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Joy Division

Joy Division were an English rock band that formed in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester. With their dark, cavernous sound and use of synthesizers and electronics, they pioneered the post-punk sound of the late 1970s. The band dissolved in May 1980 after the suicide of its lead singer, Ian Curtis. The remaining members reformed as New Order and have gone on to achieve much critical and commercial success.

Though Joy Division found only modest success during their career, and released only two studio albums, the group have since been acclaimed as one of the most inventive, evocative and influential of their era. Thom Jurek writes "They left just a small bit of music and an echo that still rings".


The famous Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall on July 20, 1976 inspired Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook to form a band with their friend Terry Mason. Sumner bought a guitar, Hook a bass and Mason a drum kit. They placed an advertisement in a Manchester record store, Virgin Records, for a singer and recruited Ian Curtis. Curtis, who knew the others from previous gigs, had also attended the Sex Pistols concert, along with his wife, Deborah.


Just before their first gig on May 29, 1977 supporting Buzzcocks and Penetration at the Electric Circus, the band renamed themselves Warsaw, even though they appeared on the bill as Stiff Kittens (suggested by Richard Boon and Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks). Five weeks and half a dozen gigs later, Warsaw replaced Tabac with punk drummer Steve Brotherdale from another band called Panik. On July 18, 1977, they recorded five crude punk songs that became The Warsaw Demo.

After recording the demo, the band fired Brotherdale. Driving home from the studio, they pulled over and asked Brotherdale to check on a "flat tire". When he got out of the car, they sped off. Brotherdale later tried to get Curtis to join Panik, but Curtis rebuffed him. The band put out an advertisement in a music shop window for a replacement drummer and hired respondent Stephen Morris. The band chose Morris because Curtis recalled him from his school days. Morris had attended the same school two years below Curtis. Unlike the band's previous drummers, Morris clicked well with the other members. His metronome-like drumming owed more to krautrock than the aggressive bombast of punk.

Early work as Joy Division

Warsaw renamed themselves Joy Division in late 1977 in order to avoid confusion with the London punk band Warsaw Pakt. Joy Division refers to a group of women used as sex slaves in Nazi concentration camps, as depicted in Ka-tzetnik 135633's 1955 novel The House of Dolls.

The band's signature style formed in late 1977. Sessions recorded in December 1977 were a departure from the sound of The Warsaw Demo. The group played their first gig as Joy Division on January 25, 1978. Regular gigs in the north of England throughout early 1978 provided the band with enough material and experience to record a debut album. However, after the studio engineer added synthesizers to several tracks, the band scrapped the record. The album leaked as a bootleg in 1982. A decade later, the label released an official version.

Rob Gretton became the band's manager in May 1978. Over the next twenty years, he contributed much to Joy Division and New Order's legacy.

In the summer of 1978, Joy Division debuted on vinyl with a compilation titled Short Circuit. Though listed as a Joy Division composition, the title track came from the band's Warsaw days, recorded live on October 2, 1977. The song preceded by Ian Curtis screaming "You all forget Rudolf Hess"[citations needed]. In June 1978, Joy Division released their December 1977 sessions as a 7" EP under the title An Ideal for Living. They remastered and re-released An Ideal for Living as a 12" in late 1978.

On September 20, 1978, they performed on the local TV news show Granada Reports; then in December 1978, they appeared on the compilation EP A Factory Sample, contributing two tracks recorded a few months earlier. This EP sold out within a couple of months and was the first release to document the haunting and atmospheric sound that Joy Division had been developing since that past summer.

Early 1979 saw the band gain more publicity. Curtis appeared on the front cover of the New Musical Express and they recorded a radio session in January (aired on BBC Radio 1 on February 14 by John Peel). On March 4, they supported The Cure at the Marquee Club, a major venue in London.

Unknown Pleasures

In April 1979, the band began recording their debut album Unknown Pleasures. The record was bleaker and darker in tone than most of its contemporaries, featuring Hook's bass as the lead melodic instrument, drums treated with reverb, Sumner's jagged guitar style and Curtis's baritone vocals. Producer Martin Hannett also contributed significantly to the final sound. Whereas most punk rock bands had been extroverted and aggressive, Joy Division were more introverted and personal. Despite their insularity, however, their music could be very aggressive, chaotic and at times even violent.

The album cover, designed by Peter Saville based on a graph of 100 consecutive pulses from the pulsar CP 1919, is regarded as a classic of minimalist sleeve design[citation needed]. The image was found by Sumner in a book of astronomy and represents "the final flashes of a dying star." Unknown Pleasures was released in June while Joy Division were recording five songs for Piccadilly Radio.

They performed on Granada TV again in July, made their only nationwide TV appearance in September on BBC2, supported The Buzzcocks in a 24-venue UK tour during October and November, and performed on Peel's show again in December.

Despite the fact that Unknown Pleasures was selling well and receiving good reviews from the music press, all was not well. Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy, would often have onstage tonic-clonic seizures that resulted in unconsciousness and convulsions, or absence seizures that would cause brief trance-like pauses.

European tour and Closer

Music samples:

* "She's Lost Control" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
o Sample of "She's Lost Control" from Unknown Pleasures
o Problems listening to the file? See media help.

* "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
o Sample of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" from Substance
o Problems listening to the file? See media help.

* "Atmosphere" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
o Sample of "Atmosphere" from Substance
o Problems listening to the file? See media help.

* "24 Hours" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
o Sample of "24 Hours" from Closer
o Problems listening to the file? See media help.

In January 1980, Joy Division set out on a European tour. Several dates were cancelled due to Curtis's deteriorating health.

On February 28, the band played a gig at the Warehouse in Preston. The gig was plagued with sound problems but was later released on Dynamic Records.

With Martin Hannett again producing, the band began recording their second album Closer at the end of the European tour in March.

On April 8, the band played a gig at the Derby Hall in Bury. After jamming with support band Section 25, Joy Division's set began with Alan Hempstall of Crispy Ambulance and Simon Topping of A Certain Ratio filling in for Curtis who was initially too ill to perform. Curtis did manage to return, but only for a few songs. When the band resumed jamming without their singer, some members of the audience protested, turning the gig into a riot in which Hook, Gretton, and other crew members fought with angry onlookers. (Johnson 1984)

Following a one-off gig in early May 1980, the band took a two-week rest in anticipation of their scheduled American tour.

Curtis' infidelity

At the time, Curtis's relationship with his wife Deborah was collapsing because of his infidelity with a Belgian woman, Annik Honoré, whom he had met on tour (no photograph of Honoré had been published until the 2006 book Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis by Middles & Reade in which Annik gives her first public account of their relationship).

The End of Joy Division

On May 18th, 1980, the evening before Joy Division were to embark on their first American tour, Curtis returned to his home and convinced his wife, Deborah, to spend the evening at her parents' house. He watched the Werner Herzog film "Stroszek", then listened to the Iggy Pop album The Idiot and wrote a letter to his estranged wife. He then hanged himself in the kitchen using a clothesline. Deborah found him the following morning.

According to many interviews, the members of Joy Division had made a pact that, should any member leave the group, or perhaps die, the remaining members would abandon the name "Joy Division" and all material associated with it. The remaining members held true to this commitment, and Joy Division was officially disbanded.

Side project

In the summer of 1980, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" hit number 13 on the British singles chart, their biggest commercial success to date. In July 1980, Closer was finally released to overwhelmingly positive reviews; it also charted, peaking at number 6 on the British album chart. Sales of Unknown Pleasures were also robust.

Joy Division did not end in 1980 but its members began touring and recording music under a different name. In June 1980, they entered Graveyard Studios with fellow Factory Act Kevin Hewick for a session, produced by Martin Hannett, which led to the Hewick single Haystack, which was released by Factory.

Eventually renaming themselves "New Order," the band was reborn. There is some debate as to whether the new name referred simply to the 'new order' of the band or if it was a reference to Nazi Germany as the name Joy Division has been. Alternating between guitar-drum-bass and electronic styles, the band's music reached and inspired a variety of listeners. New Order is often cited as one of the leading Synthpop and dance music groups of their era, yet their use of traditional rock instruments such as guitars and live drums has reached a level of influence comparable with their landmark electronic works.


The band, and especially Ian Curtis, has been an inspiration for a number of musicians that include Radiohead, U2, The Smashing Pumpkins, Manic Street Preachers, Trent Reznor (who, as Nine Inch Nails, covered "Dead Souls" for the soundtrack of the movie The Crow), Robert Smith of The Cure, wiL Francis of Aiden, (who has the phrase Love Will Tear Us Apart tattooed on his neck and has been photographed in Joy Division t-shirts), and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. The continuing importance of Joy Division was shown at the turn of the millennium when Peel asked his listeners to vote for the all-time Festive 50. At number one was the haunting "Atmosphere", while "Love Will Tear Us Apart" sat at number three. Three more songs from the band sat on the list. The ending solo from "New Dawn Fades", as performed by Moby, was featured in the 1995 film Heat as Al Pacino chases down Robert De Niro.

Much of the history of Joy Division was portrayed in the 2002 MGM/United Artists released film 24 Hour Party People which presented a somewhat fictionalised account of the rise and fall of the Factory Records, with whom both Joy Division and New Order were signed. In 2005, plans for a movie - Control: The Ian Curtis Film, directed by Anton Corbijn - depicting Curtis' life were also revealed. Plans are underway for the group's remaining members to record a soundtrack for the film under the name Joy Division. Live performances are also being considered. "Control" is said to be based on both the Deborah Curtis bio and the new bio "Torn Apart" by Mick Middles and Lindsay Reade.

In 2005 Joy Division were accepted along with New Order into the UK Music Hall of Fame.


Joy Division often experimented with different sounds, especially once in collaboration with Martin Hannett. Within the band, it is said that Sumner was the driving force behind new instrumental ideas and usage. He, for instance, instigated the use of synthesizers in Joy Division's music. Ironically the band had been unhappy with the 1978 scrapped RCA album recordings because the producer had dared to use synthesizers.

Synthesizers were used quite predominantly in the latter part of the band's career, featuring prominently in songs such as "Isolation", "Decades" and "The Eternal" from the Closer album as well as "Atmosphere" and "Something Must Break". Interestingly, an outtake from the Closer sessions, "As You Said" (sometimes called "Incubation 2") subsequently released on the FAC28 flexi-disk and on the CD box set Heart And Soul, is entirely electronic in its sound, and is one of only two Joy Division songs that doesn't include any vocals (the other track being "Incubation").

Synthesizers at the time were notoriously prone to overheating and going out of tune - Joy Division's ARP String Machine and Powertran Transcendent were no exceptions - as the synthesizer on the live version of "Decades" featured on "Still" testifies. Another problem with using a synthesizer live was that Sumner, the group's lead guitarist, was obviously not able to play both synthesizer and guitar at the same time. For this reason, Ian Curtis took over basic guitar duties on some live tracks. "I Remember Nothing", "Heart and Soul", "Atmosphere", "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Incubation" all featured Curtis playing the electric guitar live, although it is unlikely that Curtis played guitar on studio recordings. The use of the synthesizer as a more and more favoured instrument towards the latter part of Joy Division's existence supports a possible theory that Joy Division may well have taken the electronic based direction that New Order were to take had Curtis not died. In a 2005 Q magazine article, the members of New Order confirmed this was the case, and that if Curtis had still been alive they would have charted the same path, French disco diversions and all.

Footage exists of Curtis playing Sumner's Shergold Custom Masquerader and also VOX Phantom guitar/organ and VOX Teardrop guitars, which were apparently cheap at the time. Although not a skilled guitarist, Curtis' playing enhanced the band's sound at live gigs. Sumner, as previously mentioned, was the group's lead guitarist and used two or more different models with Joy Division; the mentioned Shergold Custom Masquerader and a Gibson SG Standard were two he is definitely known to have used.

Peter Hook chose to play his bass guitar more like a lead guitar on many tracks. This enabled songs to have more dominant bass riffs to complement the other instruments. Hook started to use a Shergold Marathon six stringed bass guitar on the "Closer" album, which allowed for higher notes to be played on the bass. He continued to use the Marathon with New Order, as well as a conventional Yamaha BB1200 four-stringed bass. His original bass, a Rickenbacker copy was destroyed after an altercation during a gig in Manchester in September 1979. Hook also performed backing vocals for the group and was the 'other voice' on the song "Interzone". On the tracks "Atrocity Exhibition" and "Sound Of Music", Hook and Sumner swapped instruments so that Hook was playing electric guitar and Sumner bass guitar.

The melodica was another instrument used by Joy Division during a select few recording sessions: briefly on "Decades" and quite predominantly on "In a Lonely Place", which only exists as a rehearsal recording (this recording can be heard in the "Heart and Soul" box set). New Order used the melodica a number of times and were said to have "inherited" it from Curtis, who purchased one after hearing it used by dub-reggae artist Augustus Pablo. Sumner apparently didn't look after the original very well and was seen to smash it to bits over the back of his head during a New Order gig at the 'Talbot Tabernacle' in London shortly after the release of their first album Movement.

Morris used an expansive drum kit to allow a great ranges of rolls, rhythm shifts and beats. Morris seemed to be the most physically active band member behind Curtis, especially on tracks such as "She's Lost Control" and "Transmission" where the insistent beat fuelled Curtis' gyrations. Morris also used Simmons and Synare electronic drumpads and a BOSS DR-55 drum machine on some songs ("Insight", "She's Lost Control", "Isolation", "Decades") in combination with conventional drums to broaden the tonal palette.

In 2005 the Warsaw demo was publicly released, under the band name "Warsaw".

Live performances

The usual scene at a Joy Division gig was Curtis in the middle at the front, with Sumner to his right and Hook to left, and Morris and his drum kit behind behind him. The band usually played with little light, probably because of Curtis's epilepsy, which sometimes inhibited his performances. Curtis usually held onto the microphone stand for most of a song, only leaving it to dance. He sometimes walked off stage after he had finished his vocals, leaving the rest of the band to finish the song without him.

Also, Curtis very rarely spoke to the audience at gigs apart from the occasional "thank you" at the end of a song. At the Preston Warehouse gig in 1980, Curtis was unusually talkative (in order to keep the audience informed of the equipment failure the band suffered part way through the set). This gig has since been issued on a CD which culminates in a version of 'She's Lost Control' despite the equipment failures.

Accusations of neo-Nazism

The band's name reflected a desire to challenge taboos, and this choice, along with Sumner's adoption of the surname Albrecht, garnered the band criticism for their perceived insensitivity. Accusations of neo-Nazism, a charge the group denied, dogged them for the remainder of the band's career. These accusations resurfaced after Joy Division broke up and reformed as New Order, a name sometimes interpreted as a reference to Adolf Hitler's speeches promising "the new order of the Third Reich", although the band have stated they got the name from a newspaper article on the new society the Khmer Rouge had envisaged for Cambodia.


Main Members

* Ian Curtis - vocals, guitar
* Bernard Sumner a.k.a. Bernard Albrecht - guitar, keyboards
* Peter Hook - bass
* Stephen Morris - drums

Other Members

* Terry Mason - drums (mid-1976 to May 1977)
* Tony Tabac - drums (May to June 1977)
* Steve Brotherdale - drums (June to August 1977)



Unknown Pleasures
(Factory - 1979) UK #71

(Factory - 1980) UK #6

(Factory - 1981) UK #5

(Factory - 1988) UK #7

* The Peel Sessions (LP, Strange Fruit SFRLP 211, 1986, 1987)
o The Complete BBC Recordings (CD, Strange Fruit, 2000) — Peel Sessions, Something Else appearance, interview
* Permanent (compilation, 1995) UK #16
* Heart & Soul (4 CD complete works, 1997)
* Preston Warehouse 28 February 1980 (live)
* Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979 (live)
* Warsaw (Very early recordings, released in 1994)
* Fractured Box Set (Preston and Les Bains Douche live albums in special packaging)
* Re - Fractured Box Set (Preston and Les Bains Douche live albums together with a third disc containing recordings from a concert in Amsterdam. Also contains simple poster and a T-shirt sporting the word 'Refractured' all contained in a special box. Released in 2004 in limited numbers)

Singles and EPs

* An Ideal for Living (UK, 1978)
* "Transmission" (UK, 1979)
* Licht und Blindheit (France, 1980)
* "Komakino" (UK, 1980)
* "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (UK, 1980)
* "Atmosphere/She's Lost Control" (UK/US, 1980)
* The First Peel Session (UK, 1986)
* The Second Peel Session (UK, 1987)
* "Atmosphere" (UK, 1988)
* "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (UK, 1995)


* Here Are the Young Men
* Joy Division: Under Review Region 2 DVD only available Oct.31 2006

Compilation appearances

* Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus (10" LP, Virgin VCL 5003, June 1978) — "At a Later Date"
* A Factory Sample (2×7", Factory FAC 2, January 1979) — "Digital," "Glass"
* Earcom 2: Contradiction (12"EP, Fast Product FAST 9B, October 1979) — "Autosuggestion," "From Safety to Where...?"

There are also a tremendous number of bootleg recordings, both live and studio.

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