Pascal Stevens, Michel Duval, Bert Bertrand
En Attendant, November 1979
This interview with Joy Division, which has never been reproduced since appearing in the November 1979 issue of En Attendant, was conducted on the occasion of the Plan K gig on 16 October 1979. It appears here in conjunction with RealityStudio’s dossier on William S. Burroughs and Joy Division. You can also read the original French version. (Asked which bandmembers were speaking in the interview, Michel Duval clarified in an email: “All of them, Steve [Morris] probably was less talkative, they were very shy, very Mancunian.”)
Most bands choose a name they think suits them: The Supremes, the Knack, Simple Minds. Clearly the choice of Joy Division was ironic: this quartet of young Mancunians makes music that is anything but joyous. However, it’s beautiful. And gripping. And rich. And somber.
“The despair that is conscious of being despair and therefore is conscious of having a self in which there is something eternal and then either in despair does not will to be itself or in despair wills to be itself.” — Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death
Manchester resembles any other English town. It is black and sordid. To be found there, as in Liverpool or Birminham, are those awful factories, bums, inveterate alcoholics. A certain idea of anguish.
Before 1976, there was hardly any music scene except for the Hollies. Local youths lived not for music but for two other groups: Manchester United and Manchester City.
For a while it was the golden age of European soccer. The two clubs regularly rose to the head of their class. It was a time of mutual hatred and rivalry. Bread and circuses?
A year later things changed. The Buzzcocks opened for the Sex Pistols. Imitation followed. The Buzzcocks recorded an EP. Boredom? Don’t make them say it.
Among the works of Martin Zero (who now calls himself Martin Hannett): the albums of John Cooper Clarke and Jilted John, the new single by Magazine, the Joy Division album and the fabulous Electricity by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, which everyone is talking about. End of the parenthesis.
Various groups formed, such as the Drones, Slaughter & The Dogs, and Warsaw. Today there are 72 bands in Manchester.
Warsaw was made up of four: Peter Hook (who didn’t have a beard then), Ian Curtis (the singer), Stephen Morris and Bernard Albrecht. They played in Stiff Contest [actually “Stiff Kittens” — ed.], changed their name to Joy Division, recorded here and there on lost compilation disks and impossible-to-find EPs.
And then, around June, they recorded what will probably be one of the three best albums of the year: Unknown Pleasures. The general atmosphere of the record is sullen and desperate. The voice of Ian Curtis cuts a path through the flood of lugubrious yet energizing sounds. How can you resist the catchy dynamism of “She’s Lost Control?” The aggressive use of Peter Hook’s bass, mixed with Stephen Morris’ synthetic drums, underpins compositions that are gloomy but gripping, abject but unsettling. Forbidden pleasures…
You could write anything about Joy Division, find hints of disco in them (they’re there) or consider them as another New Music group (they wouldn’t deny it). But this would just be literature…
Driving through the tunnels of Brussels, you can read this strange inscription: It’s going great. These three words, like the name of the group, perfectly express the sensation that living beings may have in this society: the irony of an absurd life. People say that Ian Curtis is mad, that he has difficulties adapting. But we all know, especially since the death of Mesrine, assassinated a few days ago, that the time for heroism has become, here at the end of 1979, a time for madness.
A few weeks ago, Joy Division gave a stunning concert at Plan K. It was there that we met.
Did changing your name from Warsaw to Joy Division affect your music?
We changed it because another group, The Warsaw Pact, had just come out with an album.
Right. That’s the group that recorded and released their album in less than 24 hours?
A few days ago we received Fast Earcom Volume 2, on which you play two songs.
They were recorded at the same time as the album. They came out on Fast because, in the early days of Warsaw, we opened a few times for the Rezillos, who were managed by Bob Fast.
Was there a reason that your names don’t appear on the album?
Joy Division is a single entity, a union. When you see all these stupid thank yous on albums…
Is it a way of avoiding stardom?
No, we’re all equal. If you remove one member from the group, it would no longer be Joy Division. We compose all our songs together.
Do you think that every alternative group should have political opinions or should put out a message?
Any group, even the simplest, has political and social implications. Look for example at Boney M, their message is simple and can be summed up in a word: dance. And if a group doesn’t offer any explicit message, there are always implied messages — escape, breaking free from the daily grind.