Friday 20 September 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'Touched By The Hand Of God'

New Order: ‘We are all there together for once, with people who understand this eccentric obsession we shared'
New Order: ‘We are all there together for once, with people who understand this eccentric obsession we shared'

BRENDAN O'CONNOR

I'm not really tribal. I don't follow a soccer team. I don't overly define myself by place, or profession or circumstance. I think being a New Order fan is the closest thing I ever feel to being part of a tribe. But I don't beat myself up about it because I feel it is a tribe of outsiders. So therefore not really tribal at all.

But where they gather, New Order fans become, albeit briefly, a tribe. Finally you meet other people who understand that odd part of you, who understand as well as you do the joy, the melancholy, the excitement and the influence of New Order. I have met football hooligans in Brixton Academy London who were my brother because we both knew that while the John Robie Remix of Sub-Culture was badly received by purists at the time for the glitzy New York electronic makeover and the female backing vocals, once you take it as a different thing entirely to the original track, it was actually pretty good. But we both knew that the remix that was only ever given away free with Record Mirror is superior.

Indeed, I once met John Robie late at night in a bar in New York. He was stunned I knew who he was, and stunned that I knew about the small but important part he played in the history of New Order (as producer/remixer on three songs). Robie was a force in the New York electro scene and a collaborator with club legend Arthur Baker, who also worked with New Order in those years, and because we had this brotherhood, we had one of those random nights of New York drinking.

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I like these random encounters with my tribe. I guess part of the reason we all understand each other is that we are all, in essence, after the same thing from New Order: Disco and sadness. Life is sad, so turn up the bass. Of course, many would come after them but, as any fan will tell you, it was New Order who first had the idea of taking the melancholy of indie music and the melancholy of the post-industrial north of England and putting Hi-NRG electronica behind it. Indeed, New Order fans will tell you wide-eyed how New Order invented practically everything in popular culture, such was the influence of their music, design and their general aesthetic.

And they did it their way. They never played the game. They would insist on playing live any time they got on Top of the Pops with the result that their singles would usually drop down the charts the week after they appeared. Singles were often released as one-offs and then not put on albums. Singles were released only on 12" vinyl. There's the famous story of how the cover of the original release of Blue Monday was so expensive to produce, the band lost money every time they sold a copy of it.

The primary motivation always seemed to be to make art. Obviously the band got older and more interested in making a few quid, but you can't blame them for that. Two years ago, for example, the band did ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) or "So it goes…" a collaboration with artist Liam Gillick which was an audio visual installation/gig reworking of lots of old material they hadn't played for years and some new stuff too, accompanied by a synthesiser orchestra of excited young people. As part of the Manchester International Festival, they played five nights of it, in the old Granada TV studios where they made their TV debut, played it three more times in Turin and Vienna, and then never did it again. Sheer contrariness. Still, after all these years.

So I'm excited about next Sunday when New Order play Trinity. I've only ever seen them 10 or 12 times in the last 30 years so each one is an event and each one is different, with a slightly different me coming to it, and each one is special. The only consistent thing being that we are all there together for once, with people who understand this eccentric obsession we share.

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