Record Machine: Joy Division, The Peel Sessions

Recorded in 1979 and re-released as a full album in 1990, Joy Division’s session with legendary producer and BBC Radio 1 presenter John Peel is a haunting, transcendent collection of songs.

Joy Division, Peel Sessions (1979)

My appreciation of Joy Division’s music came late, as I didn’t start listening in earnest until maybe 2009, while in the process of writing earlier drafts of my novel. At the time, I was mainlining all the ’80s post-punk and rock from the North of England I could, hoping to create the right mental atmosphere for certain scenes.

More recently, I’ve listened to them while reading bassist Peter Hook’s memoir, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, a book I would definitely recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in the band. In it, he talks about the thrill and anxiety they felt meeting John Peel for the first time, as well as the process of the recording itself. Originally, the session was released as two separate EPs in 1986 and 1987, before Strange Fruit Records released the full set as one unit.

In Portland’s Jackpot! Records last April, not long after I’d read the book, I stumbled across that 1990 release. I let out the little gasp one does when discovering something that was not on the original mental search list, but now seems meant to be.

The songs are have a metallic crunch and an echo-y simplicity that I really dig. Ian Curtis’ voice is one of the more unusual and compelling in music, sounding almost as though he goes into a trance while singing. Besides the more well-known songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Transmission,” and “She’s Lost Control,” I really love the bird chirp-esque electronic sounds on “Insight.”

On YouTube, someone has taken the trouble to upload the entirety of the set into one video, and I highly recommend giving it a listen.

SIDE A

Exercise One
Insight
She’s Lost Control
Transmission

SIDE B

Love Will Tear Us Apart
24 Hours
Colony
Sound of Music

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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