Manchester dance pioneers New Order merged the primitive rhythms of disco and post-punk, creating a sound that remains characteristically fresh to this day.
The band was formed in 1980 by remaining Joy Division members Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris with Gillian Gilbert joining shortly after on keyboards.
One of the turning points in the band’s history turned out to be a significant moment for electronic music in the form of their 1983 single, Blue Monday, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
As none of the instruments being used in studio had MIDI, the band used binary language in some cases. Moreover, when trying to sync the DMX with the Prophet 5 they even got the help of an engineer who created a customized protocol specifically for the two instruments to communicate.
Creating the New Order Sound
The song’s mechanical feel was a huge part of its success and marked the band’s headlong move into electronic music. Let’s take a closer look at some of the iconic instruments that they used at the time.
The Oberheim DMX is a classic digital drum machine released in 1980, arriving on the market after the famous LinnDrum LM-1. It’s a ROM-based instrument with 24 preset sounds created from 11 recorded samples and flexible routing with 8 individual outputs.
The DMX is loved for the feel of its sequencer whether you choose to add swing to the groove or not. In addition, it’s remarkably easy to program, with the capacity to store 100 sequences and a total of 50 songs.
You can hear the DMX distinctly on Blue Monday, where it becomes foundational in the delivery of the song as a whole. If you’re looking for convincing DMX sounds, you can find excellent examples within the Reel Machines ADpak for Addictive Drums 2.
New Order were early adopters of the Emulator (1981) and Emulator II (1984). The first model of the 8-bit 27 kHz sampler cost $10,000 and didn’t even have a VCA envelope with which to shape the sounds.
This feature was added shortly after the initial release, and the price did come down to $8000. Although it may seem staggering, it was still a fraction of the cost of the widely used Fairlight CMI and Synclavier samplers of the time.
While it’s difficult to precisely recreate the real thing, there are certain effects you can introduce to any hardware or software sampler to introduce a more gritty overall character. Plug-ins like the TAL Sampler offer vintage DAC modeling and a great sound library.
- More about E-mu
Another interesting part of New Order’s early sound was the Moog Source, first introduced in 1981. Although the membrane button interface might resemble the keypad of a microwave, this is still a tasty-sounding 2-oscillator monosynth with that classic 24 dB filter.
The source was the first Moog with patch memory, but with no way to tweak sounds live it would almost certainly have ended up on an episode of Bad Gear. Moog incorporated the membrane switches to keep up with the times, but this became a major design flaw.
Luckily you can still get great-sounding Moog synths with knobs these days like the Subsequent 25, which is perfect for creating leads and basslines a la New Order.
- The History of Moog
Sequential Circuits Prophet 5
One of the most famous polysynths ever built, the Prophet 5 was launched back in 1978. At the time, the microprocessor technology used in the design was considered groundbreaking, allowing patch memory which sets it apart from the Yamaha CS-80.
New Order used the Prophet 5 with the SC Poly Sequencer, a microcassette-based device for storing and playing back sequences that resembles an answering machine, as MIDI integration only became available at a later stage.
Although the filter and VCA chips aren’t manufactured by E-mu like the first Prophet 5, Sequential continues Dave Smith’s legacy to this day. We hope the party never stops!
Octave Plateau Voyetra 8
The Voyetra 8 is an absolutely monstrous-sounding polysynth from 1982. Although it has amazing capabilities, it was almost too far ahead of the curve and never became a commercial success.
However, it was used by some great artists like Trevor Horn and Gary Pozner from Tom Tom Club. Meanwhile, Gillian Gilbert toured with four Voyetra 8 racks, as two were used as a backup because they were rather erratic synths.
Nothing sounds quite like synths from this era, but you still get massive polyphonic rack synths like the SE Omega-8. If that’s out of your price range, the Access Virus TI 2 produces excellent sounds with its powerful virtual analogue engine.
Which of your favourite artists would you like to see in our Sound-alike series? Please let us know in the comments below!
More about New Order:
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- Oberheim DMX: Amazona
- E-mu Emulator: Retro Gear Shop
- Moog Source: Google
- Sequential Circuits Prophet 5: Polynominal
- Octave Plateau Voyetra 8: Matrix Synth
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