As New Order prepared to release a special box set version of their debut album Movement, released on April 5, 2019, Simon Duff delved into the legendary album’s production process and the influence of its pioneering producer Martin Hannett…
The tragic story of how Manchester fourpiece and post punk pioneers, Joy Division, morphed into the equally beguiling and ground-breaking electro-rock three-piece, New Order, will be known to virtually anyone with a passing knowledge of UK indie rock music. When Ian Curtis took his own life on the eve of a highly anticipated US tour, the remaining members were confronted with a choice – call time on the band or find a new way forward.
With their singer gone, the band struggled on as newly formed New Order. Live dates in New York that had to be cancelled as Joy Division were honoured, and the band started to write again. They were venturing into uncharted sonic territory in the absence of Curtis, who had sung, written, and acted crucially as a musical director for the band, untangling and identifying riffs and ideas from the jam sessions that were at the heart of Joy Division’s writing process.
The trio’s new, expansive sound was further developed by Joy Division’s uncompromising, visionary producer, Martin Hannett. Working with engineer Chris Nagle and assisted by a young Flood, Hannett set about exploring new production techniques with New Order’s debut release, Movement, despite battling with a severe drug addiction and an increasingly fractious relationship with the remaining band members.
The recording of Movement took place in 1981 at Strawberry Studios, Stockport, and was mixed at Island Studios in London and back at Strawberry. ‘Dreams Never End’, the album’s opener, had been developed from a weaving power melody six string bass riff written by bassist Peter Hook – a slice of up-tempo optimism, driven by vocals from Hook and guitarist Bernard Sumner. Steve Morris’ drums are melodic in their rhythmic intensity and new band member Gillian Gilbert, Morris’ girlfriend, on keyboards and guitars helped push the band’s sound further still into previously unexplored terrain. Hannett’s job was to take these ideas and push on in the studio.
‘Dreams Never End’ ranks as one of New Order’s most intense, rousing love songs, whilst ’Truth’, the second track, sets up the album’s overall more sombre, darker tone. Songs were lurking in shadows, still half formed but urgent in their intensity as Joy Division had always demanded. New keyboards, drum machines and chiming tender-toned bass harmonics competing with a mesh of guitars push up against rumbling drum patterns sweeping across the L/R pan field in epic style, and the ever present Hannett snare sound is still to the fore. What shrouds the sound is the lack of Curtis, of course. A grief ridden album, but also one that continued on from the semi-religious zeal that Joy Division had fostered so effectively, with tracks like ‘The Him’ so much about the loss that all of those in the studio were feeling. Vocal duties were shared by all four band members and the blend really worked, something that rarely happened again after Movement.
In many ways, it seemed like it was Hannett who was holding Movement together, his mixes full of experimentation with a cold calculating drive, as was the case with so much of his production for the likes of The Buzzcocks, A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, and U2 through to the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. Born in 1948 on the outskirts of Manchester, he had many hats in the music industry over the years, becoming a live sound engineer, bass player, booker and record producer. Almost single handedly, with the aid of his beloved AMS dmx 1580 delay, he would help create the ‘Manchester Sound’.
“If you asked me what defined the ‘Manchester Sound’, I’d say the AMS,” Hook said. “Martin would use an 80 millisecond delay for the snare – which I stole off of him and used to a great degree with New Order – as well as echo plates, which give that haunting sound. You could put the AMS on the most unlikely of sounds and it would sound fantastic.”
Whilst Hannett was carving his own niche in production during the ‘70s, AMS, just north of Manchester, was building its first digital audio delay line, sampling processors. Stuart Nevison, co-founder of AMS, was keen to get Hannett’s views on the design, and Hannett then became closely involved with AMS.
“I think Martin had a fascination with our work after visiting our factory,” says Nevison. “He was one of our first customers in Manchester. The AMS 1580 was a digital linear delay line with fantastic capabilities and Martin wanted to own one. The early units were mono in and stereo out. Many features were introduced over the years, including Flanging, Lock In, Dual Lock In (sampling and editing), and remote Chorus Controller. All were used to great effect by Martin.”
The cutting edge use of studio technology by Hannett created a sound that was not only ahead of its time, but still sounds relevant today. His use of digital delay coupled with effects, such as panning certain sounds from the left to the right, gives Joy Division and New Order’s early work a haunting and otherworldly quality.
Morris, commenting on Hannett’s Joy Division drum sound, adds: “The unusual sound I like best is on ‘Atrocity Exhibition’. I had a Simmons SDS-V and a snare, which we got out and put through this horrible fuzz box. He had me do the snare, the hi hat, then the hi hat tracked and recorded separately, in an almost robotic style. My drumming on Closer was a tribal disco thing and Martin pushed his studio equipment to its limits.”
Hannett’s relationship with Factory Records broke down soon after the success of New Order and a falling out over the decision to build the Hacienda club. A High Court Royalties dispute followed. Hannett’s own preference was for Factory to invest in a recording studio and equip it with a Fairlight CMI. Who knows what sonic wonders he would have created if that had happened. He died of a heart attack on May 31, 1991, aged 42. His headstone reads ‘Creator of the Manchester Sound’.