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Baker's Dozen

Unknown Pleasures At 40: Our Favourite Artists On Joy Division's Debut
Patrick Clarke , June 14th, 2019 06:42

As Joy Division's still-staggering debut album turns 40, we present a Baker's Dozen of Baker's Dozens featuring artists and writers who picked Unknown Pleasures among their favourites of all time


John Doran, tQ Co-Founder & Editor

“If I were compiling a personal Bakers Dozen for the site, I like to tell myself I’d faithfully represent my own listening habits by only choosing brand new releases. There would be one glaring anomaly however… My excuse for the inclusion of this singular album from 1979 would be that Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is the very essence of a modern record; a temporally transcendent statement for our age.

“When addressing the idea that the group have somehow grown more significant over time, Mark Fisher said it best when he wrote in 2005: ‘If Joy Division matter now more than ever, it’s because they capture the depressed spirit of our times. Listen to JD now, and you have the inescapable impression that the group were catatonically channelling our present, their future.’

“Perhaps this powerhouse Salford/Macclesfield quartet were somewhat unwitting in their innovations (the true greats often are). They are often painted as ingénus - as working class artists tend to be - but then most of them shared very cutting edge and cool literary interests such as JG Ballard and William Burroughs; Dostoyevsky and Gogol. Authors who, in many ways, have only become more relevant to the world we live in today.

“It’s impossible to deny the power of the Unknown Pleasures revival. It has rolled on for the last 15 years to date and has even, sadly, outlived Fisher himself. The album was released on my eighth birthday. I bought my first UP T-shirt on my 14th birthday from the HMV in Liverpool and by that point they already seemed like an obscure group from the depths of history. The T-shirt acted like a post-post punk Masonic handshake on the odd occasion you’d see another soul wearing one. And if you’ll forgive the teenage narcissism, they really weren’t such a big concern in 1985 but these days? I can’t remember the last time I didn’t see an Unknown Pleasures T-shirt.

“I think part of the resonance of the album comes from the fact that it exists as a perfect gesamtkunstwerk. Not just in musical terms but in that of photography, production, technology, design, journalism, marketing and fashion. Perhaps it was the product of scenius more than genius. A perfect cultural time capsule that has only served to transcend its time and place.

“I take succour from this unique album. It would be perverse of me to deny its moments of anhedonia, collapse and crawling horror. I do understand why ‘depression’ is the first word that people reach for when they talk about Joy Division but to me there is also chilly euphoria, an adrenalised modernity, a juddering sense of the future arriving, even if that future doesn’t happen to be some pie in the sky utopian fantasy.”

Photo by Al Overdrive