True Faith; New Order + Liam Gillick: So It Goes review – Factory legacy holds sway

Manchester Art Gallery; Old Granada Studios
Joy Division, New Order and the label that nurtured them have made an indelible mark on the city, now celebrated in inventive and exhilarating art and music

In St Ann’s Square a busker is in danger of drowning out a piece of sound art called Azan, a specially commissioned installation by Mohammed Fairouz. One of six public bits of listening art spread across the city, it naturally has to compete with the cacophony of city life. But this is amplified, Bluetoothed busking. So one worried festival-goer hurries over to the crooner and explains.

This being Manchester, you expect vowels to fly. Instead, the busker happily takes an intermission, just in time for a small swell of strings to creep out from speakers in the trees: unexpectedly bittersweet and affecting. More strings are thrumming on the first floor of Manchester’s magnificent town hall – a secular church, of sorts, where composer Huang Ruo joins the building in paying tribute to the worker bees of the city’s industrial past.

Is everyone just nicer in the north? Is this just how it is in bee-tattooed, I-heart-Manchester, post-Grande? Or is the idea of worthwhile art coming out of trees (or discreet wooden boxes in the corners of civic buildings, like chi-chi rodent traps) just part of a vibe engendered by the biennial Manchester international festival, now a decade old?

It would not be a stretch to state that 10 years of MIF have helped magnetise this city, attracting funding, talent and monolithic architecture, both exhilarating and carbuncle-like, unimaginable just one life-span ago. In a 2015 interview with former MIF artistic director Alex Poots, Manchester’s Confidentials website lays it all at MIF’s feet. “Before Manchester’s so-called ‘cultural renaissance’, before the £78m Factory, or the £50m revamped Central Library, or the £25m Home arts centre, or the £15m refurbed Whitworth; before the BBC’s move to Salford, or the Hallé St Peters, or the new £34m School of Art, there was MIF,” they wrote.

Forming part of a significant move of arts cash away from the cosseted capital, the Factory will be operated by MIF – now headed by John McGrath, formerly founding artistic director of the National Theatre in Wales. The choice of name is… interesting. It shows something of a lack of imagination, nodding a little too hard, perhaps, to Manchester’s illustrious past, both sonic and industrial. Technically, there’s already a nightclub called the Factory in town, housed in the old offices of Factory Records, the totemic Manchester label that brought the world Joy Division, New Order and more besides.

Factory Records wasn’t just referencing the city’s satanic mills and dehumanising industrial works. It was nodding to Andy Warhol’s New York atelier-cum-den of iniquity. It bears repeating – though you appreciate how Manchester’s young creatives might chafe at this on-going fetishisation – Manchester’s Factory was a scene where graphic art, film and the force of personalities carried equal weight to extraordinary music. It created a peculiarly Mancunian yet internationally inspired body of work, one frottaged once again at MIF17. It is hard now, walking around this metropolis in search of ambient sound, to grasp exactly how much in need of appropriate art the declining cities of the north were, when New Order were growing up.

Dream English Kid by Mark Leckey.

It’s a situation remedied somewhat by Mark Leckey’s video installation, Dream English Kid 1964-1999. Leckey’s impressionistic YouTube-derived autobiography is set in his native Liverpool, where he saw Joy Division play and was forever changed. But one city’s desolation and sense of threat doubles for the other’s, in its crumbling estates, malevolent underpasses and fear of terrorism.

It is, hands-down, the most unsettling piece of art at the True Faith show at Manchester Art Gallery, in which the celebrated visuals of New Order and Joy Division are exhibited alongside a hotchpotch of works inspired by the two bands. Not far behind is Ian Curtis’s handwritten early draft of Love Will Tear Us Apart, which should have Mona Lisa crowds around it, while Julian Schnabel’s tribute to Ian Curtis is so naff it’s almost enraging.

A portrait of Ian Curtis on display at Manchester Art Gallery.
A portrait of the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis on display at Manchester Art Gallery. Photograph: PR Company Handout

It is, by contrast, a privilege to be nose-close to the proto-potpourri of A Basket of Roses (1890) by Henri Fantin-Latour, the painting of flowers past their best quoted by Factory visual director Peter Saville on the cover of New Order’s Power, Corruption & Lies (1983). (The title of that album was said to have been lifted by New Order vocalist Bernard Sumner from 1981 graffiti by Gerhard Richter on the Cologne Kunsthalle – more art, seeding music, seeding art).

Henri Fantin-Latour’s A Basket of Roses (1890)
Henri Fantin-Latour’s A Basket of Roses (1890), used for the cover of New Order’s second album, Power Corruption & Lies. Photograph: Ignace-Henri-Theodore Fantin-Latour/PR

Two songs from that album grace the setlist of New Order’s rewarding show at the Old Granada Studios in the evening, which goes by the très Factory name of ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) – the No being New Order, the 12k being 12 keyboards, and Lg being artist Liam Gillick, creator of the exhilarating stage set. An indication of an acidic pH would not have gone amiss here, reflecting the acrimonious absence of bassist Peter Hook, replaced by Tom Chapman.

Two floors of backlit, Venetian-blinded windows provide the stage backdrop, in the very room where Joy Division made their TV debut in 1978; the effect is a bit Jailhouse Rock, a bit Amsterdam red light district, a bit gameshow – and really quite magnificent. The windows house dancing Royal Northern College of Music students on synths, discreetly conducted by Joe Duddell.

New Order + Liam Gillick at the Old Granada Studios.
New Order + Liam Gillick at the Old Granada Studios. Photograph: MIF

It’s not resting on your laurels if you’re playing deep cuts reorchestrated for 12 synths, and on night three of their run, New Order excel at their most electronic. Power Corruption and Lies’ Ultraviolence is now a layered, polyrhythmic gallop, the wall of synths breached by Sumner’s gnarly guitar.

Kicking off the encore, Your Silent Face is a percolation of keys that salutes Kraftwerk, with Sumner’s melodica solo a very sweet touch. Three Joy Division songs deliver an emotional wallop, with Heart and Soul a standout thanks to Stephen Morris’s spectacular machine drumming.

Really though, this is a rave manqué. With its mix of disco, percussive breakdowns, synth overload and relentless forward momentum, you don’t want Sub-Culture to end.

•True Faith is at Manchester Art Gallery until 3 September

• ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) is at Old Granada Studios on Thursday and Saturday 13 and 15 July


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
New Order + Liam Gillick: So It Goes review – a suitably theatrical Manchester return
There are intensely emotional scenes as New Order revisit their back catalogue on a grand scale with synth orchestra, airing songs not heard for 30 years plus rapturously received tributes to the band’s fated predecessor, Joy Division

Dave Simpson

02, Jul, 2017 @11:38 AM

Article image
True Faith review – the exhilarating art and afterlife of Joy Division and New Order
Manchester Art Gallery
Featuring bootleg footage, classic covers and haunting paintings, this terrific show is a reminder of how art was at the core of Manchester’s most enigmatic band

Adrian Searle

04, Jul, 2017 @5:56 PM

Article image
ToGather: Susan Hefuna review – all the world's a cage
Roomfuls of boxes, cases and drawings aim to ‘catch experience’ in these sometimes haunting musings on migration

Rachel Cooke

09, Jul, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Factory outlet: the art inspired by Joy Division and New Order
From an Ian Curtis doppelganger to works by Barbara Kruger and Scott King, the exhibition True Faith explores the Manchester bands’ visual legacy. Co-curator Jon Savage selects some of his favourites

27, Jun, 2017 @3:49 PM

Article image
New Order: eschewing heritage rock for a conceptual synth orchestra
Not for New Order the safe haven of a classic album tour. Instead, the band are artfully reconfiguring their back catalogue

Dorian Lynskey

01, Jun, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Cotton Panic! review – a story of solidarity that deserves better
Jane Horrocks stars in a collage of song, history and drama whose most powerful presences are its stage projections

Clare Brennan

16, Jul, 2017 @6:45 AM

Article image
New Order – review
In a week of Manchester reformations, a rejuvenated New Order delight their fans with a rare greatest hits set, writes Luke Bainbridge

Luke Bainbridge

22, Oct, 2011 @11:04 PM

Article image
New Order: ‘There’s no point in just staying together for the kids’
Manchester’s synth-pop veterans are back with a new album, a new lineup and a newfound joy in the electronic sound they made their own with 1989’s era-defining Technique

Miranda Sawyer

27, Sep, 2015 @8:30 AM

Article image
Festival watch: Latitude – review
Christine and the Queens, Grimes and New Order were the high points of the festival season’s most middle-class affair

Kathryn Bromwich

24, Jul, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
New Order: Music Complete review – an unexpectedly coherent return
New Order sound rejuvenated on an album that recalls their 1989 classic Technique

Phil Mongredien

27, Sep, 2015 @6:00 AM