To celebrate Ian Curtis’ 60th birthday, DJ and electronic producer Dave Clarke takes us back to his teenage bedroom, where the “secret cult” of Joy Division changed his life.
July 15, 2016 would have been the 60th birthday of Ian Curtis (1956-1980), the iconic poet, singer and Joy Division frontman who chose to leave the world when he was only 23. Although his recorded legacy barely exceeds a couple dozen songs, Curtis’ work with Joy Division has remained beloved by many throughout the years and still echoes in today’s music. We’ve asked DJ, electronic producer and Waves artist Dave Clarke for his personal perspective on Curtis and Joy Division.
Waves: What was Joy Division’s importance for you, and for your generation of music fans and musicians?
Dave Clarke: “It is hard for me to separate most underground music at that time from [BBC DJ] John Peel: I heard of this group because of him. There was also quite a big cultural north/south divide in England: for a kid from Brighton, the chance of hearing music from northern England was quite small without someone like Peel. So hearing this on crackly radio transmission was very special, like a secret cult, with a mono ear piece underneath the blankets. It shaped me immensely.”
What, in your opinion, made Curtis such an influential character?
“I always separate music from the cult of personality. I take music at face value, and also information was not so easily found in those days unless you actively sought it or read fanzines, so I just listened to the music. Only later in life did I find out about his life and why some of the songs were written. I think ‘She Lost Control’ was written from his perspective of working in situations that brought him close to a woman with epilepsy (I wonder if Grace Jones who covered the song ever knew). So for me, his life story only became apparent way after he passed away, through documentaries and films. But his lyrical ability was exceptional and fit the zeitgeist of post-WW2 England. Yet it still rings true today. I saw [Joy Division bassist] Peter Hook play Joy Division’s music live the other week, and the lyrics still touch nerves.”
Where do you hear the echoes of Joy Division in today’s music?
“All over the place, sometimes in bands like Interpol, Soft Moon, She Wants Revenge… When you have such a great reference, it’s hard not to ingest it and pay homage.”
And how important do you think was producer Martin Hannett’s contribution to Joy Division’s work?
“He made their sound in my opinion. A true catalytic convertor in the artistic sense. I think he may have had a deeper understanding of their sound than perhaps they did. Joy Division under Hannett’s guidance was a complete entity, a whole package – how rare is that?!”