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The recent release of the movie 24
Hour Party People drew attention to the story of Factory Records and
the Manchester music scene from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It is perhaps surprising that the story
would appeal to a wide audience, given the somewhat limited popularity of bands
such as Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, and the many other obscure
groups on the Factory label -- especially in the US in the new millennium. Mick Middles account of the rise and fall
of Factory Records makes the appeal of those groups all the more surprising,
since it shows how little planning went into the development of the music scene. The book makes clear that the music of Joy
Division and New Order derived from a specifically sensibility local to the
Manchester area, and became influential largely despite the ineptitude of Tony
Wilson, the man who ran Factory Records.
Middles paints a vivid picture of
the rather grim atmosphere of Manchester in the late 1970s and the immediate
appeal of the Sex Pistols to those who were sick and tired of the old rock
scene. Groups such as Buzzcocks,
Magazine, Slaughter and the Dogs, the Fall, and the Durutti Column sprang up in
response to the energy of the punk movement in Britain. This new music was a clearer expression of
the feelings of tedium, anger and discontent shared by so many of Britains
youth at the time than the standard fare of music filling the charts. It was in this atmosphere that Joy Division
formed and moved from raucous punk energy flirting with some Nazi imagery to a
band that made rock music of breathtaking austerity and terrible despair. Middles account emphasizes the importance
of producer Martin Hannett in creating Joy Divisions recorded sound, to a
large extent against the wishes of the band at the time. He also gives some detail about the role of
Peter Saville in designing the artwork for the singles, albums and posters for
Joy Division, although he does not include any interviews with Saville about
his conception of the project or to what extent he collaborated with others.
Joy Divisions singer and
lyric-writer, Ian Curtis, hung himself in 1980. Middles does not say much about what led Curtis to kill himself,
although he makes clear that his epilepsy and his difficult personal situation,
with both a wife and child and also an affair with another woman, were
factors. For the most part Middles
defers to the account given by Curtis wife Deborah in her biography Touching
From a Distance. Middles does
include interviews with many of the people who were close to Curtis about the
effect his suicide had on them, and he handles the issue with sensitivity. He explains how New Order arose from Joy
Division and how they proceeded with difficulty to move towards an interest in
electronic and dance music, but he gives much less detail about the influences
on the band compared with his account of the genesis of Joy Division.
Middles writes from the point of
view of a person who know many of the people in the Manchester music scene in
the 1970s and 80s, interviewing bands for the music press, and just spending
time with them as a friend. His writing
style is enthusiastic and journalistic, which makes for an interesting read,
even if one might occasionally wish for a more even, impersonal account that
probed more into the creative process that led to music that has been important
to so many people.
© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the
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