Thursday 19 May 2016

Editorial: May, 2016

I'm giving my editorial over this month just to reflect back on the awesomeness that was Joy Division. At the time of writing this it is the 36th anniversary of the death of Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis. And I thought it would be nice to take stock and look at just why this Mancunian band who were only active long enough to release a couple of albums before having to evolve into an entirely new project are so important to indie music.

Joy Division only released two albums – 1979's 'Unknown Pleasures' and 1980's 'Closer' (which came out after Curtis' death by suicide) – these two releases bridged the anger of punk music with the high art of the post-punk scene and infused the end result with tense, introspective lyrics coloured by post-industrial decay. They were a benchmark for the indie scene that was to come and were a big catalyst for what would become gothic music.

The band's use of rhythmic bass leads, subtle hanging synths, anguished guitars, cavernous sounding drums and Curtis' distinctive paranoid bass-baritone vocals have been referenced by bands ever since. Even as the band reformed and evolved under the moniker of New Order – their change in direction to a more dance-orientated sound would go on to provide the inspiration for the more psychedelic sounds of Madchester and Acid House in the late 80s and early 90s.

There was a purity to the Joy Division formula. Their two albums and the later posthumous release 'Still', which would tie together singles and other unreleased material, were complete, succinct and valid artistic statements that struck a nerve with audiences and critics. There was an undeniable raw passion at play. Both album's forward-thinking style of production courtesy of Martin Hannett have imbued the songs with a timeless quality that puts them in the same regions as Bowie's Berlin trilogy.

Altogether the band recorded 43 songs. Played 120 shows. And were in existence for around 29 months. There are many bands who were their contemporaries who outlasted them and have done a lot more to ensure their legacies in the history of music. But Joy Division have still been absorbed into the very fabric of British alternative music. Even their aesthetics – the stark photography of Anton Corbijn, and the design work of Peter Saville – provided the band with a strong visual hook that is still recognised and reproduced today.

Arguably Ian Curtis' death by suicide and the surviving members choice to leave the Joy Division name behind when regrouping surrounded the band in an alluring and tragic mythology. But mythology is only ever on the surface. The influence of the band has been so great and so long-lasting that it is hard to deny that they were just one of those acts that comes along every now and then that just perfectly sums up everything and expresses what you can't express.

Anyway, that's my meandering thought of the day on the anniversary of Ian Curtis' death.

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