Tag Archive: Joy Division

Live Transmission – Joy Division Reworked @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 28 September 2013

Joy Division were around for a tiny snapshot in time. Formed in ’76 they pioneered the post-punk indie sound that subsequently inspired so many. Their debut album, ‘Unknown Pleasures’ drew critical massive acclaim. But lead singer Ian Curtis was beset with depression and illness beyond other personal difficulties. In 1980, aged just 23, he tragically committed suicide. So tonight’s reworking of everything Joy Division comes 33 years after his untimely death. Live Transmission, we are assured, is an immersive, cacophony of orchestra meets interactive plays homage to a truly unique period in music.

Live Transmission is performed by the Heritage Orchestra, with electronic composer Scanner and Birmingham-based video artist Matt Watkins. This isn’t just a series of Joy Division songs, it’s deconstructed – you can hear the indie riffs and iconic melodies. The visual graphics inspired by Joy Division cover art, such as the ‘Unknown Pleasures’, morph into a 3D experience. Musically tonight’s performance is driven by drummer Adam Betts, guitarist Matt Calvert (both of instrumental noise-rock band Three Trapped Tigers) and bassist John Calvert (Ghostpoet), with conductor Jules Buckley, who battles with equal force using the incomparable strings, brass, voices and percussion of the Heritage Orchestra in conjunction with the unique sounds of Scanner.

A leftfield and truly unusual concept, the team at the Town Hall & Symphony Hall have taken a risk in having the 80 minute performance in Symphony Hall, in all its musical beauty. And boy, how that pays off.

The lights switch to darkness at 7.45pm; it’s near pitch black. Lasers scoot round the Hall from a central point as dry ice floods the air. Layered screens, plus the ice give us an exceptional 3D effect for the graphic accompaniment. From a haunting start, then that drumming bass beat of total indie-ness, it seems odd in some ways to see this as a full orchestra; post-punk was DIY, learn on the hoof, deliver on the fly. I wonder if Curtis could have at all visualized the concept of this performance, although in his darkened dreams he may have dreamt it. Dark and moody and mesmeric, we occasionally get haunting female vocals and an occasional snatch of the Curtis voice as the beautiful performance rolls on. 3D images leap out from the screens, much of which is live edited on the fly, no glasses required and if you love Joy Division or the subsequent genre and generations they inspired – you would love this. It is not overblown or over the top – the balance between interactivity and music is perfect, and to hear it in such a venue as the Symphony Hall, a huge and glorious treat.

Then in 3D we see in words – scribbled and scrawled, sometimes scratched out and overwritten, in front of the orchestra, as if floating in fresh air written by the hand of Curtis himself.  The lyrics to ‘Isolation’ are poignant and moving: “A blindness that touches perfection. But hurts just like anything else….” The scrawl goes on… “Mother I tried. Please believe me. I am doing the best that I can. I’m ashamed of things I put you through. I am ashamed of the person I am.”

After over and hour and five the performance stops and we’re once again plunged into darkness. It stops so suddenly, I hear a person nearby say ‘…amazing…’ quietly, in awe. But it’s so quiet we hear him. And a polite applause breaks out.

It’s not over; we start again with a melancholy suite of violins… in full string arrangement. Curtis vocals are revealed and echo round the Hall in accompaniment. It sends shivers down everyone’s spine…

“When routine bites hard, 

And ambitions are low. 

And resentment rides high, 

But emotions won’t grow. 

And we’re changing our ways, 

Taking different roads. 

 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again…” 

 

The screen is muted, made of greens and golds; slowly and beautifully morphing in time to the music and lyrics…

 

Why is the bedroom so cold? 

Turned away on your side. 

Is my timing that flawed? 

Our respect run so dry? 

Yet there’s still this appeal, 

That we’ve kept through our lives. 

 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

 

Do you cry out in your sleep? 

All my failings exposed… 

Gets a taste in my mouth 

As desperation takes hold. 

Why is it something so good 

Just can’t function no more? 

 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear up apart again…”

 

A beautifully haunting reflection to one lost so young. Wow. We are all in awe; claps and a standing ovation and, no doubt, a few tears fill the auditorium.

Sometimes you get the opportunity to SEE something truly unique. Sometimes you get to EXPERIENCE something truly unique. This was both – in bucketfulls. A beautiful, truly original and moving performance that words just cannot do justice to. Brave for the Symphony Hall to do this, but exactly the right venue – Live Transmission deserves all the plaudits it’s receiving, and then some. You can’t exactly call Joy Division upbeat but this performance perfectly balances the beauty and the angst. This is a total experience – see it and experience it – because words just don’t do it justice.

 Review for Gig Junkies – pictures: Ken Harrison