FLASHBACK: Joy Division

This week is the 32nd anniversary of the death of JOY DIVISION singer Ian Curtis.

Despite the groups small discography, their influence has been huge. The group were renowned for their live shows and Ian Curtis‘s ‘dead fly’ dance, which many have said is symbolic of his epileptic seizures. Many stresses in Curtis’s life overwhelmed him and at the age of 23, in the small hours of the 18th of May 1980, Curtis watched Werner Herzog‘s film Stroszek and listened to Iggy Pop‘s The Idiot before hanging himself in the kitchen with a washing line.

Today, Joy Division are just as relevant as they were 32 years ago. Engendering quite a large cult following from the time of their rise to fame and will continue to well into the future. Many artists such as U2, The Cure and Low, have cited them as major influences and just even more have covered their songs. Today, one can still find remnants of their distinctive sound scattered throughout modern music.

Although the group formed in the height of the punk era, their musical style is something that could have spawned in just about any decade. But, because of where it landed in the musical timeline many have labeled them the first post-punk band to exist.

Their distinctive style is a blend of danceable pop music with gothic overtones. Curtis was renowned for singing in a deep baritone voice similar to that of The Door‘s Jim Morrison. The high pitched baselines were something of an innovation too, delivering the melody instead of the guitar, which was sparse and did not fill out entire songs. The utilisation of synthesisers added to the groups dark and austere sound and also set them apart from the rest of contemporary bands of the time, as synths were still quite taboo.

Another vital aspect of the group were Ian Curtis‘s lyrics. For the most part they are dark, melancholic and down-right depressing. Obviously a form of catharsis for Curtis, who was torn between being a married family man and a rock-star suffering from horrendous epileptic seizures. For the most part they touch on themes that are reflective of the human condition, but are also highly personal confessions that surely wained on Curtis repeatedly made to sing them. Take for example a verse from the song’ Isolation’, ‘Mother I tried please believe me / I’m doing the best that I can / I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through / I’m ashamed of the person I am’. Repeating lyrics of this morose nature in live shows surely must have drained Curtis emotionally and also set a new record in terms of melodrama.

“All my lyrics are open to interpretation by the individual and imply many different meanings, therefore their relevance is purely subjective.” This somewhat famous quote by Curtis has made the lyrical content of Joy Division songs a point of discussion and makes them susceptible to speculation amongst fans. The truth is we will never really know for sure what is meant, which only adds to the enigmatic nature of the band.

In retrospect, the death of Ian Curtis should not have come as a surprise to many, nonetheless it still it is a tragedy. Whilst the remaining members would go onto form New Order, an amazing act in it’s own right, the thought of what could have been is always tickling in the back of our minds. Although Joy Division‘s career was short, the two LPs that came from it revolutionised music and still continue to do so today, 32 years after Ian’s death.

Words by Sam Warburton


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