From the outset, Peter Hook’s latest musical endeavour - Joy Division Orchestrated - was bound to cause a stir among post-punk loyalists and classical aficionados.
How would the pulsing, angular sound of Joy Division translate to an orchestral context? With the assistance of conductor and orchestrator extraordinaire Tim Crooks, the answer is: astoundingly well. The duo were joined onstage by Sydney’s Metropolitan Orchestra and two vocalists who took turns in performing for the duration of the night.
Set in the auditorium of Melbourne Convention Centre's Plenary, the audience largely comprised of Gen Xers. Notably, the venue’s modern architecture, ritzy lighting rig and immense sound system was worlds apart from Joy Division’s grimy, working-class origins in the Manchester town of Salford.
The evening opened with a heartfelt, piano-driven rendition of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ featuring Bastien Marshal, the singer of London electronic post-punk group Detachments.
With his all-black garb, jerky movements and melancholy baritone, Marshal made for an eerily fitting Ian Curtis impersonator. As the orchestra crescendoed into the iconic riff of the song’s chorus, the effect was instantaneously spine-tingling – it suddenly became clear that Hook and Crooks (what a name for a duo) had created something magical.
The next arrangement, ‘Atmosphere’, featuring Manchester vocalist Mica Millar, was spellbinding in its dark, hypnotic sparseness.
Millar’s powerful, soul-tinged vocals delivered emotive dynamics to each song she performed and brought new life to Curtis’ brooding vocal melodies in ‘New Dawn Fades’, ‘A Means To An End’ and ‘Heart And Soul’. Her vocals particularly shone in an aggressive, driving version of ‘She’s Lost Control’.
As the night pressed on, each stunning orchestral arrangement was expertly woven around the throbbing, minimal drum and bass sound of Joy Division, paying homage to the music’s original form.
Some pieces were slightly aspirational and didn’t quite land, like the upbeat, marching band rendition of ‘Dead Souls’ or the Devo-like pep of ‘Isolation’. A particularly bizarre moment came when Millar and Marshal performed a mash-up of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ by former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, fittingly titled ‘Love Will Tear Us Together’.
For the most part, however, each arrangement perfectly encapsulated the bleak melancholia and angst of the seminal band’s music while enhancing Curtis’ ever-poignant lyrics.
Click here to read our recent interview with Peter Hook.
There were several nods to the late vocalist throughout the show, including a performance of the first Monaco song Hook had written with David Potts in 20 years, ‘Higher Higher Higher Love’. Based around a sample of Curtis discussing his love for music and his gratitude for the freedom Factory Records provided the band, the song masterfully incorporated the signature Joy Division sound.
After a high-energy encore of ‘Digital’ and ‘Transmission’, the orchestra’s guitarist started playing the notes of beloved track ‘Ceremony’, which prompted several punters to leave their seats and start dancing in the aisles. This only lasted a minute until security made them return to their places.
However, during the climactic build-up to the last verse of the song, a crowd of people stormed the aisles in time to joyfully dance and sing-along to Hook’s refrain of “forever, watching love grow”.
By the time the orchestra launched into one, final version of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, the front of the stage turned into a euphoric dance floor that left security powerless, making for a spectacular end to the night. The musicians onstage grinned as they played and watched the crowd dance.
Joy Division Orchestrated was an ambitious project from the start, but the level of professionalism and passion showcased by its participants made it a breathtaking display of musicianship as well as a touching tribute.