Joy Division bassist Peter Hook celebrates the 30th anniversary of the band’s seminal album.
Part of the reason Joy Division still holds our collective fascination is because it never performed on this side of the pond; singer Ian Curtis famously committed suicide on the eve of the first American tour.
“I still remember right up until the night he killed himself,” says bassist Peter Hook. “We were in the car talking about how frightened we were of playing America. God knows what happened after that.”
Of course, this never stopped American bands from imitating the group’s haunting vocals and infectiously bleak melodies. However, no one has been able to actually replicate the band’s minimalist, but aggressively visceral tones.
Hook quotes producer Martin Hannett’s description that the music had “a polished edge.”
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ passing, Hook assembled the band the Light to perform the seminal Joy Division album Unknown Pleasures in its entirety. “It seems quite poignant to bring it to America,” says Hook.
Just from the cover art alone, it’s clear that Unknown Pleasures was poised to be a classic. The design, credited to Joy Division, Peter Saville and Chris Mathan, was lifted from The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy and graphs the first discovered pulsar. It’s an instantly recognizable image attributed to Joy Division the same way the four bars are attributed to Black Flag.
The problem with creating such an iconic image is that it is practically asking to be bootlegged. At the time of this interview, Hook was drafting a cease-and-desist type letter to a group of Japanese bootleggers. However, thwarting forgers isn’t anything new for him, as evidenced by his recent skirmish with Urban Outfitters.
“This design agency came up with the brilliant idea of printing Joy Division’s name in Arabic and then changing a letter. Of course, the agency made one sizable misstep,” Hook says. “They were advertising the shirts as Joy Division shirts. They’re also ripping off Motorhead, Black Flag and the Ramones. Some people just have no morals.”
Since Hook brings up the question of morality, it seems only fair to ask how he responds to the criticism that this tour is a gauche cash grab at the expense of his dead friend.
“People accuse me of cashing in when I’ve been waiting 30 years to do this,” he says.
As for what the remaining members of Joy Division think about this tour, Hook would be the last to know. He hasn’t spoken to any of them since New Order’s—the band he formed with Joy Division members after Curtis’ suicide—rather acrimonious split back in 2007.
“I haven’t read or heard anything,” Hook says before pointing out that Bernard Sumner’s band Bad Lieutenant include Joy Division songs in their live sets.
Despite the reception the Unknown Pleasures shows have received in Europe, Hook is candid about the fact that he hasn’t developed a thick enough skin for some of the criticisms lobbed at him, especially in the comments sections of online articles and blog posts.
“I was terrified of the negative vibe. There’s this one geezer just typing away and it’s the one comment that gets to you. However, at this point in my life, at 54 years old, I’m set in ways. I have to follow my instincts.”
The fact that Lights is a new venture adds to the trepidation.
“We’re still quite young and very fledgling,” Hook says. Perhaps the fact that Hook’s son Jack is handling the bass duties will provide some comfort.
“Jack is a very good bass player and he’s developed a new passion and appreciation for the album after performing it.” Hook boasts. “Jack always liked the record, but he wasn’t a huge fan. He loves Seattle grunge.”
Hook has fared much better with the cinematic versions of himself produced in 2002’s 24 Hour Party People and 2007’s Control.
When asked how he reacted to seeing somewhat fictionalized versions of himself onscreen, Hook quips, “In many ways I’ve been living a fictionalized version of myself. There are three films about me and I’m still alive.”
PW's Music Issue 2014