In 1976, in Salford, United Kingdom, a teenager by the name of Ian Curtis formed a band that would influence musicians until this day. Joy Division stemmed during the rise of punk music, led by bands such as Sex Pistols, and The Clash. After a few promising years for the band and having completed two albums, Ian Curtis committed suicide at the young age of 23. After his death, the remaining band members went on to form the highly influential and successful band known as New Order.
Curtis possessed deep vocals that contained a natural reverb-like resonance. Aside for his lyrics, he often took a melancholic tone as can be heard in “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. He also had the ability to take on a wilder more chaotic punk sound in songs such as “Digital”.
That which makes Joy Division and Ian Curtis so distinctive is their irreproducibility. Few singers can replicate Ian Curtis’ bass-baritone vocals. The Killers covered Joy Division’s Shadowplay, with a bass line and drumming reminiscent of the early 80s post punk genre, all while adding a contemporary indie-rock sound with the band’s guitar riffs and frontman Brendan Flowers’ vocals which are sung at a higher key than the original version. Radiohead covered the song “Ceremony” during a 2007 webcast. Although the song is officially a New Order release, as it was their first single, it was written by Ian Curtis and was performed only once in concert with Curtis as its singer. His death followed shortly thereafter in May 1980. New Order released the single in March of 1981.
Most of today’s indie rock bands are influenced by Joy Division, New Order, The Cure and The Smiths. But in turn, Joy Division has influenced bands from a whole spectrum of genres. With their cryptic yet dark lyrics and sounds, during an age where mainstream music was upbeat in likes of ABBA and the Bee Gees, Joy Division was one of the first bands ever to be called “gothic”. That is even though the goth subculture and music scene would only develop years after the death of the band. Today’s main indie rock lead vocalists that compare to the same singing style as Curtis include Paul Banks of Interpol, Tom Smith of Editors, Justin Warfield from She Wants Revenge, and so on.
Post-hardcore emo band Thursday have a song entitled “Ian Curtis” on their first album Waiting. Several songs of the debut album contain themes of suicide and depression. The song is in part a tribute to Curtis, showing how the decline of his mental health resulted in feelings of hopelessness. U2 as well as The Cure have also dedicated songs to the artist.
There have been two motion pictures about the band; the first being 24 Hour Party People which was mainly the development of Factory Records, the label with which Joy Division recorded its albums. The second film is a biopic, Control, depicting Curtis’ life during the formation and rise of Joy Division until his untimely passing.
The list of present day bands that were influenced by Joy Division and its frontman is a long one. Despite Curtis’ life having ended so abruptly and at a young age, his complete uniqueness in style and musical delivery has been a source of inspiration for many bands until this day, and will continue to be just as influential for several musical generations to come.
By Frederic Sahyouni, Dotted Music