Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures: an oral history

joy-division-gq-14jun19_bIt’s been 40 years since Joy Division released their debut record Unknown Pleasures, an album that has done more than any other to teach us what the radio waves from pulsar stars look like.

Its now-iconic cover art, found by guitarist Bernard Sumner in The Cambridge Encyclopaedia Of Astronomy before being modified by graphic designer Peter Saville, has gone on to appear on everything from bed sheets and baby grows to trainers and skateboards.

While the Unknown Pleasures artwork has been subsumed into popular culture, the music itself has steadfastly resisted commercialisation. When the record was first released on 15 June 1979 on Factory Records it sounded quite unlike anything that had come before it. That was a result of the unlikely cast who ushered it into existence. Sumner and bassist Peter Hook had formed a band called Warsaw in 1976, later changing their name to avoid confusion with the punk band Warsaw Pakt. In Ian Curtis they had stumbled across a singular lyricist and frontman. Drummer Stephen Morris completed the band, but the sound of Unknown Pleasures would also be heavily shaped by maverick producer Martin Hannett.

Acclaimed from the moment it was released, the album’s critical reputation has only grown in the last four decades. NME, Q and Pitchfork all named it one of the greatest albums of the Seventies, while Rolling Stone called it one of the best debut albums of all time. The diverse list of artists to have cited it as an inspiration includes U2, Moby and The Killers.

Here, Sumner, Morris and Saville recall the creation of a classic.

Continue reading at British GQ.