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Balkon3 interview with Peter Hook “Unknown Pleasures – Inside Joy Division”


Balkon3 interview with Peter Hook

photo Al De Perez

photo Al De Perez

The band Joy Division existed for three and a half years before it reached its tragic end in 1980, but its musical legacy still resonates strongly today.  Within that limited time period, the four lads from Manchester have changed the direction of music, firstly by pioneering what is now called post-punk, and inspiring countless of other bands along the way. Joy Division was a product of the bleaker parts of Manchester in the depressed late 70s. Struggling with depression, epilepsy and a failing marriage, singer Ian Curtis committed suicide on the eve of Joy Division’s first American tour, just as the band’s best known single “Love will tear us Apart” was released. Instead of ploughing their old furrow the remaining band members opted for a new kind of music aided by sequencers and drum machines and Joy Division became New Order.  New Order fused Joy Division’s gloomy aesthetic to electronic dance music and it spawned a myriad of signature songs among which its “Blue Monday,” the biggest selling 12” of all time, is celebrating its 30 anniversary this year. More than 3 decades later and three years after leaving New Order, bassist and one of the founding members, Peter Hook decided to commemorate the life of Ian Curtis by performing the music of the band but with a new band, The Light. He also wrote a book “Unknown Pleasures – Inside Joy Division” with his recollections of that tumultuous period with the band.

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What was the impetus behind writing “Unknown Pleasures” and what did you want to achieve with the book?

Well I suppose there were two main reasons – the main reason for writing the book was just that I was getting sick of reading lots of books about Joy Division that were written by people who were just not there at the time! There have been lots of books and stories about Joy Division but they are all told by people were never really there with us the whole time, so how could they know! So I decided to write the book so that people could have a firsthand account of the band written by someone who was there, me! I suppose the second reason for writing it was that I was spurred on by the success of my first book, how not to run a club, which I wrote about the Hacienda nightclub. It did really well and was more successful than I was expecting, so it made me more likely to write another book, this time about Joy Division.

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Was writing it a cathartic experience for you as you touch sensitive issues apart from telling the Joy Division’s history?

I really enjoyed writing the book because it brought back a lot of nice memories and reminded me of a lot of positive things. It helped me to remember the fun we had when we were recording music as Warsaw or Joy Division and it reminded me of the excellent chemistry that the four of us had as a group – the songs just seemed to come to us quite easily at times. Obviously within the story of Joy Division there are some sensitive issues and at times it was quite difficult to write about them but writing the book was mainly a very positive feeling for me.

jd hookWhat is your assessment of all those books that were written about Joy Division? (Including Deborah Curtis’ “Touching from a Distance” and Paul Morley’s “Piece by Piece,” among others)

Well they are both great books in their own right but like I said before the majority of books that have been written about Joy Division were written by people who were not there, so are simply not able to know about the actual stories and issues – ok, Deborah was obviously there as she was Ian’s wife but she was not present at rehearsals or writing sessions or some of the gigs, so I think my own book can help to explain that side of the band a lot better. Paul Morley’s book is an interesting one but like I said it’s very difficult to write about something that you did not actually see. I feel like my book is a very honest and truthful account of what it was actually like to be in joy division.

It seems that with any legendary band, like The Doors, The Beatles, people always have a thirst for new information, new stories, and with all the books, movies, interview, etc., is there anything left to be said?

I think that as with any band that is not around anymore, there will always be a desire from people to hear more and to discover more, because there is no chance of anymore music, so the only thing left to discover are as many stories as possible. Such is the desire to always have something new. I think it’s just a natural thing. The fact that so many great films and books are made about so many bands, it’s just great to be able to have that information at our fingertips.

The book sheds a light not only on the times when the music was made, but you also analyze those two albums in detail. What are your thoughts on those two albums now from this time distance?

Looking back now, over 30 years later, I can say that I love them both and that I am very, very proud of them, and I always will be. It is a real pleasure now to be able to play them both live all around the world. A lot of people have said that the best part of the book is when I analyze the music – I recommend that people listen to the music at the same time and then I go through it track by track – I think it works quite well. At the time of the albums releases, we were not really in love with the sound or the feel of the records, because all we wanted to sound like was the Sex Pistols or The Clash, but looking back now I can see that we were wrong because they sound fantastic even after all this time.

Were you aware of just how revolutionary the band’s sound and songs were at the time and were you surprised at the impact they made?

No, we had no idea! Like i said, we just wanted to sound like a real punk band, The Sex Pistols or The Clash for example, because essentially we still saw ourselves as punk. Our producer Martin Hannett actually gave us a very different sound to what we wanted and at first we did not like it that much, we did not understand it. But obviously now we are more mature I can look back and see that we were wrong and he was right, Martin gave us a gift – the gift that over 30 years later the recordings would still sound fresh and interesting. As for the impact of the album, we knew we had some great songs but nobody had predicted the impact those two albums would go on to have on the world.

Al De Perez

photo Al De Perez

Were there parts you really didn’t look forward to writing in the book?

Yes, obviously it was not easy to write about Ian’s death. Writing about that was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my entire career. Time helps you to get over things but even now over 30 years since Ian’s death it is still a difficult subject for me to talk about.

What’s your most enduring memory of Ian Curtis?

My most enduring memory of Ian is definitely the memory of Ian as a friend – at the end of the day he was one of my closest and best friends – regardless of also being band mates or anything like that, he was a great friend. I will also always remember him as a wonderful lyricist and wordsmith, a very gifted musician, and also as the leader of the band – if anything negative happened to the band it would always be Ian that would pick you up and tell you that everything was going to be ok.

ian as a friend

photo elmundo

Do you ever think that the cult of Ian Curtis overshadows the other band member’s contribution to Joy Division?

I think it is inevitable really that sometimes this can happen – the fact that Ian left us while he was still very young means that sometimes there can be a cult following or there can sometimes be quite a mythological aspect to the band – but it is important to remember that Joy Division had another 3 members who were also equally important in terms of making the music – I had managed to create some good bass lines and start to develop my own sound, while Bernard and Steven also pushed the boundaries of their instruments and developed very distinctive playing styles of their own.

To your opinion, how would have Joy Division’s sound and music evolved for the next record if circumstances with Curtis had been different?

That is the big question I suppose. I think that we would have continued to write great songs and that yes we would have progressed into a more electronic influenced style of music, as New Order did. While we were in Joy Division we were experimenting more with electronic styles, some of this you can hear on tracks like Isolation, and Bernard and Steven in particular had become very interested in synthesizers and drum machines, so I think that we would have progressed the same way but obviously the difference would be that Ian would still have been our front man.

To what can you attribute the popularity of Joy Division’s songs years after its tragic end?

I suppose we can just attribute it to the great chemistry that the original band members had – we wrote some fantastic music, music that has stood the test of time. It is a great feeling to know that something we did over 30 years ago can still inspire people today. It’s great to see some young people at our concerts as well as the older people, because it shows that there are always new people discovering your work.


What made you want to further explore your early history not only by playing Joy Division’s music in concert, but also the first two New Order records?

When we started this journey by performing Unknown Pleasures live, the first record, and we saw that people were enjoying it, we decided that we should perform the next album, Closer, and then the next record, Still, the outtakes of Joy Division. We have performed every single Joy Division song live again, I think it’s a great achievement, I am really proud of the guys in the Light. It has been going really well so I suppose it was natural to want to keep progressing the live set and to perform Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies live as we did in the UK in January was a great feeling. We will begin touring that show later this year.

It’s been exactly 30 years since New Order’s “Blue Monday” single was released. How do you look back at this iconic track and the impact it has made? It is still a classic dance track.

I am very proud of Blue Monday, I think it is a great song and I am proud of the fact that it still remains the biggest selling 12” single of all time. It still sounds fresh alongside modern dance music, a remarkable achievement considering it was first released in 1983.

What are some of the achievements with New Order that you are most proud of?

I am proud of the fact that we wrote some truly great songs – Procession, Age of Consent, True Faith, Bizarre Love Triangle, Regret – there are too many to mention. I am very proud of the whole back catalogue; we achieved a lot together during our time as New Order. It’s a really nice feeling to look back on all that.

The book Unknown Pleasures transparently describes the shaky relationships between the band members with references to conflicts within New Order.  Would you agree that a lot of essential music has stemmed from hostility and tension?

I guess so yes, sometimes the best music can come from the strangest of places! Towards the end of our time in New Order we were having lots more difficulties but we still did some great songs on the last album such as Krafty or Turn, and there is also some strong material on Lost Sirens like we mentioned. But I have to say that the majority of our great music came from the times when everybody was happy and enjoying themselves.

Photo Al De Perez

Photo Al De Perez

Can you imagine the situation where the three/four of you would put down the differences aside and work together again?

Unfortunately not. No, I cannot imagine that it will ever happen, it’s a shame but that is life I suppose. Too many things have happened now for a proper reunion to ever happen. I just hope that one day we can find a way where we all just get on with our lives as all the fighting in the press and things like that is just becoming ridiculous now!

What influence do you feel Joy Division and New Order have had on music history?

I am proud of what we achieved in both groups and the thing that makes me happiest is that there are bands even today who say you are an influence on them, the best thing to know is that you have inspired people, as to me that is the most important thing when it comes to creating music – being inspired.

Nenad Georgievski