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Joy Division

Submitted by Robin Blackburn One of the most influential and important British post-punk groups, Joy Division were formed in Manchester in 1976. Inspired by the Sex Pistols’ now infamous gig at the city’s Lesser Free Trade Hall, Bernard Sumner (guitar) and Peter Hook (bass) recruited Ian Curtis (vocals) and Steven Morris (drums) into a band they initially called Warsaw. By 1978 they had become Joy Division and discovered their own distinctive sound, a mix of punk aggression and more ‘arty’ influences (especially David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy). Their sound was unique, with Hook’s bass carrying most of the melody, while Sumner’s guitar added texture and noise, and Morris’s innovative drum patterns kept a metronomic beat (Morris once claimed that his ambition was to be a drum machine!). And then, over this already distinctive noise, Ian Curtis sang his highly literate words of loss and existential crisis in a deep baritone, like a man possessed. Equally crucial was the production of Martin Hannett, which gave the band the expansive, ‘spacey’ sound which made them stand out from other punk-influenced groups. With Hannett at the controls, as he would be until the end, Joy Division recorded their first album, ‘Unknown Pleasures’, at Strawberry Studios in Stockport. Released in June 1979, the record is regarded, along with Public Image Ltd’s ‘Metal Box’, as a cornerstone of British post-punk music. The band followed with a series of classic singles, including ‘Transmission’ and ‘Atmosphere’, two songs which were so completely different - the guitar-based ‘Transmission’ had a driving energy, whereas ‘Atmosphere’ was a quiet and atmospheric keyboard piece – yet both unmistakably Joy Division. By early 1980 Joy Division were one of the most popular groups in the country, but Curtis’s worsening epilepsy, and his failing marriage, were taking their toll, pushing the already naturally morbid singer close to the edge. The band recorded their second, and final, album in early 1980, and ‘Closer’ saw them move even further from their punk roots, with slower songs and more keyboards. Again, it was a masterpiece, but by this stage it seems that nothing could help their tormented singer, and on 18th May 1980, just before the band was due to depart on a tour of America, Ian Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself at home. Of course, the remaining members of Joy Division eventually recruited a new keyboard player, changed their name to New Order, and went on to revolutionise British music yet again in the 1980s... but that’s another story... Submitted by Robin Blackburn