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Parting Shots: Joy Division and New Order’s Peter Hook

by Mike Greenhaus on September 20, 2017

Peter Hook spent the first 30 years of his career with his eyes focused firmly forward and the past 10 reminding his fans just how important those decades of hard work were. As the co-founder of post-punk pioneers Joy Division, the bassist left an indelible mark on the indie-rock movement. And he inspired a second generation of musicians while churning out New Wave anthems with Joy Division’s successors, New Order. When the band split up in 2007, Hook initially shifted his attention to DJing, but after paying tribute to Joy Division singer Ian Curtis around the 30th anniversary of his passing in 2010, he decided the time was right for a more formal retrospective. Since then, Hook has gradually worked his way through the Joy Division and New Order catalogs, song by song, recreating both bands’ albums with the help of his new backing group the Light.

Though Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert reformed New rder in 2011 and have released two new studio albums and a live record, Hook decided to strike out on his own. “I do miss the dynamic of a group and I do miss always going forward and writing,” he says. “Not quite as much these days because of the way that the internet hooks everything up for musicians and journalists. As groups, we both suffer greatly by being poached by the internet.”

Hook has also analyzed his work in print with Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division and Substance: Inside New Order, both of which blend geeky, insider information into the framework of a traditional band bio. “I read Bernard’s book and it offered no detail whatsoever—nothing about his songwriting craft, which I thought was such a shame because the guy was a fucking genius, mentally and musically,” Hook says. “I suppose, in a way, he taught me how not to do a book on New Order.”

New Order shied away from playing Joy Division’s music for years and now you are recreating both catalogs live. Why did your perspective change?

When we were together as New Order, it felt OK not to celebrate anything to do with Joy Division. But once New Order split up, and we were on the outside looking in, it seemed quite odd not to celebrate Joy Division. I have no relationship with Stephen or Bernard, and haven’t after 10 years. So, I thought, “Fuck it. I’ll be on my own.” I enlisted some friends, and we were looking for a way to celebrate the group without impersonating the group. My big beef with New Order now is that New Order shouldn’t be pretending to be New Order.

It has been many years since you played these Joy Division songs. What struck you most about them when you took a deep dive into that corner of your career?

I wasn’t aware that most people had only ever heard Joy Division on record. There are very few live tapes of Joy Division, and Joy Division were very different live. While Stephen wasn’t that successful with New Order, he was certainly very successful with Joy Division and added a lot. I got the idea from Bobby Gillespie. Primal Scream played Screamadelica, and I thought, “That’s the way to do it—play the LP in full!”

There was a lot of expectation, and there was a lot of negative chatter, shall we say. But once we showed that we were putting the right amount of passion, enthusiasm and reverence into what we were doing, we certainly won everybody over. And from Joy Division it seemed logical to do the same thing with New Order. We are celebrating the art of the long play and putting out these live records of our shows. I was brought up with fantastic long plays, from Velvet Underground’s Loaded to Led Zeppelin.

You’ve toured the world with your band the Light, including many festival gigs. What’s been the most surprising aspect of your recent journeys?

The interesting thing is that wherever we’ve gone to play, there’s been a very young, enthusiastic audience. That’s because New Order ignored the back catalog. I must admit, I did think it was crazy— Bernard and Stephen would just pay no heed to the back catalog. It was very frustrating, so I suppose I’ve gone off the other end. New Order did get really boring—we’d just play the same hits over and over again with no regard for some fantastic tracks. My ambition is to play every track that we’ve written and recorded, and I’m halfway there.

It’s interesting: The very chemistry that makes you write great music as a group is usually the very chemistry that tears you apart. People still go and see New Order now and appreciate them for what they are, and then they come and see us and appreciate us for what we are. I was doing a gig in Berkeley, Calif., and New Order had played the week before. I simply asked, “Who went to see New Order” and nearly the whole audience put their hands up. So, you’re sharing the fans. They’re getting two bites—even if I don’t agree with what [New Order] are doing and the way they market it.

[My former bandmates] certainly don’t agree with what I’m doing. It’s quite sad; it just shows how fucking stupid musicians can be. [Laughs.] All these legal fights with groups—we’re all a bloody shame. We’re idiots. But hearing the records live has been bit of a revelation to me, and it’s been nice to have my son Jack play with the Light and hear how good he is.

Did retracing your steps through your biographies change the way you approached your material live?

I took for granted how good both groups are because, as a musician, I’m too close. When it comes to writing the books, you realize that throwing that stone in the pond certainly creates a lot of ripples. The Joy Division one was easy to write. The New Order one was much more difficult because the legal battle was still going on. It’s what most musicians fight about— money and recognition.

When I was writing the book, I realized that New Order is a fantastic group who achieved so much together, and somehow it made the legal stuff seem even worse. You think, “You were together for 31 years, you changed the world of music in the way that you did with Joy Division, and here you are squabbling like little idiot children.”

So, it made me realize what a huge band New Order was throughout the ‘80s, but there was a sad tinge to it because of this squabble. They insist that I’m not an important member of the group—never have been and should be treated accordingly—reducing my share from 25 percent to 1 percent. So every time they earn a dollar, I get a cent, which I don’t think is fair.

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