The Pequod Review:
Joy Division remains as elusive as ever in this oral history of the great post-punk band. But Jon Savage has complied interviews from a wide range of individuals associated with the band, including many who died long ago such as lead singer Ian Curtis (1956-1980) and producer Martin Hannett (1948-1991). And while we may not get to know Joy Division much better through these interviews, they nonetheless contain some very good insights. Here for example Bernard Sumner describes the impact of the city of Manchester on the band's music:
You were always looking for beauty because it was such an ugly place, whether again on a subconscious level. I mean, I don’t think I saw a tree till I was about nine. I was surrounded by factories and nothing that was pretty, nothing. So it gave you an amazing yearning for things that were beautiful, because you were in a semi-sensory-deprivation situation because you were brought up in this brutal landscape, but then when you did see something or hear something that was beautiful, you would go, ‘Ooh, new experience,’ and really appreciate it.
I remember being on my scooter when I was a scooter boy and driving up on the moors, and not being able to believe all these open spaces. It gave me the freedom to move around, just going up on the moors in the middle of winter, taking the day off school, there was all snow everywhere, going up there and just looking and thinking, ‘Amazingly beautiful.’ And that has stuck with me till today.
The hills are the escape from it, from the horrible, industrial, dead landscape of Salford and most of Manchester; the sheer contrast between the moors and the industrial filth that surrounded us in the sixties. I remember someone telling me on the way home from school that Salford was considered the biggest slum in Europe, and I couldn’t believe it, because it was where I lived. I read that living in Salford was the equivalent of smoking seventy cigarettes a day.
And it becomes clear how essential Martin Hannett (the producer of Unknown Pleasures and Closer) was to the band's sound:
Stephen Morris: The studio was Martin’s, and when you were in the studio you were working for Martin and his whims, and it was just his way of expressing them. Memorably, he had the AMS DB 16 whatever – it was a digital delay line. With this one, once you’d recorded it you could lock it in, so the sound was always in this box, and you pressed the button or hit the snare drum: ‘Oh, there’s me snare drums in the box now. How have you done that, Martin?’ That’s amazing, and he was doing things that are commonplace now, but at the time it was like magic. I mean, literally he was some sort of shaman.
Martin Hannett: They were a gift to a producer, because they didn’t have a clue. They didn’t argue. The Factory Sample was the first thing I did with them. I think I’d had a new AMS delay line for about two weeks. It was called Digital, it was heaven sent. The ideas were always there, but at the end of the sixties a digital delay line was implemented using these things called shift registers, which were enormous, unreliable and used too much electricity. When little bits of memory started to arrive, those clever guys at AMS stuck ’em in a box. The gig at Salford was very important. It was a very big room, and they were very badly equipped, and they were still working into this space and making sure they got into the corners. When I did the arrangements for recording, they were just reinforcing the basic ideas.
Tony Wilson: Hannett created the modern drum sound with the digital delay. What he did with that digital delay machine, he put a speaker in the toilet, and over the years you learned this isn’t insanity, this is to take away all the signifiers of the room that the sound is in to render the sound naked, and then apply reverb and echo and the other signifiers of where you’re listening to this particular sound. So I knew he did that. What I didn’t realise was that Martin had been part of the vision behind the digital delay machine itself.
Fans of Joy Division will enjoy this immensely.