Leonard Nevarez

Leonard Nevarez is a professor of sociology at Vassar College and the author of Pursuing Quality of Life (Routledge, 2011) and New Money, Nice Town (Routledge, 2003). He blogs at musicalurbanism.blogspot.com.



"How Joy Division came to sound like Manchester"

Joy Division means many things to attentive listeners, including a vicarious journey through Manchester, England, at a bygone era of industrial decline and political abandonment. As Manchester regenerates into a 21st-century capital of music and culture, urban boosters and arts advocates have retroactively positioned Joy Division as the centerpiece of an urban branding campaign involving the city's musical history. Specifically, beyond revisiting the band's biography, local influences, and associated landmarks, listeners-cum-tourists are invited to use Joy Division's lyrics and music to reimagine the mental life and urbanism of late 1970s Manchester.

This paper examines the development over three decades of the aesthetic sensibility by which listeners can 'hear Manchester' in Joy Division's music. My analysis treats the band's output as an immersive yet ambiguous signifier to which a number of non-musical actors and historic contexts have lent external connotations later exploited by urban branding. Examining Manchester's prior status in British cultural-media geography as a generic hinterland of London, I discuss specific place associations established by key music journalists and in the band's early TV/film appearances. I also review historic contexts for listening that have given rise to today's experience of Joy Division as "ambient" or "iPodded" music for a deindustrialized city. Ultimately, the ways by which Joy Division has come to sound like Manchester — arguably the earliest post-industrial "second city" to adopt pop music as an urban branding resource — have a social and political significance that may overshadow the group's musical legacy.

My Speakers Sessions

Sunday, March 25

4:00pm EDT