New Order – “Elegia”

New Order – “Elegia”

It’s probably overstating things to call “Elegia” one of New Order’s signature tracks – it’s too much of a stylistic outlier for that – but it is one of their most notable and memorable. Opening up side two of 1985’s Low-Life, it’s an elegiac instrumental that bridges the far poppier halves of the album with a sombre monument, intended to be a tribute to their lost friend and bandmate, Ian Curtis.

Far Out has a feature on the song that’s really more about collecting the band’s remembrances of Ian Curtis than discussing how the song was constructed to be a tribute to him:

The song New Order wrote in tribute to Ian Curtis @ Far Out

And it turns out the genesis of the song wasn’t a need to express their collective grief over Curtis in music. Drummer Stephen Morris recalled in his memoir Fast Forward: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist: Volume II:

We’d written an instrumental track for a film i-D Magazine were commissioning. “Elegia” was inspired by Ennio Morricone’s score for the duel scene in Sergio Leone’s classic western For A Few Dollars More. You can’t go wrong with a bit of Morricone. The film never got made, so we ended up with a 15-minute instrumental to cut down for our next album.

Stephen Morris, New Order

And in his own memoir Substance: Inside New Order, Peter Hook described the recording sessions for the song as follows:

We spent the session whizzed off our tits on speed, and although he assumed it was going to take around eight hours, instead we spent ten just programming the sequencer, then putting the bass and guitar down and the drum effect overdubs, even at one point bringing Melvin’s nephews, who called in from school in the afternoon, onto the track and recording them saying their names, ‘Ben and Justin’, over and over again. (It was the working title for a while.)

It was a great day. Barney, released from the pressure of singing, was really relaxed. He wrote and played all the keyboards and layered them onto the track. We ended up recording an epic 17-minute, 32-second version of it.

Peter Hook, New Order
New Order: “Elegia” Synth Remake @ Reverb Machine

The complete 17-minute version was first released on a limited edition bonus disc in their 2002 career-spanning box set Retro, and then made more accessibly available in the 2008 Deluxe Edition reissue. A bootleg version surfaced around 2012, but was cease-and-desisted pretty quickly (though the artwork lives on, as seen above). It was naturally included again as one of the bonuses on the Low-Life: Definitive Edition box set that came out earlier this year, and the band’s performance of the song live at the International Centre in Toronto was also featured on one of the included DVDs:

Thanks to its epic scale and pop cultural cachet, the song has been popular in film syncs, appearing in Stranger Things, The Crown, and the trailer for Metal Gear Solid 5 in 2015:

Synthesizer blog Reverb Machine put together a feature about the song and specifically how to recreate the sounds of the song using current software and plugins, including:

New Order Elegia Synth Remake @ Reverb Machine

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