Jon Wozencroft, "An Epiphany Unearthed"

Came across this text whilst we were preparing a display of adverts made for The Wire. It was commissioned by Rob Young/Chris Bohn for the magazine's Epiphanies column (at the back of the magazine) in March 2001. The text was a tiny bit too long so an important section got chopped. Here is the full text.

Amazingly, I eventually met the man who had been sitting next to me, Duncan Haysom. We met up in Waterloo in the August of 2007 following an internet quest of dedicated JD fans. The master recording of Joy Division's ULU concert became the bonus disc for the reissue of Closer by Warner Bros in November that year. There is thus a strange intertwining between this account and the outcomes of the two films, Control and Joy Division, six and seven years later, ie. 29 years after the fact.


20 years ago, looking at the finishing line of an erratic education and the 'what next?' step, it wasn't a case of "there seem to be so many options open to me", there was simply no way I or my immediate friends were going to follow the 9 to 5 routine and it was second nature to look for an alternative. My own university record had been blemished in the first year by a passion for Wire concerts, subsequently Siouxsie, PIL, Joy Division, dub reggae and Cabaret Voltaire, because most of the time, living in Durham in the North East, you had to make extended field trips; if you didn't have a car, getting to the Middlesbrough Rock Garden was more of a nightmare than hitching to London. But I was glad to be living in the North; you made the effort; the Punk years had given way to a counter culture as dynamic as the 60s, where the ways and means to move the momentum forwards were there for the taking...

Nowadays nobody really talks about the way the ears are trained, the importance of what happens around the music and how/do people listen in this day and age? Nothing to do with nostalgia, you understand... just a few observations on a key period of time when ambitions ran high and people set out to change the world without having to worry about hiring a PR company.

1. Joy Division in Spring 1980
Having just returned from Europe and the rubicon of their first gig in Berlin, Joy Division played a concert at London University on February 8. My friend Tony and I managed to get a seat in the small balcony upstairs. We got a perfect view and listened like secret agents – Joy Division, as many bands did at the time, always played ahead of their schedule. A John Peel session at the end of 1979 had hinted at the speed at which they were moving, but this was the first time we got to hear "A Means to An End", "Passover", "Isolation" and as an encore "The Eternal". The guy to the side of us had rigged up a pretty good recording device, holding a mic out front which trailed back to an Adidas bag. Who knows how many others were taping the gig, but I like to think that the cassette copy I've had for the last 20 years is a boomerang from that very bag.

Cassettes: just imagine for a moment that they are the human form of digital – every time you copy something, what you lose in the mechanical process you gain in the particular rituals of dedicated attention and distribution. Forget "High Fidelity", it's closer to the opposite extreme, the cassette-copying campaign that catapulted Ayatollah Khomeini into power in Iran. Which is to say, the cassette culture around bands like JD, TG, CV, This Heat etc. was markedly political... why isn't a similar thing happening now with minidiscs and CD–Rs, I wonder?

Or imagine this: "the hottest group in the country" giving away two of their best new songs to an obscure label in France, who then have the audacity to release it in a gatefolded limited edition of 1578, and there's no way, up in the North East, that you're ever going to get your hands on a copy. But have no fear, the cassette underground will come to your rescue.

"Atmosphere/Dead Souls" was quite a cocktail. Peter Hook insists upon it, and I would agree totally – the gloom and doom image that Joy Division were subsequently straddled with was in sharp relief to the exuberance and spirit that the band were generating at this time. The image of the hooded monk in the mountains on the Sordide Sentimentale cover... it became a bit of an albatross, but at the time it seemed to echo all the special qualities the band could summon up. They created a current; Joy Division had amazing rhythm and movement and far from being the figurehead that he was subsequently turned into, Curtis on stage was a conduit between the music and the audience, a composer turned ventriloquist. Joy Division as a collective spirit — in Paul Morley's words, "both straightforward and dissident".

Offstage, everything Rob Gretton seemed to do (because nothing was ever explained) sought to maintain the idealistic but integral defiance that the band personified. Having recorded "Atmosphere" and "Dead Souls" off the radio, I remember the feeling of being of an audience at such a level of involvement that you would have given anything for the next installment. As it was the songs recorded for 'Closer' couldn't fit into the container provided. The solution? Three songs pressed onto a flexidisc and given away free, to tide things over before "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was ready for release. The third song, uncredited, was an electronic instrumental "As You Said" that could justly claim to be the template for 'techno' . And the rest isn't history. It's not over yet. There's a movie in the pipeline.

2. Fetish night, The Lyceum, London 8 February 1981
Exactly one year later, a further example of naked ambition in the quest for universal adulation... I think not: Z'EV, NON, Clock DVA, Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, one after the other in a compact of resistance. The performers seemed to want to remind us that we were a London audience, so apart from the catalysis of Z'EV all their sets were at less than full pitch. In my humble opinion. But it was avidly dark — most of the audience looking quietly agitated, restless like people do when they're queueing up for an inoculation. The music wasn't the main point. It was the information that went with it, which, being viral, gathered together its hosts and hostesses. Or maybe it was an attempt to develop a new form of homeopathy, and a question of getting the mixture right when it came to the pathology element.

3. The Final Academy, Ritzy Cinema, London September 1982
Soon after the Fetish night Throbbing Gristle morphed into Psychic TV, and later distributed a manifesto which was one of the most eloquent critiques of control culture you could ever hope to read. We'd started Touch by this time, and it had a strong resonance with the way we were thinking. Andrew (McKenzie) had persuaded PTV to contribute a text to the first Touch release, so even if we weren't (directly) involved, we felt a definite kinship with this ambitious project: a four night festival that brought together live music, films, poetry recitals, readings... William Burroughs being the star turn along with Brion Gysin, 23 Skidoo, Cabaret Voltaire and the first performances by PTV...

Parallel to the Ritzy event was an exhibition of archive materials, Dreamachines and PTV videos at the B2 Gallery in the then wasteland district of Wapping. Andrew and I trekked down there, and as we entered the gallery there was Brion Gysin, in his underpants, ironing a pair of pink trousers. The Final Academy nights we did attend were pretty disappointing. The atmosphere was claustrophobic. We‑later learnt that there had been massive rows going on backstage between Genesis and the American contingent. Money, of course.

By the mid–80s, the independent scene and the distribution arm upon which it depended, Rough Trade, turned back on itself and pitched the weight of its resources into the ability of groups like The Smiths to get into chart return shops. For a short time, or so it seemed, it wasn't about money but the sharing of resources and opportunities, and the collaboration between different artists and labels — highlighted by the synergy between Industrial, Factory, Fetish, Rough Trade, Mute, etc. Not just alternative, but anti.

The Final Academy was a significant step in taking music out of its closet and connecting live performance to literature, film and art. Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, etc. showed that "a bunch of working class oiks" could not only change music but bring to it a wealth of literary and cinematic references that, for a time, transformed the moribund anti–intellectualism that once again typifies this country's cultural output.


Text: Jon Wozencroft
Couverture: J-F JAMOUL



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