mon 15/07/2024

Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked, Royal Festival Hall

Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked, Royal Festival Hall

The music of Manchester’s post-punk icons survives a bold makeover

The cover of Joy Division's 'Unknown Pleasures' comes to life during 'Live_Transmission'Prudence Upton

From no visible source, the instantly recognisable voice of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis croons the words of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. But the lyrics aren’t in their familiar setting. Alone, he’s stripped from the band, naked and vulnerable. He’s been dead for 33 years, but this was as close as he could possibly be.

Moments earlier, a string section had begun a cascading pattern that was more Bernard Herrmann than Joy Division, giving a new slant to this most familiar of post-punk musical landmarks.

Live_Transmission was a bold, multi-media reconfiguration of Joy Division’s music by electronic sound artist Scanner, The Heritage Orchestra and visual artist Matthew J Watkins. This certainly wasn’t the old chestnut of an orchestra playing rock or pop to show that “by crikey, this is real music too”.

This vision of Joy Division sprang from where electronica meets rock at its most desiccated

It began with a crackling, ambient wash. Then it became clear “Transmission” was being drawn from. Not the actual song though. Elements of the refrain and lyrics were gouged from their source and slotted into an entirely new composition: a rewrite rather than remix. It sounded as if post-rock instro titans Tortoise were playing fragments of the song with added strings and brass. A celestial female voice sang the “radio” exhortation. Taken with arresting projections both behind the musicians and in front of them on a transparent screen, over its 68 minutes Live_Transmission was a spectacle; an immersive experience, rather than being about the music alone.

As the impact wore off, it became possible submerge into the music and get to grips with it. In practice, it was partly Kid A Radiohead teaming up with Massive Attack to take on “She’s Lost Control”, a none too agreeable experience. It was also, with “Heart and Soul” - despite the orchestration - a skeletal, glitch-assisted cousin to a union of DJ Shadow and early Danger Mouse if he were caught in a very bad mood. This very particular vision of Joy Division’s music sprang from where the dark end of textured electronica meets rock at its most desiccated.  

Live_Transmission came together after Scanner – Robin Rimbaud – disassembled Joy Division’s music. The fragments were then reinterpreted and reconstructed anew for The Heritage Orchestra by conductor Jules Buckley. Originally commissioned for and premiered at last year’s Brighton Festival, Live_Transmission was seen at Sydney Opera House before its current UK outing.

On the rock side last night, John Calvert (Ghostpoet’s bassist), Adam Betts (drums) and Matt Calvert (guitar), two-thirds of post-rock outfit Three Trapped Tigers, represented Joy Division’s non-Curtis trio.

'Live_Transmission' confirmed Joy Division's music can stand up to even the most robust deconstruction

For The Heritage Orchestra, this was business as (un)usual. They’ve taken on Vangelis’s Blade Runner soundtrack, reworked UNKLE’s music, collaborated with John Cale, Jamie Cullum, Spiritualized, Tinchy Stryder and even worked with comedian Tim Minchin.

For Matthew J Watkins, who designed the visuals, this was within his – similarly – elastic ecosystem. He assisted Jamie Hewlett directing Monkey: Journey To The West, has worked with Gorillaz, and visual artist Lucy McLauchlan. His visuals last night – especially when bringing Curtis’s hand-written lyrics and the cover of Unknown Pleasures to life – were stunning.

As a collaborative exercise, Live_Transmission was a triumph. The marriage of music, differing instrumentation and visuals was brilliant. But this was not about the spirit of the music of Joy Division, or where the band may have gone next if circumstances had been different. It was about taking elements of their music and placing them in a hybrid electronica-orchestral setting. As that, it was a success. But beyond confirming it can stand up to even the most robust deconstruction, it said nothing about the music of Joy Division and Ian Curtis.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Overleaf: watch The Heritage Orchestra’s promo film for Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked



Does anybody else think the gig was ruined by the fact a large proportion of the audience had no idea how to behave themselves in a theatre? Filming with iPads and phones, constant flash photography during the light-show, etc etc. I don't understand why the ushers were not stopping people. The gig was completely wrecked for me (and most of the people I know who were there.) PS. I am not some moany auld one; I am in my late 20s!

I was stunned at how bad the visuals were to be honest. The playback system (of the visuals) was stuttering throughout. At such a prestigious venue as the Royal Festival Hall, this kind of technical failure is unacceptable. The VJ also consistently miss-timed high impact moments, thereby distracting from the music rather than enhancing it. The subject matter of the majority of the visuals was tired, and not varied enough. It seemed that the VJ only had about 10 clips for a 1 hour show and had to repeat them to pad it out. If the visuals were created by a 1st year animation student I could forgive this laziness, but for someone with such a seemingly good track record in art and animation, it amazes me that people think this is acceptable, let alone 'stunning'. Of course the visual artist animated the classic Joy Division album art and this would have looked great if they managed to invest in a playback system capable of playing back video smoothly. But as mentioned previously the playback was so juddery it was terrible. I resorted to staring at the floor at times in order to not be distracted from the music. I left the event dismayed at yet another sub-standard 'AV' performance where sub standard amateur visuals let down what could have been an interesting event. I wonder if the musicians involved have even seen the visuals. It perplexes me that they are prepared to perform alongside them when they are that bad.

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