Peter Hook - Substance: Inside New Order [book] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Peter Hook

Substance: Inside New Order 📕 (2017)

Dey Street Books

Right off the bat, Peter Hook’s Substance: Inside New Order is striking for its sheer heft. Clocking in at over 750 pages, the autobiography is more of a tome than a breezy, beach read. Then, when you compound that with the fact that it’s the third book in his biography series, following a Factory club and Joy Division book, you’d have to say, “there’s no way anyone has that much to talk about.”

Yet, Hook, who is known in equal parts for providing the iconic bass lines for Joy Division/New Order and for feuding with bandmate vocalist Bernard Sumner, does have a lot to talk about. Perhaps because he’s been doing the music thing for over forty years and across five bands, he's got a lot to say, and to tell you the truth, it’s a pretty quick read despite the massive weight of it all.

Hook makes a few decisive choices in the book’s very first chapter, and because he plays those paths wisely, they serve to make the book as speedy a read as it is. First off, many band biographies focus almost exclusively on the drug/sex/feuding side while the other ones focus almost exclusively on the technical/recording side. In contrast, Hook steers straight down the middle dealving equally into the good and bad times with his fellow New Order mates as well as the specifics of recording sessions. Both aspects play well for hardcore fans.

Hook, perhaps unlike other artists, is deftly able to break New Order down into eras, and gives us a glimpse into both recording sessions , how songs evolved, and exactly who contributed what. He also is fond of stapling sidebars to more meaty chapters, giving spec-descriptions of certain drum machines, recording techniques, or even what kind of tape is used to hold mic stands together. It’s easy enough for the layperson to comprehend, but does feel like Hook is talking shop to other gearheads and really does give a very precise description of how certain sounds came to be. If you want to know why some New Order albums are more organic and some are more electronic, or why certain songs are heavier or lighter, Hook provides refreshingly concrete explanations. He also provides an extremely detailed and deep New Order discography that goes so far as to list run-out groove information. To that end, the book also serves as a record collector’s resource.

As to the other angle, Hook quite directly makes the personal focus of the book his complex battles with Sumner. Man, those two really hate each other! Hook paints Sumner as a sneaky, but lazy, manipulator who across the course of the book, becomes chained to a series of increasingly bizarre (and perhaps put-on) phobias. Hook, for his part, when confronted with conflict, goes straight for the throat. The result is one guy that only likes to resolve disputes through intermediaries and one guy that only knows how to solve things by bashing heads- and honestly, it seems neither really likes resolving conflict as much as participating in conflict. As the two tussle throughout the length, they flip back and forth with the upper hand. To Hook’s credit, he doesn’t necessarily paint himself as a “nice guy,” but he does relish in pointing out why he thinks Sumner is such a twat. It’s clearly a one-sided stance, but , to be fair, better that than feigning a pure objectivity. Yet, what is perhaps most interesting is that despite the near-constant warring between the two factions (and the other members that basically try to keep their heads down) once in a while the pair will do something incredibly nice for the other- late in the book when Hook is in the throes of addiction and the pair are basically arch-enemies, Sumner calls him up in rehab. Hook really seems to enjoy going out to dinner with Sumner (even if, according to Hook, Sumner always forgets his wallet). Maybe the reason they hate each other so much is because they used to be pals, and now, they know there is no way back?

Of course, the book does feature the standard fare of a lot of drugging, a lot of banging, and the requisite party-to-addiction-to-recovery arc. But that’s more of a supporting story than the main features, which are, of course, conflict and recording specifics, weighed in equal measure. That’s they way to do it. To ignore the addiction and groupie-shagging would be dishonest and rose-colored, but to focus on it would be somewhat tiresome- we’ve all heard most of this before. To include it, without dwelling on it, is the way to go. Also, that leaves a little more room for the truly unique stories, like the time New Order rumbled with Clash over chicken wings or the time they recorded with Gwen Stefani. Whoa!

Clearly, this book is for the fans and, clearly, we know as fans that we’re getting Hook’s subjective opinion. Frankly, he’s got a lot of them, but as a fan myself, I wanted to hear them.