Joy Division was one of Britain’s most promising postpunk bands.
While the remaining members went on to huge success with the synth-pop band New Order, Joy Division’s legend continued to grow and the band are possibly more popular now than ever before.
In April 1978 the band generated a buzz when they performed at a Stiff Records battle of the bands.
After turning down deals with Britain’s RCA and Radar labels, the group recorded their first album, Unknown Pleasures, with producer Martin Hannent. T
hey chose Manchester independent Factory Records to release the album, which was an immediate success in the U.K.
The band left Factory Records in 1985, signing with Quincy Jones’ new Qwest label.
Although Low-life (#94, 1985) and Brotherhood (#117, 1986) were their first American chart albums, sales were disappointing.
Substance (#36, 1987), Technique (#32, 1989), and the hit single “True Faith” (#32, 1987) turned things around, but the band members turned their backs on stardom, releasing only the British World Cup Soccer theme “World in Motion…” (Number One U.K., 1990) before unofficially parting ways to pursue solo projects.
Joy Division’s influence seemed even more prevalent at the start of the new decade, with bands like Interpol, the Rakes, Editors and Stellastar all borrowing elements of the band’s dark, brooding sound.
Their resurgence was only bolstered by the 2002 release of the film 24 Hour Party People, a black comedy that documented the life of Factory Records founder Tony Wilson.
The film’s first half focused heavily on Joy Division, and the actor Sean Harris received raves for his eerily spot-on depiction of Ian Curits.
The band recorded their debut album, Unknown Pleasures in April 1979 at Strawberry Studios, Stockport.
Producer Martin Hannett significantly altered their live sound, a fact that greatly displeased the band at the time.
Hook said in 2006 that the album “definitely didn’t turn out sounding the way I wanted it.
But now I can see that Martin did a good job on it.
There’s no two ways about it, Martin Hannett created the Joy Division sound”.
The album cover was designed by Peter Saville, who would go on to provide artwork for future Joy Division releases.
Unknown Pleasures was released in June and sold through its initial pressing of 10,000 copies.
Tony Wilson said that the relative success of the album turned the indie label into a true business and a “revolutionary force” that operated outside of the major record label system.
Reviewing the album for Melody Maker, writer Jon Savage called Unknown Pleasures an “opaque manifesto” and declared “[leaving] the twentieth century is difficult; most people prefer to go back and nostalgize. Oh boy.
Joy Division at least set a course in the present with contrails for the future—perhaps you can’t ask for much more.
Indeed, Unknown Pleasures may very well be one of the best, white, English, debut LPs of the year”.
Immediately after recording Closer, on April 4th, 1980, the group supported The Stranglers, which is odd not only because of neither their disparate styles, nor The Stranglers’ uncertain place in music at the time, but because Tony Wilson hated The Stranglers with a passion and refused to do a feature on them for Granada TV (he was later forced).
During the show, Curtis angry at himself, the poufs in The Stranglers, who knows spun completely out of control on stage and crashed headlong into the drum set. He recovered, but was disastrously embarrassed and barely turned back from an attempted overdose a few days later.
Tony Wilson decided the best solution to the singer’s dilemma would be a Joy Division concert with a rotating cast of singers, such that Ian Curtis could rest and avoid the stress of singing the harder numbers.
It sounded as ridiculous then as it does now.
Wilson called Alan Hempstall, singer for rank Joy Division imitators Crispy Ambulance, and asked Joy Division to build a set around the songs whose lyrics he knew best.