After a chance meeting at a Sex Pistols gig at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, Guitarist Bernard Albrecht and Bassist Peter Hook formed a band called The Stiff Kittens. They placed an advert in a Manchester record store, and through this advert they recruited Singer Ian Curtis and Drummer Steve Brotherdale. They renamed the band Warsaw, derived from David Bowie's Warzsawa and played their first gig supporting The Buzzcocks and Penetration and Manchester's Electric Circus in May 1977.
After firing Brotherdale by asking him to fix a flat tire while on the motorway and then driving away, they got a new drummer called Stephen Morris and renamed the band Joy Division to avoid confusion with London punk band Warsaw Pakt. The name Joy Division is a reference to groups of Jewish women in the concentration camps during WWII who were used as prostitutes by the Nazis, as described in Karol Cetinsky's 1955 book, The House of Dolls.
They played constantly in the north of England throughout early 1978, and recorded enough material for a debut album. However, after the studio engineer added synthesizers to several tracks, the band scrapped the album. It would be released as a bootleg in 1982 and then officially 10 years later. In June 1978 their original Warsaw demos would be released by Factory Records as an EP under the title An Ideal For Living. In early 1979 Joy Division recorded a radio session to be aired on BBC Radio 2 by the respected indie DJ John Peel.
In July 1979, the band began recording their landmark debut album Unknown Pleasures. The record was far bleaker and darker than anything previously released, featuring Hook's bass as the lead instrument, drums soaked in icy reverb, Albrecht's jagged guitar and Curtis' baritone vocal style. Whereares punk rock had been extrovert and in your face, Joy Division were more introverted and personal. The cover, designed by Peter Saville is regarded a classic of minimalist design and was the exact opposite of the super graphics that graced most album covers of the period.
However, all was not well. Onstage Curtis suffered from eppileptic fits and would often go into a trance and fail to come back before the end of songs. Even after disposing of their lightshow, Curtis would still have these problems and the band decided to rest over the Christmas holiday.
In January, Joy Division set out on a European tour. Several dates were cancelled though due to Curtis' ill health which was getting progressively worse. With the Martin Hannett, who also produced Unknown Pleasures, the band began recording their second album Closer at the end of the European tour. They released their most famous song Love Will Tear Us Apart, recently voted the number 1 single of all time by the New Musical Express, in April. Despite receiving brilliant reviews, the single failed to move beyond the independent chart.
Following a one off gig in early May, the band took 2 weeks rest before their first US tour was scheduled to start. At the time, Curtis' relationship with his wife Deborah Curtis was breaking down due to him having an affair with another woman and was on the brink of divorce. Alone in his Manchester home, on 17 May 1980 Ian watched a movie called Stroesyk about an artist who commits suicide. On the 18 May 1980, Ian Curtis was discovered by his wife Deborah in their kitchen, hanging by his neck, the victim of suicide.
The band had decided long ago that if anyone of them left for any reason they would end the band. In the Summer of 1980, a reissued Love Will Tear Us Apart hit number 13 on the British Singles Chart, it was their biggest commercial success to date. In August 1980, Closer was finally released to overwelming positive reviews and also charted, peaking at number 6 on the British Album Chart. Sales of Unknown Pleasures were also healthy, making this one of the truly sad cases in rock history.
The surviving members formed an electronic band called New Order, one of the many synth pop groups of the time which would later evolve into the techno and dance music revolutions of the late '80s. They are most famous for the biggest selling 12 of all time Blue Monday as well as recording World In Motion, a song regarded among the best football songs of all time.
At first glance Ian Curtis' suicide appears to be exclusively the product of his own depression and ill health. However, if you read Deborah Curtis' book Touching From A Distance, you get the impression that Ian always wanted to die young. It is a tragedy either way and Ian Curtis has been an inspiration for numerous musicians including Kurt Cobain and Trent Reznor.
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3 External links & References
See also: Post punk, New Wave
(all released on Factory Records unless otherwise stated)