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Bono hints at my great New Order theory of everything in his new book

Brendan O'Connor


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New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook and Gillian Gilbert pictured in 1989. Photo: Bob Berg

New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook and Gillian Gilbert pictured in 1989. Photo: Bob Berg

Bono's book 'Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story'

Bono's book 'Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story'

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New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook and Gillian Gilbert pictured in 1989. Photo: Bob Berg

There is an uncovered gem in Bono’s new memoir that has achieved little attention but that was, in a way, for me the most exciting part of the book. I couldn’t quite believe I was reading it.

As I read through it, I found it more and more uncanny. Bono was essentially espousing a version of my Grand New Order Unified Theory of Everything. 

It is a theory I have bored friends with down the years, and even some unfortunates who just ended up in my orbit. The Theory states essentially that New Order are not only the most influential band of the last 40 years, but that they are in a way responsible for all, or at least most, popular music as we know it.

Or as Bono wrote: “New Order, who all but conjured up the rave scene in the early and mid eighties… with their song ‘Blue Monday’ they began to change the concept of what a rock band would be... laying the foundations for what would define pop music for 30 years.”

Obviously Bono had a lot to get into his memoir so he couldn’t include all the detail. I wonder if he had more, but his editor took it out. Like, did he mention when New Order went to New York and met Arthur Baker, hip-hop and electro pioneer, to make the electro-clash single ‘Confusion’, the likes of which had never been heard before: Afrika Bambaataa meets Northern English misery indie?

Bono didn’t focus much either on the influence of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, a seminal record, in which Giorgio Moroder essentially invented about five genres of dance music, from trance to industrial techno. Nor did he mention how New Order brought Hi-NRG out of the gay clubs, refashioning Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ into ‘Blue Monday’ – go and look them both up and you’ll see what I mean.

So the thread is roughly that New Order had started using machinery and electronics toward the end of Joy Division. But then, when Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life, and the three friends he left behind were faced with a choice of what to do next, they gradually ramped up the electronic element, and made this bright shiny thing called New Order.

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Bono's book 'Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story'

Bono's book 'Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story'

Bono's book 'Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story'

It kept the sublime melancholy of Joy Division, but added disco. And the result was a totally unique sound that would, down the years, bring together sensitive indie kids, Northern English football hooligans, and, eventually, ravers.

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The Theory suggests that by bringing Kraftwerk, New York electro, Detroit techno, and Euro-disco together, New Order essentially set the template for much of what was to follow.

New Order devotees will look you in the eye and tell you New Order invented rave, which begat EDM, which to this day begets most of the music in the charts.

Without New Order, Primal Scream would never have morphed into the collective that made the sublime Screamadelica. While Sceramadelica is credited with teaching indie kids to dance and encouraging them to look more into black music, New Order had in fact done that already for us enlightened devotees.

New Order’s big rave moment came in 1989, when they returned from a hedonistic sojourn in Ibiza with the album Technique. It wasn’t so much the sound of the music, it was the cultural feel of it.

I saw their infamous gig at Reading Festival that summer and it was clear something had changed. Something had happened to them in Ibiza. Indeed, apparently there was so much of that something happening they eventually had to come back to England to calm down and finish making the album.

But 1989 was only the crystallisation of a journey New Order had been on since their first stab at an album, Movement, but especially since Power, Corruption & Lies, their second album, the one that in retrospect might be their finest, and the one that laid out the template.

I didn’t really have a football team when I was young. New Order was my football team. Every new record was an event, I studied them obsessively, read up on the art and literature they cited as influences. Their cover art and their aesthetic became my taste in design, and I found my tribe at New Order gigs.

My brother sent me a video from a New Order gig recently. It was a tour with the Pet Shop Boys, who in many ways were the pop version of New Order.

Frontman Bernard Sumner is 66 now. Bass player Peter Hook, the other element that made them special, is long gone after a bitter fallout. There are two session musician blow-ins now, who I realise have actually been there for about 20 years. But somehow, maybe helped by the fact there are a lot of machines involved, they still bang it out with gusto. I hope I see them again before they decide to wrap it up.

The stages of my life are marked out in New Order albums and gigs. The next one could be the last, and it will be the end of an era for me. But, as Bono and me know, their influence will live on.


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