If one was heavily into dance music there was no way to go around Manchester’s vital rave and house scene in the late 80s. Bands like HAPPY MONDAYS and NEW ORDER were the key figures, DJ’s like Dave Haslam the high priests and the almighty Hacienda club their holy temple. Even over 25 years later the legacy of those golden days lives on and you can be sure that Dave Haslam and NEW ORDER singer Bernard Sumner have more than one story to tell about those days. Although it might be too much to define the author and the musician as close friends their paths crossed multiple times over the past decades.
And they will again on August the 28th as both will share one stage at Berlin’s new Pop-Kultur event (more infos below) as they will both read from their latest publications and maybe also share a few anecdotes with the audience. Exclusively for NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION Mr. Dave Haslam recalls his memories of those Manchester days and Mr. Sumner in an exclusive guest article ahead of next week’s reading.
Aged 16, 17 I was growing into life. Maybe at that age you are especially permeable; ideas and experiences flow straight into your soul. Good or bad experiences; you’re taking them all on board for life’s journey. In the late 1970s, there was some great chart music, but music being made on the margins was harder to find than it is now. Finding something beyond the charts took time and dedication far beyond browsing the internet and a few clicks of a mouse.
In the 1978, 1979, mainstream culture had some attractions but I knew there were alternatives. The 60s generation had questioned many traditional ways of thinking. Along with so many other people, one of my guides to music on the margins was the radio DJ John Peel; he was a child of the 1960s. He’d dreamed and believed in alternative ideas and his music tastes reflected this. Unlike some in the 60s generation, Peel also embraced punk, a genre which similarly challenged conventions, though in an angrier, more confrontational way. Punk was about questioning things and stripping away illusions but also about making your own culture, participating, finding your own route through life.
‘My exposure to punk came via John Peel and the ‘New Musical Express’
The ‘NME’ at that time reflected the ambition of the music at the time, and had political and cultural contents in its pages. Through Peel, ‘NME’, and the music, at 16, 17 I was learning the power of words, and the beauty of art. I was growing up in Birmingham, conscious of the potential pathways music seemed capable of opening up. Devouring music, I was discovering much else besides; I was finding a way to ideas.
Blondie were power pop I loved to jump around to, and of course the 16 year-old me found Miss Debbie Harry incredibly attractive. They were a little insubstantial, but that interest in Blondie led me through a door to New York, to Andy Warhol’s Factory, the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, CBGBs, Patti Smith. New York was one of a couple of cities that young people (especially) who I felt estranged from national politics, and mainstream entertainment in the late 1970s developed an interest in. Another was Berlin.
Ian Curtis of the Manchester group JOY DIVISION was one of those people; he had an interest, even possibly an obsession, with Berlin, but also Warsaw, or rather the Warsaw of his imagination generated largely by DAVID BOWIE’s song Warszawa. John Peel began to feature JOY DIVISION; early in 1979 they recorded a session for him which included songs still unavailable to buy, among them She’s Lost Control and Transmission. I remember my finger hovering and then pressing the ‘record’ on a cassette player attempting to capture the songs off the radio. Over the next ten months I saw Joy Division perform live three times, including what turned out to be their final gig in May 1980 which took place just a few weeks before Ian Curtis committed suicide. In those ten months, I was drawn to the power and ambition in the music, and to me Joy Division were mapping a world of thoughts and emotions behind the facade.
‘I was such a fan boy though’
In 2007, the third or fourth time as a journalist I interviewed Bernard Sumner of JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER, we talked about the intentions behind JOY DIVISION and he talked about how society hid things away and he thought one of the points of art was to ‘lift the lid’, to expose what had been hidden. But back in May 1980 I was a fan boy looking in, with an instinctive love for the band but no particular insight into why Ian killed himself that month, or how the band had achieved such artistic heights. And I didn’t quite appreciate how brave the surviving members were to go on to reinvent themselves as NEW ORDER.
I was such a fan boy though, that when the moment came to seek out a University to attend, my first choice was Manchester. I’d enjoyed being able to see lots of Birmingham bands the Prefects, the Au Pairs, and others, but I wanted the chance to see more of the Factory Records acts and the Fall, Magazine. So I moved to Manchester, a city of music. To study English Literature, the power of the words. It wasn’t quite New York, but Manchester at that time had something of a mythic status for me, the music in a post-industrial landscape. Dublin-born writer James Joyce once said that his novel Ulysses contained all you needed to know to rebuild Dublin brick by brick. If not by 1980, then certainly by 1990, the same might have been said of Manchester, via its music.
Within four weeks of being in Manchester I heard of a semi-secret NEW ORDER gig at a venue called the Squat. It was Gillian’s first appearance on keyboards with the group, playing to a room of about a hundred people. Just as JOY DIVISION had, the band were soundtracking my life, from NEW ORDER’s first album, Movement – struggling, unsettled – through to Technique eight or so years later, a smoother, warmer album, recorded in Ibiza in 1988. In 1982 NEW ORDER and Factory Records invested in a new club, the Hacienda. It was far-sighted move. Tony Wilson understood how significant a venue could be, once saying; ‘For any real form of substantive youth culture to thrive in a city, there has to be a place to go, somewhere to meet. That place in turn becomes representative of the city culture, and gains respect and reputation for that city’.
‘A New Order album is imminent, the band mutates’
The Hacienda is now considered to have been one of the most important venues in Europe. My experiences there, and a belief in the power and potential of venues similar to the one articulated by Tony Wilson are some of the inspirations for my new book Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs & Music Venues. In the Summer of 1988 while NEW ORDER were recording Technique, I was working as a DJ at the Hacienda two nights a week. I had been there since May 1986, but I rarely spoke to any of NEW ORDER. I don’t know why I didn’t. I guess partly it was because the owners and the management didn’t intervene in what the DJs were doing (I played there for 12 years, and around 500 times, and I had just two conversations about music policy! We were trusted to find quality music and to play it in the best way to get the best reaction). It was also partly because Bernard just doesn’t have the kind of temperament to parade around a venue he co-owned, as if he some kind of king. He would never do that.
More recently, since he published his autobiography, I have got a little closer to Bernard but I still wouldn’t claim that a few encounters, several honest interviews, and a couple of evenings out having dinner and drinks has given me special insight into the music he’s been making for nearly forty years. I’ve learned that he likes to go sailing for at least two weeks every July. I learned a lot about his childhood from the book. I know he is a wary, private man, thoughtful, dedicated to his songwriting. A NEW ORDER album is imminent, the band mutates. It’s like a life; from the origins, the early days, the good experiences and the bad shape the sound. The new album is still NEW ORDER, just as still in my life I carry something around of that young man I once was, that young man with an enquiring mind and an open heart. And still I listen to the music of those years that opened up those pathways. And the music of now, the new album. The journey continues…
Let’s talk about Pop-Kultur…
From August 26 to 28 the first ever Pop-Kultur festival will happen at Berlin’s legendary techno temple Berghain. The program will feature exclusive live concerts, performances, talks, and readings by more than 60 acts. The event shines a light on Berlin’s busy scene while meeting standards of internationality and diversity one can expect to experience in the year of 2015. Besides that the event advocates interdisciplinary exchange, including contemporary scientific discourse on music, society, and urban development.
The musical program includes performances by KIASMOS, NENEH CHERRY, HINDS, PANTHA DU PRINCE, ISOLATION BERLIN and many more. Other panel guests include Daniel Miller, Matthew Herbert, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert (of NEW ORDER), Owen Pallett and others.
You can find the full line-up of the 2015 Pop-Kultur event right here.