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Music / Joy Division

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Here are the young men: Joy Division circa 1979. From left to right: Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner/Albrecht, Ian Curtis.

"Love will tear us apart again."

A well known English Post-Punk band, Joy Division formed after guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook attended a Sex Pistols concert in Manchester on 4 June 1976, and were inspired to form a band. The additions of vocalist Ian Curtis and drummer Stephen Morris, completed the line-up. Initially named Warsaw (under which name they recorded an unreleased album, later bootlegged), the band changed its name to Joy Division in late 1977, which got them in trouble at first, because of its fascist overtones.

As Joy Division, they recorded an EP, which was basically Punk with literary lyrics. This and playing around Manchester, brought the group to the attention of Tony Wilson, and they joined his record label Factory Records. After a month in the studio with producer Martin Hannett, who completely changed their sound, their debut album Unknown Pleasures was released in 1979 to critical acclaim.


However, the relentless touring negatively affected the band. Ian Curtis had epilepsy, and sometimes experienced seizures during concerts, leading to their cancellation. His seizures were getting worse as the band continued touring, but he pushed himself to the point of exhaustion, as the band needed to tour to become better-known in the fairly exclusive music scene of the 1970s. He concealed the extent of his disability until the breaking point. His lack of sleep, alcohol abuse, and collapsing marriage only added to his severe depression; he committed suicide on 18 May 1980 (supposedly after watching Stroszek on TV and listening to Iggy Pop's The Idiot). Their second and final album Closer was released two months later to both critical and commercial success, and is widely seen as their masterpiece. The band was a key influence on Alternative Rock on both sides of The Pond over the next few decades.


Since they had a made a pact to change their name if anyone left, the rest of the band members renamed themselves New Order, alongside Morris' girlfriend (now wife), keyboardist and guitarist Gillian Gilbert, who helped formulate their new sound.

The band are portrayed by actors in the movies: 24-Hour Party People and Control. The former is a biopic of Factory Records head Tony Wilson, with Joy Division playing a major role, along with their manager Rob Gretton, in the first part of the film, with some remaining members throughout the second act as New Order personnel. The latter is a biopic of Ian Curtis himself, directed by photographer Anton Corbijn, who often worked with the band during their early years, and directed the music video for "Atmosphere".

Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Ian Curtis - Lead vocals, guitar, melodica (1976–80, died 1980)
  • Peter Hook - Bass, backing and lead vocals, guitar (1976–80)
  • Stephen Morris - Drums, percussion (1976–80)
  • Bernard Sumner - Guitar, keyboard, synthesizer, bass (1976–80)


Studio albums and EPs:


  • 1981 - Still note 
  • 1988 - Substance note 
  • 1990 - The Peel Sessions
  • 1991 - 1977-1980 Boxed Setnote 
  • 1995 - Permanent
  • 1997 - Heart and Soul Boxed Setnote 
  • 2000 - The Complete BBC Recordings
  • 2007 - Martin Hannett's Personal Mixes
  • 2008 - The Best of Joy Division
  • 2011 - Total: From Joy Division to New Ordernote 

Live Albums:

  • 1981 - Still note 
  • 1999 - Preston 28 February 1980
  • 2001 - Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979
  • 2001 - Fractured Box
  • 2004 - Re-fractured Box
  • 2007 - The Factory, Manchester Live 13 July 1979note 
  • 2007 - University of London Union Live 8 February 1980note 
  • 2007 - Town Hall, High Wycombe Live 20 February 1980note 

Non-Album Singles:

  • 1979 - "Transmission" / "Novelty"
  • 1980 - "Atmosphere" / "Dead Souls"note 
  • 1980 - "Komakino" / "Incubation" / "As You Said"
  • 1980 - "Love Will Tear Us Apart" / "These Days"

Dead Tropes:

  • All Part of the Show: Curtis' on-stage seizures were mistaken for his frenetic dancing style at first. After it was known he had epilepsy, fans would show up sometimes hoping he would go into a seizure during shows, which Ian alludes to in the opening lines of "The Atrocity Exhibition": "For entertainment they watch his body twist / Behind his eyes he says, 'I still exist.'"
  • Badass Baritone: Ian's deep singing voice was a key element of the band's dark sound, and he could sound ferocious in live performances.
  • The Band Minus the Face: New Order. Averted thanks to the band's success, although literally true as in New Order, Gillian was on the keyboards, not vocals.
  • Boxed Set: Three are known to exist.
    • The first is 1977-1980, a Japan-exclusive set released in 1990 compiling the band's two studio albums, the Still and Substance compilations, and a CD version of the "Atmosphere"/"She's Lost Control" single, all uncompressed and sourced from the original master tapes. Because all other CD releases of Joy Division's material is sourced from second-generation copies and/or noticeably brickwalled, this set is considered a holy grail among Joy Division fans.
    • The second box set is Heart and Soul, a 1997 (issued stateside by Rhino in 2001) compilation of every single Joy Division recording that London Records could find in the vaults at the time, properly remastered and presented as a sort of retrospective of the band. It is rather notable for being one of only two official sources for the band's final recording, a May 14, 1980 studio rehearsal of "Ceremony" (the other official source, for those wondering, is a vinyl release of the New Order and Joy Division versions of both "Ceremony" and "In a Lonely Place", issued exclusively for Record Store Day 2011).
    • The third box set is the Fractured Box from 2001, which compiles the Preston 28 February 1980 and Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979 live albums in a single package; this set got a re-release in 2004 as the Re-fractured Box, with some extra tidbits added in.
  • Breather Episode: "Transmission" is easily their lightest song. It’s up-tempo, jaunty, and doesn’t have any Lyrical Dissonance.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Producer Martin Hannett. Various legends state that Hannett forced drummer Stephen Morris to take apart his drum-kit and re-assemble it with toilet parts, made Morris continue recording for an hour after the rest of the band finished a song, set up his drum-kit on the studio's first-floor roof, and once went on a hill to record "silence" for an extended period of time.
    • This was such a defining trait of Hannett's that Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys actually made a jab at him in the Studio Chatter at the beginning of the Kennedys' track "Nazi Punks Fuck Off":
      Biafra: "Nazi Punks Fuck Off", overproduced by Martin Hannett, Take 4.
    • Yet, despite all the weird things he did and the legends that accumulated about him, Hannett was a master producer whose oddball experiments were pioneering in their use of space in sound recording. His use of delay circuits set to the lowest possible setting (i.e. the wrong way to use a delay circuit) created a sparse, eerie sound that's just as instrumental in inventing Goth Rock as Joy Division themselves were.
    • Hannett's heroin addiction is often cited as either crucial to his signature sound, or mysteriously irrelevant. Joy Division's legend nurtures profuse theories: Among the more popular is that epilepsy somehow kindled Ian Curtis' song-writing prowess (in this instance, the Trope Name might seem apropos, until you give it a bit more thought and realize it's irrelevant). Even before he started seriously using heroin in the early '80s, Hannett was known to indulge in large quantities of hash, though his stoned behaviour was pretty much identical to his sober behaviour.
  • Cover Version: "Sister Ray" by The Velvet Underground, on Still.
  • Darker and Edgier: Martin Hannett turned a thudding punk band into something remarkable, with the same songs. Compare, for instance, the original version of "Transmission" to the version after Hannett got his hands on it.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: There are way more New Order albums, but there is a morbid reason why the band was such a critical favorite on both sides of the Atlantic in the wake of Ian Curtis' suicide.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: All of the band's official photos were taken by photographer Anton Corbjin, who is so fond of this trope that it can be surprising to see a picture of Ian in colour. This even extends to Ian's 2007 biopic, which Corbjin directed.
  • Den of Iniquity: Each studio album proper had a song describing one: "Day of the Lords" on Unknown Pleasures, and "Atrocity Exhibition" on Closer (a Shout-Out to J.G. Ballard).
  • Distinct Double Album: The first disc on Still is a rarities album with the exception of a live cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray", while the second contains the band's final live show.
  • Dreadful Musician: Bernard Sumner admitted that the band members were these in the early days. Peter Hook noted in his book Unknown Pleasures that he played bass out of key on more than one occasion, but that fans accepted it. Somewhat averted with Stephen Morris, who the band recruited on the basis of him being trained as a jazz drummer (and indeed, his parts on songs like "Transmission" are widely celebrated).
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The Warsaw recordings show Joy Division to be a fairly conventional punk band before they met Martin Hannett.
  • Easter Egg: Some vinyl pressings have messages from the cutting engineer in the run-out grooves, usually over both sides:
    • Unknown Pleasures has "This is the way / Step inside" (lyric from "The Atrocity Exhibition")
    • "Transmission" 12": "I've seen the real atrocities / buried in the sand" (lyric from "Ice Age")
    • "Atmosphere" 12": "Here are the young men / But where have they been" (lyric from "Decades")
    • Still has "The chicken won't stop / (chicken tracks) / (chicken tracks) / The chicken stops here"
  • Echoing Acoustics: Martin Hannett had a trademark reverb heavy production style.
  • Epic Rocking: Their cover of "Sister Ray" isn't as long as the original, but it still fits this trope at 7:36. Their longest original songs are 6 minute examples that barely qualify such as "The Eternal", "Autosuggestion", "Atrocity Exhibition", "Heart and Soul", and "I Remember Nothing"
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Isolation."
  • Grand Finale: "Love Will Tear Us Apart," released after Ian Curtis' suicide, ended up becoming their most famous song. He had the cover for the single made to look like a tombstone (which no one noticed until he was dead) and it was the only music video they filmed before he took his own life. The song sounds oddly triumphant, and the Reality Subtext makes it very bittersweet.
  • Goth Rock: Trope Namers; their manager described their music as being "gothic" (to the band's displeasure) and the term stuck.
  • Hearing Voices:
    • "Digital":
      Feel it closing in
      Feel it closing in
      Day in, day out, day in, day out
      Day in, day out, day in, day out
    • "Dead Souls":
      Calling me... Calling me...
      They keep calling me
      They keep calling me.
  • Hidden Track: The alternate version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" on the single's B-side was unlisted on 7-inch copies, though a clue would have been that it plays at 33 rpm instead of the A-side's 45.
  • Hope Spot:
    • One song title, by itself, from their first album Unknown Pleasures, invokes this trope: "New Dawn Fades"
    • On their second album, Closer, there's "24 Hours":
      Oh how I realized how I wanted time,
      Put into perspective, tried so hard to find,
      Just for one moment I thought I'd found my way.
      Destiny unfolded, I watched it slip away.

      Just for one moment I heard somebody call,
      Looked beyond the day in hand, there's nothing there at all.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: The band's name comes from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp from the 1955 novel The House of Dolls.
  • Ironic Name: They were never known for joyful songs.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Disorder", and to a lesser extent, "Isolation".
  • Lead Bassist: Peter Hook carried the melody on a Rickenbacker bass, not unlike Chris Squire or Geddy Lee. His tendency to play basslines rather high up on the bass came about because in the early days of the band, it was the only way he could be heard with a weak amplifier. Hook's playing inspired many subsequent indie rock bassists to use the upper register of the instrument. In fact, Bernard Sumner once said he's more into "rhythm and chords" than melody.
  • Letting the Air Out of the Band: At the end of "Candidate" and "A Means to an End". Also used to chilling effect in "The Eternal".
  • Literary Allusion Title:
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Isolation" is quite a bouncy Synth-Pop tune really, as is "Love Will Tear Us Apart".
  • Madness Mantra:
    • "Day in, day out, day in, day out, day in, day out..."
    • "Calling me... Calling me..."
  • Marionette Motion: Ian Curtis' dance style, which incidentally, did resemble an epileptic seizure.
  • Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Usually 6-7, sometimes up to an 8. Their songs pretty much all had lyrics that were... Less than happy, but the level varied somewhat. However, a general lack of profanity or explicit references to sex or violence (not to mention the poetic nature of the lyrics) keeps them from reaching the highest end of the scale.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Averaged around 3-5, with some that drop down to a 2 and a few that arguably go up to a 6. Their music is very haunting, but for the most part it isn't really that harsh.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Their sound was pretty much the opposite of joyful. It makes more sense if you know that it's an Intentionally Awkward Title.
  • Oop North: Influenced by the crumbling Manchester of the 1970's.
  • Post-Punk: One of the most important bands of the genre, and the band that immediately comes to mind for many when the term is mentioned.
  • Punk Rock: In their earliest days (back when they were still called Warsaw), they counted as this.
  • Putting on the Reich: The cover for An Ideal for Living featured a Hitler Youth drummer; their name itself is an allusion to a novel about the Nazis.
  • Refrain from Assuming: No, the song is not called "Remember When We Were Young". It's called "Insight".
  • Repurposed Pop Song: "New Dawn Fades" from Unknown Pleasures was used in a trailer for the survival MMO game Memories Of Mars.
  • Revolving Door Band: The band went through several drummers before settling on Stephen Morris, who stayed for the rest of the band's career.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The band's original name of Warsaw was directly inspired by the David Bowie song "Warszawa".
    • The title of "Atrocity Exhibition" is lifted from the J.G. Ballard collection of short stories of the same name.
    • Talking Heads composed their song "The Overload" (from Remain in Light) as a pastiche of Joy Division, albeit based entirely on press descriptions due to the fact that none of the band members had actually heard Joy Division's music at the time. The end result was actually fairly similar to Joy Division's slower material, such as "I Remember Nothing" or the "In a Lonely Place" demo.
  • Singing Voice Dissonance: Ian's singing was baritone and American accented, whereas his normal speaking voice was higher and Northern English.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Ian Curtis was often seen with a cigarette in photos.
  • Spiritual Successor: New Order.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Peter Hook sings lead on "Interzone".
  • Those Wacky Nazis: An Ideal for Living's artwork, deliberately intended to create controversy over whether the band was a Nazi band, which they weren't (this is referenced in 24 Hour Party People as well). Also, "Warsaw," one of the songs from this EP, is about Rudolf Hess.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: A band influenced by punk hailing from an economically depressed (at the time) city from the north of their country, with a depressed lead singer who commits suicide, leaving behind a wife and a young daughter. The drummer forms a new band that turns out to be a Long Runner. We could easily be talking about Joy Division or Nirvana.
  • Updated Re-release: In the early '90s, the cover art for Substance was reworked on the European editions. For the 2015 re-issue, a couple extra tracks were added: "As You Said" and an alternate version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" from the single's B-side, collecting all of the band's non-album tracks.
  • Vocal Evolution: Compare Ian's voice on the Ideal for Living EP to when the band starting recording with Martin Hannett. Ian's voice lowers dramatically. He also began to sound less Mancunian and more like Lou Reed.
  • Yarling: Ian adopted this kind of singing voice once Joy Division shifted to post-punk; it was even compared with Ur-Example Jim Morrison, who was one of Ian's favorite singers.


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