Why “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division matters!

Written by: Vincent Nijenhuis


This is the album that inspired every pop record that came out this year. This is the album that inspired every grunge record that came out in the 90s. This is the album that inspired every synth pop record ever. This is an album that changed music forever through its radical mix between synthesizers, punk influence, and its waves of undiluted emotion.

Now, it’s worth noting that this is an album that inspired white people. Music was, and still is in many ways, very racially segregated. Granted, we can hear the runoff influence of this album on this year’s Lemonade, but that’s the exception to the rule. At this point, this album is so ingrained in the music landscape that we hear it’s influences in all types of music without realizing it. Unknown Pleasures is the first album to show that musicians can use synthesizers to infuse an album with atmosphere instead of verve, and kitsch. It showed just because an album was built on machines does not mean it is mechanically and without soul.

This album knowingly drowns itself in it’s misery, and oppression that comes along with depression. On the opener, “Disorder,” Ian Curtis begs for someone to cure him of the apathy he feels towards himself, and the world around him. This is not a song about pain. This is not a song about noble suffering. This is not a song about some abstract cathartic shriek. This is a song about depression. This is about the quotidian nature of depression, and the longing to experience what we perceive as normal. “Disorder” marks an important milestone in music history that we have a song that blatantly references mental illness as a, well, a “Disorder.”

It would be easy to dismiss this album as the album that influenced a parade of teens to wear lots of black lipstick with matching eyeliner, and though they wouldn’t be wrong about that influence, it’s reductive to say that’s all this album amounts to: a fashion choice. Yes, this album has influenced the creation of hot topic. Yes, this album is on t-shirts on hipsters everywhere. Yes, this album has influenced a lot of fashion, but that has more with the Curtis’s tendency to embrace all things dark and express them through visuals, whether that visual be through his distortion of all things that might be considered part of beauty, or the album art itself. The fact that Ian Curtis has managed to inspire change, not only in his music, but fashion only speaks to how much this album have influence, not music, our culture as a whole.