New Order's Three Months in Ibiza: "The Height of Decadence"

Peter Hook playing New Order's 1989 classic, Technique, in full at Minneapolis's First Avenue in November 2019.

By Alex Rice

The members of New Order assumed that Technique would be their last record. Indeed, the foursome’s fifth LP had all the makings of a swan song. The Eighties had taken three singer-less lads in their early twenties, headlining small halls with their grayscale post-punk, and spit them out the other end a stadium-sized quartet making vibrantly-colored electro-pop, one of those rare acts who received rave reviews in the NME and still filled 20,000 seat venues across the pond. Arguments over artistic direction were fracturing inter-band relationships, so if the chart-topping, dancefloor-filling single “True Faith” hadn’t provided a natural endpoint for the musical odyssey vocalist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and drummer Stephen Morris had embarked upon, then surely the next album would.

In fact, the group had already begun to splinter into three disparate side projects by early 1988, but escaping the New Order machine wasn’t going to be as simple as it was for Ian Curtis. While Sumner, Hook and Morris pieced together Movement seven years prior, band manager Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, head of New Order’s deeply unconventional record label, the famed and follied Factory, invested proceeds from Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures to build a nightclub, The Haçienda, inside a former central Manchester warehouse.

The Haçienda had grown extremely popular by the end of the decade, but this party pit was also a money pit. Even as New Order injected tens of thousands of pounds a week to keep it afloat, drugs (nobody was buying alcohol) and theft continually threatened its existence. So, Gretton and Wilson, plotted for the band to return to the studio to save it.

HOOK: The Haçienda was consuming so much of our money and so much of Factory’s money that they didn’t have the freedom to mess about as much as they had in the old days. The Haçienda became a victim of its success in that, as it got more popular, it started losing more money because it was being robbed all the time and because everybody was high as a kite. It’s not really the best recipe for looking after the business when everybody’s fucked all the time. It was a bit of a downward spiral that we were all in - not just the band, but everybody. It was a fucking party town!

RICE: You guys were putting so much of your money into The Haçienda. Did that make you want to indulge all the more in Ibiza?

HOOK: Yeah, I think there was a bit of drowning your sorrows, but there weren’t particularly sorrows because we were very busy and very in demand. We hadn’t really broken up yet, so we still felt more together than apart. It’s wild, but it felt great to disappear from all you know. Leaving my girlfriend and two-year-old baby and going off to record in Ibiza was the height of decadence. I don’t think it did the music any good whatsoever, as it didn’t really change from when we wrote it in the practice space.

RICE: What was behind the divide between you and Bernard?

HOOK: The musical divide was because I was always moping about the use of sequencers. Interestingly, in their early use, if you look at “Thieves Like Us” (1984) and “Temptation” (1982) being sequencer songs, which they were, they still left a lot of room, if you like, for the band. Technique, funnily enough, had that room as an album, but in my paranoid delusion or whatever you want to call it, it always felt like Bernard was trying to get rid of me. There wasn’t really a togetherness in the studio.

RICE: But it sounds like you had a grand time enjoying Ibiza’s nightlife together. Were you able to keep the musical and the personal separate? 

HOOK: Me and Barney were off partying all the time. We weren’t particularly not getting on, but we weren’t particularly getting on, if that makes sense. We got on much better when we were partying than when we were working together. The band initially booked two months at Studio Mediterraneo, but once it was time to leave, they realized they had very little to show for the massive bill they had racked up. Mainly because Hook and Sumner spent the majority of their time either lounging by the pool with a cocktail (from Herman the German), reveling in the island’s hedonistic atmosphere at one of its countless clubs (Ku, Amnesia and Manhattan were their favorite spots), crashing rental cars (11 times, somehow), welcoming buses of twenty-something tourists for weekly studio parties (put to a stop when someone left a pile of vomit in the middle of the pool table), nursing a massive hangover, or some combination of the above. Morris and Gilbert, a couple by this time, indulged themselves as well, but the timekeeper still found the time to lay down 16 drum tracks during his stay on the island.

An extra month was scheduled, but that did little to encourage New Order to make any progress. Twelve weeks and £450,000 later, they left Spain with a lone mostly-finished track, Technique’s Ibiza-influenced first single, “Fine Time.”

HOOK: Tony Wilson said, “This is the most expensive holiday you’ve ever had!” He wasn’t fucking joking.

The rest of this interview with founding New Order and Joy Division bassist Peter Hook can be found in the New Order/Joy Division issue of our Band Dox zine, which comes with the album of your choice! 

 

Alex Rice is the founder of Bandbox. His writing has appeared in the Denver Post, Guitar World and Minneapolis's City Pages.