Joy Division: things you didn’t know about ‘Unknown Pleasures’

From recording in a freezing studio to the band's initial thoughts on the album

To mark 40 years since the death of Ian Curtis we dig out some key nuggets of information about Joy Division’s game-changing debut, ‘Unknown Pleasures‘.

1
Martin Hannett worked with the Buzzcocks before becoming a long-time collaborator of the band

Album artwork for ‘Unknown Pleasures’

The band’s indispensable collaborator, producer Martin Hannett, originally worked under the name Martin Zero, producing Buzzcocks’ genuinely seminal ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP in 1976, and first hooked up with Joy Division on the 1978 ‘Factory Sample EP’. He then produced ‘Unknown Pleasures’ as well as their second and final album ‘Closer’.

2
They recorded it in 10cc’s studio…

Joy Division’s Ian Curtis performing live onstage at the Lantaren. Credit: Getty/Rob Verhorst/Redferns

‘Unknown Pleasures’ was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Hillgate, Stockport. The studios were co-owned by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, both members of 1970s MOR sonic specialists 10cc (about as far removed from the Joy Division sound as possible, this side of a Stock Aitken Waterman production) who had a state-of-the-art, 24-track set-up.

3
…And the studio was freezing

Bernard Sumner, Ian Curtis – performing live onstage (Photo by Chris Mills/Redferns)

That frosty sound is no coincidence, nor an illusion. Hannett would whack the air-conditioning in the studio up to freezing temperatures. His story was it was good for engineer Chris Nagle’s diabetes.

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4
Ian Curtis was a one-take wonder

Bernard Sumner & Ian Curtis performing live onstage at Bowdon Vale Youth Club (Photo by Martin O’Neill/Redferns)

Engineer Chris Nagle recounts how Ian Curtis would listen to a song once before doing his vocal in one take. He would also have “sheets with his lyrics on, but he always recorded with the lights off,” the only aide-memoir being his head.

5
The lyrics were a mystery

Ian Curtis joy division
Ian Curtis performing live onstage at the Lantaren (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Joy Division didn’t include the lyrics with ‘Unknown Pleasures’, to avoid being pinned down. “Our lyrics may mean something completely different to every single individual. You could hear one thing, the bloke next to you could hear something completely different,” said Peter Hook. “We don’t want to say anything. We don’t want to influence people. We don’t want people to know what we think.”

6
Drums were crucial

Stephen Morris performing live onstage at Bowdon Vale Youth Club (Photo by Martin O’Neill/Redferns)

Drums were paramount in the Hannett sound. Stephen Morris’s playing was a big attraction. “One of the things that drove me to drum machines was the appalling quality of drummers,” said Hannett. “But Steve was good, so immediately they had a red hot start.” Hannett fed the drums out of the studio to a microphone he’d placed in the bathroom, then put the results through a digital delay.

7
Joy Division felt free to be creative

Ian Curtis performing live onstage at the Lantaren, 1979 Credit: Getty/Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

“At Factory, no one’s restricting us, the music or the artwork,” said Ian Curtis in 1979. The inner sleeve included a newspaper clipping of a photo of a hand near a door handle, an image that Peter Saville later found out was a famous shot by Ralph Gibson, the Californian art photographer.

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8
There wasn’t a contract for the album

UNITED KINGDOM – MARCH 14: Photo of JOY DIVISION; Bernard Sumner & Ian Curtis performing live onstage at Bowdon Vale Youth Club (Photo by Martin O’Neill/Redferns)

Factory played fast and loose with Joy Division’s finished product, not even inking a contract. “We had a sheet of paper saying that the masters would revert to us after six months if either of us decided not to work with each other,” Peter Hook said later. “That was it. It was amazing that the agreement lasted so well.”

9
Peter Hook “hated” the album when it first came out

Ian Curtis & Peter Hook performing live onstage at Bowdon Vale Youth Club (Photo by Martin O’Neill/Redferns)

In his book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division bassist Peter Hook revealed the band were split over whether they actually liked the album when it first came out: “Ian and Steve loved it. Me and Barney hated it. We thought it was too weak. We wanted it to be miles heavier. We wanted it to go RARRGH! And instead it went ptish.” Hook now likes the album though, explaining: “All the things I now love about the album – the spacey, echoey ambient sound of it – were all the things I hated about it when I first heard it.”

10
They had to pick up the first copies of the record themselves

Peter Hook performing live onstage (Photo by Chris Mills/Redferns)

In Hook’s book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division he explains that once the record had finished being pressed, he hired a van and drove down to London with the band’s manager Rob Gretton to pick up the first 10,000 copies of the record. “Loading the van took an age then we drove them back up to Manchester, thinking the axle was going to snap any second, taking it slow so we didn’t fuck up the van.”

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