joy division

Live Transmission: Joy Division Reworked may have been commissioned by Brighton Festival in 2012 but its emphasis on light and music made it the perfect fit for Sydney’s Vivid Festival.

Heritage Orchestra had the unenviable task of reinterpreting the seminal band’s work and they did so with the utmost amount of grace, care and understatement.

The night began with an especially dark stage to fit the broody, Manchurian music. Some ominous and almost guttural animal sounds filled the theatre like a chorus of eerie banshees. These were quite similar to the sonic motifs that the band’s producer, Martin Hannett contributed to their work and helped set the tone before the 26-piece orchestra commenced proper.

The Heritage Orchestra was lead by conductor, Jules Buckley and they extended Joy Division’s traditional guitar, bass, drum and synth-driven post-punk sound and transported it to another realm.

This meant that those traditional basslines made famous by Peter Hook (that often drive the sound) plus the frantic, Energizer bunny drums of Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner’s heady punk guitars often played second fiddle to some strings, brass, and piano.

The piece began with a re-work of the band’s hit, “Transmission”. The drums were a very loud and powerful element during this first instrumental as walls of sound were built up and brought to rising crescendos of noise. There were also visuals by Matt Watkins which featured Peter Saville’s Unknown Pleasures cover and pictures of a factory-lined Manchester were also beamed at the front and back of the stage and provided a great fit as the piece straddled the lines between shadows and light.

Some of the songs were more straightforward interpretations than others. “Digital” was a trippy affair that had more in common with a modern art project than the original because you often felt like you were being suspended in space. “Dead Souls” was a bombastic rendition but this was thankfully not reduced to a level of caricature or karaoke (unlike some of Hook’s recent exploits).

“She’s Lost Control” started off sounding like dub music as some strange shapes danced across the screen and seemed to re-create the fit-like movement of Ian Curtis’ infamous dance. In the following, “Isolation” Watkins chose instead to focus on Curtis’ actual work- his lyrics. Some select lines appeared like poetry and were given the mantel and attention they fully deserved

There would be four more movements of music before the orchestra concluded with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. They kept this one brief and sampled Curtis’ singing with a full orchestral backing. This meant that of all nine pieces, this sounded closest to the band’s work and perhaps proved that you can’t better perfection, a principle that could also apply to the group’s live act.

Live Transmission ultimately upped the artistic element of Joy Division’s music by adding and revising the history books and allowing the orchestra to put their own stamp on a signature sound with new sonic motifs, layers and textures.

Some songs were almost indistinguishable but you cannot deny that the sound was full-bodied, fluid and mature and there was lots of creativity and love that went into fashioning this enterprise. It may not have been as good as the real thing, but this particular transmission came mighty close and did it all in full, 3D Technicolor and surround sound.

The Live Transmission: Joy Division Reworked Setlist:

  1. Transmission
  2. Digital
  3. Dead Souls
  4. She’s Lost Control
  5. Isolation
  6. End Eternal
  7. Heart & Soul
  8. Atmosphere
  9. Love Will Tear Us Apart

Originally published on 31 May 2013 at the following website:

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