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Friday 8 February 1980 concert review

Magazine: New Musical Express (UK)

Publication date: Saturday 16 February 1980

Reviewer: Paul Morley


 

JOY DIVISION. UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

I DIDN'T know which way to turn. In every corner of the second floor of the anonymous university building there seemed to be some group demanding attention
Blackpool's
Section 25 I missed PiLie somebody said, whether as insult or not I don't know. And Honey Bane's Fatal Microbes I couldn't stand, though I wanted to. The Smirks I forgot all about. Killing Joke were the worst, heroically adding nothing at all to the latent '70s post punk beats and bashings one or two turned into their art
I wandered around looking for a time machine. There's one. The sign said the future was non of my business, but I found the present for the first time all evening
I walked through a door and Joy Division had started their first song. Live entertainment. Start here
Joy Division at the University of London was a sell out. The guest list was huge. Their impact was substantial
Seeing Joy Division, if you are properly tuned, is a jarring experience. The music keeps coming, trenchant, serene, steady, hard, almost an orgiastic celebration of the decent fact that Joy Division have arrived at a noise and form that is distinctive, instinctive and immeasurably dynamic. The introversion and singularity of the four musicians is fitfully held under control, and private music is forced out into the open. The tension is startling
The presentation is as grey and bland as the noise is volatile and deeply black singer
Ian Curtis' comical trapped butterfly flapping the only real stage movement, a visual representation of the struggle inherent in Division's music. As Richard Jobson said, Division's music is genuinely violent, and it's the violence of beauty rooted in beastly desire, the violence of breakdown, inhibition, failure, fatalism...
It could be vanity, it could be impatience, even nervousness, but during a Joy Division set, outside of the songs, you'll be lucky to hear more than two or three words. Hello and goodbye. No introductions, no promotion. Good or bad? Inside the songs, careful words setting, situations, dilemmas, images that are primitive and anxious. Joy Division are a powerful act of make believe, their songs like desperate bits of nightmares, clearly drawn, potent and personal. But Joy Division's dreams are the inescapable places where we live. It's all suggestion rather than direction or dogma
Joy Division sped through their early songs, with intensity of feeling and concentration, and without totally relenting the shadows and suspense. The group pointedly proved that they still work well away from the re-established mainstream, forging ahead down the same slippy corridor of experimentations. They played more new songs than old (untitled but I guessed two were Sound of music [
The sound of music was not played that evening] and Colony they didn't play She's lost control or Transmission or Disorder or... name your favourite) and these new songs give no suggestion of Division stagnation
These new songs show that Division's music is as natural as PILs, not held down by the grey hand of limitation and expectation. Division aren't conforming to pressure or pattern. The songs revealed a new extension of their language and possibility, and considering that live the songs are true caricatures of recorded versions, how these new ones will end up is a good mystery. But Joy Division are still coming up with new ways to alter the shape, emphasis and texture of their music. The new songs are as organised, hostile and spacious as the last set, but there's all round intensification, further emphasis on the lead bass and the active drums, even an overall simplification
The songs have extreme, para-melodies, and some have no bass, some no guitars. Synthesizers and bass with the drums, or two guitars. The new single
Love Will Tear Us Apart is one hell of a 'classic' bass, synth, drums, voice, Curtis hugging a white guitar up to his chest but rarely using it. The song's mobility and fluidity shows how much potential there is in the simple contrasting and connecting of instruments that Division use. It's a staggeringly melodic and momentous piece
For
Isolation they have the same instrumentation, but it's more withdrawn and estranged; a song they wrote only days before that reveals Numan and Foxx as true fools
The full new introduction of synthesizer has not damaged the coherence and balance of the music in any way, it simply increases the amount of mood, atmosphere, ephemeral terror Division are capable of achieving. The encore is a confident, compelling utterly withdrawn ballad, something like a dislocated and depraved improvement upon Bowie's Heroes. So impressive
Part of Joy Division 'success' is the breadth and certainty of the reactions they inspire. For this performance there were three obvious ones: love, penetration and stimulation is one all in its own, and if I wasn't tied down by language and responsibility I could attempt to explain. Simple frustration; that the group didn't lay out for selfish delectation their eloquent standards. How ironical! And old fashioned derision. A dissenter behind me, with a spiteful snort, reckoned Joy Division are the new Pink Floyd
Joy Division's music is physical and lucid, music about uncontrollable emotions, impulses, prejudices, fears. The group have turned inarticulacy and vagueness into concrete, disturbing impressions of the most degenerate, deepest desires
It's simple music, but not simple-minded; cryptic but not impenetrable
As Danny Baker said to me, Joy Division are due some sort of backlash, but he's not the one to do it. If the group had shown the slightest indication of slackening or straightening out I would have attacked. But they are now better than they have ever been
Joy Division will tear you apart. Still