An important figure as the producer behind a number of influential records made between the late '70s and early '90s, the name Martin Hannett is probably best recognized in the credits of singles and albums released by Joy Division and New Order.
From the Buzzcocks' legendary Spiral Scratch (credited as Martin Zero) to the first Stone Roses single, Hannett helped define the sound of his hometown of Manchester, England. He was also involved as an in-house producer for a number of labels apart from Manchester's Factory, including Rabid. A great number of myths surround the man, thanks in no small part to his erratic, compulsive, hedonistic personality. His working methods were psychological as much as they were technical, much to the chagrin of those he worked with. But when he struck gold, the trouble was all worth it. With many of the punk bands he worked with, he envisioned raw materials that could be bent, folded, and improved with his influence and manipulation.
Prior to the busy production schedule he embarked on after Spiral Scratch, Hannett was employed at a chemistry lab and spent time working as a soundman. He played bass in a number of groups, including the Mandalla Band which morphed into Sad Cafe. Around the same time, he was able to start a music promotion company with his girlfriend and helped run a musician's co-operative. Hannett was a major proponent of electronics, convincing the apprehensive Joy Division to add synthesizers to 1979's Unknown Pleasures. This record best encapsulates the producer's infatuation with drum sounds, digital delay, and atmospheric/non-musical elements like breaking glass. Hannett proved to many that the traditional instrumentation of a rock band could be augmented and not weighed down by electronic devices. Upon returning from a trip to Nashville in 1981, Hannett mused that a number of other producers had stolen his drum sound. The Durutti Column's Return of the Durutti Column is a sparkling example of his more involved collaborative talents. His addition of electronic rhythms to Vini Reilly's graceful guitar sketches helped make that record stand out from virtually everything else released at the time. Recorded in three days, its beauty is belied by the tension between the guitarist and producer. Tunnel-visioned, Hannett went about his work on the third day completely oblivious to Reilly's fraught mental state. Other instances of Hannett's eccentricities include the blasting of air conditioning while Joy Division's Peter Hook laid down basslines, and a puzzling line of instruction to A Certain Ratio guitarist Martin Moscrop: "Right, I want you to play that again...only this time make it faster, but slower."
Between late 1981 and 1985, Hannett was all but completely absent from the studio, becoming more dependent on heroin. The 1980 suicide of close friend and Joy Division singer Ian Curtis also troubled him. Without a doubt, Hannett's physical and/or mental state resulted in a number of missed opportunities. By 1980, his drug problem was beginning to loom over his career; it was rumored that he was to produce the Only Ones' Baby's Got a Gun, but he was only able to work on one track. Hannett's troubles during this period extended into financial matters; in April of 1982, he filed suit with Factory for having siphoned some of his pay. The suit was settled out of court within two years. Hannett eventually patched things up with Factory boss Tony Wilson well enough to return to record the label's Happy Mondays. Apart from those mentioned above, Hannett's other significant productions include U2 (1980s 11 O'Clock Tick Tock single), ESG (1981's ESG EP), and Magazine (1980's The Correct Use of Soap and various singles).
He returned to work in the late '80s and early '90s, sporadically joining up with the Happy Mondays (1988's Bummed) and the Kitchens of Distinction (1990s Quick as Rainbows single). Shockingly, Hannett was discovered dead in his chair -- a victim of heart failure -- by his step-daughter on April 18, 1991. In August of that year, Factory Records held their Cities in the Park festival in remembrance of the man. Later on, the label issued a compilation featuring highlights of his varied productions. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi