New Order frontman Bernard Sumner and producer/DJ Mella Dee have spoken to NME about their recent collaboration ‘Riptide’ – as well as opening up about the state of the world and the music industry, and what the future holds for both artists. Watch our video interview above.
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Last month, Doncaster-born DJ and producer Mella Dee – real name Ryan Aitchison – shared the Italo-disco infused ‘Riptide‘, featuring lyrics and vocals from Sumner. Released via Pete Tong‘s Three Six Zero Recordings, the song evokes both nostalgia and a longing for the future, while reflecting on the troubled socio-political state of the world: “Wild scenes, on my wide screen – power dynamics on a crazy, crazy planet“.
Speaking to NME from London’s 100 Shoreditch, Sumner and Aitchison met physically for the very first time and told us what went into the track.
“When I wrote the instrumental, it was during lockdown,” recalled Aitchison. “I’d just seen a clip of someone DJing while we were in the midst of it and I got a little bit hopeful that we’d do it again. The first version of it was quite celebratory. It was called ‘Euphoric That Mate’ when I first wrote it.”
Sumner chimed in: “I put a downer on that! I was sent the track by Pete Tong, who used to be in charge of New Order when we were at London Records, and he asked me if I’d just put a couple of lines of vocal on it. It kind of mushroomed from there. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and someone rearranged my vocals into a verse and a chorus, and I liked it.”
Explaining his lyrical inspiration, Sumner spoke of who he could only think of the horror on the news as he was sofa-bound during recovery following knee surgery.
“I was lying there for six weeks, watching the news,” said Sumner. “It was all about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and I was just seeing that all of the time. Then I went in the studio and I was like, ‘Shit, what am I going to write a song about – my operation on my knee or what else?’
“I’d been in a vacuum so I wrote it about politics, really, and the war. I wanted to write it about something that meant a lot to me.”
The pair spoke of how trading political blows wasn’t something that much dance music dealt with, and they were proud to “try something new”. “Anything that’s giving it out to politicians, I’m alway there for,” said Aitchison. “It sits perfectly in my lane.”
Sumner continued: “I didn’t know what else I could write a song about. It was a bit like that scene out of A Clockwork Orange where he’s got his eyes pinned back and he’s made to watch all these horrible films – because I couldn’t move off the sofa.
“In fact, in the COVID lockdown I found it really hard to write anything because nothing was coming in. With me, I absorb everything that’s going on and then write about it.”
Aitchison spoke of how he was “buzzing” to have been hooked up with Sumner, revealing that “the music of New Order has always been there for me”.
“I watched [Factory Records’ founder Tony Wilson biopic] 24 Hour Party People more than I probably should have as a kid. I think that had a big effect on me,” he admitted. “There were a lot Hacienda DJs coming over to Donny as well, so it was a big part of my life. My mates were all more into the Oasis side of stuff, but I was more into the New Order dance-y edge.”
With a long and colourful history of collaborations – including The Chemical Brothers, Johnny Marr, Arcade Fire, Iggy Pop and La Roux – Sumner told us what an artist needs to inspire him to work with them.
“I’ve got to like the music, that’s the basic thing,” he said. “I look for people who are striving and putting the effort in to make it.”
He went on: “If they’re a good and genuine person then that makes all the difference to me – and that they’re not just doing it to be famous; that they’ve got some substance to what they’re doing. Also, that they’re trying to do something forward-looking. I’m not really into music that’s backwards-looking, because I’ve never been like that myself. I’m always thinking about what’s coming next. Occasionally I might do a bit of Italian disco, but I’m trying to work with forward-thinking people.”
The pair agreed that that a future-facing approach was essential, especially for artists working in dance music.
“It’s getting harder and harder, because electronic music has been around for quite some time now,” said Sumner.
“When we first started dabbling in electronic music after Joy Division and the first New Order album, it was like new territory. That’s more and more difficult now because electronic music has been around for such a long time, but when we started there weren’t many artists that were working in the electronic field – especially the dance-orientated side.”
Aitchison agreed that while he’s often “referenced the past”, he’s “always thinking about how to take things forward”.
“There’s no point in getting stuck on what’s been before or trying to recreate something that’s already existed,” he said. You’ve just got to put your own stamp on it and put yourself into it.”
“I just try to put myself into it and ignore what’s going on around me the best I can. Otherwise you start to sound like everyone else and it starts to sound a bit pastiche.”
However, progression isn’t always easy when survival is tough enough – with the two artists both pointing to Brexit complications, low streaming payments and the cost of living crisis for making life more and more difficult for musicians.
“I’m fortunate that I get to go on tour around the world,” said Aitchison. “It’s not easy for sure, but I used to fit roller shutters and work as a manual labourer until I was about 27, so it’s still easier than that. I still manage to make a living out of it. There are ups and downs. People don’t have as much money to buy tickets, but you’ve just got to work within your means and keep on.”
Sumner argued that while “for a band like New Order, we’re OK and we can weather the storms because we’re firmly established”, things weren’t so easy for rising artists.
“Brexit, for example, is an absolute nightmare for young musicians,” he said. “It’s hard enough already with venues closing, streaming pays fuck all. With Brexit, the amount of paperwork that needs to be done, transportation complexities, the cost of travel…
“Culture is a big thing in this country. The UK is known for exporting culture and music. To put a barrier in front of all that for zero return is an abomination. I think it’s terrible. You should be helping young musicians, not putting barriers in front of them. What’s the culture secretary’s job? To make life harder for [people in] culture and the arts? It shouldn’t be that. You should be there to help.”
And what would their chances be if his first band, seminal post-punks Joy Division, were to emerge as a new band today instead of the late ’70s?
“When we started out in Joy Division, we slogged it on the road for years and years,” replied Sumner. “It was hard then, but I can’t imagine what it must be like now.”
While Sumner and Aitchison said it was “too soon to say” if they’d collaborate again, Mella Dee did reveal that he’d been working on a remix of ‘Riptide’ that “turns up the bang”. Beyond that, he’s got an EP of “wonky club stuff” on the way, as well as “festivals, touring, more music, and a lot of DJing” – and another big team-up in the works.
“I’ve been in the studio with Syd from Working Men’s Club, so I’ll be interested to see where that goes,” said Aitchison. “In one day we did three ideas, and then some more. The idea is to keep cooking and see what comes of it. I’ve also been working with a friend on a new project called SY Rockers – it’s dubbed-out electronic stuff, so I’ve got quite a lot of finish off and get it out.”
For Sumner, he said that “this summer is all about doing some maintenance work on New Order” ahead of their festival dates and UK and European tour.
“We’re playing Primavera, so the next thing is getting ready and doing some preparation work,” he said. “We might be re-working some of the visuals that we use so that’s going to be taking up the summer.”
And could we hear more New Order music after 2020’s one-off single ‘Be A Rebel‘?
“I tend to quite working in the winter these days,” he teased, tight-lipped, “because it’s fucking horrible.”