At eighteen tracks, this compilation approximates the energy and underground culture of the industrial British city of Manchester, which occasionally rivals aristocratic London with its working-class moxie and rebel beats. Five of the assembled songs -- if you include New Order and Moby's cover of "New Dawn Fades" -- are original compositions by Joy Division, a band that still casts a shadow over the gloomy dispositions of suburban rockers everywhere. Following the suicide of leader Ian Curtis, Joy Division reincarnated as New Order and opened up a new avenue of expression that flirted conspicuously with newly emerging electronic studio technology. That split between punk rock and electro-disco is all over 24 Hour Party People: Robust rock tracks from the Clash ("Jonie Jones") appear alongside influential DJ Marshall Jefferson's "Move Your Body," 808 State's trancey "Pacific State" and New Order's own dance-floor opus "Blue Monday."
From the late '70s to the early '90s, most of Manchester's musical output was released through the Factory label, which operated as a launch platform for New Order and its friends. This explains the factory-style graphic placed behind the typical dance-club cutouts on the CD's sleeve art. At the time, the factory emblem symbolized the scene's lower-class roots and its machinery-driven musical philosophy; those elements are represented on 24 Hour Party People by the inclusion of the Durutti Column's studio-enhanced bass track, "Otis," as well as A Guy Called Gerald's early-house "Voodoo Ray." Opening with the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK," which inaugurated European punk, and ending with Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," a cut that fuses angry sentiment with pristine electro-balladry, 24 Hour Party People not only freezes a moment, but it also delivers a red-alert message to a contemporary scene digging its way out of a pop-confection hellhole.