How Ian Curtis influenced 35 years of rock music

Today marks 35 years since Ian Curtis took his own life at the heartbreakingly young age of 23. A tortured and complex soul, Curtis struggled with depression throughout his whole life, the outpourings of which can be felt in his seemingly cathartic lyrics and oppressive soundscape.

One of rock ‘n’ roll’s most fiercely protected icons, the Joy Division frontman left behind a legacy that has strengthened and solidified over the last 35 years. Taken from the world before he had given all he had to give, his image continues to be preserved and heralded – an NME darling as much today as he was then.

An abstractly present musical figure while I was growing up, it’s almost unbelievable to me that 35 years have gone by since his death. Curtis has helped to shape the music of my generation and will surely continue to shape that of future generations.

Like the Velvet Underground before them, Joy Division didn’t enjoy commercial success. Their brief but brilliant career spanned four or five years and consisted of just two studio albums.

But they were the band that defined the British post-punk landscape and changed the face of Manchester music forever – their transcendent sound remains as powerful today as it was in 1980.

Joy Division inspired countless musicians over the years, from their contemporaries, to new millennial post-punk revival bands, to currently emerging indie bands who seek to emulate the baritone vocals and fractured guitar of Curtis.

Read on for our pick of bands over the decades who have all taken an influence from Curtis and Joy Division in their own ways.

1. The Cure

Arguably the second-most influential band of the post-punk era, The Cure marched steadfastly along the Joy Division paved road.  The latter’s sound can be heard in The Cure’s gloomy, formative material where the band seemed to embody Curtis’ angst-addled sound and image. In 2000, The Cure covered ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – a fitting tribute to an obvious forebear.

2. Radiohead

Not only was Thom Yorke influenced and inspired by Joy Division, he was a massive fan of the band’s material: Radiohead recorded a cover of ‘Ceremony’ in 2007. This track was one of the last that Curtis ever worked on, and he performed it during Joy Division’s final gig on May 2, 1980. When New Order was formed, shortly after Curtis’ death, his old band mates recorded a studio version of the track and released it under their new name. Unfortunately, every existing recording of the Joy Division version has been spoiled by inaudible vocals.

3. Smashing Pumpkins

Alt-rockers the Smashing Pumpkins sample abundant musical styles, including elements of goth and psychedelic rock, shoegaze and even electronica in later recordings, but their early material is saturated with influence from Curtis & co, with William Corgan’s anguished lyrics emulating the existential dread and pessimism of Joy Division. A life-long fan, Corgan has had a long friendship with Peter Hook, touring with New Order during the Smashing Pumpkin’s first break up. The Pumpkins recorded an 18 minute cover of Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’ in 1988.

4. Interpol

The legacy of Joy Division continued to stand the test of time into the new millennium. Post-punk revival bands including Editors and The Rakes openly showcased elements of the band’s dark, intense sound. Interpol managed to showcase enough elements to rack up several ‘Joy Division rip off’ accusations, despite actually exploring their own distinctive soundscape. The New Yorkers’ first album Turn On The Bright Lights was released in 2002, the same year as 24 Hour Party People – a film heavily focused on documenting Joy Division’s involvement with Factory Records and Tony Wilson.

5. Holy Esque

Glasgow’s Holy Esque are the youngest band on our list, both in terms of career and age. All in their early twenties, these youthful psychedelic rockers are a stellar example of the longevity of the Ian Curtis legacy. With recent appearances at SXSW and multiple European tours under their belt, Holy Esque are on the verge of breakout success. Fervent about retaining an air of mystery, singer Pat Hines has only openly stated Joy Division as one of the bands’ influences. While this might be partly to do with avoidance of clumsy comparisons and maintaining an enigmatic edge, it says a lot about the sustained credibility of Joy Division.