It’s a widely held belief that people are their truest selves when they’re alone. By extension, I suppose you could argue that a band is at its most uninhibited when it’s away from the limelight, bouncing around in a rehearsal room in the small hours of the morning. Well, if that’s that case, then this complete rehearsal archive of Joy Division from 1977 to 1980 is the equivalent of leafing through somebody’s diary. It’s an incredible insight not only into the progression of the seminal post-punk group’s sound, but also a treasure trove of oddments, rarities, and alternative versions.
Formed in Salford, Manchester, in 1976, Joy Division came together after attending Sex Pistols first concert in Manchester. The audience may have been small, but those who were in attendance would go on to define the sound of the post-punk era, because, as well as Ian Curtis, Bernard Albrecht, and Peter Hook, The Sex Pistols also attracted the likes of Morrissey, Tony Wilson of Factory Records, and Mark E. Smith.
Throughout their short career, Joy Divison managed to lay the foundations for a wealth of genres, including goth, no-wave, and even shoegaze. They were, in many ways, one of the first bands to emerge from the antagonistic and laddish punk scene who wore their hearts on their sleeves, choosing to imbue their angular sound with an ethereality that can be faintly heard beneath layers of post-industrial grime.
This archive of the group’s rehearsals reveals just how instinctive they were as a band, embracing spontaneity above all else. As Peter Hook once recalled: “Ian always had a bag of lyrics with him, scraps of papers with ideas written on them. As we were playing, he’d just delve into this bag and pull something out, mumble it — at least, that’s what it sounded like to us — and then he’d elaborate, and it built up from there. The next minute, you had a song. The great thing about Ian was that you didn’t really need to hear what he was saying; you could just look at what he was doing and know that he meant it. That fire, that passion in his body language and his delivery, let you know that everything was OK.”
While we only have the echo-laden thrums of their instruments to go on, these recordings seem to demonstrate how artfully Curtis steered the good ship Joy Division before his tragic death in 1980. “The music always came first, and Ian was very, very involved in orchestrating the music and telling us what sounded good,” said Hook. “He didn’t tell us what to play; he just told us that what we were playing was great. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is very simply written. It took us something like three hours from start to finish. Ian went away, thought about the vocal, came back the next day, and we had the song. It came very, very naturally, very easy.”
Stream the rehearsal recordings in full, below.