Manchester International Festival
Pop culture, at its best, is about the creative edge of collaboration, taking risks, creative jumps and fusion gambles. Tonight’s New Order show was a reminder of the band’s deft skill at navigating the choppy waters into the future with them performing with 12 synth players adding a cinematic and symphonic edge to their sophisticated pop classics.
The first of five nights at Manchester’s old Granada studios this was an artful collaboration with conceptual artist Liam Gillick and conductor Joe Duddell (under the title of So It Goes – or ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif). A title that Anthony Wilson, who once strutted this venue’s corridors when it was TV studio, would have beamed at.
This year’s Manchester International festival is a huge sprawling three week event around the city centre with a whole range of musical and theatrical pieces in a celebration of creativity and diversity that are key to the city and it’s muse. With many of the pieces being international in their scope and ambition it’s somehow perfect to bring it all back home with a nod to a band who fit so perfectly into the city’s cultural lineage but have a huge international influence.
At the core of this is the on going story of Joy Division and New Order. In Manchester’s art gallery there is a collection of artwork around the iconic bands collated by the legendary music writer Jon Savage in a typically detailed examination of the band’s back pages and forward thinking from the post punk period.
In the mean time New Order themselves have taken a stunning step forward in an artful collaboration with a dozen synthesiser players from the Royal Northern College of Music that sees the band reinvent their own back catalogue and a couple of Joy Division songs in a highly effective marriage of synth strings and atmospheric textures that gives the songs a twist and a fresh coat of sonic paint in the first of a series of five special concerts in Manchester’s Old Granada Studios – the old stomping ground of Anthony Wilson and where Joy Division made that iconic TV appearance decades ago and it was in this very room 1978, performing Shadowplay on Granada Reports.
New Order tonight were an outstanding display of their trademark pristine and sharp modern melancholic pop that is still yearning for the future. Those crisp combinations of electronics and future pop were given an added grandeur and sombre edge by the bank of synths that were played behind them, stacked up with each player in their own booth like a take on Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock in a double-decker structure created by artist Liam Gillick and hidden behind Venetian blind-style slats that opened and closed in formation as visuals were projected onto them by the team that work with the brilliant Icarus Wilson Wright.
It was a stunning and artful set up that fitted perfectly into the warehouse shaped room. A room that still had the ghosts of so much TV history in its stripped bare walls as the band worked their way through a set that was built around songs that suited this treatment far more than simple run through of old hits with only New Order’s Shellshock, Subculture and Bizarre Love Triangle and the bookending Joy Division classics Disorder, the opening track from their 1979 debut album Unknown Pleasures, and Decades, the final track from their second album Closer being known classics.
But with a back catalogue this deep album tracks like Ultraviolence bathed in red and blue lights and lesser known album cuts like Who’s Joe and Dream Attack fitted seamlessly into a perfect cinemascope set with this non reliance on hits giving the set an even edgier feel and underlining the artfulness of the group and the pop culture fast forward that was so key to their creativity.
There was even a technology glitch to remind us of the old New Order gigs of digital mishaps that somehow always added to their charm – the human in machine to stop things become too glacial and an inevitable nod to the amount of technology needed to create this lavish spectacle. A technology that Bernard Sumner was dabbling with when he built home made synths from kits back from the early days of Joy Division. maybe tonight is the biggest home made kit of them all!
Fitting perfectly into Manchester International Festival’s idealogy of creating debuts and artful pieces that look forwards whilst embracing the past New Order are the perfect centre piece to this year’s event and a reminder of Manchester pop culture’s ability to feel like its always moving forward and a perfect connection to those ghosts of the recent past like Anthony H and Ian C and this band and it’s various members past and present ability to create brilliant cutting edge music that is always digitally restless and forward thinking.