Very few people outside of academic astronomy circles would identify PSR B1919+21 by name, despite it being one of popular culture’s most iconic celestial objects. Fittingly, the first discovered radio pulsar is instantly recognizable, thanks to a record album, specifically, Joy Division’sUnknown Pleasures. Peter Saville’s stylized, white on black rendering of the star’s radio waves, taken from an illustration in theCambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy, has, much like its celestial source, continued to emit signals across the universe.
Elephant in the room though, theUnknown Pleasuresartwork has been so thoroughly appropriated into an abyss devoid of any context that the image has become ubiquitous, while the meaning behind it has not. If you only know the image as something that people with “artistic soul” in their bios post on social media, Pleasures’ Joy Division capsule may seem like a drop in a very large bucket of imagery, but that conclusion would be incorrect.
Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson, when discussing the legacy of producer Martin Hannett insisted that nothing less than the inventor of modern music would serve.Unknown Pleasuresis where it all began. A stark, minimalist rejection of classic rock’s “big sound,” with a frozen over gloom-laden atmosphere,Unknown Pleasureswas a road map to the 21stcentury, in 1979. (Incidentally, it was also partly responsible for naming the goth subculture, as critics repeatedly evoked the gothic architecture of northern Europe as a point of comparison.)
Forty years later,Unknown Pleasuresstill resonates with new fans. It doesn’t come across as “old school” or attached to any specific time period, it just exists in its own world. Pleasures’ Joy Division capsule, a range of contemporary streetwear and accessories, emblazoned with the iconic artwork, captures the band’s transcendent appeal with the care and passion of a lifetime of genuine appreciation.