This article originally appeared in the July 1991 issue of TOURNAMENT.
A first single in the Top 40 with sales of over 275,000; a first performance at Doger Stadium in Los Angeles in support of Depeche Mode in front of 30,000 people. Impressive numbers. It is a miracle that not everything has come to their heads. But Electronic’s Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr are alumni. The first was a member of Joy Division and the subsequent New Order; Marr made the Smiths worth listening to, a charming man wielding six magic strings as the singer played with his hearing aid batteries.
I meet Sumner and Marr in the offices of Factory Records, the successful independent design-crazy label that houses Electronic. It’s a glorious day in Manchester and Sumner is in high spirits as we head for a photoshoot at the Hacienda, the club he co-owns with the Factory organization and the other members of New Order. Currently presenting a new decor for a new decade, the Hacienda has been a catalyst for both Electronic members and locals like Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses.
When the Hacienda first opened in the early ’80s, all of Manchester’s bands were hanging out there, America’s black music seeping into their rock-ad-dies consciousness. You were as likely to hear Soul Sonic Force or James Brown as Magazine or the Buzzcocks, and it’s essentially the crossover that informs Manchester’s unique rock’n’roll and media creation that âManchesterâ was. You can hear this musical mix in Electronic’s debut album, an album full of songs that want to knock you out and wake you up at the same time.
Sumner will point out, however, that Electronic is a reflection of where band members live rather than what they listen to. Marr points out that Manchester’s relatively easy pace allows them to enjoy what they do and the money they generate. âI really like having a certain balance in my life. I like being able to drive my car and see the city. Go shopping, have a drink and stay in bed until four o’clock, all of those really important things. When you first start out, you just want to earn some money and get away from it all. Now I want to come back to earth.
“You see, when we got together one of the things we had in common, other than having a drink or three, was that we were missing aspects of our normal lives.”
So the good life is your first priority?
“The first priority is paying the fucking mortgage, mate,” Sumner said with a smile. âYou have to make sure you have enough to live the way you want, where you want. But it’s not like things are going to turn out badly. If someone says we can make a hundred thousand on tour, we’re not impressed. We would prefer to stay at home. When you are starting out, money should be the primary consideration. It’s not the way it should be anymore.
Of his New Order hiatus, the singer said, âIf you’re in a band with four other people, sometimes you just want to get away from it all. But you can’t because you’re bothering others. And this must be taken into account. It’s not like you hate them, it’s just that you need some space sometimes. But even then people tend to jump in and say, âOh, the Electronic group. It’s not a permanent thingâ¦ I guess it was incredibly naive of me to think that we could get records out of Factory’s back door without anyone really noticing. After ‘Getting Away With It’, we realized that we were never really going to walk away from that pressure.
Although they chose Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys to present the single “Getting Away With It,” Marr maintains that there is no supergroup self-indulgence here, instead citing David Bowie’s collaborations with Iggy Pop as a model. Either way, this new-age power trio, a kind of freshly whipped cream, wowed almost everyone with this almost sweet melody.
Sumner’s distinctive lyrical style often involves songs that start out dark and personal until he throws an ironic key into the works. If phrases like this make you laugh, they do their job: âLook at me, I’m still blamed. Sifting through another failing relationship on “The Patience of a Saint,” he shows the petulance of a child in bed: “Why should I care? I prefer to watch the paint dry.
âFirst, I’m starting from a serious idea,â he explains. âThen I go to the pub and have a drink. Then I come back and say, “What the hell is this?” and try to bend it a bit. Sumner laughs. “I’m not a miserable motherfucker,” he insists. “It’s just that I always feel like doing interviews with a hangover.”
Marr thinks such interviews are a chance to clear up half of the misunderstandings that surround the group. âPeople only see Bernard as this really serious and insular character, but it’s worse. because of the smiths people think i’m really in the past. They think I have an old ’60s jukebox in the bedroom and a guitar shaped pool, with pictures of Elvis all over the house.
âThey are surprised that I am involved in a modern band like Electronic, as if I suddenly burned all my Beatles records. But I’m into what’s going on now. I don’t understand all that retro stuff, people plugging into old, rotten amps to get 1965 sound.
I end with the inevitable question of Manchester. It’s like it’s all over. It is as if the time has come to assess what has been pushed in the world. âI don’t see the wood of the trees. I just spent two full years enjoying it, âsays Sumner. âBut it’s good to see your buddies doing well. It’s good to see a bunch of bastards you met at a car party in a BMW.
I leave them in the sun, their cars and the good life which confirms that there is more to Britain than London. Sumner smiles. What he says sounds like something he might sing: âI’m surprised that so many good things have happened to us. I expect the worst all the time. If you look on the dark side and something good happens, it can be twice as good. “