On This Day in Music History: Joy Division Make Their Live Debut

On this day (Jan. 25) in 1978, Joy Division played their first live gig, a moment that is often credited with kicking off the post-punk era.

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The iconic, yet short-lived rock outfit – made up of frontman Ian Curtis, guitarist and keyboardist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris – premiered their unique blend of moody punk-tinged, synth rock at Pips Discotheque in Manchester, England.

Back then, Pips was the place to be, a hub where the ever-shifting culture of late 1970s Britain was continually being shaped. “Inside there were different sub-cultures all coming together,” an article from the Manchester Evening News explained of the since-closed venue.

The members of Joy Division were frequent patrons of Pips, so when they arranged their debut at the disco, they already knew the lay of the land. However, the night didn’t go as smoothly as one would think.

Two other local acts, called Connection and The Stance, were scheduled to open for Joy Division. The night’s trouble began with on-stage antics from the latter band, which resulted in some broken glass and the headliner’s frontman almost missing his moment.

“Ian nearly didn’t sing at all after being thrown out for kicking glass The Stance had broken on stage,” the drummer Morris explained of the incident. “He was only being helpful, trying to tidy the place up a bit, as I recall.

“The bouncers left Ian cooling his heels outside until 15 minutes before Joy Division came on stage,” author Mark Johnson detailed in his book, An Ideal For Living. “He tried to plead with them, saying, ‘But I’m the lead singer,’ but the bouncer just said, ‘I don’t care if you’re The Pope, you’re not coming in.’”

Curtis was eventually allowed to re-enter the venue and take the stage, but The Stance’s antics had carried over into the crowd, an audience made up of now-opposing sides – those who came to support Joy Division and friends of the openers.

“The two camps engaged themselves in a brawl that rolled back and forth in pendulum fashion across the front of the stage,” Morris recalled. “Ian did his best to discourage this but to no avail. The punch-up continued unabated, with [Hook] joining in on his mates’ side.”

Violence aside, Joy Division’s debut was no bust. In fact, that night marked a distinct shift for the band, an outfit that would soon pioneer post-punk and, ultimately, alter the trajectory of rock into the 1980s.

(Photo by Martin O’Neill/Redferns)

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