By: David Tulloch
When thinking of the 80’s, it’s easy to fill your mind with images of neon colours, big hair, and parachute pants. Unfortunately ignored, however, are the deep droning voices billowing forth from dark eyed men in overcoats. Their moody lyrics and storming bass lines were a rarity on the music scene of the time, but they clawed their way to prominence and are relevant even today. They dubbed themselves Joy Division.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the plastic pop stars that infest the radio stations. Their insincere love songs are an offence to the very notion of love and their actual musical talent is but a myth. It was this frustration that drew me to Joy Division.
From the start, they’ve never feigned happiness. Taking their name from a Jewish brothel vomited forth by the brutal Nazi regime, Joy Division has always been a black cloud.
Their vocalist, Ian Curtis, was largely to thank for their gloomy disposition. Never a happy man, this depressed epileptic was a talented poet and a large fan of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and Jim Morrison. He was also very well read, which influenced much of his writing.
Meanwhile, in 1976 two friends — Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook — decided to form a band after witnessing a live show by the infamous Sex Pistols. After a few lineup changes, they ended up with Curtis on vocals, Sumner on guitar and keyboards, Hook on bass and Stephen Morris as the percussionist.
In 1979, they released their first of two albums, Unknown Pleasures. With tracks like Disorder and She’s Lost Control, this album was a clear representation of what these men were– moody, melancholic, and proud of it.
Their next album, Closer, only helped to strengthen this image and the world took note. However, the most firm reminder of their dark sound had nothing to do with their music. On May 18, 1981, Ian Curtis was found hanging by the neck in his kitchen.
The remaining members chose to continue as a band, but under a new sail; they renamed themselves New Order, moved Sumner to vocals, recruited some new members and marched onwards.
If you’re a fan of electronic music, dance music, synthpop, New Wave or otherwise, you have New Order to thank for it. Their curious blend of poetic love ballads and poppy, bouncing club beats set the foundation for an entire decade of dance.
So yes, Joy Division’s influence is far reaching and their importance is undeniable. However, the same can be said for Elvis, and I hardly consider myself a fan. “So why should I care about Joy Division?” you ask with that critical look in your eye that I know so well — you cheeky thing.
You should care about Joy Division because they are the Shakespeare of music. They are the Lord Byron of sound. They are the Edgar Allen Poe of lyrical magnificence. Curtis could craft a song about forlorn lovers, a couple on the edge of separation, and convince the listener that they are enjoying the most delicate love song ever penned.
There are comparatively few songs that focus on the depression of the artist. Sure, recent years brought us the shrill, whining waves of emo music, but that doesn’t do any good. Instead of fostering introspectivity and a sort of morose drive forward, it simply inspires sadness.
Joy Division’s brand of melancholy is to me a much more important one. It is the type of gloom which begets creativity. It is the utter emptiness that allows the listener to conjure inspiration. They sing about forgotten love and absolute isolation not so the listener may sit and bask in their own tears, but so they might pick up a pen or a brush or some other tool of creation and put their emotions to use.
Joy Division is important because they grab you by the heartstrings, pull you to your feet and set your soul to work.