THE British band New Order does its best to take the fun out of dance music. It concocts propulsive rhythm tracks and simple but insistent tunes, in order, it seems, to show how hollow and mechanical that music can be.
With lyrics that tend to be accusations aimed at ex-lovers, or nihilistic manifestoes, the four-member band has built a cult following as rock's leading sourpusses. Its ''dance concert'' Tuesday at the Felt Forum -with no seats on the arena floor -was packed with non-dancers.
Most of the songs in Tuesday's set used rhythm machines to punch out syncopations somewhere between a disco heartbeat and a martial tattoo. For some tunes, superfluous band members left the stage as computer-stored rhythm tracks were played.
The human element was added by Peter Hook's sustained bass lines and the guitarist Bernard Albrecht's chant-like, aggrieved vocals, with perhaps some guitar strumming or keyboard riffing from Gillian Gilbert and drumming by Stephen Morris. Occasionally, the rhythm machines would be shut off and New Order would play like a guitar-driven punk band.
The songs stomped along, sometimes working up an irresistible momentum on two or three chords, and Mr. Albrecht sang lines like ''How does it feel to hurt me like you do?'' Now and then, the musicians would get carried away and actually move to the beat.
But when a song ended, the computerized rhythm was likely to stop dead; the guitarists would make their instruments feed back, or Ms. Gilbert would keep playing a keyboard line -contrasting mechanical precision with human noise and imperfection. As rock-and-roll defiance goes, such gambits are both didactic and elementary.
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