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Dele Fadele , November 20th, 2015 11:33

Dele Fadele reports from Brixton Academy

Photo by Nick Wilson

A French tricolour flag fills the five split-screens above the five current members of New Order, who incidentally include one-half of Joy Division. "Vive La France", roars Bernard Sumner centre-stage, and it's on. Thirty minutes ago, outside, instead of the usual heavy police presence in this area, gangs of touts roamed around plying their overpriced wares. Seems like the economic situation has forced some Mancunian scally football fans, who colonised a section of the band's mid-90s audience, into illegal activities. They're conspicuous by their absence inside, replaced by a heaving mass of Essex beer-boys, members of the LGBT community, bohemian women, ladettes and a smattering of New Order's original underground audience. It's a claustrophobe's nightmare, yet the spectral music that emanates from the stage makes up for any discomfort for an hour at least. The second beatific tune is 'Ceremony', and thoughts turn autumnal: falling leaves, smashed-glass guitar and the ghost of Joy Division's Ian Curtis, whose swansong this is. The group never recorded it with their deceased vocalist, as this remains one of the final two songs he wrote before his suicide in May 1980.

Seems there are ghosts everywhere, in the machines so to speak, and to pay tribute to the French slain in last week's terrorist outrage in Paris, New Order pepper their set-list with some stellar early tunes – at once melancholic, miracle-seeking and trenchant. It's not just Ian Curtis's spectre that looms large. The after-image, after-life impressions of rascally former New Order/Joy Division manager Rob Gretton; famed late 70s/early 80s production alchemist Martin Hannet (who pioneered an integration of disco drums and synthesisers into obtuse punk-rock); and Anthony H Wilson – head of the Factory record label, Northern television talking head - a schemer, cajoler, and surrealist socialist strategist – also linger. It's sad so many associated so closely with New Order perished before their time, but life and death often overtake art in a perilous age. And it is art, and the elephant absent from the room in physical form, yet present in the sonorous basslines he also pioneered and contributed to Joy Division and New Order, is Peter Hook. A man whose acrimonious split from the band not so long ago almost rendered them null and void. He's replaced very cleverly by a guitarist who plays higher frequencies and a bassist who provides low-end theories and puts them into practice.

'Age Of Consent', from the Power, Corruption And Lies, raises a spectacle of a youthful New Order, still in a struggle to fully escape bereavement and grief, and is played tonight as a sanguine history lesson – the light starts to appear in semi-darkness and Sumner whoops and hollers whilst Gillian Gilbert essays a timeless melody. The percussive human/machine interface gets breached by Steven Morris, who forever commands your feet to dance by the way he alters steady four-on-the-floor patterns with precision. This all reminds an overcome audience of the first time they ever witnessed Joy Division or New Order, whether tonight, whenever, or, for this particular writer, summer 1983 in Trenton, New Jersey. A night of infamy in a small club when the band tried to pass off late manager Rob Gretton as Peter Hook, only for the inebriated bassist to later stagger onto stage. It was New Order's first proper American tour and their refusal to compromise with music industry strictures is still to be lauded.

Go figure. As geometric figures morph and coalesce on the five screens which sometimes become one, thoughts turn to how New Order are still in the moment, of the moment and yet beyond the moment. The decision to release a brand new album on Mute Records remains a complete stroke of fucking genius, excuse the swearword. The defunct Factory Records and Mute Records helmed the nascent dawn of an independent cottage industry that mushroomed into the semi-corporate, yet fiercely independent way of doing things that has resulted in this group's staccato evolution from 1977 to 2015. Plus, it's also genius that New Order have managed to overturn accusations of Fascism that hounded their inception by an agreement to work with the one proper label that has also had to deal with monstrous allegations of Nazi-chic.

New Order are not fascists. Mute Records are not fascists. This much should be apparent to all but the most myopic. As 'People On A High Line' descends into a house-type construct; synthesisers bubble, drums rotate in strict machine time, and an awesome melody engulfs the room. The breathy female vocals that contrast Bernard Sumner's patented version of his own lyrical truths are not of this earth, either. And if all this seems over-the-top, so be it. You're sprayed with machine clatter on '5-8-6', and, sight of sights, a melodica features on the still passive-aggressive 'Your Silent Face', in two examples of near-infinite sadness that somehow shore up a determination to live, keep living and devote oneself to truth. Look. New Order tell the truth. It's apparent. And nothing, but nothing, beats the truth.