Joy Division

Joy Division, Ian Curtis Picture
Ian Curtis, © Pretty Pictures
Joy Division Picture

Joy Division, © Pretty Pictures

The band formed in 1977, first as the Stiff Kittens and then Warsaw eventually adopting Joy Division, a name inspired by Karol Cetinsky’s World War II novel The House of Dolls late that year. The Joy Division was a slang name given to groups of concentration camp females who prostituted themselves to Nazi soldiers.

Curtis’ last live performance on May 2, 1980, at Birmingham University was held in the same month as his death and included Joy Division’s first and last performance of the song “Ceremony” – Wikipedia

It took less than three years for frontman Ian Curtis to hang himself and the band, because of a promise by all members to cease using the name if any one of them left or disbanded.

During its short duration, Joy Division released only two albums and both are considered critical successes. They made inroads to popularity but never quite broke through to the mainstream until Curtis’ death and then only for a short time. What they did accomplish is influence a whole new generation of musicians that continues to this day. They took the punk aesthetic that was exploding in the UK in the late ’70s and morphed that anger into a moody and loathing melancholic form of unique sounding music. They added the use of a synthesizer to increase the feelings of doom voiced through Curtis’ lyrics.

The last song Curtis ever performed in front of an audience was “Digital” – Wikipedia

New Order, the band that formed out of the ashes Joy Division would gain popularity in the ’80s and inspired many fans to look back to the original band. The legacy left by Curtis and his bandmates has made fans out of a new generation of music lovers keeping Joy Division’s two studio albums relevant today; hence the release of live music and other recordings that has occurred over the decades since.

Reasons for Listening to Joy Division

At the beginning of the ’80s the synthesizer became a mainstream instrument when forming a band. It was inconceivable to have a group that didn’t have a keyboardist tapping out beats along side the guitar and rhythm section. In fact, it occasionally replaced the bass guitar, especially in the more pop oriented groups. You could go even further and use this wiz of technology to replace all the instruments in your band and become a solo artist pumping out electronic equivalents to those staple instruments you would need someone to play in order to have music in the first place.

Joy Division, Ian Curtis Picture

Ian Curtis, © Pretty Pictures

The problem with the mainstream acceptance of the synthesizer was you had so many bands that used it badly. It was one of the driving forces behind critics and laymen alike to choose the ’80s as the worse decade in music. The ’30s and ’40s had big band, jazz, and swing. The ’50s had blues and rock ‘n’ roll. The ’60s had psychedelic and experimental jazz. The ’70s had folk, heavy metal, and punk. The ’80s had what? If you exclude hip-hop, nothing except the ever expanding number of one-hit wonders and badly played synth music. Rap saved the decade from total obscurity.

Joy Division was one of first to use the synthesizer properly. It wasn’t a prop used to make them look cool or hip. It was an integral part of Joy Division’s musical philosophy. It made their music depressingly mechanical, similar to industrial acts but with a better sense of melody. Joy Division had a dark vision for their music led by their frontman Ian Curtis and it could not be realized without the use of the synthesizer.

In May 2007, a British film about the life and death of Ian Curtis, entitled Control , debuted at the Cannes Film Festival to wide acclaim. Ian Curtis is played by Sam Riley in his first role as a lead actor. The film was directed by Dutch film maker Anton Corbijn. – Wikipedia

Joy Division never gained popularity until after they lost Curtis and formed New Order. It is another reason for condemning the decade. If you want to hear what the most influential piece of equipment that hit the ’80s mainstream should’ve sounded like, and used for, then Joy Division is the place to start.

Joy division – Digital (Live)

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