever perform again, but for now, content in his role as a DJ, Hook seems relieved more than anything else. “In a group, you need to compromise with bandmates, whereas by yourself, there is no compromise. After 30 years of compromise, it's quite refreshing to now be out on my own.”