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Music

The machine that helped New Order invent ‘Blue Monday’

@TylerGolsen

When the remaining members of Joy Division joined together with Gillian Gilbert to create New Order, the focus shifted from doomy post-punk to something far more synthetic and icy. Looking to leave their reliance on acoustic instruments behind them, a new embrace of technology, mostly in the form of synthesisers, took hold and guided the band towards the early stages of electronica and dance music. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see all four members stood at keyboards rather than thrashing away on stringed instruments.

One of the biggest adjustments came from drummer Stephen Morris, whose role as the percussionist was increasingly being taken over by drum machines and sequencers. “You had to know a little bit about music You had to learn a little bit about music,” Morris explained about incorporating new technology in the band’s appearance on the Dig! series ‘Instrumental’. “The way that music got constructed, you couldn’t just rely on this bit, ‘It feels right to change here.’ You’d normally just nod so then everybody knew it was the right place. But machines aren’t like that.”

When New Order was assembling the different sounds and samples that were going to make up ‘Blue Monday’, their haphazard assembly threatened to derail the track before it even started. “It was a totally mad idea to start with because we started off with huge sections of sequencers,” Gilbert recalled. “And then we didn’t have the technology to sequence them all together.” The solution came from engineer Martin Usher, who introduced the band to the Oberheim DMX.

“The key attribute was that it also had outputs,” Usher explained about the DMX. “Which they could then distribute to other instruments. They liked to do that: it kept them all in time. The drum machine basically drove the band.” With a way to organise all their disparate sounds and keep them all together in the arrangement, the floodgates were opened. The song’s distinctive kick drum pattern, the razor-sharp handclaps, and the variation on the central riff all started to get piled on without getting lost in the mix.

Thanks to the DMX, ‘Blue Monday’ was able to be finished in time before the band’s second album Power, Corruption, and Lies. Instead of including the single on the album, the band instead produced ‘Blue Monday’ as a 12-inch stand-alone single. With synthpop beginning to take over the popular music scene, ‘Blue Monday’ quickly became the best-selling 12 inch of all time, a distinction that it still holds to this day. ‘Blue Monday’ bought New Order freedom for whatever they wanted to do next, and it was all thanks to the organisation provided by the Oberheim DMX.

Check out the members of New Order discussing the technology behind the making of ‘Blue Monday’ down below.