Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
June 2022 – Scott Coates
I considered a wide range of picks this month from Illmatic – Nas, to Dub Side of the Moon – Easy Star All-Stars, Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath and In the Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson. But after a bit of consideration, without listening to any songs, which is very odd for me, I settled on Unknown Pleasures, the debut album by Joy Division. It was also the only one to include lead singer Ian Curtis. It was recorded over three weekends between 1 and 17 April 1979 and released on June 15th 1979. Wow, the speed with which albums were recorded and released back then.
I’ve taken heavily from Wikipedia for the background here. While the album did not attract much attention when it came out, and there were no singles released, it has since gone on to be credited by most musical publications and experts to be one of the most influential albums of its time and format.
I’ve heard the strange legacy of Ian Curtis, who committed suicide in May 1980, mentioned on a number of episodes of The Ongoing History of New Music with Alan Cross and been intrigued. When I started out as a DJ at Lloyd’s Recreation in Calgary as a teenager, Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order were huge and some of the original 12-inch singles I learned how to beat-mix on. I had no idea that Joy Division was the precursor to New Order back then and it’s time to see where their roots came from.
It employed a number of interesting production techniques pushed by producer Martin Hannett, who believed that punk rock was sonically conservative because of its refusal to use studio technology to create sonic space. He used several AMS 15-80s digital delays, the Marshall Time Modulator, tape echo and bounce, as well as the sound of a bottle smashing, someone eating crisps, backwards guitar and the sound of the Strawberry Studios lift with a Leslie speaker “whirring inside”, as well as the sound of a basement toilet.
Poster designer Peter Saville designed the now iconic cover, which has been ‘borrowed’ and appears in many forms, along with a pizza shop I once saw. He did so using an image of radio waves from pulsar CP 1919, from The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy, reversing the image from black-on-white to white-on-black, and it was printed on textured card for the original version of the album.
I’ve not listened to a single track as I want to have the experience with my fellow Sonic Collective members. I’ve heard the album mentioned enough times, over enough years, from enough varied people, that I’m confident it’s a worthy pick to push our musical knowledge and scope further. Enjoy the sonic journey ahead!