WU LYF and Joy Division: a tale of two bands who transitioned to survive

When a band loses a member, many decisions crop up. These include whether or not the original sound will be impacted on significantly, can a replacement recreate or enhance their style, or is the loss of that member so great that to continue on without them in their current form would be fruitless and creatively backward. A charge into the dark without a shining light. It is often the most difficult notion a band must face; where do we go from here? For some bands, such as Queen, Led Zeppelin, and the Who are just three famous bands who suffered the loss of a significant member but all decided differently on their movements forward. Queen, who lost Freddie Mercury, originally ceased performing but re-emerged with Adam Lambert as the lead singer (a move questioned by many a fan and critic); the Who, who lost Keith Moon, kept on performing without him, but found replacements increasingly couldn’t step up to his natural talent, ability, and boundless energy; finally, Led Zeppelin, who lost John Bonham, simply decided his void was too great to fill, performing on very rare occasions (once with Phil Colins for live aid, to great comedic effect). In some ways, these bands all decided to continue to forge their paths dedicated before the loss of an integral member, perhaps honouring their legacy by performing and writing tunes in a similar style. In a way, its still 80% of the original band, and all bands need to evolve. But sometimes musicians who left us too soon leave such a void that it simply cannot be filled.

Then comes the tales of Joy Division- New Order, and WU LYF – Los Porcos. Both hailing from the city of Manchester, these two bands both faced tough choices regarding the future of their careers after the tragic death of Ian Curtis, and the unexpected departure of Ellery Roberts. These two departures creates serious questions about directions, desire or ability to carry on. These losses also occurred at the time when both bands were about to become household names nationally and internationally. However, unlike the other bands mentioned previously, both bands moved forward to quite spectacular results, with new directions, genre exploration and ground breaking music.

“It took a long time for New Order to recapture the ground we lost when Ian died, not to mention the emotional fall-out”

Pete Hook, from the The Hacienda: How not to run a club

Joy Division had already gone through one musical evolution already, but not quite as dramatic as the one that would come next. Warsaw, a band formed by childhood friends Bernard Summer and Pete Hook (later joined by singer Ian Curtis and drummer Stephan Morris), were very much in the punk mould, inspired by a Sex Pistols gig in 1976. A planned LP wasn’t actually officially released until 1994, but the songs were the bedrock that would become the Joy Division sound (much like some of the Velvet Underground’s later singles that would become Lou Reed’s more famous tunes). The transition to Joy Division seemed more of a natural evolution, from a punk background to engaging with the emerging post-punk. In fact, Joy Division became one of the leading lights of the genre, retaining the heavy guitar riffs associated with punk music but blending their music with Curtis’s unique voice and lyrics, whilst employing innovative production techniques (thanks to Martin Hannett), and high bass line riffs that would become intrinsically related to the band. ‘Unknown Pleasures’ was released in 1979, a seminal and hugely influential release within the alternative scene. The sky seemed the limit for the band, with recording and mixing nearly finalised for their highly anticipate follow up, ‘Closer’. Then, tragedy struck.

Ian Curtis committed suicide on the eve of the band’s first North American tour. The members of the band were shell shocked, at a loss, completely overtaken by his unexpected and tragic death. As shown in the quote from Hook above, it was difficult to comprehend, their enigmatic singer, a voice of a generation, of a musical movement, was gone, Joy Division no more. The band had agreed when they formed that if one member was to ever leave, under any circumstance, that Joy Division would be retired. The band performed as a three piece in July 1980, with the name of New Order following soon. Sumner undertook the role as singer, as he was the only member who could play an instrument and sing at the same time. Morris’ girlfriend, Gillian Gilbert joined at the end of 1980, and this would be the final piece in the jigsaw that would later form New Order’s sound; a differential in singing style (whilst still similar to Curtis, at least initially), and the keys that Gilbert brought, and Morris learning drumming programming, would be the keys to the style changes that the world was about to listen to.

‘Ceremony’ was New Order’s first release, and was written 2 weeks prior to Curtis’ death. Its high bass line riff, swooning guitars, fast kicks and cymbals, stripped back nature, had joy division written all over it. Yet there was something there that signified transition; perhaps the stripped back nature of its production, it felt more dancey, a bit more uplifting. This was all lost when Sumner begins singing, very melancholy, very deep, very Curtis. ‘Movement’, their first record, still had Joy Division’s DNA in it, moving from the downright sad, to the gloriously uplifting. ‘Dreams Never End’ feels like an ode to their past, to Curtis, and this album remains very much a tribute to him. Songs like ‘Truth’ highlight their increased use of synthesisers and the experimentation associated with them, whilst songs like ‘Senses’ hint at what was to come. It was very much a bridge between the two bands, a exploration of styles through a sense of reeling from the loss of Curtis. As a result, ‘Movement’ remains one of New Order’s more overlooked records, with many finding it a bit of an anomaly; one foot in the past, one foot looking forward, but not quite finding its footing yet.

Following on from Movement, the band frequented New York, getting to know the night life there. Clubs like the Loft, Paradise Garage, Danceteria and Area would lead the band to open their own nightclub, the Hacienda, in 1982, but would also massively influence the band’s sound. Italo disco, heavy hard disco, euro pop, would all begin to make it into New Order’s sound, be it synthesisers, tempo and mood. Songs like ‘Everything’s gone green’ and ‘Temptation’, showed a more dance orientated vibe, with up tempo drumming and layered and dense melodies. Synths played a big part here, becoming a signifiant element of the song, adding interesting and varied transitions. This would all lead to perhaps New Order’s most significant record, ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’. Released in 1983, it was a massive statement, a sudden departure from their first record, with a new rounded sound completely influenced by a new and exciting array of dance music genres. ‘Age of Consent’, ‘The Village’, and ‘Ecstasy’ all displayed huge electronic vibes, be it towering synths, or straight up dance drumming, this album was a big hit. ‘Blue Monday’, the bands most famous song, although not included on the record (but was released around the same time), was even more of a display of their new found musical landscape, a absolute belter that remains one of the seminal tracks of the 1980s, and one of the most important dance songs of all time. It introduced Britain to new styles, a world beyond the existing club sounds in the country at the time. It marked a huge step in the bands evolution, a world away from Joy Division’s dark and heavy sound; here was a band looking forward, absorbing all the swirling sounds from clubs at all corners of the world, creating something fresh, exciting and forward thinking.

New Order’s next couple of releases, ‘Low-Life’, ‘Brotherhood’ and ‘Technique’ all furthered the notions that had built up steam from Power. Songs such as ‘The Perfect Kiss’, ‘Sub-Culture’, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and ‘Fine Time’ smacked of 80s electronica, and propelled them into the mainstream and beyond as one of the key new wave bands. It is perhaps their 1987 compilation album, ‘Substance’, that will forever remain their most significant contribution. This album was a direct homage to the concept of the 12” mix, that had been pioneered by the likes of Tom Moulton, Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons and the like. This record contained all their singles to date in their 12 inch format, and my god does it pack a punch. This would follow New Order’s fascination in continually reworking their tunes, with multiple versions of tunes found stretched over various EPs and complications. From the still heartbreaking ‘Ceremony’, to the Italo infused ‘Everything’s Gone Green’, through ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Thieves like us’ and the beautiful edit of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, this album was the final cog added to New Order. A breathtaking journey through their back catalogue, through the emerging views and concepts of dance music, mixing and editing. It is a glimpse of the future, a fully realised concept dance record, and a record that will be a cornerstone for their music and their careers.

New Order had to take some big, big steps to get to their new sound. It didn’t come easy, and no one expected them to have it any other way. Artistic struggles and sadness lead them down a road of discovery, but they also had the expansive minds and willingness to embrace what was then the future. And we can all be grateful, that during the 1980s, New Order soundtracked emotions, vibes, feelings, and set up the most influential nightclub in British history. Not easy considering what had happened with Ian, but it was quite the transformation.

‘I’ll love you forever’

WU LYF certainly wrote the moody, atmospheric yet ultimately uplifting soundtrack to the summer of 2011. They represented a certainly not new but seemingly new notion of anonymity, building up a considerable amount of hype prior to the release of their debut album. Promo and white labels sold to record labels to outrageous prices, mysterious photos of masked folk standing on the roofs of buildings with smoke flares all around, and a deep, unique sound, all contributed to their essence. A band built on a sense of what they wanted to carve out of life, creating a world for us all to get lost in, even if it was only for a split second of our existence. Not only this, but they provided a sense of belonging for many young people, who felt comfort in their family style band, where anyone could be a member of the LYF, and everyone was welcome. This is what gave their split a more heart wrenching feel to it. A band that, like with Joy Division, many people had invested emotion into, a band whom many thought could be that generations Clash, a band to believe in. To see it all disappear in the blink of an eye, for this writer, was unbelievably sad, but alas, all was not lost.

WU LYF formed in the summer of 2008, and churned out their first single, ‘Heavy Pop/Concrete Gold’, in 2010. As mentioned before, the vinyls of these were sold to record executives or really high prices, but sold via their website for peanuts. The band regularly performed in their home town of Manchester, and in true Moodyman Style would treat attendees to Goodies and singles, along with merch. This attitude epitomised the bands methods, rejecting the notions of the music industry, and making people feel involved in their evolution. For £15, at one point, you could become a member of the LYF, and get a vinyl, mask and flag in return. This helped support the bands endeavours, and everyone felt like an absolute winner as a result. Their live shows quickly developed into the stuff of legend, confirming that the band had ticked many boxes as a means of selling their image, but not their souls. That would come through the music.

LYF’s music felt in many ways, very fresh, and thus very exciting. Ellery Roberts, the lead singer, growled and screamed, contrasting his rich harrowing voice with beautiful organ chords; whilst the rest of the band, consisting of Evans Kati, Tom McClung and Joe Manning, added in delightful guitar licks, deep drums and pounding bass. Its hard to consider an equal o listening to ‘Concrete Gold’, or anything they released. It had a bit of everything good about the alternative scene at the time, but a sprinkling of something completely different. The way in which it was delivered added an extra kick, a sound that seemed so soft yet could crack thunder at any minute. It delved deep into the listener, knocking the door within the self and asking directions, before showing you the way to a world where the sounds just made sense. This made them tipped as a one to watch, but their illusionary methods had already grabbed everyones attention, even if they had only released a couple of singles by this point.

‘Go Tell Fire to the mountain’ was released in 2011, on the bands own imprint. Recorded in an abandoned church, the context seems to drip out of the record. The reverb, the haunting melodies, the growls, the light guitar licks, this record had it all, and confirmed the excitement as this band being THE band of their time. No one could match the dynamics, depth and range, or feeling of this record from that year. Many tried, but couldn’t. The album went through so many moments of pure bliss, from ‘LYF’ to ‘We Bros’ to the albums highlight, ‘Such a sad puppy dog’. The album feels like a series of narratives, lost scenarios and scenes capes, each told in its own way that unfolds so very well through each bar and note.

The band were on top. This felt like the start of something special, and it would only last until 2012. The band posted ’T R I M U P H’ on their youtube page, with a long note in the box beneath. Roberts had quit the band. WU LYF were no more. It was a gut punch to fans and music lovers collectively, who earned for more from the band. The fact that the song released to accompany this message was incredible, it made it all the more annoying. A band in their prime, ripped away from us all. But they did leave behind a short lived but brilliant legacy. This one definitely transcended beyond their music, because for that sweet brief period of time, they created an escape to many; a belief that there is a larger group for us all to be part of, to help each other out, and to belong. WU LYF will certainly never be forgotten.

In the wake of the split, the other members of the band revived an old side project, ‘Los Porcos’. Their debut release, ‘Sunshine/CFW’ came out in 2013, and my god was it a switch up. WU LYF had belonged in the realms of dynamics, the contrasting of the dark with the light, placing the listener somewhere in the middle. This middle ground was surrounded by a haze of love, affection, solemnness, and joy, but it connected to many people who listened to it. By contrast, real contrast, Los Porcos just turned that all around, injected funk and disco into their blood steam, and just let the music flow out of them. A delicate blend of funk, disco and alternative, the band brought with them the guitar riffs that helped define the LYF sound, and flipped it on its head, creating a brilliant fusion and interpretation of music that makes you dance. The incorporation of choppy guitar progressions added this new dynamic into their sound, and made the mood and vibe a whole lot more happy rather than reflective. Los Porcos were in full session. ‘Jesus Luvs U baby’ followed next, and was an even further excursion into the realms of Balearic pop, with dreamy guitar licks occupying space above a simple yet deadly summer guitar feel. Their sound was dipped in 80s Ibiza, then returned to Manchester, got the good stuff, then headed back out there. Not many bands found this approach so successful, and Los Porcos, like with New Order, had the tenacity and open mindedness to pull it off.

Their debut EP, ‘Porco Mio’, followed in 2015, and continues this fantasy over five tunes. Songs like ‘Fuckin’ a Jones’ and ‘Waterfalls’ are so peachy and creamy, whilst the more stripped back stylings of ‘Do you wanna live?’ focus on pure energy. It is a wonderful EP, and holds its own as as good as anything they released whilst in the LYF. Checking out their Soundcloud, further and further confirmations of the bands stylistic development is on display. ‘Approaching Isla De Los Porcos’ is another Balearic informed stunner, and their latest mixtape, ‘La Casa Del Porcos’, is a dreamy exercise in sun drenched synths, vocals, and extended guitar solos. This feels kinda full circle. The band honouring their past abilities to set down a pillow and bed and let the listener take a voyage, but now with different techniques and melodies. It feels softer, dreamier, more like a cloud than the expanse below. This is Los Porcos. Formerly WU LYF.

I began this article with the idea of taking about both these bands, and how musicians can recreate and blossom with new ideas and sounds. Music has no boundaries, and no one setting the rules, and both these bands had choices to make following tragedies and unexpectedness. They both smashed it out of the park, and both had written new chapters, not the same story, but a new one, that will be linked to their past. But as a memory, something to look back on with fondness and richness. WU LYF, Los Porcos, Joy Division, New Order. What next then? WU LYF and Joy Division: a tale of two bands who transitioned to surviveI began this article with the idea of taking about both these bands, and how musicians can recreate and blossom with new ideas and sounds. Music has no boundaries, and no one setting the rules, and both these bands had choices to make following tradiges and unexpectedness. They both smashed it out of the park, and both had written new chapters, not the same story, but a new one, that will be linked to their past. But as a memory, something to look back on with fondness and richness. WU LYF, Los Porcos, Joy Division, New Order. What next then?

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