Around the year 2000, a group of my friends at Leeds University in the north of England started a club night called Technique, named after New Order's fifth and seminal 1989 album. One week, they'd have a techno legend like Carl Craig behind the decks, and the next it'd be a breakbeat or electroclash act, or whatever was tearing up the clubs at the time. The residents would always end the night with a nod to the bands that had raised them: The Clash, The Cure, New Order. It was both a moment for the city—Technique's open aesthetic blew the dust off Leeds' clubbing scene, with little reverence for the purism that was stifling the newly-commercial "superclub" world—and a moment for me: it was where I learned to really dance; nothing else mattered as much as getting lost in Technique's light, heat, and sweat.
The urge to dance—and to make other people dance—underpinned the night's namesake too. New Order's Technique album was partly written and recorded on the notorious Spanish party island of Ibiza during the late '80s, just as the U.K. was getting its head blown off by imported acid house from Chicago that would kickstart the Second Summer of Love. 26 years on, the Manchester band's tenth LP, Music Complete, finds them making a sure return to the enclaves of the dance floor, with all the open-mindedness of their early days: rock, blues, and Italodisco all find a home on the record, just as they would in an Ibizan night club circa 1988.
While often mistaken for a genre, Ibiza's homegrown "Balearic beat," as New Order's Stephen Morris points out below, is more a "mindset": anything goes, as long as it feels good. Today, just as in the bleak climate of Margaret Thatcher-led late '80s Britain, we need that feel-good more than ever. What can you buy/ That lifts a heavy heart up to the sky? sings Bernard Sumner rhetorically on Music Complete's lead single "Restless," a poignant critique of the paralyzing effect of late capitalist society. Dancing might not be an answer, but it's an action—and one that stirs the brain as much as the body. To find out how their time in Ibiza shaped their music and outlook, The FADER jumped on the phone with Morris, New Order's long-serving drummer who's been with them since their Joy Division days.
STEPHEN MORRIS: When I listen to Technique, all I can remember is coming home at 3 a.m. to blinding light sunshine. Even though it’s not a dancing record, “Dream Attack” reminds me of coming home from a club in Ibiza more than any of the music that I listened to there.
We were in the studio in Ibiza purely by chance—because it had a swimming pool. No other reason. Clearly you need a swimming pool to make a record. When we got there, we found out the bloke who owned the studio was the drummer in Judas Priest. We didn’t really do much research, did we? It sounded dreadful—it was terrible for recording. The only place we could get a decent drum sound was this room in the back where the bloke from Judas Priest stored his drums. So we had to move his out of the way and set up in this room that was infested with lizards. They’re like mice. But mice that go up the wall and across the ceiling. You’d see a little flash and be like, “Oh, what’s that?” It put me off a bit.
The other thing that we didn’t realize was that—because all of the water came from a well and there was a pump—you would record something and halfway through you would hear this grrrrroooooooot noise. We would ask, “Where the hell is that coming from?” Eventually we realized that every time somebody turned a tap on we were recording the pump going off.
“Going to Ibiza made the Hacienda make sense to me. It made you feel like dancing, that’s the thing that came back with us.”—New Order’s Stephen Morris
While we were there, we were reading about all this Balearic beat—”Where’s all that?” “Oh, it’s down the road!” Maybe if we had a better grasp of Spanish we might have known about it quicker than we did. It was a state of mind, really. That’s the best way I could describe it because Balearic music was... it was mad! They’d put an acid record on and then the next one would be a Queen one—it was schizophrenic, really. It’d be something really Spanish and then something really daft. It was a really odd mix but it all seemed to make sense when you were there. I don’t why that was. Maybe because we were all a bit out of our brains, that probably had a lot to do with it. We [ended up spending] most of the days by the beach and the nights queuing out of [renowned Ibiza nightclub] Amnesia.
Ibiza changed the way I thought about clubs and the Hacienda [Factory Records' nightclub in Manchester], in particular. I always thought of clubs as being sort of dark, dingy places. Going to Ibiza made the Hacienda make sense to me. I had never really understood it before, but when I went and saw clubbing in Ibiza it changed my mind about the Hacienda in a lot of ways—the big, open space-ness of it. It made you feel like dancing, that’s the thing that came back with us from Ibiza. We would all have a go at dancing, we weren’t self-conscious about it—for a bit, at least.
Dancing is a primal thing, innit? Collective consciousness. It’s that aspect of it that turned me on to dancing back then. When you can make people dance...it’s immediate, innit? Everybody’s focusing on the same thing. And it’s great. For a drummer, anyway.
“Electronic music used to be a bit odd but all music is electronic now.”—New Order’s Stephen Morris
When we got back from Ibiza after doing nothing, we moved to do some real work at Peter Gabriel’s studio in Bath. But we used to escape from there every night and go to [London clubbing institution] Heaven where [UK DJ] Paul Oakenfold was on. There were some weird, terror drives from London back to Bath, I can remember that. It was just as acid house was really taking off and everything was a bit mate-y and everyone was loved up—it was great. It started in Ibiza and when we got back to England it was carrying on over here.
When Technique [came out], we would have a mini-rave after gigs with smoke machines and [recreate] Amnesia in the dressing room. We did this American tour and would fill the dressing room with strobes and the Americans just didn’t get it at all. They’d have meet-and-greets after gigs and we would try to get a bit of a rave vibe going. People would show up in snakeskin boots and cowboy hats and all that lot and they’d be like, “Well, that’s a weird kinda dance you’re doing there, is that some kinda English dance?” They were just shocked. Now everybody’s acting like they’ve just invented [dance music]. I have no idea why it’s took so long but I do know nobody was interested in 1988, 1989, not at all. [But] there were some great clubs in America, in Chicago and Detroit. It was a real underground thing. It’s become mainstream now but it’s always been there. It’s kind of like Kraftwerk: electronic music used to be a bit odd but all music is electronic now.
[These days, the band] talk about social issues and what’s going on in the world a lot more than [we] talk about “have you heard that record by so-and-so?” We did earlier on, when we started, but we’re more concerned with shops shutting and schools closing and all that lot now. He’s done some good lyrics on this record, Bernard. They’re quite subtle though—you realize it actually is about something quite pertinent. Definitely on “Restless,” but on “Plastic,” as well.
“In the ‘80s, I was really into the future and technology but I never really imagined that you’d be using technology as a way to bloody bomb people.”—New Order’s Stephen Morris
Everything you do is a reflection of everything that’s going on around you, even though it’s not conscious. You can’t really help it, it just comes out. The ‘80s were like that but everything’s changed completely. Social media and the way everyone’s in touch immediately, but isn’t really in touch—it worries me. In the ‘80s, I was really into the future and technology but I never really imagined that you’d be using technology as a way to bloody bomb people. It feels like something’s gone wrong somewhere. You have a vision of what the future’s gonna be and when you get there, it’s not. The way that there’s no shops in town any more; the big town centers are just completely gone. There’s loads of poverty of a kind that in the ‘80s you’d think you’d seen the last of. I don’t know what the answer is; nobody’s got the answers at the moment.
I just heard on the radio that they’re doing this thing in Berlin in a few weeks time where it’s fine to do a party in the park and the police won’t bother you. If you tried doing that here [in the U.K.], you’d be locked up before you could say, “Where do I plug in?” Things like that do make a difference and I’m looking forward to going to Berlin and seeing what it’s like. I’m doing a bit of DJing at this big club, what’s it called? Berghain, that’s it. I’m looking forward to it.