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It was never the most obvious of artist/brand tie-ups, whichever way you look at it. On the one side is Disney, the family-orientated entertainment giant, beloved of children the world over. On the other is Joy Division, the seminal post-punk band formed in the late 1970s in Manchester, England, which later gave birth to the equally revered British group New Order. Now the two are inextricably linked following the surprisingly news that Disney is selling a Joy Division-inspired T-shirt.
The unlikely clothing line, which goes by the name of the “Waves Mickey Mouse tee for Adults,” plays obvious homage to Joy Division’s 1979 debut Unknown Pleasures by replicating the album’s distinctive pulsar imagery in the design of Mickey Mouse’s head. The T-shirt is on sale at the Disney Online store for $24.95, although it is currently sold out. Predictably, response to the item has been highly critical from both the indie community and Joy Division’s fans, but Peter Hook — a founder member of the group — is rather calm about the whole affair.
“It’s a funny one,” he tells Billboard. “I suppose you would have to say it’s a compliment coming from an organization like Disney. When you consider that Joy Division were only together for three years, it’s certainly a fantastic compliment 34 years later to still be able to make a splash like this is. The fact that it’s sold out is an even greater compliment,” he says, adding “I tried to get one but it seems that they’re all gone.”
The distinctive Unknown Pleasures album artwork, which was designed by Peter Saville, reproduces a graphic depiction of a pulsar, lifted from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy. The artwork is the public domain meaning that Disney did not have to get Joy Division’s permission to produce and sell the T-shirt. The original listing for the item on Disney’s online store did state that it was “inspired by the iconic sleeve of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album,” although this appears to have since been removed.
“It is in the public domain, but it’s Peter Saville‘s idea and it’s Joy Division’s association that makes it popular. I think sometimes people do need look at that grey area and show enough respect or courtesy,” says Hook, who claims that — to his knowledge — Disney have not approached the band or its representatives. “But, to be honest with you, I’ve got such shit relationship with the other members of Joy Division for all I know they may well have,” he deadpans. “They may be spending their spoils now in Barbados.”
The bassist declined to comment further on matters relating to New Order due to unspecified on-going legal procedings. In September 2011, three of the band’s founding members, guitarist Bernard Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris and keyboard player Gillian Gilbert announced that they were to reform New Order for a series of charity shows, minus Hook. In response, Hook, who has launched his own label imprint, Hacienda Records, issued a statement slamming his former colleagues saying, “I do not agree with the methods they have used and feel it would have been courteous and professional to have spoken to me in advance of the announcements. It is very sad.”
Relations between band members are believed to remain at an impasse, with Hook putting his energies into his latest live project, entitled The Light, who are set to embark on a European and Australian tour later this year. Hook draws parallels between the critical backlash that has greeted The Light — who regularly perform both of Joy Division’s studio albums Unknown Pleasures and 1980’s Closer — and the furor that now surrounds Disney’s adoption of Joy Division imagery.
“People said the same thing to me as they are now saying to Disney: ‘You shouldn’t be doing this. It’s disgusting. You’re cashing-in.’ I tell you what, it’s so far from the truth but I am enjoying it… Because Joy Division never went anywhere, I like to think that I, like a knight in shining armor, is talking the music to these far-flung places that we never got to.”
Returning to the issue of merchandise and the extremes some brands will go to partner with music acts, Hook professes to have become “a lot less serious” with age in his dealings with licensing requests. “When somebody comes to you with the Joy Division oven glove or the Joy Division contraceptive nowadays, you can find the humor in everything,” he says, calling Mickey Mouse’s homage to his personal music heritage “a sign of the times.”
“Even Disney are out to plunder rock and roll, as if we don’t get plundered enough,” he says. “I’m taking it in the same way as when a band rips you off, or when U2 ripped-off Joy Division. You take it as a backhanded compliment.”
None of which answers the question if Disney even knows what the name Joy Division refers to…
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