The Happy Drum Machine Accident (?) That Produced New Order’s Best-Known Hit

The year 1983 was a pivotal one for drum machines. Programmable rhythm boxes had decisively infiltrated the pop mainstream. You could hardly turn on the radio without hearing the LinnDrum—the follow-up to Linn Electronics’ game-changing LM-1. And while the Roland TR-808 would lose the short-term battle to Linn products in the marketplace, it was nevertheless heard on a variety of hits that year.

Oberheim DMX
Oberheim's DMX drum machine was introduced in 1983.

But 1983 might have been the high-water mark for a third machine: the Oberheim DMX. The list of iconic hits whose rhythms were powered by the DMX during those 12 months is a long one. It includes Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” The System’s “You Are In My System,” and “Sucker M.C.s,” the first of several songs by a new hip-hop act called Run-D.M.C. that were based around a rhythm called the Krush Groove. (This pattern came from the single “Action” by Orange Crush, and their bassist, Davy “DMX” Reeves, soon became a pioneering drum programmer who would work with Run-D.M.C.)

Even The Police, at the height of their MTV dominance, used the DMX’s bass drum that summer. The machine gave its heartbeat to the No. 1 hit “Every Breath You Take”—although lead singer Sting’s insistence on using the DMX would lead to studio fisticuffs with the group’s drummer, Stewart Copeland.

Yet there’s another instantly recognizable DMX rhythm that debuted in 1983. It was a deliberate mashup of drum parts from several songs its creators had heard in New York nightclubs during a U.S. tour. And its creation has long been the stuff of legend—something that still annoys its programmer.

A recreation of the Oberheim DMX pattern on New Order's single "Blue Monday"..

When those stories about the song “Blue Monday” are broached with New Order drummer Stephen Morris, he sighs. Morris is good natured to a fault, and he’s one of the true visionaries of programmed percussion. From his early days in post-punk legends Joy Division, Morris was experimenting with electronic drums and effects.

But Morris admits he’s a little tired of the tale about how he erased the original drum program from “Blue Monday” because he tripped over the power cord and accidentally unplugged the DMX.

“The thing was—the DMX, the very first version, was just so bloody unreliable,” Morris says. “And yeah, I got that it was all my fault because I’d become the machine’s keeper. And I was, like, abusing it in some terrible way.” He gives a wry grin. “So I’m manifesting my insecurities. And by telekinesis, I’m making the thing go wrong. But it was genuinely unreliable. It’s like, Fuck. Everything just disappeared as soon as you turned the power back on.”

That didn’t stop former New Order bassist Peter Hook from relating his version of events in his autobiography, Substance. “I remember being in the practice room watching Steve program it. He had it on the floor between the legs of a chair. Asked why, he said it was because the only [power cord] he could find was a short kettle [cord] from the kitchen. Hence our new £2,000 drum machine was stuck on the floor right next to his overflowing ashtray.”

So Hook wasn’t surprised when the DMX’s power cord was eventually knocked loose—and days of work disappeared. “The machine dumped all its information, and the first incarnation of ‘Blue Monday’ was lost,” he continued. “The upshot was we had to hurriedly recreate all these fantastic drum beats, rhythmic punctuations, fills, and drum stops we’d stolen from the songs we’d heard in New York clubs, as quickly as possible before they disappeared into the ether. It took a long time to recapture them, and the lingering doubt that we had lost the best version still haunts me now.”

However, if the version of “Blue Monday” that we all know—the one with the unforgettable stuttering kick drum rhythm—is just a consolation prize, then it’s certainly a good one.

New Order perform "Blue Monday" on BBC's Top of the Pops, March 1983.

New Order had received the Oberheim DMX while recording their second album, Power, Corruption & Lies, released in 1983. “The only way to really know how something works is to use it practically. I mean, reading the manual is one thing,” Morris explains. “So we just set about writing a song with it, which was ‘Blue Monday.’”

The arrangement of the song was based on the 1982 Italian disco hit “Dirty Talk” by Klein & M.B.O. Soon, the members of New Order were suggesting bits and pieces of other songs that could be nicked. “It’s like a DJ thing, really—it was like Grandmaster Flash’s record ‘Wheels Of Steel,’” Morris says. “You’re taking bits of other records, and translating them—quite badly, in places—and making a new song out of it.”

The signature lick of “Dirty Talk” is the kick-drum roll that opens the track. You can also hear it on Donna Summer’s 1980 single “Our Love,” although Morris points out that people have been doing it for ages. “It’s just a four-on-the-floor bass drum with a 16th-note’s delay on it,” he says. The difference in “Blue Monday” is that the kick drum doesn’t decay when it repeats. This, Morris says, was a deliberate choice.

“The DMX has got three volume levels. So the kick drum started off going loud, middle, quiet. No, no, no. Let’s try doing it again. So now it goes loud, middle, middle. You know, that’s better. That’s a lot better,” Morris recalls. “And in the end it was just Loud, loud, loud. Loud, loud, loud.”

Morris notes that he did try playing live drums on “Blue Monday” but that it just didn’t work—because the arrangement needed the DMX’s more regimented sound. “Well, really, it’s easy to say regimented,” he adds, “but it’s not regimented. Because the DMX has got a kind of a sort of funkiness about it, because it’s not strictly in time.”

He continues: “But it was sort of like a competition of me playing against the drum machine. And the drum machine won every time. So ‘Blue Monday’ was sort of the drum machine winning, but failing, because it suffered from amnesia, basically,” he adds. Morris is referring to the machine’s propensity for dumping its memory. “And so I had to keep reminding it. I had to keep listening to the records and reminding it how it went.”

Thanks to a variety of remixes, “Blue Monday” would enjoy a long afterlife. It became a top five dance hit twice during the ’80s and cracked the UK top 20 on three separate occasions.

Meanwhile, New Order would use the DMX for another album—1985’s Low Life —before sampling its sounds into an Emulator “and waving bye-bye.” But despite his struggles with the machine, Morris admits that he still has one around. “Every now and then, I still get it out,” he says cheerfully. “I still enjoy being frustrated by the DMX.”

About the Author: Dan LeRoy’s latest book is Dancing To The Drum Machine: How Electronic Percussion Conquered The World (available here). For more information visit

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