“Video Profile: New Order”: Night Flight’s 1989 episode highlighted the electro-dance band’s experimental videos

By on February 6, 2017

Night Flight’s “Video Profile: New Order” — which originally aired on July 27, 1989 — includes several of the electro-dance band’s eccentric music videos, which were mostly directed by celebrated artists and experimental filmmakers like Robert Longo, Philippe Decouflé, William Wegman, and Jonathan Demme, to name just a few. Watch New Order’s video profile now at Night Flight Plus.


Pat Prescott: “New Order originally formed as a band called Warsaw, in Manchester, England, in April 1977. At the peak of British punk fever, the group’s brooding industrial sound created a lot of confusion.”

Warsaw, as Ms. Prescott mentions later, was the original name for the band Joy Division — which came from the SS term for the brothel divisions at Nazi concentration camps — as well as the planned title their debut album.


Warsaw represented the band’s earliest recordings, in July 1977, while later recordings — from May of 1978 — filled out the rest of what had been planned for the debut, but the band weren’t too happy overall with its post-production mix, and thought they would be better off going back into the studio and starting over, and so the recordings — as well as the band’s original name — were scrapped.

That debut album, Warsaw, by the way, was widely circulated as a bootleg until it was officially released in 1994.


Warsaw/Joy Division, of course, were led by the charismatic lead singer Ian Curtis, who often shocked their audience by incorporating electrified, manic movements into his onstage persona (Curtis was also prone to epileptic seizures).

The band members had all hailed from Manchester — located about two hundred miles from London, and home to so many great Brit bands, like the Buzzcocks, Magazine, and the Smiths — and they ended up signing an amazing record deal with Tony Wilson’s under-funded Manchester-based Factory Records (reportedly their share of the profits from sale of Joy Division singles and albums was 60%) in 1979.

However, part of their success was their promotion by one of their biggest fans, legendary British deejay John Peel — they performed twice on his BBC radio show — which led to the band’s club-packing performances all across England.


Their first true debut album, 1979’s Unknown Pleasures, was produced on a tiny recording budget by electronic whiz producer Martin Hannett (known to some as “Zero”), who was sometimes called the band’s fifth member.

Hannett’s producing techniques made the band’s sometimes bleak, gothic rock sound even more enticing.

A second and final full-length album, Closer, was released two months after the death of Ian Curtis, who had committed suicide by hanging himself on a clothesline in the kitchen of the flat at 77 Barton Street, in Macclesfield, on May 18, 1980 , at just 23 years old.

Closer confirmed that Joy Division were one of the more important, and hugely influential, groups of the late 70s, and not just a cult sensation.


One of the videos included in our New Order video profile is the Joy Division tribute video of sorts by director Anton Corbijn for “Atmosphere,” originally a non-LP track by Joy Division, first as a 7-inch EP in March 1980 by the French label Sordide Sentimental.

“Atmosphere” was originally released with a different title, “Licht und Blindheit,” which is translated from German into English means “light and blindness.”

It later released by Factory as a 12-inch single, paired with “She’s Lost Control.”  (Corbijn would incidentally later direct an Ian Curtis bio-pic feature, called Control.)


As a 24-year old photographer, Corbijn had left the isolated existence of his native Holland hometown village and come to England in 1979, in part, because Joy Division was one of his favorite groups, and he wanted to photograph what their own inspirational environs looked like.

Joy Division evoked what write Simon Reynolds would call an “aura of modernist severity,” which is what you can see infused in Corbijn’s photography and the video he did for the 1988 re-release of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” a highly stylized, high contrast black and white effort that perfectly captures the German expressionist vibe of the track, with cloaked monks wearing black and white robes shown carrying large framed photographs of the band’s martyred lead singer, Ian Curtis.

Eventually “Atmosphere” and this accompanying video by Anton Corbijn were released in 1988 to coincide with the release of the Joy Division compilation album Substance.


Bernard Sumner

Joy Division’s remaining members — who had vowed to continue playing music together, with guitarist Bernard “Barney” Sumner taking over the lead vocals — had to come up with a new moniker, since they’d previously made a pact among themselves that if any of its members ever “left” the group, a new name was necessary.

After mulling over choices for a new moniker, they ultimately chose one that came from an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, which their manager Rob Gretton had read.

The article had mentioned that, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, a “new order” had been established there in its place, and it was Gretton who suggested it to the band, who gave their approval.


Apparently they didn’t know at the time that there was also a connection between Adolf Hitler and the phrase “new order,” and they were caught off guard by the backlash from those who were surprised they’d chosen New Order as their new name, particularly since the moniker Joy Division had been derided by some for sounding like they approved of Hitler’s fascism.

Whereas Joy Division was primarily a guitar-oriented band, New Order’s first recordings — a multi-layered, textured synth-heavy sound propelled forward by drummer Stephen Morris’s motorik drumming — signaled that they were moving away from the bleak, austere sound of Joy Division and boldy going into a new direction.

That new direction was taking them closer to a proto-rave electro dance sound that would likely prove to be too pop for the goth crowd, and yet was still too gloomy for mainstream chart success.


Their image would also change when the band ditched their raincoats and shirt sleeves for pastel polo shirts and slip-on loafers, dressing up in a mix of clothing that had them looking like casual tennis buffs (although they continued to wear their leather jackets in order to hang on to some of their 70s punk credibility).

New Order would part ways during the band’s early years with longtime producer Martin Hannett, and over the rest of the 1980s, they simply followed their own instincts, finding that while they lost some of their original fans, they were gaining a much larger following that were even more devoted to New Order than Joy Division’s fanbase ever were.

Some of their first recordings were likely inspired by electronic disco from Italy, which the band had been listening to to cheer themselves up after Curtis’s death, and the fact that Morris had taught himself how to do drum programming.


New Order played their 1983 hit “Blue Monday” live on the UK’s “Top of the Pops”

“Blue Monday,” their first U.K. hit, was followed by “Confusion,” a single produced by Arthur Baker, who was the hottest dance producer in New York at the time.


Producer Arthur Baker

Baker became the band’s producer simply because the members of New Order had liked “Planet Rock,” the 1982 hit by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force, a hugely influential track credited with pioneering the electro beat style, building on the melody of Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express,” and propelled by the distinctive sound of a Roland TR-808 synth.

New Order had been so inspired by “Planet Rock,” that their newest recordings began to incorporate the same kind of jackhammering drum-machine beats and disco-friendly bass lines.


Our New Order video profile kicks off with the official video for “Confusion,” which offers up a unique narrative snapshot of the track being mixed to quarter-inch tape, and then played at the Funhouse club, one of the key NYC’s post-disco scenes, particularly with the Latin freestylers who gathered at the legendary NY nightclub, the Funhouse.

You can see rare footage of revered dance music producer Arthur Baker and the members of New Order watching the dance floor with keen interest and seeing the dancers’ reaction in response to resident deejay Jellybean Benitez playing a mix of the track (on a reel-to-reel tape of the work still-in-progress).


Stephen Morris

The Hacienda — a Manchester, UK night club owned and funded by Factory Records and all four members of New Order — was built because of the clubs like the Funhouse that the band had gone to in New York during their autumn 1980 tour (some of the others included Hurrah, Danceteria, the Roxy, and the Paradise Garage).

Interestingly, the band’s scenes were also filmed the morning after New Order had played a concert in Trenton, New Jersey, and when they arrived on set in New York City to film their scenes at six o’clock in the morning they found that Baker had been waiting for them all night and he wasn’t in a great mood about it.


Gillian Gilbert

In Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Mark’s 2011 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Peter Hook of New Order offered up the following commentary about the band’s videos:

“We weren’t at all interested in self-promotion, so traditional music videos didn’t make sense to us. Often, we didn’t even appear in our own videos. To my knowledge, we were the first band to do that. We thought of video as its own art form. We didn’t use them to push our faces down people’s throats. We met Michael Shamberg when he filmed us playing in New York, and we gave him more or less complete artistic freedom to do our videos. Michael’s a big producer now — he did Pulp Fiction and Garden State — and he introduced us to interesting directors: Robert Longo, Kathryn Bigelow, Philippe Decouflé, Robert Frank, William Wegman, and Jonathan Demme. Jonathan directed “Perfect Kiss,” which was a live performance video. I think he captured the awkwardness and the edginess of the group.”


Peter Hook

Hooky’s right in that the Jonathan Demme‘s video for “Perfect Kiss” — made a year after finishing Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense —in that it focused point-blank on the faces individual members of New Order and occasionally on their hands, and the simplicity of their musicianship, capturing for all to see just how uncomfortable they seemed to be when cameras were pointed at them, their faces displaying a fascinating absence of passion.

Demme had apparently wanted to film Stephen Morris behind the drum kit and was dismayed to find that the drums in the song were all programmed.


The Cinéma vérité-style video — which cost about £160000, which is about $195,490 in U.S. dollars today — was filmed in the band’s Manchester rehearsal studio, showing them performing the song live, with Demme’s camera zooming in on the band members’ faces and their fingers, showing Hooky’s treble-rich bass lines providing a heavy groove that paves the way for keyboardist Gillian Gilbert’s melody, which consisted of about six notes total.


The video — which is unlike any other New Order clip — prominently features a Joy Division poster for their album Unknown Pleasures.


For the video for “Bizarre Love Triangle,” released in November of 1986, New Order turned to New York-based director and visual artist Robert Longo, who claimed that the music of Joy Division and New Order were very influential on his work.

Longo would end up giving New Order a very experimental film as a promotional video, with fragmented vertiginous fast cuts, infused with color, which were then merged together visually competing ideas.

One of those ideas included men and women in business suits are seen falling through the air, something he’d based on his own set of lithographs called “Men in the Cities.”

Another of the other ideas Longo pursued was the use of visually appealing panels of Longo’s own art, which are then interrupted by a “bizarre love triangle,” a black and white melodrama scene with Asian actress Jodi Long and Oregon-based screenwriter and filmmaker E. Max Frye arguing emphatically about reincarnation.


You can also see the band filmed while playing live in the hills of Italy (Tony Wilson of Factory had sent some cameramen from Granada TV to shoot the band there).

You can read more about Longo here.


New Order’s 1987 single “True Faith” was perfect for radio, with its short intro, verses and chorus, and its release also seemed to be perfectly timed, capturing the optimistic mood of mainstream dance pop just before the rave culture took over.

The single (#4 UK) became New Order’s first single to chart in the Billboard Hot 100 and would also go on to be a top 40 hit in the United States, peaking at #32.

The eccentric video for the song, which finally broke the band in the U.S., was directed in Paris by celebrated mime artist, film director and contemporary dance choreographer Philippe Decouflé, who provides the band with another intriguing video, inspired by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadisches Ballett.

The video opens with two mannequin-like performers in Bauhaus-style costumes slapping each other repeatedly, before a man in dark green makeup emerges from an upside-down boxer’s speed bag and signs the lyrics to the song.

We see other colorfully-attired dancers in inflated suits doing somersaults and slapping each other.


The award-winning video — “True Faith” won the BPI award for Best Promotional Video in 1988 — also uses inspired editing and in-camera effects showing characters leaping backwards or slowing down and speeding up in an attempt to further dehumanize their movements.

The band is seen too, performing onstage in Glastonbury.


New Order’s U.S. label, Warner Bros.’ imprint Qwest Records — who licensed the band’s recordings for North American distribution — thought that an updated version of their 1983 hit “Blue Monday” would be a better follow-up for their first U.S. hit, “True Faith” (rather than “Touched by The Hand of God”), in order to present the newly-updated sound of the band to American fans who were just being introduced to the band.

“Blue Monday 88″‘s production supervisor was the label’s head honcho, celebrated producer Quincy Jones, who decided not to use the new vocals or drum tracks that New Order had recorded.

The video features hand-drawn animation by experimental abstractionist and filmmaker Robert Breer, and was directed by video artist William Wegman, primarily known for his short comedies and commercial work that featured his pet dogs, Weimaraners, Fay Ray and Man Ray (sadly, the one named after the French surrealist photographer had, by the time this video was done, already died).

In 1988, the band were filmed in Los Angeles when they were in town as the “half-time entertainment” for a fashion show at the Stock Exchange, a combined UK/L.A. project.

The video features shots of the band — Wegman pelted them with rubber balls, and also filmed them playing with flipbooks — interspersed with Breer’s hyperkinetic doodles and Wegman’s Weimaraner named Fay Ray doing balancing acts.


The single reached #3 in the British charts, number 4 in the Australian charts, and topped the dance charts in the United States, no doubt due in part to the video, which received a lot of airplay on U.S. cable TV music video shows.

The videos for “Confusion,” “Perfect Kiss,” “Shellshock,” “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “True Faith,” and “Blue Monday 1988″ — along with “Touched by the Hand of God,” which wasn’t included in our video profile — were released in 1989 as the VHS music video compilation Substance.


Watch Night Flight’s “Video Profile: New Order” and other video profiles from the 1980s on Night Flight Plus, and while you’re at it, check out our Joy Division: Under Review post too.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • http://www.theblacklaser.net/ Joe The Wizard

    My wife and I watched this episode the other night and were very confused by the video that played in the “Blue Monday 88″ slot which is neither New Order nor the song Blue Monday. We watched the clip three or four times and tried to search the internet for matching lyrics, but couldn’t find out who that video was. You guys even have an image in this article with the wrong video.

  • Bryan Thomas

    Yep, you’re right — we took a screenshot for the post (since replaced) without realizing the video of “Blue Monday 88″ was not, in fact, the New Order video. No idea who it is, either. Good eye! Let us know if you find any more cockups like that!