Guardian interview with Deborah Curtis, wife of Ian Curtis of Joy Division, on the 2005 republication of Touching from a Distance, her account of their marriage, the band, and his suicide aged 23.
I watched Control, the Anton Corbijn film based on the book, last night for the first time on Film4. I’ve never actually been a huge Joy Division fan, at least on record and aside from the obvious singles, but I’ve always more or less appreciated the link between their late 70s brand of post-punk, and the ‘original’ emo or post-hardcore that’s been my main musical interest since age 16 or so - especially in the case of two of my favourite bands, really quite dissimilar, in that genre, the Swing Kids and Moss Icon. It’s not just a musical influence - that applies to way too many ‘indie’ bands - but in taking their emotional cues from Curtis’s band, there’s an important difference.
Call it catharsis, call it just a different context - though the Swing Kids also lost a member to suicide, which probably just goes to show that it’s a problem general among young men whether they’re in popular bands or not - but I think it’s a qualitative development in terms of punk to have a movement based on the artistic expression of emotion - which is what Joy Division only did in part, and mostly subsumed into a miserabilist aesthetic, whereas ‘emo’ proper takes it a step beyond - even if understanding doesn’t necessarily follow.
tristn/postpunk’s post on Xiu Xiu’s cover of ‘Ceremony’ by Joy Division contained some interesting thoughts on the evolution of aggression in post-punk music. the Xiu Xiu version is indeed murderous, and Xiu Xiu are indeed inappropriately screamy - however, as he later clarified, that wasn’t quite the point: “I wanted to get into how Myspacey and emo [Xiu Xiu] can be and contrast it against the reserve Joy Division had, but that would have been too messy, so instead I just wondered how self-parodic their style can be.”
Yet for all their “musical rigidity and emotional restraint”, Joy Division are curiously attractive to bands who don’t match those criteria, and in fact deny them. Amongst the many Joy Division covers out there are some which seem to point to the fact that the reserve is an overlay of emotion, not an absence of it. Since screaming and emo is a special interest of mine, I tend to associate emotion in music most of all with early 90s hardcore, regardless of how it appears in other forms of music before and since then. So when I think of Joy Division, a lot of the time I think of the covers such as this one by Swing Kids of the classic ‘Warsaw’, which speeds up the original and slows down the context (of the rest of their songs), and spits outs the words with venom alongside the coarse shards of guitar. Or, less familiar (and more predictable), this cover of ‘Love Will Tear You Apart’ by Californian straight-edge hardcore band Unbroken (which shared members with Swing Kids). In musical terms, to those familiar with hardcore, it’s more straightforward than Swing Kids; but here the tough-guy vocals have that intake of breath at the end which reminds me of Rites of Spring and similar late-80s hardcore, while the guitars riff through the song in a recognisably melodic way which also incorporates that harsh edge of the hardcore of the period.
What I hear in these songs, in respect of Joy Division, is not just an abandonment of mid-paced 80s post-punk, but an amplification of the ideas behind the emotional-reserve facade and a translation of those into the emotional-hardcore expression of musical violence. Where Myspacey-ness and conventional ‘emo’ goes wrong, however, is in expression without style, without restraint, and without the knowledge that you’re expressing something non-conforming and sincere. I think Xiu Xiu, like Swing Kids or Unbroken, have their own style, their own sincerity; and place their restraints at a level that can be accommodated by their creativity and uniqueness. ‘Emo’ doesn’t require any particular level of emotional outlet - i.e., scream all you like - except what makes sense in the music that’s being created. Thus Joy Division created emotion by relief, against a minimalist backdrop; Swing Kids created emotion by heat and passion, by violent abandon; Xiu Xiu by overload, by inappropriateness to the circumstances.