In memory of Tony Wilson – quite possibly a cantankerous prick and yet a man for whose existence we should all be eternally grateful – (also, Martin Hannett) here’s an extract from Chris Ott’s book on Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, which was part of the second batch published in the series, back in January 2004 – and which has been selling very steadily ever since.
To this day, the surviving members of Joy Division complain about Hannett’s hand in the sound of Unknown Pleasures, which they immediately felt weakened their deafening live sound. Of the recording process, Bernard Sumner later recalled: “Martin didn’t give a fuck about making a pop record. All he wanted to do was experiment; his attitude was that you get a load of drugs, lock the door of the studio and you stay in there all night and you see what you’ve got the next morning. And you keep doing that until it’s done. That’s how all our records were made. We were on speed, Martin was into smack.” Joy Division still identified with punk’s urgency, having seen every first-wave British punk band in person and performed with many of them. Hannett’s forward-thinking obsession with digital delay and the distant, warehouse guitars he favored created a sound too studio-processed, too close to the excesses their generation was still burning at the stake. “She’s Lost Control” and “Insight” incorporated an electronic drum pad from the beginning, but both songs were driven as much by Bernard Sumner’s overblown guitar and Peter Hook’s unforgettable treble bass riffs. Though all parties would come around to Hannett’s approach and the use of more ambient and electronic sounds, much of Joy Division’s music was, at this point, still in line with punk rock’s evolution. Bernard Sumner summarized his and Hook’s initial feelings in the Heart and Soul box set: “We resented it, but Rob loved it, Wilson loved it, and the press loved it, and the public loved it: we were just the poor stupid musicians who wrote it! We swallowed our pride and went with it.” Oddly, Stephen Morris has never complained much about the production, considering his performance was the most affected by Hannett’s techniques.
“I mean Martin did teach us a lot – he taught us to look at music and our songs and our sounds in a totally different way. We had a very narrow vision of them, we’d just turn our amps on and that was it. When we got in the studio we couldn’t understand why the monitors didn’t sound like our amps. He taught us to make allowances for certain things like that,” admitted Peter Hook in Charles Neal’s Tape Delay, but he also complained that Hannett “took it right down”; one wonders how their newer, slower tunes like “Candidate” and the majestic “I Remember Nothing” could have been “rocky”, as he put it, even in concert. If not as grievously tortured as the anthems they’d record for Closer, they were romantic, bleak tunes. Bernard Sumner has been humbly forthcoming about Curtis’ central role in Joy Division: “He was a catalyst for the rest of us. We would write all the music, but Ian would direct us. He’d say, ‘I like that bit of guitar, I like that bass line, I like that drum riff.’ He brought our ideas together in his own way, really.”
As such, Curtis loved Unknown Pleasures. Hannett had taken their dark rock and roll and infused it with the kind of confrontational, novel soundscapes that Ian so admired in groups like Throbbing Gristle and Kraftwerk. Hannett had made Joy Division’s debut as formidable and unique as the records Curtis loved. It seems clear that Joy Division was changing again, in Ian’s mind if not Hook’s and Sumner’s, and Hannett shepherded that change at a speed that left the guitarists feeling that the record was taken away from them a bit. Which, in one literal sense, it was: Hannett didn’t want the band members present while he mixed Unknown Pleasures, and would head to Strawberry at all hours of the morning hoping to avoid them. Peter Hook: “The scene was stupid from the word go. Martin never understood that he was working for us. We were paying him and so he should have done the mixing when we said so…he should have done what we said at all times.”