New Order’s Naked 1984 Art Experiment

Factory Records exposed in a real-life 24 Hour Party People from the golden age of Channel 4.

Gillian Gilbert and Anthony H Wilson in the bath

One of MOJO’s favourite culture blogs is the ever-excellent Stupefaction. Informed, cool, minimalist and depressingly up-to-date on the passings of music greats, Stupefaction has recently been posting YouTube links to a mid-’80s TV documentary series called Play At Home.

Produced by the same Channel 4 team who’d worked on two of the channel’s early freeform yoof TV landmarks – Whatever You Want and Loose Talk – Play At Home bravely asked significant bands of the time to make a documentary about themselves and their home towns.

Some of the bands enlisted, such as Big Country and the Angelic Upstarts, followed the brief brilliantly to the letter, whilst others used the opportunity to show off their cultural cool, artistic creativity, and a working knowledge of post-structuralism.

XTC kept the camera running until band tensions and locked-in eccentricities blistered the film, Siouxsie And The Banshees crafted an acid-fried VHS of Alice In Wonderland while Echo And The Bunnymen captured the melancholy schizophrenia and sharp wit of a city in crisis.

However, perhaps the most fascinating of the six films is the one that was given over to New Order.

Playing like a real-life version of 24 Hour Party People (and doubtless an influence on Michael Winterbottom’s fictionalised 2002 account of Factory Records’ rise-and-fall), New Order Play At Home begins in the manner it intends to continue, with an American voice-over announcing “Factory Records! A partnership, a business, a joke!”

Interviewed naked in his bath by New Order’s Gilian Gilbert, Factory boss Tony Wilson comes across (doubtless intentionally) as wise, naive, arrogant, creepy, misguided and brilliant. He is both genius and fool, and the portrait that emerges of Factory Records is of a dream in chaos, one of the most depressingly honest accounts of a divisive record company ever put to film.

Martin Hannett broods with a pistol in a shuttered library of papers and filth, Liz Naylor sits in a gym with Cath Carroll spitting out caustic put-downs of Wilson and his delusions, Rob Gretton interviews himself (“Good question, Rob”), Alan Erasmus rides pillion on Peter Hook’s motorbike (“Do you think you’ve taken a bit of a back seat lately, Alan?”) and no-one has a good word to say about anyone, let alone Wilson.

Perhaps the most startling sequence, however, is the one in which Wilson is grilled in the Haçienda’s Gay Traitor bar by various members of such Factory bands as Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio and Section 25. They want to see the accounts. They want to know where the money is. They want to know why they can never find Wilson when they need him. They want to get paid.

Throughout all this is New Order’s music, taken from a sold-out live concert at the Haçienda.

It’s odd but nearly thirty years on, you can still hear all the strengths and weaknesses of Factory Records in the music made by their biggest band. As big as dreams can be, tracks like Lonesome Tonight, Temptation and Thieves like Us also sound frail and uneasy.

Grandiose and innocent, shiningly beautiful and deeply flawed, mid-’80s New Order really was the sound of Factory Records.

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