In 2023, Blue Monday will be forty-years old. Forty years of filling the floors at house parties, discos, indie nights, techno nights, 21sts and weddings. New Order borrowed from Donna Summer, Sylvester, Kraftwerk and Ennio Morricone to produce their own unique, timeless masterpiece. It broke boundaries, and it helped people to dance. DJs didn’t leave home without it, and the wear and tear on my own copy (see photo) is testament to the number of times I relied on it.
When Dublin DJ Dave McDonnell (Banana Boys, Bumble) first heard Blue Monday in 1983, he felt as if “the future had arrived.” It was what Dave had been waiting for: “The drum programming was unique and otherworldly for its time and Peter Hook’s infectious bass line carried this monster to every dance floor on the planet. Born out of the New York underground club scene which New Order had a deep affinity for during the early 1980s, the record introduced the world to a brand new sound from a Manchester band who were always pushing musical boundaries. Blue Monday is still and will always be recognised as probably the most important electronic music track ever written. From a DJ perspective, it will always standalone in absolute relevance.”
The last time Dublin DJ Kate Butler played Blue Monday was at a friend’s wedding in the noughties. “It’s a big gun, but because it’s so well known, you need very special circumstances for it to work.” On a recent DDR radio show, Kate did a piece on male choir samples, including the ‘Aaaaaaah’ vocal from Blue Monday. “That sample carries layers of meaning,” said Kate, “It was sampled from Kraftwerk’s Uranium (1975), which itself was sampled from a Vako Orchestron (an electronic machine which itself had sampled some unidentified male choir), and which had also been used by another German band, Popol Vuh on the soundtrack to Aguirre, Wrath of God in 1972. Popol Vuh would also use a male choir in Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979), which would inspire Kate Bush to use the same piece of music in Hello Earth in 1985.
It feels like that generation of Germans found an incredibly potent sonic metaphor for the haunting of World War II, and because the young people of England were similarly affected, there was an unconscious connection, or empathy, which manifested in the use of this sound by the English artists. Most poignantly of all, is that it was Ian Curtis who had played Radioactivity, the album with Uranium on it, to his Joy Division band members.”
Joy Division never played Dublin, but New Order did. They first gigged at the SFX hall in 1982 and returned in April 1983, just weeks after they released Blue Monday. They finished that night with Blue Monday in a performance that was as chaotic and wonderful as their live performance on Top of the Pops just three weeks earlier. Years later they returned to the SFX in January 1986 and grudgingly played Blue Monday – they were bored with it and fed up with people always asking for it.
Getting bored with songs is inevitable, especially with all those repeat plays over 40 years, but Blue Monday is different: the unorthodox structure of the song and the unpredictable journey it takes you on, acts as a boredom barrier. I should be sick of it, but I can still stand it, and often still love it.
Young people know it and like it. “It’s always on at parties, and in the Workman’s and Bernard Shaw,” said Maisie, a 19-year-old music student at BIMM, “It’s hard to avoid.” But while many older people claim the song still sounds fresh and “new” today, for the young people I spoke to, it sounds old and retro and from a long time ago. That’s how it feels.
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro