If the singer in your band suddenly died, would you call it quits? New Order did the opposite, proving in an endless stream of brilliant music that Joy Division was merely a warm-up on the path to pop greatness.
There’s one important fact that should not be neglected when commemorating the 30-year anniversary of Joy Division’s premature demise. Pretty much within a day of the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, his remaining bandmates decided to carry on under a new name. Thus was born New Order, an ensemble that gradually shed Joy Division’s rock essence to become one of the most influential groups in modern dance and electronic music. And, dare I say it, New Order was the better band.
While incorporating elements of electronic dance music wasn’t unusual amongst post-punk bands in the early 1980s (the synthesizer-based works of disco producers such as Giorgio Moroder were a strong influence for many of those groups), what set New Order apart from its rock contemporaries was how wholly the group embraced the music and its attending culture, to the point where a huge swath of listeners are unaware of the band’s rockier origins and inclination. In my own case, I was exposed to New Order’s music long before I had any inkling that there had been a predecessor group (much less one that played rock), due to R&B radio’s embrace of the band’s dancefloor-filling output during my 1980s childhood. In contrast to Joy Division’s grim Aryan-tinged image, New Order’s stellar run of singles during the 1980s acted as multicultural nexus points, linking white European post-disco, Latino electro from New York, and black house music from Detroit and Chicago, both drawing from and providing inspiration to these musical strains. The members of New Order would admit without hesitation that they were a bunch of white Britons who hated to dance, but their embrace and advancement of the technological innovations of electronic dance music—essentially forsaking agonized guitars and doomy basslines for drum programming and loads of synths—were never less than sincere. Witness the single “Confusion”, a kaleidoscopic blend of electro and early hip hop that remains a go-to cut for showing off one’s mad breakdancing skills: