For a brief time, until the tragic suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis, Joy Division operated in a dark world of their own haunting creation: ambiguous flirtations with fascist symbolism went hand in hand with words and music steeped in human suffering, misery, darkness, isolation, cold, endings and finality.
A band for the end times, they had originally been called Warsaw after the song Warszawa, from David Bowie’s album Low. Attracted to the Berlin chic of Bowie, fascism, Kafka, Curtis was drawn to suffering, that which mankind seemed capable of inflicting on others, and that which was self-inflicted. Warsaw became Joy Division; the name is taken from the 1955 Novella House of Dolls, an account of sexual slavery in the brothels of World War II concentration camps. You could not hope to invent a bleaker back-story.
Musically, Joy Division carved bleakness from the spaces in between their instruments. They piled up all the holes created by Martin Hannett’s fastidious attention to echo and separation, and Ian Curtis would jump into the void and sing his songs of alienation, darkness and loss of control. The confused pain of his voice would play off against the distant, tantalising sound of the band, forever running to catch up.
It’s not always easy to listen to Joy Division. With the exception of that great outlier Love Will Tear Us Apart, tracks of theirs that you might casually toss into a playlist are rare. It takes a little bit of commitment; apparently a little bit more than I’ve willing to give for a long time.