Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the hugely influential Manchester band Joy Division, committed suicide on May 18, 1980. Ian was just 23 years old when he was found hanged in his kitchen.
The band was part of a quartet massively important post punk bands who trace their origins to a gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester by the Sex Pistols in 1976. The impact of the Pistols performance was such that members of the Smiths, the Fall, the Buzzcocks and Joy Division decided to form their bands in its immediate aftermath.
On the back of the DIY ethic led by the Sex Pistols, these new groups were encouraged to call themselves bands despite the fact they could barely play the equipment they had just gone out and bought. Joy Division developed and ended up being one of the first punk influenced bands to drop the punk rock sound.
The band had decided to recruit a lead singer by putting an ad for ‘singer wanted’ in a local Manchester record store and Ian Curtis applied. This was a pivotal point for the development of the band as Curtis was into his poetry as much as his rock lyrics and as a result, the direction moved from the thrash punk towards a more considered melancholy sound.
As these bands developed from the raw influence of punk, it saw Joy Division introduce more sophisticated equipment like the synthesizer that helped create a genre that would later be called New Wave. Curtis became an icon through his stage performances and the release of the albums Unknown Pleasures and Control. The single, Love Will Tear Us Apart was one of the biggest hits of the period in the UK.
Whilst the band recruited Curtis for his ability to perform, they had little knowledge of his deeper history and weren’t aware of the fact that he was an epileptic. Curtis kept this from the other band members until he had a seizure whilst on tour in London. There was speculation that his suicide was led by depression about his medical condition or possibly the difficulty in his marriage led by an affair with a journalist. His death took place two days prior the band leaving for their inaugural US tour, which could have changed history further still.
As a result of Curtis’s death, the band retired the Joy Division name and continued under the new guise of New Order. All of this was hugely influential for both the development of UK and international music, and has since been recognised through the deeply moving film, Control.