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In and Out of Order

New Order

Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1985

Peter Hook gives a breakdown on broken down gear and the lowdown on Lowlife.

Despite being the biggest independent band in the world, New Order spend a lot of their time wrestling with uncooperative equipment and very little cooperating with interviewers. However, we managed to wrestle a word or two out of Peter Hook, bass player and new studio owner...

Bastards. That's what New Order are. That's what Lemmy is. That's what it says on the engineer's T-shirt. Bastards.

New Order are the biggest cult band in the world. They're virtually anonymous, wealthy, happy and they've only recently mastered their instruments. Bastards.

Peter Hook, lead bass player in New Order is claiming that Lemmy has pinched his bass sound. Bastard.

The engineer in the Bastard T-shirt works at Suite 16, the studio that Peter Hook has just bought in Rochdale.

"The attraction of the studio was that it was available," says Hook, drole, relaxed, bearded, astute. "We used to work here when we were Joy Division and it was Cargo. I've always had soft spot for the place. We did Love Will Tear Us Apart here. When Chris Hewitt and myself first bought the place we had to totally rewire it. They had insulating tape on the noise reduction — stuff like that — and we had to rebuild the desk. It's still a very elderly Soundcraft but it's slightly modified and updated now.

"Since then we've bought in a Korg delay, a Lexicon, a couple of DMX's, a Compeller, an Emulator. We're still kind of halfway through. We're building a live room, we're getting a Lexicon 224X, we're going to make the toilet so it doesn't smell disgusting and hopefully we're going to ½ inch. So it will be 16 track, 2 inch to ¼ inch. I mean 16 track is much better quality anyway but when it goes onto ½ inch it should be great. But basically this hasn't got much to do with New Order as a group. We won't be using this place to demo. Mainly because we don't demo — not properly in a studio anyway. We record bits and pieces at our own rehearsal rooms onto four track."

So he owns a studio and a rehearsal room and...

"Right, don't tell a soul about this... that's great isn't it? Don't tell a soul... you! We're building a 32 track digital Mitsubishi studio under the Hacienda in Manchester. It's underway now and hopefully it'll be complete in six months and it'll mean that bands won't be forced to travel to London to use a decent studio and we won't have to go to Japan to record. Although we nicked most of the ideas from a studio we used in Japan where the engineers think like they should be wearing white coats."

Surprisingly the subterranean premises will not house an SSL desk.

"SSL is shit really," decides Hook, "I really wasn't impressed by SSL; it's too tricky, you don't need all that. I mean it's useful but when you're writing as a band as we do then you don't use its facilities. You only want to call it back if it's wrong and if it's wrong you don't want to call it back anyway. Britannia Row is going SSL which is a bit of a shame because it was great there when we mixed Lowlife because Mike Johnson, the engineer, knew the desk's Eq really well and there were no subgroups or anything to confuse you.

"The day we did the video for The Perfect Kiss was so traumatic because we had all these mixes down on the computer and we didn't know where the bleeding hell we were. In the end we took it to a dead cheap 24 track and did it by just watching the video and riding the faders. SSL is too good in a way. You end up recalling all manner of things that you'd normally let go and it's those things that keep the track fresh and human."

Is Hook in demand as a producer?

"Well more people ask me than I actually do. So you could say I'm in demand," he says blushing demurely. "I've always done the Stockholm Monsters and I've just started with a band called Some Now Are. But it's very hard to squeeze it all in. I actually enjoy producing too much and you've got to keep it in check."

Strangely, Hook divides New Order's songs into two categories: acoustic and electronic.

"If you work a song around a bass riff," he explains, "it's an acoustic song and if it's worked around a keyboard riff or a sequence it's electronic. Virtually all the songs are written in rehearsal. It can either start with Barney (Albrecht) coming up with a cosmic riff or me having an idea and then just jam around it. Sometimes we'll sequence a riff with the two track MIDI Roland MSQ700 or the Yamaha QX7. They're really easy to use and they're quick. We don't use them live but they're handy for writing."

Sequencers have become a quintessential part of New Order's sound and have been the bain of the band's collective existence since their inception.

"The worst piece of equipment we've ever had is the Prophet Poly sequencer," sighs Hook. "My God! We've got five. We used to have to use five because invariably, as soon as you set them up at a gig, two would automatically break down. Every gig. One gig we did in London we had five Prophet Fives and five Polysequencers and four sets went bust. Because what happens as if you plug an alright Prophet Five into a broken Polysequencer it tends to screw the Prophet Five. They also use mini cassettes which are awful. The great shame is it's a good machine when it works but it very rarely does."

Actually New Order don't have an awful lot of luck with their equipment. Peter Hook gets into full moan mode.

Captain Hook on DMX...

"The Simmons SDS7. We've had terrible problem with that. The voice cards going down, overheating. If you shine a light into it it stops working. Really, if a light catches it on stage it goes weird. Again that's great when it's working. But it's never here — it's always back at Simmons.

"Then there's the Emulator I. That's gone back to Syco three times. We are doing this tour in Germany and the disk drive wouldn't work so it kept going bonkers. Our sound guy got so pissed off he picked it up and dropped it about four feet down onto the floor and it started working fine after that. So now every time it packs up we hit it on the right leg with a hammer and it's fine again. When we brought it to the studio it stopped working so it was out with the hammer — bang — and it was okay again."

Would he recommend any particular hammer?

"A two pound lump. I think that's the one we endorse. The nail but also comes in very handy for taking the Emulator flight case apart. We've even had problems with the Emulator II. I think it's Steve (Morris) — he must be charged with negative ions. He took my SDS7 to Japan and sure enough it died. The problem with the Emulator II seems to be in the software. It appears to lose its tuning. Even when it's just come back from repair it seems a bit wacky. We had this problem that if you sampled, say, an A into it, when you listened to it on the Emulator you got an F and then you'd play the A on the thing you'd sampled and it would still be A but the Emulator would be telling you that it was an F. But if you put it on disk and brought it back it went back to A. Very strange. We sent it back to Emulator four times in five months.

"But the very worst piece of gear we've had was an ETI Vocoder. That never worked. Tell a lie it worked once and we used it on Ecstacy on Power, Corruption and Lies. It stopped working after that. We spent a fortune on it but it never worked again."

Responsibility for sequencing has now fallen on the square, reliable shoulders of the Yamaha QX1.

"Steve does most of the operating and we've now afforded ourselves the luxury of a roadie who knows exactly how the machine works. The thing with the QX1 is that what it does is brilliant but it takes a hell of a long time to programme, so we write the stuff and then get it programmed in by telling him we want 10 of these, five of these and five of these. The manual for the thing was atrocious. It went to page 11 and went back to the beginning again and it did that three times. We got the girl from Yamaha when we were in Japan to try and translate and explain the programme changing to us but she couldn't understand it. It was very worrying.

"The trouble with the QX1 is that it isn't very spontaneous. You can't just sit there and play something and think, 'Eh, that's not bad, I fucked it up a bit but it's alright.' With the QX1 it takes about three hours to get going. You don't feel very spontaneous after three hours. But it's an absolutely marvellous machine for live simply because it is so reliable and you can put everything on it.

"When we were using the Prophet system with the DMXs all wired together it was always hell. The gear has really settled down now but it's taken this long. We still use the Voyetra synths. We use them for sequences now. They're very reliable. We MIDI them to the QX1 and use that as a sequencer connected to an RX11. The RX11 is great but the memory on it is terrible so we programme the QX1 and that runs the RX11 and through the MIDI it runs the Emulator as well. So you've got the Emulator sequences, the RX11 sequenced and the Voyetra sequenced. It's actually 95 per cent Voyetra sounds and the Emulator provides a bit of percussion.

"Funnily enough for Lowlife we used the Prophet set up for sequences. That was basically the setup we used from Blue Monday onwards. Before that, for Everything's Gone Green and Temptation we were using a Moog Source sequenced by a Powertran with a customised memory and switchable banks which was triggering an ARP Quadra."

Blue Monday, unpromoted, independent, name of band and song on neither sleeve nor record, the biggest selling 12 inch (for that was all it was available in) in the history of Pop Music.

"Every time the Emulator packs up we hit it on the right leg with a hammer and it's fine again"

"Blue Monday was really inspired by the DMX," reminisces Hook, "that began with a bassline on the Moog Source and we worked out the sequences on the Prophet system we had. We all chipped in for the pushes on the DMX and Steve programmed. Barney came up with the melody actually in the studio. The guitar and bass parts were very obvious — we came up with them pretty quickly too. Doesn't sound very inspired does it?"

Is the DMX still a part of New Order's sound?

"I think it's a very good machine. It's much easier to use the Yamaha plus with slot-in cards you can virtually have any sound you want. I suppose it has become part of our sound but now I'm beginning to think I prefer the Yamaha sounds. They're just that bit liver than the DMX. You have to work that little bit harder with it. The Yamahas sound more natural. Like the DX7s. The DMX lacks a bit of ambience but that said it's great when you turn it up dead loud. The thing is that the Yamaha stuff actually sounds better with the QX1 so I can see the day we'll ditch the DMXs and use RX11s and the rack mountable DX7 thing (TX816)."

Why not resolve all the sequencing problems with a Fairlight?

"We tried one out," he says, "we were actually going to get one but the eight track one isn't much use to us because we'd want to put the drums and the sequences on it. Also the loading time for the sequences is something like half a second but when you've got to load your sounds it takes about a minute and a half which would mean you'd have to use a spare one live. But I do like the sequencer in the Fairlight, very simple and good visuals. But the Fairlight stab just irritates me now. It's become the Syndrum of the Eighties — bo-booo booo booo!"

Hook's also been looking at the Octave Plateau, made by the Voyetra people — "Basically Page R ripped off and repackaged" — and the Linn 9000, but he decided the company were, "in so much of a rush to get it out, they didn't finish it properly." But lest we forget Peter Hook produces New Order's all-powerful bass sound. How?

"I normally get it in the studio by going completely over the top," he laughs. "You see I always try to re-create the sound I get live but as soon as I plug my amp in, it's always too noisy. So I start with a DI and then put it through a variety of ever-changing amps into a Leslie cabinet. I put all that through loads of effects, echoes choruses with various settings, then there's an Alembic preamp. Then we fuck about a lot and suddenly you get this very trebly, sightly distorted sound. And that's the one I use. It's a matter of getting the right number of patch leads, I think Lowlife is the first time we really listened to the sounds and got them right. The bass sound on Power, Corruption and Lies wasn't as good as it could have been."

All that trouble just to sound like Lemmy.

"He's ripped me off. The bastard. I've not really spent that much time studying the finer nuances of Lemmy's bass sound but I know what you mean. Very toppy. Actually he was in Brit Row just before we were. Maybe he left a bit of himself in the desk."

...Barney Albrecht on lead guitar

Another factor contributing to Hook's bassless bass sound is his penchant for six string basses.

"It's a Shergold six string," he elaborates, "actually I've got four of the five that were ever sold in Manchester. You can't get them any more. The guy who makes them has gone back to making kitchens. I suppose I must use the six string on about a third of the songs. It's a bastard because Piccato used to make strings for them they they went bust and set up again and they are now telling me that they're not making them any more. Rotosounds won't fit. I try to use .40s for the high E but you're supposed to use .30 or .28 but if I use any string other than Piccato they snap.

"I use a Yamaha 1200S active for writing and I've just had the ultimate luxury. A custom-built bass guitar. An Eccleshall semi-acoustic with one EMG and one Yamaha active pickup. And no feedback problems. It's gorgeous. See, I used to have a Gibson semi-acoustic but it was medium scale and no matter what you did the E string was always out of tune. But it was a great guitar. You could play it really low."

Why hang your bass so low?

"Trying to get away from it I suppose. I've always felt more comfortable like that because it's more difficult to play that way. My theory is the higher you wear your guitar the easier it is to play. That's why Barney has his so high up because he's not a very good player."

Barney Albrecht's guitar playing — sharp, insistent, fallable, compulsive — is actually definitive two fingered guitar playing. A virtuoso he isn't but in terms of expression and style he rates very highly.

"He recently smashed the head off his Gibson semi-acoustic," smirks Hook, which he'd had for years in a fit of pique, so he's gone onto Tokais now. The cheap Telecaster copies with EMG pickups fitted. You can smash the heads off those and you don't feel so bad about it. He still uses a 1960 Vox amp, the old UD30 with separate top and cab — a 60 watt amp. We've had about six of them in all. The guitar sound on the LP took absolutely ages. Nearly as long as it took to get the bass sound! We used a mixture of the Vox and a Playbus. The Playbus was really good because you can use the distortion on that and have the amp fairly clean so you just get a bit of bite without it being overly dirty."

Ironically Peter Hook doesn't enjoy studio life.

"I sometimes enjoy pissing about at home. I've got a Porta One and the Yamaha bass and a couple of sequencers and stuff and I do a bit there. I haven't practised me playing at home for about five years. I don't really feel I need to. It's good enough for what I want and we practise three or four times a week. But playing live is the important thing for me. I don't particularly like the studio, although that might seem like a bit of a contradiction having just bought one. I do enjoy producing but when you're in doing an LP it's like... your life just stops."

Live, New Order have had a lot of criticisms levelled at them. They rarely play for more than 45 minutes ("easily long enough") and pre-recorded music.

"It's always tempting," replies Hook, "to put too much on a sequence. Like when we were in Japan in the 32 track, there was a point where we had filled 30 tracks and still wanted to put more down. Thing is there's no point in doing that. I mean I'm useless at miming."

Is integrating bass guitar with bass sequence difficult live?

"It's not as weird as you'd think. I've always tended to play pretty high up anyway, a bit honky, so the two things never overlap too much. It's always been a melodic thing. I used to get really paranoid about it and think, "Christ, what am I going to put on it if there's all these fucking basslines already there?" When we went with Arthur Baker I though I'd be completely left out. It was electronic music. In the end it turned out that Arthur Baker wanted the bass more than anything else. He considered that to be our trade mark, he really liked it."

Move over, I think your ego wants to sit down.

"Yeah, I was pretty flattered. It was odd because I came up for the bassline to Confusion on a synth so I though I'd be sat outside the studio while they recorded it, but it was quite satisfying in the end. And I play guitar on it live so that doesn't bother me either."

So how would you deal with a particularly fast bass line written on a keyboard that needed to be played on bass guitar.?

"Ha," he laughs, "I'd sequence it."

Do drums and sequences mix better than sex and politics?

"If it's a very electronic song and there's more than one keyboard playing — say the Emulator and the Voyetra — than Steve will programme the drum machine and then play it from a keyboard. So on some songs there is no kit at all — maybe just some Simmons overdubs or occasionally we'll pinch a snare using the AMS. We tend to put acoustic drums on choruses with Steve's Bogers kit — a big black one. Live, as long as Steve can hear the drum machine properly, it's normally alright. A lot depends on the monitoring."

Does Hook, the man who used to write the name of the notes on his fretboard, ever doubt his bass playing abilities?

"No," he shrugs, "I get over confident if anything. Play 20 minute solos."

Are you rich? Peter Hook.

"Culturally? Loaded."


Joy Division and Electronica

Joy Division and International Musician never met formally. Subsequently we missed their early marriages of brittle metal guitars and electronic instruments. Peter Hook recalls their introduction to what, then, was technology.

"The first synth Joy Division had was the Powertran ETI. Barney built it from a kit and it never worked so he sent it back and they built it for him. I seem to remember that was very good for white noise (laughs). Then he got a kit so he could trigger it off the guitar and get a sort of pitch to voltage type arrangement. We used that on These Days (The B-side of Love Will Tear Us Apart) and on some of Unknown Pleasures. A lot of people think we never started using synths until we were New Order but we used one on the first LP on that long track on side two... I can't remember the name of it now (I Remember Nothing). That was the Powertran. Then we used the ARP Omni which we used on some New Order stuff as well.

"Closer had quite a lot of synth and electronic percussion on it. We used a Pro One and an ARP Omni. Most of the percussion was taken from an ARP synth and a sequencer. There really weren't many decent drum machines about apart from the Roland Compurhythm which wasn't as programmable as it could have been. We got an SDS2 pretty early too and some of those Pearl electronic pads but we didn't want too much electronic gear at that time. We were Punks... man!"

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Oct 1985

Donated by: Mike Gorman, Neill Jongman

Scanned by: Mike Gorman


New Order



Related Artists:

Stephen Hague


Peter Hook

Interview by Adrian Deevoy

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