Joy Division: A History In Cuttings

Ian Curtis, vocalist with Joy Division, was found dead in Manchester Street on Sunday morning. He is believed to have committed suicide.  Curtis has recently been involved with heavy recordings schedules  a new album, a new single, and a free single  and would have been embarking on a short American tour with Joy Division in the near future.

Previous Joy Division releases included the much-acclaimed debut album "Unknown Pleasures", with Manchester's Factory Records. Tony Wilson, proprietor of Factory and lynchpin for numerous Manchester bands, told Record Mirror: "I can't go into detail yet, obviously. All I can say is that what he was found on Sunday morning  I found out about it while I was in the studio mixing the new album  and that he was a very sensitive young man. He obviously decided he'd be happier somewhere elsebut at least we'd had the opportunity of meeting him, getting to know him. We're just left feeling sorry for ourselves, which I suppose is the wrong kind of emotion."


It was Monday, the 19th of May, and John Peel has just appeared on the national Radio 1 airwaves. I was thinking to myself, "wouldn't it be nice if he played the new JOY DIVISION single, "Love will tear us apart". (Originally, intended for release the previous Friday, but it was a trifle late.)

A few seconds later, the shock news came onto the air. "Bad news lads", monotoned Peel solemnly. "Ian Curtis, of Joy Division, has just died." I didn't know whether to feel sad, angry, cheated or what Joy Division had been my favourite for the previous year; their brand of bleak, gothic, experimental yet directioned   rock had carved a place for them into the hearts and record collections of a multitude, including my own.

Over the past three years, they had gradually been building up an ever-growing following. They had just reached the point where their next records could chartjust reaching the stage where it could have all become worthwhile in term of recognition, when their lead-singer / lyricist goes and kills himself. He couldn't have picked a less sensible time. It seems so stupid. Joy Division, as Jean Pierre Turmel noted in the essay accompanying the Atmosphere / Dead Souls French import single, where more than just entertainment. Their distinctive, yet varied sound was habit-forming, and many of their songs would leave the listener in a state of immobility with their sheer emotion and musical brilliance.

It takes a convert five minutes to recover from a play-through of "Unknown Pleasures", their album, during which the listener will sit, staring, in a trance-like state. This album has had the greatest actual EFFECT on me out of all the many records I have liked over the years. It is atmospheric, suggesting so many different mental elements and conditionsconfusion, depression, frustration, hatebut simultaneously peace and stability. The peace and stability that Ian Curtis has tried to find. Joy Division were certainly an alienating bandintendedly so they never introduced their songs live, they never did encores, they were solemn on stage and immobile, they strangely but deliberately created a distance between themselves and their audience.

However, any faults they may have had in this respect were made up for their musical excellence and phenomenal song writing ability. One of the most talented figures in the music world has been snatched from us, on the brink of his household recognition. In my view, it is the best band around today that has come to a sudden halt, with the tragic suicide of their lead-singer. You probably think all this is a little over-the-top, but that's exactly how I feel. And I hope they have split up for goodit just couldn't be the same without Ian Curtis.

There is an album, "Closer", and also two singles in the pipeline. They will probably chart, but, whilst a few weeks ago, this would be the best thing in the world to happen in the music biz, now such an achievement would ring hollow, and frustrating. Joy Division were one of the few bands around still capable of actually changing the face of music, and probably the most likely to do so.  

May 18th, 1980 IAN CURTIS ended his life, aged 23.

The driving force behind Joy Division's dark vision, he hanged himself in his Macclesfield home as the band rested between a European and American tour. Iggy Pop's 'The Idiot' was found on his turntable alongside a note which read "at this very moment, I wish I were dead. I just can't cope anymore".

Curtis joined Joy Divison in 1976, after answering a "seeking singer" ad that guitarist Bernard Albrecht (latterly Sumner) and bassist Peter Hook had placed in the window of Virgin Records in Manchester. When Stephen Morris joined on drums in August 1977, the band proper was born. They began rehearsing in earnest and touring what would become a trademark bleak, expressive sound. Their live shows caught the ear of semi-legendary Manchester names DJ Rob Gretton and journalist and Factory Records boss Tony Wilson. In May 1978 they went into the studio to record what was planned as their first, self-titled, album. When an engineer decided to overdub synthesisers, the band scrapped the LP.

It wasn't until 1979 with the recording of a session for BBC Radio One's John Peel and the July release of 'Unknown Pleasures' through Factory Records, that Joy Divison's dark star began to rise.

However, as their career took off, Curtis' own health began to suffer. An epileptic, he frequently took fits while on stage. As the band's touring schedule increased so did the intensity of the seizures, and it often became difficult to tell the difference between them and his usual onstage jerkiness. Curtis is also believed to have become depressed at what he saw as an audience who were more keen to watch him break down than to listen to Joy Division.

Following a short break during Christmas 1979, Joy Divison set off on a brief European tour, heading back to the studio in early February to work on the follow-up to 'Unknown Pleasures'.

They released 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' in April, and with momentum building in the US they were due to take off for their first ever tour of the States.

They never went. Curtis hanged himself in his kitchen two days before the flight. It was not his first suicide attempt.

Ironically, Joy Division went on to have their most commercially successful period. Their album 'Closer' peaked at Number 6 in the UK after its August release (the artwork, chosen before Curtis' death, eerily depicts a shrouded body in a tomb) and 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' hit number 13 on its re-release.

Joy Division ceased to be - they had always said they would draw a line beneath the band if any member left. The three remaining members regrouped as New Order during early 1981 (Morris' girlfriend Gillian Gilbert joined on keyboards) and continue to enjoy commercial success and critical acclaim.

Since Curtis' death there have a number of Joy Division releases, including 1988's 'Substance' and 1999's 'Preston Warehouse 28 February 1980' In 1998, a box set, containing both previously recorded and live material, was released.

'Touching from a Distance' a biography written by his widow, Deborah Curtis was published in 1995. It remains the most candid and open record available of his short life and sad death.


The two bedroom terrace at 77 Barton Street in Macclesfield near Manchester is described by property website Rightmove as "ideal for first-time buyers."

Curtis hanged himself in the kitchen of the house on May 18 1980, days before the band were due to undertake a US tour. He was two months shy of his 24th birthday.

However, a spokesperson for Bridgfords, the estate agency handling the sale, says that despite the house's history, so far there has been no macabre interest from Joy Division fans.

"There has been a lot of interest in the property," she told NME.COM, "but no people who are massive fans of Joy Division have expressed any interest in it."

The house is on the market at £64,950. [22-01-2002]


is set to be immortalised on celluoid in a biopic currently in production.

The feature, under the working title of 'Tranmission' (taken from the Joy Division track of the same name), is based on the biography 'Touching From A Distance', written by Curtis' widow Deborah. The screenplay is being developed by writer/director Michael Stock.

'Transmission' is the second recent feature to go into production about Manchester in the post-punk years. '24 Hour Party People', charting the rise and fall of the infamous Hacienda club, has just finished filming. It stars popular British comedian Steve Coogan and actor Ralph Little.


It sounds like it's being broadcast from Alexandra Palace in the early days of the crystal set. The "rare interview material" trumpeted by 'The Complete BBC Recordings' - Richard Skinner jovially quizzing two young men from Manchester about what they think of Gary Numan's claim that "machine rock" is the future - is perhaps, the only way in which this record might raise a smile. "No disrespect to Gary Numan", they say, their true feelings clear, "but what we do is what we do."
There's no need for justification now. Recorded 21 years ago, these brief broadcast tapes have taken on the dark glow of relics, tokens of a band who hover darkly on the skyline wherever you stand. This is Turin Shroud-style ephemera, a spot of apocrypha for the bible fanatic: a tape-snippet of Ian Curtis and Stephen Morris, two Peel sessions, a previously unreleased television recording from Something Else and that's the "complete" BBC archive.

For a band of such looming status, it's valuable witness-bearing, parallel-universe versions of textbook history. Perhaps most compelling are the compare-and-contrast versions of 'Transmission' and 'She's Lost Control': the first set, recorded for John Peel in January 1979, laden with buckling tension and incipient panic; the second, taken from Something Else - where Curtis' dancing brought angry phone calls from viewers claiming he was "on drugs" - something of a culmination, a febrile sprint through the misery, a sudden chaotic yelp. Alternate versions of the monumental 'Exercise One' and 'Sound Of Music' add to the most obvious canon, while elsewhere, superb takes on 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', 'Colony' and '24 Hours' are instant shots of unflinching chill and cruel clear-sightedness.

History on its shoulders, this ephemera weighs heavy indeed.

Two previously unreleased JOY DIVISION songs are to be released on a new compilation of BBC radio recordings.

The tracks, new versions of 'Transmission' and 'She's Lost Control' feature on the album 'Joy Division - The Complete Radio 1 Recordings', which is released on July 31 through Strange Fruit. The two songs were both recorded for the 'Something Else' radio show in 1979.

Also featured on the album are the band's only two John Peel sessions and a rare interview between radio DJ Richard Skinner, Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis and drummer Stephen Morris.

The full track listing for the album is:

'Exercise One'
'She's Lost Control'
'Love Will Tear Us Apart'
'24 Hours'
'Sound Of Music'
Transmission' (new version)
'She's Lost Control' (new version)


Back in the days before PlayStations, superclubs, hydroponic skunk and snowboarder chic, a subset of British youth suffered from a primitive neurological condition known as 'alienation'. The bad bit was it led to the wearing of long overcoats and a tendency to beat each other up after the pub. The good bit was, well, Joy Division.
If the somewhat legendary Manchester band's singer, Ian Curtis, had been born a few years later he'd probably be jetting off to Ibiza this week to get on one, on the decks. Less 'Transmission' and more Manumission. As it is, 19 years after he hanged himself at the band's creative peak, Factory have lobbed this live set out seemingly for the sake of it.

Fac man Tony Wilson's sleevenotes set out the grand claim that this is a footnote to history, which might sound a bit pompous to anyone new to the band or the oldies who haven't listened for years. Plough into the raw, chaotic, spellbinding innards, however, and it's hard not to be blown away by the band's dark'n'primal power.

The equipment malfunctions throughout. In a pause midway through the set's ultraviolent soul excoriation a female Manc voice hilariously announces that, "Anyone from Burnley? The coach is going in five minutes". And as the gear combusts Curtis can be heard saying with jocular prescience, "I think everything's falling apart...".

The moments of light relief, however, only serve to highlight the bleak exhilaration of songs like 'Twenty Four Hours', 'She's Lost Control' and 'The Eternal'. Sure, for 'Heart And Soul' Curtis sounds temporarily like a blind-drunk Elvis impersonator. But the versions of 'Shadowplay' and 'Transmission' are breathtaking stills of one of the century's most vivid poets burning up onstage.

What's particularly striking, listening back, is how little regard the band had for the surrounding post-punk genres or for audience/playlist/record company pleasing. The '90s diseases of genre obeisance and second guessing the market are totally absent here. At a shitty gig in Preston, Joy Division were visiting places previously thought to be the exclusive preserve of classical composers.

Every new band should hear this. Come on, die fiery.

IT WAS ALL GREY trenchcoats, black expressions, post-industrial depression and existential ennui in my day. Oh yes. As if the recession, inevitable nuclear destruction and Spandau Ballet weren't bad enough, all indie music (you were allowed to call it 'indie' then - hell, people were PROUD to be 'indie') was depressing as f??. You weren't allowed to smile, or wear anything with a colour or have nice hair in case you got mistaken for a member of Blue Rondo A La Turk. And the two bands chiefly responsible were The Smiths and, originally, Joy Division. Manchester, eh? So much to answer for.
Joy Division's appeal has, however, far outlasted their tragically short life because, if they were miserable, they did miserable differently. And what strikes you most about Joy Division from listening to this collection is not their mythical, mysterious singer, but the band, how they frequently sounded like they came from another musical planet to their contemporaries. Or at least Finland.

They expressed a sublime-sounding kind of melancholy which was deeply emotionally resonant despite sounding utterly alienated and austere. Moreover, listen between the lines to the tracks on these four CDs and they reveal a band establishing a different way of playing rock. On songs like 'Disorder' or 'She's Lost Control' the sound is all angular, awkward and inflexible, no doubt the result of teaching yourself how to play your instruments without knowing how it's supposed to be done. The rock'n'roll traditions of blues, funk and sex are all ruthlessly expunged from these performances, replaced, musically and lyrically, entirely by white angst and white noises.

It was a whole package, too. Onstage, Ian Curtis' infamous 'fly' dance was the embodiment of uncoordinated dysfunctional nerddom. Everything about them said 'we can't dance, can't f??, can't speak the lingo, and can't fit in'. They were the classic square peg banging at the edges of the round hole of cultural orthodoxy. Brian.

And yet, for all this Teutonic-style austerity and bleak, blank textures of their sound and Curtis' vision, what makes Joy Division great is that despite themselves there's so much humanity, so much emotion in there, a heart and soul that punk probably never fully understood or respected, but which inexplicably grips you listening to these records.

'Unknown Pleasures Plus'

takes their first, and arguably definitive, studio album and fleshes it out with outtakes and single releases from those sessions, slightly diluting the effect. But it can't conceal the fact that even now this music sounds unique in its cold metallic minimalism and bleak, brooding beauty.

Original as they were, you can still trace where they came from at times here. 'Interzone' sounds like The Stooges stripped of the sleaze, down to a startlingly hollow echo of good-time rock'n'roll. But on the other hand, 'Ice Age' sounds like The Damned. Hmmm.

By the time of the material on 'Closer Plus'

Ian Curtis was experimenting with a Scott Walker-esque croon on songs like 'Atmosphere' and 'Decades'. This, along with 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' (the nearest they got to an anthem), was hymnal, elegant stuff, full of resignation and doomed romance, a far more epic sound than they'd suggested they were about before. And yet 'Colony' is as stiff and stark as post-punk contemporaries like the Gang Of Four.

There are more dynamics, more light and shade about these songs than on their first album, and after sounding at one point like they'd never heard a disco record, 'Isolation' and 'These Days' point to the way New Order would take the Joy Division legacy. And the fact they reinvented themselves in equally inimitable fashion in the '80s can only further give the lie to the idea that this band was about one rather odd, depressive bloke and his backing band.

You shouldn't be surprised when you hear 'Studio Rarities And Unreleased Tracks'

on which we glimpse how a deeply mediocre bunch of punk fumblers called Warsaw turned into one of the greatest bands of their generation, as the gonzo punk sound was stripped down and painted grey, they learnt to play in their own way and they got, like, really, really dark, man. And it would only ever get more so.


was presumably recorded in a swimming pool, and brings little to the, erm, party that you haven't heard done better on the official live album 'Still'. By far the most fascinating unreleased tracks are the last two on CD3, rehearsal tracks of 'Ceremony' And 'In A Lonely Place'. The latter in particular is an almost unbearably desolate, haunting howl from a voice in our past. The despair and hopelessness is gut-wrenching, and frankly, if you felt like that, you might well come to the same conclusion as the man who sang this song did.

Not entirely surprising, then, that it was the last song he ever wrote. On May 18, 1980 Ian Curtis committed suicide. There was nothing mysterious, mythical or magical about it. Just tragic. And yet, he and Joy Division came closer to God in the space of about 18 months than other bands do in a lifetime.


Joy Division were once Warsaw, a punk group with literary pretensions. Warsaw Pakt forced them to change names.

They disappeared for a while at the end of last year, and have re-emerged with their new name, an EP and their pretensions even more to the fore. Their record attempts to communicate in an almost tangible way all the abstraction of Buzzcocks' 'Spiral Scratch'. It is called 'An Ideal For Living', and is on the Enigma label. It proclaims on the sleeve that "This is not a concept EP, it is an enigma."

Despite all this, the record is structurally good, though soundwise poor, a reason it may not be widely released.

They're a dry, doomy group who depend promisingly on the possibilities of repetition, sudden stripping away, with deceptive dynamics, while they use sound in a more orthodox hard rock manner than, say, either The Fall or Magazine.

They have an ambiguous appeal, and with patience, they could develop strongly and make some testing, worthwhile metallic music.

Joy Division
"Refractured"  2004
This introduction is as inevitable as its subject: Ian Curtis took his own life. Unable to reconcile the strains of Joy Division's growing fame and impending tour of America with the stringent, idealistic demands of his own artistry, faced with a lifetime at the mercy of his worsening epilepsy, and dealing with a divorce from his wife less than a month earlier, on the morning of Sunday, May 18th, 1980, Curtis chased a viewing of Herzog's tragic Stroszek with liquor, pills, and finally hanged himself. Many artists have suffered untimely deaths, but few have been so broadly perceived as having their greatest achievements yet to come, as Curtis was. That his plight was in some ways so apparently easy to relate to-- finding the dreams of fame he harbored as a working-class youth in Macclesfield tarnished as he came closer and closer to the reality of stardom-- makes it nearly impossible to separate his brief life from his work; that his plight was simultaneously so alien-- few people can understand the pain of contending with such a permanent, crippling disease-- makes it harder still. That is how the story of Joy Division ends, and nothing that they have ever produced has been, or will ever be, viewed outside that context since his passing, nor should it; Curtis killed himself, in part, for his music.

With the release of Refractured, presumably the ultimate live document, such considerations are even more important; his death also ensured that few of Joy Division's fans would be able to experience the band apart from their modest studio output. Live, they played barely a hundred shows, only a dozen off England's shores, fewer of which were well recorded enough to endure-- and thanks to the outstanding, groundbreaking production of Martin Hannett, Joy Division's studio output is leagues removed from their monumental live presence. Hannett applied exceedingly modern (for the time) digital filters to their mixes, fueling the sense of alienation inherent in Curtis' bracing, anxious lyrics with even more distance. His pioneering use of delay made Joy Division's barbed, jarring threats seem impossibly remote, like atrocities viewed through the lens of a camera. Seen in the morning paper, the awful scenes captured in photos may resonate emotionally, but never nearer than arm's length.

That illusion of removal is a potent counterpoint to the emotional turmoil of Unknown Pleasures, and even moreso on Closer's grim march, where it becomes a necessity; as mercurial and aloof as Curtis often was, even at a distance, Joy Division's brutally confessional nature is almost overwhelming. Nevertheless, Hannett's production techniques practically made him a fifth member, to the point that Unknown Pleasures was all but disowned by the band in spite of his interference. The raw urgency of their live performance had been replaced by a bitter, reigned-in tension, equally gripping, but not what they set out to record; not until 1999 was an attempt made to properly master and document a live performance and finally balance their album presence with the unfettered immediacy of the stage.

Factory's choice, however, was the bafflingly low-quality Preston Warehouse 28 February 1980; although it showcases Joy Division near the peak (and, sadly, the end) of their career, it has been described by band members as "the worst fucking show we ever did," due to numerous technical mishaps. A far superior performance at Les Bains Douche in 1979 soon followed (along with some material from the January 1980 performance in Amsterdam's Paradiso), though, and comes very close to suggesting the real power the band commanded onstage. The concerts are uniformly excellent, regardless of wildly fluctuating sound quality between discs and some redundancy among the sets; all recordings are also readily available elsewhere-- the original Fractured box, released in 2001, already compiles Les Bains (with the extras from Amsterdam, already a bootleg old enough to have crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower) and Preston. The originals were just barely a step removed from posthumous cash-ins but served a need. However, to box up widely available material for more money, as Refractured has done, with the pointless inclusion of a t-shirt (an awful iron-on of the Refractured logo) and a small, reprinted concert flier circumnavigates greed and sets sail straight for stupidity. As a final incentive, the box also comes with a hand-signed and numbered note from whoever runs Alchemy calling you a sucker.

That said, the recordings themselves are remarkable portraits of what an entirely different creature Joy Division became onstage, and for anyone who isn't intimately familiar with them beyond Closer, or Substance, or even the limp, isolated live inclusions on Still, this collection is simply incredible. Fundamentally, Joy Division's inspiration was drawn from the aggressive spirit of punk-- a fact made stunningly evident in their live recordings as they relentlessly tear through sets. Their oppressive testaments to loss, reflection and regret are left at the studio; live, Joy Division embodied fiery condemnation, Curtis' every scream daring the audience to try and share his burden, laughing as they (of course) flinch at the prospect. His on-album brooding becomes pure catharsis when given an audience upon which to inflict it; Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook's measured interplay becomes a deafening, numbing thrash, and Stephen Morris' drumming, in particular, is absolutely unstoppable.

Without exception, every minute of every song presented here is performed with passion and energy, and much of that starts with Morris; even the more resigned tracks are made ominously transient from his intensity, and the aggressive numbers become truly suffocating. "Love Will Tear Us Apart"'s breathless fatalism is so much more tenuous, sped up dramatically and embellished with a desperate crescendo at Les Bains, highlighting some of Morris' most impressively, and frantically, improvised fills. His skittering hi-hat sets a blistering pace for "Transmission" in Amsterdam as Sumner's slashing guitar cuts in and out; at Preston, he drives "Interzone" at an unthinkable pace, nearly drowning out Curtis due to poor recording issues, but making his few screams to the surface even more incredible. Morris sets the tone throughout, and Curtis, Sumner and Hook unfailingly, unflinchingly rise to meet him, giving themselves over to the audience in some of the most wracking performances ever likely to be captured to tape. Only the majesty of "Atmosphere" slows the proceedings; as the final number at Les Bains, it is the great winding down of the universe-- no other song carries such a beautiful sense of finality.

Admittedly, live recording techniques of the time create a distance all their own in the recordings-- the quality of the Preston recording is particularly terrible, often muddying Curtis' performance to the point of incomprehensibility (when it isn't totally inaudible)-- a unique natural alternative to Hannett's studio-processed subdual of Joy Division's ominous presence, but a minor shame nonetheless. Originally, these recordings overcome the obstacle through sheer strength of the band's will to be heard. Les Bains Douches, by itself, is flawless; of the available recordings there are none better. Amsterdam features a brilliant set with a few gaffes and an even-keeled performance that might be the least energetic but is still unquestionably great. Even Preston is impressive; if anything, the faulty mixing and an "off" performance humanizes them, makes them seem uncomfortably imperfect in direct contrast to their sterling critical image.

And that's finally the killer; Refractured presents these recordings with an unbelievably amateurish two-second gap between tracks, shattering the whole intent of the live recordings in the first place. These recordings are a marvel no matter what, but to fail to capture the essence of a live show so spectacularly is a crime. In the end, that's the point: This box tries to bring Joy Division out from behind the studio glass and present them, and mainly Curtis, in all the awesome, terrifying conflict that he channeled through his voice and his music, the conflict that eventually led to him taking his life; to simply present them in the most honest, impassioned way possible. The individual recordings, and even the original Fractured box, succeed flawlessly; all Refractured succeeds at is inflicting an injustice on otherwise classic performances.

-Eric Carr, January 23rd, 2004


The autographs of Ian Curtis and Peter Hook of Joy Division. These were obtained by a local guy at an early concert at The Royal Standard, Bradford, West Yorkshire on 10 September 1978 when they were practically unknown outside of Manchester at that time. He was a regular to the Standards punk/new wave nights and managed to get hold of quite a few bits and pieces (inc.autographs) of a lot of the bands who played there in the late '70s/early 80s. I recently bought some of his things from him inc. the above item. Also included (not from the Standard concert) is an unpublished, privately-taken photo of Ian Curtis (late '78/early '79?) All items in excellent condition.