New Order, that most modernist of bands, would presumably hate to think of themselves as the focus of nostalgia or a heritage act in the vein of, say, The Eagles, these days. But a new exhibition at Berlin’s .HBC arts space, sponsored by T-Mobile’s Electronic Beats programme, makes hay from the enduringly popular band’s illustrious history, or more precisely the stuff surrounding their myth for 30 years or more.
“New Order–An Exhibition” (note the missing spaces on either side of the em-dash separating the words “Order” and “An” – très Factory, non?) shows a range of documentary photography by the band’s perennial pal, portraitist and fellow Manc Kevin Cummins, along with the louche Peter Saville’s sleeve artwork, which over the same time frame has spanned from the sumptuous and the austere.
Naturally, the iconic, loss-making 12-inch sleeve for “Blue Monday” is there, along with his thermally-imaged designs for 1989’s “Technique” LP. In Cummins’ photography, meanwhile, we see the band in the Paradise Garage, at a Liverpool football field (for the brilliantly preposterous “World In Motion” video) and on the streets of New York. In the minds of some – this writer, for instance – the photos of Bernard Sumner flâneuring through NYC in his cherubic prime seem to solve the conundrum of whether New Order where actually a synthetic “machine” group in the vein of the Human League, or a laddy guitar band who prefigured the Happy Mondays and Oasis: perhaps what they really are is a kind of intellectual boy band which happened to include one non-boy. There are also some of Cummins’ chiaroscuro photos of Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre, which, before it was blown up by the IRA in 1996, could match anything in Berlin for architectural ugliness. Brutalism, football, disco and NYC – all the stuff that put the “new” in New Order.
The exhibition brings some accompanying merchandising – posters, T-shirts and so on, along with an attractive photo book which includes the artworks, an intriguing round-table convo between Max Dax, Bernard Sumner, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris (in which it transpires that drummer Morris owns not one but four WWII tanks), plus a curious monograph on the band’s history and meaningfulness by music critic and sometime provocateur Paul Morley, all delivered in his trademark neo-Futurist prose (“They created a new sort of nature,” Morley contends.)
The exhibition also launched with a further round-table talk in .HBC’s cinema room with the band members, Cummins and Saville, a day before the band played Tempodrom. It was pouring with rain that evening, so much so that, surrounded by Karl-Leibknecht-Straße’s blank platenbau high-rises and a DJ playing difficult disco, krautrock and NO hits, one could easily have mistaken the place for the Manchester of the early Eighties itself.
Nostalgia – it’s nothing to be afraid of really.
By Kevin Braddock