|Also known as||Warsaw
(May 1977 – January 1978)
|Origin||Salford, Greater Manchester, England|
|Associated acts||New Order|
Joy Division were an English rock band formed in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester. Originally named Warsaw, the band consisted of singer-songwriter Ian Curtis, guitarist and keyboardist Bernard Sumner, bass player Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris. The band was formed by Sumner and Hook after attending a 4 June 1976 Sex Pistols concert at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. While Joy Division's early recordings were heavily influenced by early punk, they soon developed a unique sound and style that made them one of the pioneers of the late-1970s post-punk movement. Their self-released 1978 debut EP, An Ideal for Living, drew the attention of the Manchester television personality Tony Wilson, who signed them to his independent label Factory Records. Their debut album Unknown Pleasures, recorded with producer Martin Hannett, was released in 1979 to critical acclaim.
Curtis suffered from personal problems which included a failing marriage, depression, and epilepsy. As the band's popularity grew, Curtis's condition made it increasingly difficult for him to perform live concerts, during which he occasionally experienced grand mal seizures. He committed suicide on the eve of the band's first American tour in May 1980, aged 23. Joy Division's second and final album, Closer, was released two months later; the album and preceding single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" became the band's highest charting releases.
The remaining members regrouped as a new band, under the name New Order, achieving widespread critical and commercial success throughout the next decade through their blending of post-punk with electronic and dance music influences.
On 20 July 1976, childhood friends Sumner and Hook separately attended a Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. Both were was inspired by the Pistols' performance. The following day Hook borrowed £35 from his mother to buy a bass guitar. Sumner said that he felt that they "destroyed the myth of being a pop star, of a musician being some kind of god that you had to worship". They formed a band with Terry Mason, who had also attended the gig. Sumner bought a guitar, and Mason a drum kit. They invited schoolfriend Martin Gresty to join as vocalist, but he turned them down after getting a job at a local factory. An advertisement was placed in the Virgin Records shop in Manchester for a vocalist. Ian Curtis, who knew them from earlier gigs, responded and was hired without audition. Sumner said that he "knew he was all right to get on with and that's what we based the whole group on. If we liked someone, they were in".
Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon and frontman Pete Shelley have both been credited with suggesting the band name "Stiff Kittens", but settled on "Warsaw" shortly before their first gig, referencing David Bowie's song "Warszawa". Warsaw debuted on 29 May 1977 at the Electric Circus, supporting the Buzzcocks, Penetration and John Cooper Clarke. They received immediate national exposure due to reviews of the gig in the NME by Paul Morley and in Sounds by Ian Wood. Tony Tabac played drums that night after joining the band two days earlier. Mason was soon made the band's manager and Tabac was replaced on drums in June 1977 by Steve Brotherdale, who also played in the punk band Panik. During his tenure with Warsaw, Brotherdale tried to get Curtis to leave the band and join Panik and even got Curtis to audition for the band. In July 1977, Warsaw recorded a set of five demo tracks at Pennine Sound Studios, Oldham. Uneasy with Brotherdale's aggressive personality, the band fired him soon after the demo sessions. Driving home from the studio, they pulled over and asked Brotherdale to check on a flat tyre; when he got out of the car, they sped off.
In August 1977, the band placed an advertisement in a music shop window seeking a replacement drummer. Stephen Morris, who had attended the same school as Curtis, was the sole respondent. Deborah Curtis, Ian's wife, stated that Morris "fitted perfectly" with the other men, and that with his addition Warsaw became a "complete 'family'". To avoid confusion with the London punk band Warsaw Pakt, the band renamed themselves Joy Division in early 1978, borrowing their new name from the sexual slavery wing of a Nazi concentration camp mentioned in the 1955 novel House of Dolls. In December, the group recorded what became their debut EP, An Ideal for Living, at Pennine Sound Studio and played their final gig as Warsaw on New Year's Eve at The Swinging Apple in Liverpool. Billed as Warsaw to ensure an audience, the band played their first gig as Joy Division on 25 January 1978 at Pip's Disco in Manchester.
Joy Division were approached by RCA Records to record a cover of Nolan "N.F." Porter's "Keep on Keepin' On" at a Manchester recording studio. The band spent late March and April 1978 writing and rehearsing material. During the Stiff/Chiswick Challenge concert at Manchester's Rafters Club on 14 April, they caught the attention of Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton. Curtis berated Wilson for not putting the group on his Granada Television show So It Goes; Wilson responded that Joy Division would be the next band he would showcase on TV. Gretton, the venue's resident DJ, was so impressed by the band's performance that he convinced them to take him on as their manager. Gretton, whose "dogged determination" would later be credited for much of the band's public success, contributed the business skills that Joy Division lacked to provide them with a better foundation for creativity. Joy Division spent the first week of May 1978 recording at Manchester's Arrow Studios. The band were unhappy with the Grapevine Records head John Anderson's insistence on adding synthesiser into the mix to soften the sound, and asked to be dropped from the contract that they had recently signed with RCA.
Joy Division made their recorded debut in June 1978 when the band self-released An Ideal for Living, and two weeks later a track of theirs, "At a Later Date", was featured on the compilation album Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus (which had been recorded live in October 1977). In the Melody Maker review of the EP, Chris Brazier said that it "has the familiar rough-hewn nature of home-produced records, but they're no mere drone-vendors—there are a lot of good ideas here, and they could be a very interesting band by now, seven months on". The packaging of An Ideal for Living—which featured a drawing of a Hitler Youth member on the cover—coupled with the nature of the band's name, fuelled speculation about their political affiliations. While Hook and Sumner later admitted to being intrigued by fascism at the time, Morris believed that the group's dalliance with Nazi imagery came from a desire to keep memories of the sacrifices of their parents and grandparents during World War II alive. He argued that accusations of neo-Nazi sympathies merely provoked the band "to keep on doing it, because that's the kind of people we are".
In September 1978, Joy Division made their television debut performing "Shadowplay" on So It Goes, with an introduction by Wilson. In October, Joy Division contributed two tracks recorded with producer Martin Hannett to the compilation double-7" EP A Factory Sample, the first release by Tony Wilson's record label, Factory Records. In the NME review of the EP, Paul Morley hailed the band as "the missing link between Elvis Presley and [Siouxsie and] the Banshees". Joy Division joined Factory's roster, after buying themselves out of the deal with RCA. Rob Gretton was made a partner of the label so as to represent the interests of the band. On 27 December, Ian Curtis had his first recognisable epileptic episode. During the drive home from gig at the Hope and Anchor in London, Curtis suffered a severe epileptic seizure which required him to be hospitalised. Meanwhile, Joy Division's career progressed. He appeared on the 13 January 1979 cover of NME. That month the band recorded their session for BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. According to Deborah Curtis, "Sandwiched in between these two important landmarks was the realization that Ian's illness was something we would have to learn to accommodate".
The band recorded their debut album, Unknown Pleasures at Strawberry Studios, Stockport, in April 1979. Producer Martin Hannett significantly altered their live sound, a fact that greatly displeased the band at the time. Hook said in 2006 that the album "definitely didn't turn out sounding the way I wanted it [...] But now I can see that Martin did a good job on it [...] There's no two ways about it, Martin Hannett created the Joy Division sound". The album cover was designed by Peter Saville, who would go on to provide artwork for future Joy Division releases. Unknown Pleasures was released in June and sold through its initial pressing of 10,000 copies. Tony Wilson said that the relative success of the album turned the indie label into a true business and a "revolutionary force" that operated outside of the major record label system. Reviewing the album for Melody Maker, writer Jon Savage described the album as an "opaque manifesto" and declared "[l]eaving the twentieth century is difficult; most people prefer to go back and nostalgise. Oh boy. Joy Division at least set a course in the present with contrails for the future—perhaps you can't ask for much more. Indeed, Unknown Pleasures may very well be one of the best, white, English, debut LPs of the year".
Joy Division performed on Granada TV again in July 1979, and made their only nationwide TV appearance in September on BBC2's Something Else. They supported the Buzzcocks in a 24-venue UK tour that began that October, which allowed the band to quit their regular jobs. The non-album single "Transmission" was released in November. Joy Division's burgeoning success drew a devoted following who were stereotyped as "intense young men dressed in grey overcoats".
Joy Division toured Continental Europe in January 1980. Although the schedule was difficult and demanding, Curtis experienced only two grand mal seizures, both in the final two months of the tour. That March, the band recorded their second album, Closer with Hannett again producing at London's Britannia Row Studios. That month they released the "Licht und Blindheit" single, with "Atmosphere" as the A side and "Dead Souls" as the B side, on the French independent label Sordide Sentimental.
A lack of sleep and long hours committed to the bands' activities destabilised Curtis's epilepsy, and resultingly, his seizures became almost uncontrollable. Curtis would often experience seizures during live performances, which would leave him feeling both ashamed and depressed. As the band became increasingly worried about Curtis's medical condition, some of their audience members thought his seizures and behaviour were simply part of the live show. On 7 April, Curtis attempted suicide by overdosing on his anti-seizure medication; phenobarbitone. The following evening, Joy Division were scheduled to play a gig at the Derby Hall in Bury. Curtis was too ill to perform, so at Rob Gretton's insistence, the band played a combined set with Alan Hempsall of Crispy Ambulance and Simon Topping of A Certain Ratio singing on the first few songs, with Curtis singing for part of the set. When Topping came back towards the end of the set, some audience members threw bottles at the stage. Curtis's ill health lead to the cancellation of several other gigs that April. Joy Division's final live performance was held at the University of Birmingham's High Hall on 2 May, and included their only performance of "Ceremony", one of the last songs written by Curtis and later recorded by New Order as their first single.
Hannett's production has been widely praised. However, as with Unknown Pleasures, both Hook and Sumner were unhappy with the production. Hook said that when he heard the final mix of "Atrocity Exhibition" he was disappointed that the abrasiveness had been toned down. He wrote; "I was like, head in hands, 'Oh fucking hell, it's happening again. Unknown Pleasures number two...Martin [Hannett] had fucking melted the guitar with his Marshall Time Waster. Made it sound like someone strangling a cat and, to my mind, absolutely killed the song. I was so annoyed with him and went in and gave him a piece of my mind but he just turned round and told me to fuck off".
Curtis' suicide and aftermath
Joy Division were scheduled to commence their first American tour in May 1980. Curtis had expressed enthusiasm about the tour, but his relationship with his wife, Deborah, was at the time strained, largely due to his on-going affair with a Belgian journalist and music promoter named Annik Honoré, whom he had met on a 1979 European tour. This strain was further heightened by his health issues, the exclusion of his wife from the band's inner circle (most members of the band treated their wives or girlfriends in this manner), and Curtis's concerns as to how American audiences would react to his epilepsy. The evening before the band were due to depart for America, Curtis returned to his Macclesfield home to talk to his estranged wife. In this conversation, he asked her to drop an impending divorce suit; later, he asked her to leave him alone in the house until he caught a train to Manchester the following morning. Early on 18 May 1980, having spent the night watching the Werner Herzog film Stroszek, Curtis hanged himself in his kitchen. Deborah discovered his body later that day when she returned to their home. It came as a shock both to the band members and their management. In 2005, Wilson recollected: "I think all of us made the mistake of not thinking his suicide was going to happen [...] We all completely underestimated the danger. We didn't take it seriously. That's how stupid we were".
Music critic Simon Reynolds said Curtis's suicide "made for instant myth". Jon Savage's obituary said that "now no one will remember what his work with Joy Division was like when he was alive; it will be perceived as tragic rather than courageous." In June 1980, the posthumous single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was released, which hit number thirteen on the UK Singles Chart. In July 1980, Closer was released; subsequently peaking at number six on the UK Albums Chart. NME reviewer Charles Shaar Murray wrote, "Closer is as magnificent a memorial (for 'Joy Division' as much as for Ian Curtis) as any post-Presley popular musician could have."
Stephen Morris has said that even without Curtis's suicide, it was unlikely that Joy Division would have endured as they were. The members of Joy Division had made a pact long before Curtis's death that, should any member leave, the remaining members would change the name of the group. Eventually renaming themselves New Order, the band was reborn as a three-piece with Sumner assuming vocal duties; the group later recruited Morris's girlfriend Gillian Gilbert to round out the line-up as keyboardist and second guitarist. Starting as a member of punk group The Inadequates, Gilbert had become friends with the band's members and had played guitar at a Joy Division performance when Curtis had been unable to play.
New Order's debut single, 1981's "Ceremony", was formed from the last two songs written with Curtis. While the group struggled in its early years to escape the shadow of Joy Division, New Order went on to achieve far greater commercial success than their predecessor band with a very different, more upbeat and dance-orientated sound.
A number of outtakes and live material have been released since the band's demise. Still, featuring live tracks and rare recordings was issued in 1981. Factory issued the Substance compilation in 1988, including several out-of-print singles. Permanent was released in 1995 by London Records, which had acquired the Joy Division catalogue after Factory's 1992 bankruptcy. A comprehensive box set, Heart and Soul, appeared in 1997.
Joy Division's style quickly evolved from their punk roots. Their sound during their early inception as Warsaw was described as generic and "undistinguished punk-inflected hard-rock". Critic Simon Reynolds observed how the band's originality only "really became apparent as the songs got slower", and their music took on a "sparse" quality. According to Reynolds, "Hook's bass carried the melody, Bernard Sumner's guitar left gaps rather than filling up the group's sound with dense riffage and Steve Morris' drums seemed to circle the rim of a crater." According to music critic Jon Savage, "Joy Division were not punk but they were directly inspired by its energy". In 1994 Sumner said the band's characteristic sound "came out naturally: I'm more rhythm and chords, and Hooky was melody. He used to play high lead bass because I liked my guitar to sound distorted, and the amplifier I had would only work when it was at full volume. When Hooky played low, he couldn't hear himself. Steve has his own style which is different to other drummers. To me, a drummer in the band is the clock, but Steve wouldn't be the clock, because he's passive: he would follow the rhythm of the band, which gave us our own edge."  By Closer, Curtis had adapted a low baritone voice, drawing comparisons to Jim Morrison of the Doors (one of Curtis's favourite bands).
Sumner largely acted as the band's director, a role he continued in New Order. While Sumner was the group's primary guitarist, Curtis played the instrument on a few recorded songs and during a few shows. Curtis hated playing guitar, but the band insisted he do so. Sumner said, "He played in quite a bizarre way and that to us was interesting, because no one else would play like Ian". During the recording sessions for Closer, Sumner began using self-built synthesisers and Hook used a six-string bass for more melody.
Hannett "dedicated himself to capturing and intensifying Joy Division's eerie spatiality". Hannett believed punk rock was sonically conservative because of its refusal to use studio technology to create sonic space. The producer instead aimed to create a more expansive sound on the group's records. Hannett said, "[Joy Division] were a gift to a producer, because they didn't have a clue. They didn't argue". Hannett demanded clean and clear "sound separation" not only for individual instruments, but even for individual pieces of Morris's drumkit. Morris recalled, "Typically on tracks he considered to be potential singles, he'd get me to play each drum on its own to avoid any bleed-through of sound". Music journalist Richard Cook noted that Hannett's role was "crucial". There are "devices of distance" in his production and "the sound is an illusion of physicality".
Curtis was the band's sole lyricist, and he typically composed his lyrics in a notebook, independently of the eventual music to evolve. The music itself was largely written by Sumner and Hook as the group jammed during rehearsals. Curtis's imagery and word choice often referenced "coldness, pressure, darkness, crisis, failure, collapse, loss of control". In 1979, NME journalist Paul Rambali wrote, "The themes of Joy Division's music are sorrowful, painful and sometimes deeply sad." Music journalist Jon Savage wrote that "Curtis's great lyrical achievement was to capture the underlying reality of a society in turmoil, and to make it both universal and personal," while noting that "the lyrics reflected, in mood and approach, his interest in romantic and science-fiction literature." Critic Robert Palmer wrote that William S. Burroughs and J. G. Ballard were "obvious influences" to Curtis, and Morris also remembered the singer reading T. S. Eliot. Deborah Curtis also remembered Curtis reading works by writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, and Hermann Hesse.
Curtis was unwilling to explain the meaning behind his lyrics and Joy Division releases were absent of any lyric sheets. He told the fanzine Printed Noise, "We haven't got a message really; the lyrics are open to interpretation. They're multidimensional. You can read into them what you like." The other Joy Division members have said that at the time, they paid little attention to the contents of Curtis' lyrics. In a 1987 interview with Option, Morris said that they "just thought the songs were sort of sympathetic and more uplifting than depressing. But everyone's got their own opinion." Deborah Curtis recalled that only with the release of Closer did many who were close to the singer realise "[h]is intentions and feelings were all there within the lyrics". The surviving members regret not seeing the warning signs in Curtis's lyrics. Morris said that "it was only after Ian died that we sat down and listened to the lyrics...you'd find yourself thinking, 'Oh my God, I missed this one'. Because I'd look at Ian's lyrics and think how clever he was putting himself in the position of someone else. I never believed he was writing about himself. Looking back, how could I have been so bleedin' stupid? Of course he was writing about himself. But I didn't go in and grab him and ask, 'What's up?' I have to live with that".
Joy Division's live sound is loud and aggressive, in marked contrast to their studio recordings. The band were especially unhappy with Hannett's mix of Unknown Pleasures, which replaced abrasiveness for a more cerebral and ghostly sound. According to Sumner "the music was loud and heavy, and we felt that Martin had toned it down, especially with the guitars".
During their live performances, the group did not interact with the audience; according to Paul Morley "During a Joy Division set, outside of the songs, you'll be lucky to hear more than two or three words. Hello and goodbye. No introductions, no promotion". Curtis would often perform what became known as his "'dead fly' dance", as if imitating a seizure; his arms would "start flying in [a] semicircular, hypnotic curve". Simon Reynolds noted that Curtis's dancing style was reminiscent of an epileptic fit, and that he was dancing in the manner for some months before he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Live performances became problematic for Joy Division, due to Curtis's condition. Sumner later said, "We didn't have flashing lights, but sometimes a particular drum beat would do something to him. He'd go off in a trance for a bit, then he'd lose it and have an epileptic fit. We'd have to stop the show and carry him off to the dressing-room where he'd cry his eyes out because this appalling thing had just happened to him".
Sumner wrote that Curtis was inspired by artists such as the Doors, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Kraftwerk, the Velvet Underground and Neu!. Hook has also related that Curtis was particularly influenced by Iggy Pop's stage persona. The group were inspired by Kraftwerk's "marriage between humans and machines", and the inventiveness of their electronic music. Joy Division played Trans-Europe Express through the PA before they went on stage, 'to get a momentum". Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" elaborated with Brian Eno, had an impact on them; the "cold austerity" of the synthesisers on the b-sides of Heroes and Low albums, was a "music looking at the future". Morris cited the "unique style" of Velvet Underground's Maureen Tucker and the motoric drum beats, from Neu! and Can. Hook said that "Siouxsie and the Banshees were one of our big influences. [...] The way the guitarist and the drummer played was a really unusual way of playing". Hook drew inspiration from the style of bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel and his early material with the Stranglers; he also credited Carol Kaye and her musical basslines on early 1970s work of the Temptations. Sumner mentioned "the raw, nasty, unpolished edge" in the guitars of the Rolling Stones, the simple riff of "Vicious" on Lou Reed's Transformer, and Neil Young. His musical horizon went up a notch with Jimi Hendrix, he realised "it wasn't about little catchy tunes, [...] it was what you could do sonically with a guitar."
Despite their short career, Joy Division have exerted a wide-reaching influence. John Bush of AllMusic argues that Joy Division "became the first band in the post-punk movement by [...] emphasizing not anger and energy but mood and expression, pointing ahead to the rise of melancholy alternative music in the '80s."
Joy Division have influenced bands as diverse as contemporaries U2 and the Cure to artists such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Neurosis, Interpol, Bloc Party, the Editors and rap artists. Rapper Danny Brown is known to have named one of his albums after the Joy Division song "Atrocity Exhibition", whose title was partially inspired by the 1970 J. G. Ballard collection of condensed novels of the same name. In 2005, both New Order and Joy Division were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
The band's dark sound, which Martin Hannett described in 1979 as "dancing music with Gothic overtones", presaged the gothic rock genre. While the term "gothic" originally described a "doomy atmosphere" in music of the late 1970s, the term was soon applied to specific bands like Bauhaus that followed in the wake of Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Standard musical fixtures of early gothic rock bands included "high-pitched post-Joy Division basslines usurp[ing] the melodic role" and "vocals that were either near operatic and Teutonic or deep, droning alloys of Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis."
Joy Division have been dramatised in two biopics. 24 Hour Party People (2002) is a fictionalised account of the rise and fall of Factory Records in which members of the band served as supporting characters. Tony Wilson said of the film, "It's all true, it's all not true. It's not a fucking documentary", and that he favoured the "myth" over the truth. The 2007 film Control, directed by Anton Corbijn, is a biography of Ian Curtis (portrayed by Sam Riley) that uses Deborah Curtis's biography of her late husband, Touching from a Distance (1995), as its basis. Control had its international premiere on the opening night of Director's Fortnight at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, where it was critically well received. That year Grant Gee directed the band documentary Joy Division.
- Ian Curtis – lead vocals, guitar (1976-1980)
- Bernard Sumner – guitar, keyboards, bass, backing vocals (1976-1980)
- Peter Hook – bass, backing vocals, guitar (1976-1980)
- Stephen Morris – drums, percussion (1977-1980)
- Terry Mason – drums (1976-1977)
- Tony Tabac – drums (1977)
- Steve Brotherdale – drums (1977)
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