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Inspired by a Sex Pistols gig at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall on 20 July 1976 guitarist Bernard Sumner (also known as Bernard Dicken and Bernard Albrecht) and bassist Peter Hook formed a band with friend Terry Mason, who attempted to play drums but didn't last long in the band
They placed an advertisement in a Manchester record store, and recruited singer
Ian Curtis, who also attended the Sex Pistols gig with his wife Deborah and already knew Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Terry Mason from previous gigs
Though not much of a punk drummer,
Tony Tabac joined the group in early 1977. They began practicing on a regular basis but did not have a name. Just before their first gig (at the Electric Circus on Sunday 29 May 1977), supporting the Buzzcocks and Penetration, the band decided on the name Warsaw, though they had already appeared on the bill as the Stiff Kittens, a name suggested by Peter Shelley of the Buzzcocks and Richard Boon. After this gig, they immediately dropped it in favor of Warsaw
Five weeks and half a dozen gigs later,
Tony Tabac was replaced by punk drummer Steve Brotherdale from another band called Panik. They recorded their first demo on Monday 18 July 1977, consisting of five crude punk songs
After the demo,
Steve Brotherdale was fired after being asked to fix a flat tire while on the motorway; the remaining band members drove off without him. Brotherdale tried to get Ian Curtis to join Panik but he refused. Stephen Morris, who responded to an ad in a music store window, was hired as a replacement, he was hired thanks to the fact that Ian Curtis remembered him from his school days as Stephen Morris attended the same school one year below him. Unlike the previous drummers, Stephen Morris clicked well with the other three. His metronome-like drumming owed more to krautrock than the aggressive bombast typical of many punk drummers. In late 1977, Warsaw renamed themselves Joy Division to avoid confusion with London punk band Warsaw Pakt. It was also around this time that their music began to mature. Sessions recorded on Wednesday 14 December 1977 sound considerably different from the Warsaw demo

The group played their first gig as Joy Division on Wednesday 25 January 1978. They then played regularly in the north of England throughout early 1978, and recorded enough material for a debut album. However, after the studio engineer added synthesizers to several tracks, the band scrapped it. It would be released as a bootleg in 1982 and then officially ten years later
Joy Division's debut on vinyl was on a compilation in the summer of 1978 called
Short Circuit. Though listed as Joy Division, it was actually a track from the Warsaw days recorded live on Sunday 2 October 1977. In June 1978, their December 1977 sessions were released as a 7" EP under the title An Ideal For Living. In late 1977, An Ideal For Living was remastered and rereleased as a 12"
Wednesday 20 September 1978, they performed on the TV show Granada Reports; in December 1978, they appeared on the compilation double 7" A Factory Sample, contributing two tracks recorded a couple months earlier. This EP sold out within a couple months and was the first release to document the haunting and atmospheric sound that Joy Division had been developing since that past summer
Early 1979 saw Joy Division gain more publicity:
Ian Curtis appeared on the front cover of the New Musical Express, Joy Division recorded a radio session on Wednesday 31 January 1979 (aired on BBC Radio 1 on Wednesday 14 February by the indie DJ John Peel) and, on Sunday 4 March, they supported The Cure at the Marquee Club, a major venue in London
In April 1979, the band began recording their landmark debut album
Unknown Pleasures. The record was far bleaker and darker than most contemporary rock music, featuring Peter Hook's bass as the lead melodic instrument, drums soaked in icy reverb, Bernard Sumner's jagged guitar and Ian Curtis's baritone vocal style. Whereas punk rock had been extroverted and aggressive, Joy Division were more introverted and personal. The album cover, designed by Peter Saville based on a graph of 100 consecutive pulses from the pulsar CP 1919, is regarded a classic of minimalist sleeve design. Unknown Pleasures was released in June while Joy Division were recording five songs for Piccadilly Radio
They performed on Granada TV again on
Friday 20 July 1979, made their first and last nationwide TV appearance on Saturday 15 September 1979 on BBC2, supported the Buzzcocks on their fifth UK tour during October and November, and performed again on John Peel's BBC radio show in December
Unknown Pleasures sold well and received good reviews from the music press, all was not well. Ian Curtis suffered from epilepsy and on stage he would often have tonic-clonic seizures that resulted in unconsciousness and convulsions, or absence seizures that would cause brief trancelike pauses. Even after disposing of their lightshow, Ian Curtis would still have these problems and the band decided to rest over the Christmas holiday

In January 1980, Joy Division set out on a European tour. Several dates were cancelled though due to Ian Curtis's deteriorating health
With Martin Hannett, who also produced
Unknown Pleasures, the band began recording their second album Closer at the end of the European tour between Tuesday 18–Sunday 30 March. They released their most famous song Love will tear us apart (voted the number 1 single of all time by the New Musical Express in a 2003 poll), in April. Despite receiving brilliant reviews, the single failed to move beyond the independent charts
Following a one off gig in early May, the band took two weeks' rest before their first American tour was scheduled to start. At the time,
Ian Curtis's relationship with his wife Deborah Curtis was collapsing due to his infidelity with a Belgian woman, Annik Honoré, who he had met in July 1979. Alone in his Macclesfield home, on Saturday 17 May 1980, Ian Curtis watched a movie called Stroszek about an artist who commits suicide. On Sunday 18 May 1980, Ian Curtis was discovered by his wife Deborah in their kitchen, hanging by his neck, the victim of suicide. He had reportedly been listening to The Idiot, Iggy Pop's debut solo album
The band had decided long ago that if any one of them left or was unable to perform for any reason they would end the band. In the summer of 1980, a reissued
Love Will Tear Us Apart hit number 13 on the British Singles Chart, their biggest commercial success to date. In August 1980, Closer was finally released to overwhelmingly positive reviews and also charted, peaking at number 6 on the British Album Chart. Sales of Unknown Pleasures were also robust
At first glance,
Ian Curtis's suicide appears to be exclusively the product of his own depression and ill health. However, Deborah Curtis's book Touching from a distance, gives the impression that Ian Curtis always wanted to die young. He has been an inspiration for numerous musicians including Bono (U2), Andy Cairns (Therapy?), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Jim Reid (The Jesus And Mary Chain), Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Robert Smith (The Cure)
The surviving members formed an electronic band called
New Order, often cited as one of the leading synth pop, techno and dance music groups of their era