Editors’ Notes Joy Division bassist Peter Hook was at a wedding when producer Martin Hannett began mixing the band’s second album, Closer, in March 1980. By the time Hook returned to London, where they were making the record at Pink Floyd’s Britannia Row Studios, a couple of tracks were ready. “Barney [bandmate Bernard Sumner] took great delight in taking me in to play [them],” Hook tells Apple Music, “because he knew that I’d be as pissed off as he was. It was like, ‘Ohhhh...Martin.’ And Martin would just be, ‘Shut up, you pair of morons.’” This wasn’t a complete shock. A year earlier, Hook and Sumner had been similarly peeved when they first heard Hannett’s austere, haunted treatment for their debut album, 1979’s Unknown Pleasures. And Hannett was equally unmoved by their protests. Despite that record restating the sonic ambitions and emotional richness of British rock in the wake of punk, Hook still yearned to sound like the Pistols and The Clash on Closer. “I wanted to rip people’s heads off with my guitar,” he says. “And I was absolutely wrong. Thankfully, Martin Hannett recognized the maturity of our songwriting and the strength in our songs that he felt needed playing down, making more seductive.”

The Manchester band arrived at Britannia Row with firm ideas for Closer’s nine songs, the product of jamming sessions fueled by what Hook calls a “wonderful chemistry” between himself, Sumner, singer Ian Curtis, and drummer Stephen Morris. Any enduring tension with Hannett—“He just thought Barney and I were a pair of idiots, but he felt very, very in tune with Ian”—was counterbalanced by what the studio offered in terms of sound, equipment, and catering. “I think we had £1.50 a day to spend, so, literally, you could either have a pint or a sandwich, and that was the whole day,” says Hook. “If Britannia Row hadn’t put sandwiches out at teatime for free, I think we probably would’ve starved to death, to be honest.”

Hannett helped the band detach themselves from punk’s compressed rage by plugging in a growing arsenal of synths. With techniques cribbed from Motown’s recording processes, the producer explored the space within the music. Thrumming with reverb and ghostly tones, Closer is colder and more brutal than Unknown Pleasures, yet also more melodic. From the grotesque industrial clatter of “Atrocity Exhibition” to the doom-disco urgency of “Isolation,” it set new standards in bleak-hearted music—ones that legions of bands chase through the gloaming to this day. “To be cited as an inspiration for bands as varied as The 1975 to anybody is absolutely amazing,” says Hook. “And we didn't even know what we were doing. We had no idea. We were just a bunch of fucking idiots, all of us. It just shows you the magic of rock ’n’ roll.”

Like Hook and Sumner, Curtis was seemingly unimpressed with what he heard when Closer was done. In a letter to the band’s manager Rob Gretton, he called it “a disaster” and took aim at Hook and Sumner as “a sneaky, japing load of tossers.” “We were still being very, very boisterous as a group, young boys,” says Hook. “We drove Ian and Annik [Honoré, Belgian journalist and friend of Curtis] mad, because they were in the flat opposite us [where the band were staying near Marylebone], so there was still a lot of boy japes going on, a lot of playfulness, which was sometimes misinterpreted, particularly by Annik. She just didn't get our northern sense of humor at all. But it was a wonderful experience recording Closer, apart from Ian's illness. And it came to such an awful end.”

Curtis took his own life shortly after the album was completed, and these songs of disillusionment and despair have inevitably been seen as windows into his anguish. “You would say, taken in isolation, ‘Oh my god, this guy’s crying for help,’” says Hook. “It's a very melancholy end [to the album]. Looking back now, you could say, ‘Look at “The Eternal.” Look at “Decades.” This is a great band, a great man, disappearing.’ But these lyrics are hidden in such beautiful music for the most part—positive, angry, strong music—that you just listen to this LP and go, ‘Oh my god, this is a great record. Fantastic.’ He hid it well–which pretty much sums up his attitude to everything.” While making Closer, Curtis’ marriage was becoming increasingly strained, and his epilepsy was so severe he was afraid to hold his baby daughter. As a consequence, he was being prescribed a debilitating regime of medication. “The most telling thing was when they did the documentary Joy Division [2007], they took Ian's prescription to a modern-day epilepsy expert and asked him what he thought,” says Hook. “The guy said it was guaranteed to kill him.”

Closer deserves to be regarded as more than a final statement, though. It’s a towering testament to the artistry of Curtis and Joy Division. Watching Curtis contend with his illness left the band with “an awful, awful feeling, the helplessness,” says Hook, but the singer’s drive often masked the depths of his suffering. Hook recalls finding him bloodied in the studio toilet one night after suffering a seizure and hitting his head. As Hook helped him clean up, Curtis insisted on getting straight back to recording. “He fought it tooth and nail, every moment,” says the bassist. “Ian was so ambitious, and he was so positive about Joy Division. Every gig that he had a fit and was carried off, in the dressing room afterwards, he wouldn’t want to go to hospital or go to bed. He wanted to go out and party. We were like, ‘Oh well, so do we.’ In an odd way, as a youngster, as a group member that looked like they were on their heady way to stardom, him turning round and letting you off the hook was what you wanted most.”

Curtis died on May 18, 1980, at age 23. It would be a while before his bandmates could bring themselves to listen to Closer, having resolved to carry on as New Order. “All we were interested in was being together, and making sure New Order, in any way we could do, survived, flourished,” says Hook. “And we managed to do that by ignoring Joy Division completely. When you’re [that age], every minute, you keep thinking someone’s going to take everything off you, like a child, because you are no more than a child. It was important for us to carry on, to throw ourselves into what we were doing and push that painful memory away.” Hook says it was two or three years until he listened to Closer: “I found that I didn't have the connection with it that I had with Unknown Pleasures. I was able to listen to Closer and actually enjoy it—it became one of my favorite records. That’s how divorced I felt from the reality of what it was: I could listen to it and think it was somebody else.”

Atrocity Exhibition (2020 Digital Master)
Isolation (2020 Digital Master)
Passover (2020 Digital Master)
Colony (2020 Digital Master)
A Means to an End (2020 Digital Master)
Heart and Soul (2020 Digital Master)
Twenty Four Hours (2020 Digital Master)
The Eternal (2020 Digital Master)
Decades (2020 Digital Master)

Other Versions

More by Joy Division

Featured On