Joy Division Reworked: Live Transmission at Usher Hall

When you see ‘Joy Division’ in a title, you immediately reminisce of Macunican brilliance and thoughts of what could have been. Any music fan can appreciate the loss of a front man, who perhaps died too soon from Amy Winehouse, Kurt Kobain, Jimi Hendrix to John Lennon or Elvis Presley. Ian Curtis was only 23 yrs old and was on the brink of a North American tour with Joy Division. He may be one of the lesser known names but indie music fans still mourn his death and yearn for more of Joy Division’s music.

Joy Division stood out from the crowd as a post punk band in the late 70s, who took it to a new level and set the tone for the 80s. Ian’s lyrics complimented their low bass sounding riffing guitars with a sombre tone. They didn’t initially get a huge amount of publicity, but you can definitely hear their influence in today’s music.

This event offered an audio-visual collaboration between music pioneer Scanner, the Heritage Orchestra and visual artist Matt Watkins. It’s hard to know who this would be mostly aimed at, from artists and composers to die-hard Joy Divisions fans. Nevertheless, the attraction is the experimental feel to the evening. For an orchestra to dismantle their work and reconstruct it with effects promised to be exciting.

The orchestra burst into symphony and a wall of light effects bubbled away in time with the music. The composer’s silhouette looked uncannily like Ian himself and I thought it would be great to see someone dancing in the crazy way he used to, throughout the performance. Despite not seeing this, there was what appeared to be a an impression of him dancing created with the lights, in the form of a white dot for a head and arrows moving sporadically as arms.

At points in the songs, there were bursts of singing, which I felt were quite haunting and made an impact on the audience. The light show also included poignant lyrics being scrolled across the stage, which gave a sense of the creation of the music, as the orchestra deconstructed every component. The display also included shots of depressing looking tenement blocks, which are associated with that era of their music, and some effects gave you the sense of being inside a living organism with the erratic beating of the heart.

The show was surprisingly short and I felt another half an hour would have been worthwhile. The orchestra built up an anticipation and almost hypnotic effect. As Ian’s voice came crackling through, it was if his ghost was haunting the Usher Hall. The set seemed to drag in the middle and I was keen to hear ‘Love will tear us apart’, which inevitably was kept till last. However, the finale was a slowed down version of it, which was good but a little disappointing.

Joy Division will always have the ‘what if?’ question hanging over them, which keeps their appeal fresh. Who knows what direction they would have taken but New Order are a good example. Perhaps Ian would have sung on ‘Blue Monday’. The music video for ‘Love will tear us apart’ is obviously done on a low budget but sums up Joy Division’s style and setting. I felt the orchestra did this with visuals but could have really capitalised on that as a finale song to match the video:

Jon Exton

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