Joy Division History
Published: April 22, 2019
Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance To The Radio
Joy Division is arguably one of the most influential and greatest bands of all time with their supporters spanning many generations. In this post, we take a look at their history and how Joy Division became one of the world’s biggest names.
The band were formed in the aftermath of punk music in England, Joy Division became the first band in the post-punk movement and pioneered this movement altogether. By later emphasising not anger and energy but mood and expression, pointing ahead to the rise of melancholy alternative music in the ’80s compared to the movement that came before it. The group incorporated haunting melodies, blown up by the tortured lyrics of its lead vocalist, Ian Curtis. Joy Division’s quiet storm of musical restraint and emotive power in their tunes proved to be really important to independent music in the 1980s.
The band formed in early 1977 soon after punk band Sex Pistols had made their first appearance in Manchester where Joy Division was formed. It came after guitarist Bernard Albrecht and bassist Peter Hook had met while at that show and later went on to form a band called the Stiff Kittens (As you can expect, this name didn’t stick). They recruited lead singer Ian Curtis and drummer Steve Brotherdale to join the band after placing an ad in a record store in Manchester. The band made their live debut in the following May supporting the Buzzcocks and Penetration at Manchester’s Electric Circus. After recording several demos together, Steve Brotherdale quit the group which prompted the hire of Stephen Morris. The band then called Stiff Kittens changed their name to Joy Division in late 1977. The name derives from Karol Cetinsky’s World War II novel the House of Dolls. In that very book the term Joy Division is used as slang for the concentration camp units where female inmates were forced to prostitute themselves for the enjoyment of the Nazi soldiers.
Playing frequently in the north country during early 1978, the quartet gained the respect of several influential figures: Rob Gretton, a Manchester club DJ who became the group’s manager; Tony Wilson, a TV/print journalist and owner of the Factory Records label; and Derek Branwood, a record executive with RCA Northwest, who recorded sessions in May 1978, for what was planned to be Joy Division’s self-titled debut LP. The album should have been hailed as a punk classic, but when a studio engineer added synthesisers to several tracks, believing that the punk movement had to move on and embrace new sounds. The band decided to scrap the entire LP. Which lead to the creation of one of the greatest albums of all time. Unknown Pleasures.
The group began recording with producer Martin Hannett and released the album Unknown Pleasures on old friend Tony Wilson’s Factory label in July 1979. The album enjoyed immense critical acclaim and a long stay on the U.K.’s independent charts. Encouraged by the punk buzz, the American Warner Bros. label offered a large distribution contract that fall. The band ignored it but did record another radio session for John Peel on November 26th.
During the late end of 1979, Joy Division’s manic live show gained many converts, partly due to rumours of Curtis’ ill health. Ian Curtis was epilepsy sufferer and was prone to breakdowns and seizures while on stage. It soon grew difficult to be able distinguish his fits from his usual on stage jerkiness and manic behaviour as he lost himself in the music. As more and more live dates continued and the 1980’s approached, Ian Curtis grew weaker and more prone to his epilepsy seizures. After a short rest over the Christmas holiday, Joy Division embarked on a European tour during January, though several dates were cancelled because of Curtis. The group began recording its second LP after that tour ended, and released maybe their most famous song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in April. After one gig in early May, the members of Joy Division were given two weeks of rest before beginning the group’s first U.S. tour. Two days before their scheduled flight to their tour, however, Curtis was found dead in his home, the victim of a self inflicted hanging.
Before Curtis’ death, the band had agreed that Joy Division would not exist if any member left the band, regardless of the reason. Ironically though, the summer of 1980 proved to be the blooming of the band’s commercial status, when a re-release of the smash hit of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” rose to number 13 on the UK chart. In the following August, the release of their second album “Closer” finally united critics’ positivity with glowing sales, as the album peaked at number six. Before the end of the summer, Unknown Pleasures was charting as well.
After that, the band then went on to form New Order with Bernard Sumner taking over the vocals from Ian Curtis.