American rock/nu metal band
Joy Division were an English rock band formed in 1976 in
Joy Division rapidly evolved from their initial punk rock influences, to develop a sound and style that pioneered the post-punk movement of the late 1970s. According to music critic Jon Savage, the band "were not punk but were directly inspired by its energy". Their self-released 1978 debut EP, An Ideal for Living, caught the attention of the Manchester television personality Tony Wilson. Joy Division's debut album, Unknown Pleasures, was released in 1979 on
In May 1980, on the eve of the band's first American tour, Curtis, overwhelmed with depression, committed suicide. Joy Division's posthumously released second album, Closer (1980), and the single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" became the band's highest charting releases. After the death of Curtis, the remaining members reformed as New Order, achieving critical and commercial success.
On 20 July 1976, Sumner and Hook (who had been friends since the age of eleven) separately attended the second Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. The following day Hook borrowed £35 from his mother to buy his first bass guitar. Sumner later said that he felt that the Pistols "destroyed the myth of being a pop star, of a musician being some kind of god that you had to worship". Inspired by the performance, Sumner and Hook formed a band with their friend Terry Mason, who had also attended the show. 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 store in Manchester for a vocalist. Ian Curtis, who knew the three from meeting at earlier gigs, responded and was hired without audition. According to Sumner, "I 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 suggested the band call themselves the Stiff Kittens, and they were billed under this name for their first public performance, but the band instead chose the name
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
Joy Division were approached by RCA Records to record a cover of Nolan "N.F." Porter's "Keep On Keepin' On" and was afforded recording time at a professional
Joy Division made their recorded debut on 3 June 1978 when the band self-released their debut EP, 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 on 2 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—which featured a drawing of a Hitler Youth member on the cover—coupled with the nature of the band's name, fueled speculation about their political affiliations. While Hook and Sumner later admitted to being intrigued by fascism at the time, Morris insisted that the group's obsession 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 performance debut on the local news show Granada Reports, hosted by Tony Wilson. Later in the month, 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. Joy Division soon joined Factory's roster, after buying themselves out of the deal with RCA. Rob Gretton was made a partner in the label to represent the interests of the band. On 27 December, Ian Curtis suffered his first recognizable epileptic episode. During the ride home after a show at the Hope & Anchor in
In April 1979, the band began recording their debut album, Unknown Pleasures, at Strawberry Studios in
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
Closer and Curtis's suicide
In January 1980, Joy Division set out on a European tour. While the tour was difficult, Curtis only experienced two grand mal seizures in the two months preceding the tour's final date. With Martin Hannett again producing, the band recorded their second album, Closer, in March at
Lack of sleep and long hours destabilized Curtis's epilepsy and his seizures became almost uncontrollable. Curtis would often have seizures during shows, which left him feeling ashamed and depressed. While the band was concerned about their singer, audience members on occasion thought his behavior was part of the show. On 7 April, Curtis attempted suicide by overdosing on phenobarbitone. The next evening, Joy Division was set to play a gig at the Derby Hall in Bury. With Curtis recovering, it was decided that the band would play a combined set with Alan Hempstall of Crispy Ambulance and Simon Topping of A Certain Ratio filling in on vocals for the first few songs. Curtis came onstage to perform for part of the set. When Topping came back out to finish the set for Curtis, some in the audience started throwing bottles at the stage. Gretton leapt into the crowd and a riot ensued. Several April gigs were cancelled due to the continuing ill health of Curtis, but the band filmed a promotional video for the forthcoming "Love Will Tear Us Apart" single that month. The band played what would be their final show at the University of Birmingham's High Hall on 2 May.
Joy Division were due to begin their first American tour in May 1980. While Curtis had expressed a desire to take time off to visit a few acquaintances, he feigned excitement about the tour around the band because he did not want to disappoint his band mates or Factory Records. At the time, Curtis's relationship with his wife, Deborah Curtis (the couple married in 1975 as teenagers), was collapsing. Contributing factors were his ill health, her being mostly excluded from his life with the band, and his relationship with a young Belgian woman named Annik Honoré whom he had met on a European tour. The evening before Joy Division were to embark on the American tour, Curtis returned to his home in Macclesfield in order to talk to his estranged wife. He asked her to drop the divorce suit she had filed; later, he told her to leave him alone in the house until he caught his train to
Curtis's suicide "made for instant myth", in music critic Simon Reynolds's words. Jon Savage wrote in his obituary for Curtis in Melody Maker, "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 finally came out, 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."
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 lineup as keyboardist and second guitarist. New Order's first single, the 1981 release "Ceremony", featured the last two songs written with Ian Curtis. While the group struggled in its early years to escape the shadow of Joy Division, New Order eventually went on to much greater commercial success than their predecessor band.
Further Joy Division material has been released since the band's demise. Still, a compilation of live tracks and rare recordings, was issued in 1981. Factory put out the Substance compilation in 1988, which included several out-of-print singles. Another compilation, Permanent, was released in 1995 by London Records, which had acquired the Joy Division catalogue after Factory Records went bankrupt in 1992. A comprehensive box set, Heart and Soul, came out in 1997.
Joy Division took time to develop their sound. As
Sumner acted as the unofficial musical director of the band, a role that he carried over into 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 synthesizers and Hook used a six-string bass for more melody.
Producer Martin Hannett "dedicated himself to capturing and intensifying Joy Division's eerie spatiality". Hannett believed punk rock was sonically conservative because of its refusal to utilise 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."
Ian Curtis was the group's sole lyricist. Curtis would write frantically when the mood took him; he would then listen to the band's music (which was often arranged by Sumner) and used the lyrics that were most appropriate. Words and images such as "coldness, pressure, darkness, crisis, failure, collapse, loss of control" reoccur in his songs. In 1979, NME journalist Paul Rambali wrote, "The themes of Joy Division's music are sorrowful, painful, and sometimes deeply sad."
The band refused to explain their lyrics to the press or print the words on lyrics sheets. Curtis 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 band members later admitted they paid little attention to what Curtis was writing. Deborah Curtis recalled that only with the release of Closer did many who were close to the singer realize "[h]is intentions and feelings were all there within the lyrics." The surviving members of the band in retrospect regret not seeing warning signs in Curtis's lyrics. "This sounds awful but it was only after Ian died that we sat down and listened to the lyrics," Morris said in 2007. "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."
In contrast to the sound of their studio recordings, Joy Division typically played loud and aggressively during live performances. The band were unhappy with Hannett's mixing of Unknown Pleasures, which reduced the abrasiveness of their sound. According to Sumner, "the music was loud and heavy, and we felt that Martin had toned it down, especially with the guitars." In concert, the group interacted little with the crowd; Paul Morley wrote, "[D]uring 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." While singing, Curtis would often perform what was referred to as his "'dead fly' dance", where the singer's 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 a[n 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."
Despite their short career and cult status, 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."
The band's dark and gloomy 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 Joy Division's wake. 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 has influenced bands ranging from contemporaries U2 and The Cure to post-punk revival artists such as Interpol, Bloc Party and Editors. U2 frontman Bono stated that his group "worshipped" Joy Division. The singer said in the band's 2006 autobiography U2 by U2, "It would be harder to find a darker place in music than Joy Division. Their name, their lyrics and their singer were as big a black cloud as you could find in the sky. And yet I sensed the pursuit of God, or light, or reason...a reason to be. With Joy Division, you felt from this singer, beauty was truth and truth was beauty, and theirs was a search for both." Artists including electronica performer Moby and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante have described their appreciation for Joy Division's music and the influence it has had on their own material. In 2005, Joy Division were inducted along with New Order into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
Two biopics have been released that dramatize Joy Division on film. 24 Hour Party People (2002) presented a somewhat fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Factory Records, in which the members of Joy Division served as supporting characters. Tony Wilson said of the film, "It's all true, it's all not true. It's not a f**ing documentary", insisting that whenever possible during the production of the film, he favored 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. The same year Grant Gee directed a documentary about the band, simply entitled Joy Division.