"I must confess that over my career, I've actually downplayed the importance of DJs," says Peter Hook. "It's such a different art form. Then all of a sudden you try it, and you think, 'Good God, these guys do work.' I used to be very cynical and very blasé about it. I can only apologize."
Holding DJs in disregard is one thing. But such an attitude coming from a man who's partly responsible for the best-selling twelve-inch single of all time? It's downright ironic. And yet New Order's "Blue Monday," the 1983 slab of wax that remains a surefire floor-filler at any club in the world, counts Hook as a creator. As the bassist of New Order and, before that, the majestically doomed Joy Division, he's considered an architect of modern electronic music. And deservedly so: In the late '70s, Joy Division helped pioneer the fusion of punk force and dance beats that continues to inspire legit artists and copycats alike.
After the suicide of singer Ian Curtis in 1980 -- dramatized in Control, a major motion picture directed by renowned rock photographer Anton Corbijn -- the survivors of Joy Division formed New Order. Splicing genres as varied as house, electro and rapturous indie rock, the band seeded the soil from which every Interpol and Franz Ferdinand has sprouted. Not that Hook won't admit to a bit of affectionate appropriation himself.
With DJs Michael Trundle and Tyler Jacobson, 9 p.m. Friday, January 20, La Rumba, 99 West Ninth Avenue, $15, 303- 572-8006
"We just listened to records that we liked, like Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder, and tried to emulate them," Hook reveals. "It's as simple as that. The skill is to take something so that nobody guesses where you nicked it from. Obviously, bands like Interpol haven't mastered that skill yet. It's quite apparent where they nicked everything from. So maybe our hiding skills are just better.
"In my mind, though, the worst-ever ripping off of Kraftwerk is by bloody Coldplay," he goes on, referring to "Talk," the X&Y track that baldly lifts the main riff from "Computer Love." "There was no thought. It's just a cheesy ripoff."
Hook and company may be indebted to their influences, but they're no counterfeiters. While Joy Division stood toe-to-toe with early post-punk trailblazers like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle -- both of which Hook admits to being "hugely impressed with" at the time -- New Order forged its own sound throughout the '80s, even as it became closely associated with its home town of Manchester, England. The 2002 film 24 Hour Party People celebrated that scene, which included legendary acts such as the Fall, Oasis, Happy Mondays, the Smiths and the Stone Roses. The bassists of the latter two -- Andy Rourke and Mani, now of Primal Scream -- have recently joined Hook in a side project called Freebass, which is still in its embryonic stage.
"We're still working on it," Hook notes. "We've just been on a mammoth hunt for a singer. Because of the singers the three of us have had in the past, it's sort of a big thing to measure anybody by. As for the music itself, it's a really weird cross between northern soul, reggae, New Order, Stones Roses and the Smiths. The three basses work together on a few tracks, which I was delighted about, because everyone was laughing at us for wanting to do it."
Freebass, however, isn't the only musical tangent that the three share. Rourke and Mani have been deejaying for years and recently roped Hook into it -- not without his share of reservations.
"Mani invited me to play my first DJ gig," he recalls. "He said it was a great way of getting pissed for nothing. New Order wasn't gigging a lot, so it became my only musical expression. It was nice to work on it and hone it. I play a lot of hard, uncompromising dance music; it can be anything from dance to rock to reggae."
And what Peter Hook set would be complete without a New Order cut or two? "Originally, I didn't play any New Order when I deejayed," he says with chagrin. "I suppose it comes from being a little embarrassed or humble or whatever. But people were coming to see me because of New Order, so in the end I had to realize that if they were using my name on the poster, then maybe I should play some of the music. When you've got twenty drunken people screaming,'New Order, man, New Order!' you sort of feel stupid not to."
Hook now has the perfect tool for his shameless self-promotion: a double-length New Order collection called, aptly enough, Singles. Released in October, the disc has been criticized as a needless retread of 1987's epochal Substance compilation. Naysayers, though, are overlooking the genius of some of New Order's latter-day output, such as "Regret" and "Crystal" -- not to mention the fact that Singles bears many brilliant seven-inch edits that are far more dance-floor-worthy than the long-winded versions on Substance.
"If we wrote a song that was nine minutes long, it was nine minutes long, and that was it," Hook explains. "That was our attitude back then. A lot of the single edits came about because the different record companies in different countries couldn't get our songs on the radio because they were too long. Because we wouldn't play ball, they went ahead and did their own edits. There was stuff on Singles that I'd never listened to, to be honest. But I was very impressed. Now when I deejay, I actually play a lot of New Order singles, which is great. I sort of rediscovered them."
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Rediscovering New Order and Joy Division remains a rite of passage for just about every new generation of music fans, bands and DJs. While the lion's share of '80s club music sounds dated, even ridiculous, New Order's many milestones -- bolstered by Hook's melodic, almost lyrical bass lines -- are eternally epic. Barring his solid if unremarkable dalliances in the outfits Revenge and Monaco, Hook and the music he's made over the past thirty years have inspired everything from undying loyalty to flat-out fanaticism.
"You never know what to say when someone says, 'Your music's touched me, man. I got married to your music. I got divorced to your music,'" he says. "My first reaction is, 'Oh, great. That's very nice!' You never know what the bloody hell to say, do you? It's really hard after playing huge stadiums for all these years to go into a club to deejay. Sometimes they put you on stage, but all I do is play records. I don't have my bass guitar to hide behind. I love it when I get stuck in a DJ booth in the corner, and I can just play away and look over and see everybody's heads bobbing up and down. It's quite a nice feeling."
After decades of discounting the thousands of DJs who helped make New Order immortal, Hook now has to suffer a little poetic justice: drunk jerks with requests. "I've done a couple of weddings for mates of mine, which didn't go down very well," he recounts with a laugh. "People at weddings don't want to hear bloody New Order, do they? My God, they were screaming at me all night for Abba.
"It's funny," he adds, "I was doing a gig in Leicester last week, and this American guy came up to me. He obviously wasn't a New Order fan and didn't know who I was. He said, 'Hey, man, play some Smiths.' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Why not?' And I said, 'Because I fucking hate Morrissey. He's a twat.' They guy was floored; he literally almost fell over. He's used to DJs saying, 'Sure, man, I'll put it on in a bit.' But you might as well be honest, right?"