What is the band history of Atmosphere

When despair takes hold

One of the many puzzlingly beautiful things about the music of British band Joy Division is that it doesn't seem to get old. Perhaps because at the time of its publication at the end of the 1970s it already looked as if it had blown over to us from an indefinite area. 40 years doesn't make a big difference.

Songs like “Atmosphere” or “Disorder” (to name two very different ones) are time-bound, about the sound, the production and so on. But still there is something that cannot be described without sounding half-stupid: as if the music, together with the voice of Ian Curtis, touched something universal. "I've got the spirit, lose the feeling, let it out somehow." When a song like "Disorder" catches you, you push your trained skepticism towards constructs like "authenticity" and "immediacy" out of the window and think, here someone would pull what he had to say right from inside himself. And maybe that's true too. One does not know.

Curtis hanged himself in his Macclesfield home on May 18, 1980. "Probably the best-known song by Joy Division," Love Will Tear Us Apart, "describes his problem-laden situation in its text," says Wikipedia. In this case, »problematic« means: a severe epilepsy at a time when medical treatment has not yet helped much in such cases, apparently combined with depression. There was also scene and social stress plus alcohol, a high-speed record label and too many concerts. And an affair with a woman who assumed the classic muse position, while the marriage with the mother of one's own child, who is not allowed to be fooled because of epilepsy, broke down more and more. "Do you cry out in your sleep? / All my failings exposed / Gets a taste in my mouth / As desperation takes hold".

Joy Division's live presence is said to have been enormous. For those who could no longer see it, the aura of this band and their mythicization are closely linked to Ian Curtis ’suicide, which will be celebrated for the 40th time this Monday. The early death of the artist, as a guarantee of authenticity, disgustingly contributes to the magic that this music still exerts on everyone who approaches it with an open heart.

The death of the self-destructive, beautiful artist can be told over and over again. There are autobiographies by Curtis ’wife Deborah, by band members Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, a Curtis biography by Mick Middles, various documentaries and two feature films in which the death of the singer appears as a central, decisive event. The busiest historian in British punk history, Jon Savage, has compiled interviews with the three still living band members and many allies into a chronologically structured band biography in his book »Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else«, which was published last year in England and now in German translation . The text tries to combine the evocation and revival of the myth with an analytical level.

That works extremely well as pop historiography. The best chapter is actually the first in which Savages' main characters tell about life in Manchester in the 1970s and the history of the city. And what Joy Division had to do with this place. Or more precisely: to what extent the industrial metropolis, which was architecturally and otherwise in many ways broken down at the time, was a social prerequisite for songs like »Shadowplay« or »Transmission«.

You get a feel for how this band worked in this place at that time, which constellations were possible to turn four young punks into a band in a short time that is still shaping the style today. In addition to the Joy Division example, the attempts to explain, especially by the band members and the factory label boss Tony Wilson, give you a lot about the production methods in the popular arts. At first you have to deal with a desolate mixture of coincidences, intuition, autodidactism, drugs and escape impulses (“You were factory fodder,” recalls Joy Division guitarist Bernard Sumner). And then something as dismaying as the song "Isolation" comes out.

Maybe it's just the uncanny compression that still makes Joy Division's music seem contemporary. Everything is gathered here that defines pop as a medium for appropriating and shaping the world. Which also means: As in all classic pop stories, women only play a marginal role, and then mostly as disruptive factors for the men's society, who want to stay to themselves in the self-made universe. A universe that is related to one's own reality of life and at the same time allows the escape from it (and the threatening domesticity).

The same applies to "Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else" in one respect as to the music by Joy Division: very specific and at the same time universally valid moments permeate in this text. How fatal it can be when symbolic pop universes violently collide with material reality is made clear again in the last chapters.

The helplessness with which all bystanders react to the rapidly deteriorating condition of Ian Curtis is oppressive, also because it has nothing to do with bad will, but simply shows that epilepsy, severe depression and a broken marriage prolonged Puberty only disturbs and is therefore best ignored.

Jon Savage: Searing light, the sun and everything else. The story of Joy Division. Translated from the English by Conny Lösch, Heyne-Hardcore, 384 pp., Hardcover, € 20.

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