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Manchester, 1976: Documenting the urban nature of Joy Division’s musical production

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Whereas the band Joy Division (Unknown Pleasures, 1979; Closer, 1980) is widely recognized as one of the foundations of the style of music known as post-punk, their music speaks also to the nature of contemporary urban life. Melding both cultural analysis and urban theory, this article first unpacks the urban readingof the band presented in the recent underappreciated documentary Joy Division by director Grant Gee (2007) – whose emphasis on the band’s connection to and representation of Manchester has gone relatively unnoticed by critics. Subsequently, following Gee’s urban contextualization of the band (evident in both the documentary’sform and content), the article then approaches Joy Division’s musical productionitself through a range of urban theories (Georg Simmel, Henri Lefebvre, Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, Friedrich Engels, Andy Merrifield, Marc AugĂ©, Jane Jacobs, David Harvey, Guy Debord/the Situationists, Jacob Riis). In the end, while undoubtedly of interest also for frontman Ian Curtis’s epilepsy and tragic suicide, Joy Division’s music speaks more broadly to the influence the modern city has exercised over contemporary life and cultural production and to future reconciliations of music sociology and urban studies.

Keywords: Ian Curtis; Joy Division (band); Manchester; documentary cinema; musical approaches; the city; the urbanization of consciousness

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: College of Charleston 2: Independent Scholar

Publication date: 2012-08-24

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  • Punk & Post-Punk is a journal for academics, artists, journalists and the wider cultural industries. Placing punk and its progeny at the heart of inter-disciplinary investigation, it is the first forum of its kind to explore this rich and influential topic in both historical and critical theoretical terms.
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