New Order: Decades, Sky Arts — gloriously uplifting September 24, 2018
A concert film capturing the band’s music in all its melancholic grandeur
Last year as part of the Manchester International Festival, local band New Order were
commissioned to present a concert with a difference, collaborating with the artist Liam Gillick and
students from the Royal Northern College of Music. The show, which travelled to Turin and
Vienna, is preserved in the compelling documentary, New Order: Decades.
“It’s not a greatest hits show,” insists curator and writer Jon Savage, rather a reimagining of their
music in all its melancholic grandeur. Taking their blend of haunted rock and rigorous electronica
as a cue, Gillick envisaged a background grid to match their soundscapes. Twelve stacked boxes
behind the band each contained a music student playing a different part of the lushly rewritten
score. Inspired by Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel La Jalousie, Gillick also had slats fitted to the front
of each box, revealing and concealing the players at intervals during the concert. (Jalousie
translates both as “Jealousy”, which could easily be a New Order song title, and Venetian blind.)
“It’s a hell of a lot of cables,” grins conductor Joe Duddell. Each student needs their own screen to
see him, a headset to communicate, a separate score and keyboard. The band are awed that these
young virtuosi can play complex musical phrases that were created by computer, with keyboard
player Gillian Gilbert especially happy to concede tricky parts of the score. Drummer Stephen
Morris meanwhile revels in the new resources, having always been the techie.
Frontman Bernard Sumner stresses the band’s forward-looking ethos, but for them there’s no
escaping the heavy hand of the past. New Order’s previous incarnation as Joy Division is lightly
touched on here, having been exhaustively covered before, but Ian Curtis, the singer who died aged
23 in 1980, is still a palpable presence. “He’s forever young,” says Sumner, adding that “he was
such a determined, explosive character” that his suicide was impossible to prevent.
But for the young performers, all that is ancient history. At one point in the concert, the young
players’ enthusiastic indie dancing, each in their separate box, was trending more on Twitter than
the band itself. At the finale of the concert, the ensemble plays “Decades” in a shimmering new
version — and it’s gloriously uplifting.