‘I don’t think we’re prepared for what’s about to happen’ – a man behind me whispers as the 45-piece orchestra take their seats and the lights begin to dim in the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.
There is certainly an air of anticipation; surrounded by predominantly Joy Division fans, we eagerly await to see just how an electronic artist can join forces with a classical orchestra to create something even vaguely honourable to one of our greatest post-punk bands in Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked.
In their electro-orchestral, visual reinterpretation of Joy Division, sound artist Scanner in collaboration with Heritage Orchestra, conducted by Jules Buckley, and visual artist Matt Watkins have created a truly multi-dimensional musical experience. Positioned between two screens, orchestra and conductor, of both the digital and classical realms, comfortably share the stage with Three Trapped Tigers’ drummer Adam Betts and guitarist Matt Calvert and Ghostpoet bassist, John Calvert. A seemingly strange combination of musical backgrounds but as Betts’ ferocious drums begin to seamlessly merge with the rousing strings, it’s clear the love of Joy Division runs deep.
As we all hoped, the familiar bass line of Transmission opens the show. Projected against the screens, new stories, social media feeds and headlines fly past our eyes at lightning speed as Ian Curtis’ disembodied vocals drift beneath the rising orchestra.
In the grand scheme of things, it is a relatively short time since the Joy Division days but in reality, so much has changed. Transmissions are different today, the way we receive the news, the way we write and even the way we listen to music has changed almost exponentially since Curtis lived and there is certainly something about this thought that resonated throughout the ‘reworked’ performance. There has never been any pretence that this is a tribute act, or even a simply rescoring of Joy Division – this is an intricate revisioning through the eyes of Joy Division admirers, paying homage to what Curtis and his band did for music.
Dismantling and reforming iconic tracks such as Isolation and Atmosphere, we are teased with echoes of our favourite Joy Division moments, whether it be the promise of a riff or the chance to hear a line sung by Curtis or to read a full lyric on the screen. Instead, it is wonderfully fragmented and pieced back together with the same innovative methodology as Joy Division demonstrated in the ’80s.
In Heart & Soul, Curtis’ handwritten lyrics scrawl and erase themselves projected across the stage, while the dark and glitchy bass of Dead Souls creeps under the skin with slick precision. But it is in She’s Lost Control where hearts leap into mouths, as one of Joy Division’s most evocative songs is given a heart-wrenching, touching revival, reaffirming why this will always be one of my personal favourites.
Closing (of course) with Love Will Tear Us Apart, I admittedly hoped they would have exploded this headline song into something greater than a pretty classical arrangement which, while beautiful, seemed to miss the physical, emotional atmosphere I experienced throughout the rest of the evening.
An inspiring and haunting celebration of the still groundbreaking music of Joy Division, Scanner and Heritage Orchestra have defined themselves as the worthy patriots to continue the band’s genre-defying approach to music into the digital age.
Listen to Scanner’s ten-minute mix tape of Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked on Soundcloud.
Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked is now on tour around the UK until 2 October 2013. Visit the website for full details: www.joydivisionreworked.com.