Joy Division’s origins can be traced back to 1977, the early members of the band, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, deciding to form a band after a Sex Pistols concert. Most bands coming out of the Manchester scene were inspired by the likes of these angry, energy-driven punk acts of the mid-70s. Much of the band’s early sound falls along the lines of the early wave of punk, but as contemporary critics put it, “in late 1977, as the initial push of the new wave began to soften, hundreds of imitation Sex Pistols formed bands and produced hopeful but chaotic debut sets. Lots of energy, sadly little true originality (Middles).” Joy Division, at the time called Warsaw, was similar in ethos to other imitations, but there was something to differentiate them from the norm, “their sound was dimmed and rounded in direct contrast to the usual granite edged punk of the day (Middles).” This difference could be grouped in with the group’s other anachronisms such as their brand of dark humor, their name being a reference to concentration camp prostitutes, as well as vocalist Ian Curtis’ penchant for dark, lyrical subject matter. Once signed to a label, Factory Records, the band was influenced by owner Tony Wilson’s preference for the more unique side of Joy Division’s style. He introduced the band to producer Martin Hannett, a producer on David Bowie’s album Low (Middles). Playing to the band’s strengths, Hannett would purposefully tone down the overbearing nature of punk, and infuse it with other sounds, such as the art-rock of David Bowie and elements of disco. He and Ian Curtis would use this sound to create some of the first examples of what we would now call post-punk.
What Is Post-Punk?
Post-punk has its origins within the punk sound of the mid-1970s but has many different interpretations, as different genres were infused with punk to create different versions under the umbrella term post-punk. Reynolds’ 2005 book Rip It Up and Start Again is widely referenced as post-punk doctrine. Reynolds defined the post-punk era as occurring roughly between 1978 and 1984. He advocated that post-punk be conceived as “less a genre of music than a space of possibility”, suggesting that “what unites all this activity is a set of open-ended imperatives: innovation; willful oddness; the willful jettisoning of all things precedented or ‘rock’n’roll'”,”a more adventurous and arty form of punk (Reynolds).” For example, some acts such as Wire kept close to punk’s roots yet remain distinctly post-punk due to their stripped-back approach. Joy Division’s interpretation of post-punk makes heavy usage of synthesizer and unique vocal delivery. I believe that Joy Division’s interpretation of post-punk is a result of vocalist Ian Curtis’ struggles with mental illness.