It’s been about forty years since the singer from Joy Division took his own life, but the shadow of his death still hangs over post-punk, new wave and rock history. In just two albums, the cult band from Manchester turned grey skies, depression and urban industrialisation into beautiful music thanks to their charismatic leader, who is just as influential today.

On Saturday May 17th, 1980, Stroszek was aired on TV. This fascinating but dark film made by the brilliantly mad Werner Herzog isn’t his most famous, but as Ian Curtis sat in front of his TV that night, the storyline of an ex-con who goes off to live the American dream before shooting himself deeply touched him. The singer from Joy Division was set to fly to America with the rest of the band that Monday to begin a major tour around the states. Instead, within just a few hours of watching the film, he hung himself in his kitchen with Iggy Pop’s The Idiot playing in the background. Curtis was only 23 years of age with barely 50 songs to his name and yet forty years since his untimely death, the mark he left on rock music is still as undeniable and influential as ever.

Joy Division was formed in 1976 during England’s punk outbreak. On July 20th, the Sex Pistols took to the stage to play a gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. In the audience, guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook bumped into Ian Curtis and soon after asked him to sing in the band they wanted to form. The group wasn’t immediately known as Joy Division and was originally given the name Stiff Kittens and later Warsaw, as a tribute to the song Warszawa from Bowie’s album Low. It didn’t take long before they realised Curtis wasn’t like the rest of them. He read literature by Dostoïevski, Gogol, Nietzsche, Sartre, Burroughs, Ezra Pound, J. G. Ballard and Hermann Hesse and his taste in music was more eclectic than that of his contemporaries. “Ian was much better educated for things like Can, Kraftwerk, and Velvet Underground”, Peter Hook told journalist Jon Savage for his must-read book This Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else – Joy Division: The Oral History, published in 2019. “It was Ian that introduced us to Iggy and things like that, because Bernard and I were listening to pop, reggae, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple. Ian didn’t push it on you, he wasn’t pushy with us at all, and he was just great to be with, he completed your education”.