Currently I’m revising and expanding an essay I posted here a year ago, about how Joy Division came to sound like Manchester, to present at the 2012 EMP Pop Conference next month. The artistic connection between Joy Division and their city of origin is clear and powerful for many listeners, but my argument is that the connection isn’t necessarily immanent in the band’s sonics or biography, nor was it the primary way to understand the band during their brief existence. “Hearing Manchester” in the music of Joy Division is really an aesthetic sensibility that developed well past the band’s brief existence, through specific interventions by journalists, photographers, music industry empresarios, filmmakers, analysts, cultural institutions, city boosters, and place marketers.

I’m still working out some of the finer points, but the goal is to destabilize the conventional geographical focus on Joy Division and shed light on the ways that listeners find meaning in the ‘placeness’ of this influential band. To underscore how historically contingent this way of listening is, it’s useful to apply it to another group from the same era that we don’t usually associate with place at all: Siouxsie & the Banshees. Sure, go ahead and laugh—I’ll admit this thought experiment is also an excuse to write about another postpunk group I equally adore—but also ask yourself why we don’t snicker with skepticism when Joy Division is the focus of this aesthetic sensibility.



STEVE SEVERIN: The start of ’81 was a weird time in music because a lot of the old guard had fallen away or changed. The Pistols had finished and John Lydon had formed Public Image, The Clash were in America, and even post-punk acts like Joy Division had split. I remember Joy division’sCloser coming out the same week as [the Banshees’ third album]Kaleidoscope, just as their debut had come out the same week as Join Hands [the Banshees’ second album]. It was as if they were always one album behind. People used to say that bands like Public Image, Joy Division, even The Cure were ripping us off, but I preferred to think they were having the same ideas as us but just a bit later. Maybe that’s being a little generous, but I did feel they were kindred spirits to some extent (pg. 105).

For about five hot years between 1978 and 1983 Siouxsie & the Banshees were at the center of British pop music. During that time they gigged incessantly across Britain and Europe; they regularly topped readers’ and critics’ polls in the British music weeklies; and their videos and appearances on TV shows like Top of the Pops inspired a whole generation of youth, girls and boys alike, to reinvent themselves, their appearance and their purpose. Around 1983, as the Smiths presided over an austere indie tide in British pop music, the Banshees made small but steady inroads in the U.S. as a regular presence on MTV’s 120 Minutes, culminating in their prominent billing on the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991.

You don’t hear much about the Banshees anymore, it seems. It’s possible that many alternative-music fans born after 1975 know nothing at all about them. Singer Siouxsie Sioux is invariably mentioned in British clip shows on women in rock, and she or bassist Steve Severin are often interviewed about their role in the beginning of British punk rock’s explosion. However, the group has no serious critical biography (all the quotes in this essay come from Mark Paytress’s 2003 Siouxsie & the Banshees: The Authorised Biography unless otherwise indicated) or substantial documentary (instead, there’s no-budget material like this) befitting their massive influence in popular culture in Britain and elsewhere.

Nowadays their career is often reduced to a single achievement, “the original Goth band,” as was the case in Simon Reynolds’ otherwise excellent history, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. Possibly their post-punk bona fides are overlooked because the Banshees are more commonly associated with the moment of punk. As it’s well known, Siouxsie and Severin were right there on Bill Grundy’s “Today” show in 1976 when the Sex Pistols’ volley of expletives made them overnight scandals, and the Banshees played their first gig in 1977, clad in punk-era swastikas with a young Sid Vicious on drums. But this chronology overlooks the Banshees’ swift move away from punk’s barre-chord traditionalism by the time their first recordings came out a whole year later: the pop burst of August 1978’s “Hong Kong Garden” and the expressionist anthems of their debut album The Scream three months later. (Note the almost coincidental releases of the ‘original’ postpunk group Public Image Limited: the “Public Image” single came out in October 1978, and the debut album First Issue was released in December.)

With today’s interest in “independent” rock, the Banshees may be further overlooked because they signed on to a major label, as did all of the first-wave NYC and British punk groups. Of course, so too did other postpunk icons like PiL, Gang of Four and Wire. Extremely wary of heeding record-label expectations, the Banshees were nonetheless inspired by the giddy cultural seige of 70s glitter rockers like Bowie, Bolan and Roxy Music.

SIOUXSIE SIOUX: Steven [Severin] was one of the first straight guys I’d met in a long time. He seemed like a fellow outsider. He wasn’t macho, or scared by my directeness, and he didn’t think my humour sick. Music was our strongest connection, especially Bowie, though I’d been more into things like Brass Construction and a lot of imported American dance music, because that was the stuff that was big in the clubs. Steve and Simon [Barker, another friend] liked a lot of that, too, but they were definitely responsible for broadening my tastes. I’d never heard Velvet Underground before—probably because I never read the music press, which seemed to be a boy thing—so he and Simon played some for me. When I heard Iggy Pop for the first time, I remember feeling outraged that an artist like that had been denied access to Top Of The Pops or the radio. “Shake Appeal” should have been a Top 10 hit! Later on, when we started making music, I thought it was stupid not [to] be on Top Of The Pops. I thought, “You’re depriving people and not changing things” (pg. 29).

Maybe we forget the Banshees these days simply because it’s difficult to name a quintessential Banshees album. I’d say The Scream is their most consistently excellent, but the Banshees aren’t one of those groups whose oeuvre can be seen as elaborating the project established by a programmatic debut album, as it could be argued for greats like the Doors, the Ramones, or the Pretenders. (Of late, my favorite Banshees album has alternated between Juju and A Kiss In The Dreamhouse.) Yet there’s something wrong about foisting the expectations of an “album band” upon the Banshees. Their breadth is maybe best captured on their singles—not just the typically great A-sides collected on 1981’s Once Upon a Time(probably the best starting point for any newcomer), but also their wildly unpredictable B-sides (compiled on the 2004 box set Downside Up, a must for any Banshees fan).

Really, is there even a singular Banshees’ sound? So many musicians cycled through the group, even in their early years, that there are few constants besides Sioux’s voice (which developed from an untrained staccato yelp to yield quite sonorous tones when she so chose) and Severin’s bass. Speaking of which, talk about a post-punk sound—by the very first recordings, Severin’s throbbing basslines set the precedent for the signature front-and-center picking style Peter Hook developed with Joy Division around the same time. If most listeners today can’t identify a Severin style as memorable as Hook’s, it’s probably because the bass never consistently dominated the tonal range in the Banshees as much as it did in the more minimalist mix of Joy Division. (In any case, Severin and Hook remain essential touchstones to any “goth” style of bass-guitar playing.) Indeed, in their first ten years of recordings, the Banshees were very much a maximalist guitar-based band. They made “big music, dead loud on stage” as occasional member Robert Smith recalled, or (I always liked this one) “banshee metal” in the words of an NME review of 1984’s live Nocturne coined it. But Banshee fans could expect a wide range of dynamics from the band’s different guitarists (John McKay’s minor-key chordings, John McGeoch’s flanged jangles) and drummers (Kenny Morris’ cymballess stomp, Budgie’s polyrhythms).

In any case, if you want to talk about “post-punk” in either an objectively chronological sense (i.e., musicians whose careers took off after punk’s “year zero”) or as generic criteria (i.e., rock musicians who explored the artistic openings made by punk’s rejection of rock convention), the Banshees are right up there in the canon. Their musical and sartorial developments between 1978-84 years were as rapid and exciting as any band of the time. The fact that Britain could follow them in the pop radio and TV as well as record store, music weekly or nightclub made their impact all the greater.



If you consider yourself well versed in the Banshees, then try thinking of an archetypal urban setting for the Banshees—a city landscape, street scene, or geographical landmark associated with the Banshees as depicted in song, photos, film, press materials or other visual media. Okay, maybe you thought of the ancient Pompeii described in “Cities in Dust” or the Venice backdrop shown in the “Dear Prudence” video, but what about a British setting that inserts the Banshees in or around their place of origin, the way a dozen iconic images show Joy Division on a snowy Epping Walk, in the tube station, against the exposed brick of their rehearsal space, etc.? That’s not so easy.

Thanks to traditional punk histories, everyone knows where the Banshees are from: they’re from the South London suburbs, as part of the “Bromley Contingent” that gave the Pistols their first genuinely subcultural fan following. True, Sioux herself actually lived in Chislehurst three miles away, and the Bromley Contingent tag was coined by journalist Caroline Coon while observing the Pistols and entourage at a Paris date, but fair enough—they hailed from London’s geographical and cultural margins, where sticking out came easily for fearless, dissatisfied youth. Just as importantly, from there it was easy to travel to the city center, the journey itself being quite a subcultural ritual.

SIOUX: I was there [at a sold-out 20 September 1975 Roxy Music show at Wembly Arena] on my own, which wasn’t unusual for me. I was quite independent. I didn’t have people to go to gigs with, so I’d often trek off on my own. I got dressed in a purple-and-green outfit, with a huge fishtail-like bustle, got the bus to the train station, sat on the platform, perched myself in the train carriage and then traipsed across London. The dress must have been used in some vaudeville costume drama, but it seemed quite normal to me. I used to enjoy people staring at me and then me turning my nose up at them.

SEVERIN: I had a blond quiff, a tartan jacket, black drainpipes and platform shoes with shite crepe soles and black patent leather uppers which had two stripes, Adidas-style. i think that’s why Sioux said to me, “You look very sporty.” Fashion was very important. It gave you a sense of belonging, of being outside of everything, and at the same time being with your own gang. I went with my friend Simon Barker.

SIMON BARKER (friend): I’d actually met Sioux some time before the Roxy concert. Even then, I couldn’t believe how amazing she looked. Her hair was in a really extreme cut, with colours dyed into it. Some people might think “Sioux” was an invention, but she’s always looked incredible. She was a star before she’d sung a note.’

SIOUX: That was on Bromley South platform. I was coming back form London on the train and I’d bumped into a couple of school friends, Gillian and Patricia. Simon was with them, and though we didn’t swap numbers we did remember each other.

SIMON BARKER: People say suburbia is suffocating, but we thought what we were doing was great. It was everybody else that was a bit boring. And we were so close to London, 20 minutes on the train, so we went to all the major gigs. It wasn’t a big deal. Bromely is a middle-class suburb, and, while we’d get a bit of abuse from people, I can’t say we felt intimidated. We just did what we wanted to do. When you’re living in Bromley, it’s not that dificult to break out of it. It wasn’t some council estate in Hull. We saw The New York Dolls in Biba: we wouldn’t have been able to have done that had we not been living close to London (pp. 28-9).

Neighborhoods and metropolitan distance within the metropolitan London area are of course significant bases of identity and community for Londoners. As these quotes suggest, Sioux and Severin were particularly invested in rejecting the straightlaced mainstream traditions they associated with their suburban origins; at least for these two Banshees, the central London of punk’s ground zero provided the symbol and locus for their subcultural transformations. (As Paul Du Noyer write in In the City: A Celebration of London Music, “personal reinvention… seems to be what suburban pop is all about.”) However, the Bromley Contingent’s well-known history unfolded before the Banshees played a single note, possibly before British punk even had a name. (“I didn’t like being called the Bromley Contingent,” Sioux told Jon Savage [inThe England’s Dreaming Tapes, pg. 341]. “It was the beginning of the labels, really. It was nicer when it confused people.”)

If it’s unfair to consign the Banshees’ music to Sioux and Severin’s pre-band place and time, fast forwarding to the band’s rapid ascent finds them in central London, where they worked through a succession of early musicians: fellow Contingent-eers Marco Pirroni from the North London suburb Harrow and Sid Vicious (né John Ritchie) from Hackney, the mysterious Pete Fenton, and finally, cementing the original line-up, the art-school hangers-on Kenny Morris (from Essex) and John McKay. Eventually central London became the band’s residential base.

SIOUX: We were all living in fairly dodgy flats, usually around the Maida Vale area because Nils [Stevenson, the band’s manager] had a place there. I was living in a flat in Croxley Road, Queen’s Park, in West London. I called it Crocodile Road. It was a furnished one-bedroom flat with an electric meter that you had to pump 50 pences into. It cost 30 quid a week or something. We were having hit singles and top-selling albums and we were still living in these shitty little flats, but we weren’t complaining (pg. 119).

The Clash might have composed a “Garageland” from such a geographical profile, but not the Banshees. How then does London as geography and place surface in their career? To begin, there’s the fact that the Banshees picked up members who hailed from across the metropolis, which might make intrametro commonalities difficult to establish within the group. Especially once non-Londoners like Budgie (from Liverpool) and John McGeoch (from Scotland but with previous stints in London and Manchester) joined the group, the broad geographical category ‘London’ probably sufficed for all intents and purposes to locate the band in the subcultural and mainstream imagination. Furthermore, the historic pull and circulation of non-Londoners to London—in the Banshees’ case, the fact that they could draw members from such a broad pool of musical talent—is further indication the city’s geographic centrality within the U.K.

To underscore this geographical context for the Banshees’ rise, compare it with Joy Division’s emergence in Manchester. Like the Banshees, they too had a metropolitan relationship to ‘their city’. Macclesfield (where Ian Curtis and Steven Morris came from when they joined the band) and Salford (for Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner) are some 20 miles apart, but it was in dingy central Manchester where they came together, rehearsed, performed and found common cause. (The conventions of JD criticism now compel me to quote “Shadowplay”:”To the centre of the city where all roads meet/Waiting for you…”)

Unlike the Banshees, however, Joy Division had the benefit of maintaining a stable line-up (at least after Steven Morris, their second or third drummer, joined the band), and a geographically parochial one as well. The experience of spatial displacement appears to have influenced the band’s musical project (in particular, Sumner has talked about the sense of trauma he felt from his family’s forced relocation to urban renewal towerblocks), but their biographical horizons seem to have been circumscribed to the Manchester region. With no backgrounds of immigration, higher education, extensive travel or other geographically complicating factors in their lives, the identification of the band members with Manchester can proceed fairly easily, at least retrospectively. (Ever wonder what would have become of Joy Division’s legacy if Ian Curtis had lived on to move to New York City or Berlin?)

We should also acknowledge how the salience of geography in Joy Division’s career has been fostered by Mancunians’ long tradition of city advocacy and rivalry, particularly vis-a-vis London. In the punk/post-punk era under examination here, this would have been expressed as a lot of DIY activity “making a virtue out of a necessity” (as Dave Haslam writes in Manchester, England: The Story of a Pop Cult City) due to the music industry/media’s concentration in London. We can credit this Mancunian boosterism (a motivating principle for Factory Records/JD manager Tony Wilson) for much of our interest in ‘hearing Manchester’ in the music of Joy Division. If the same sensibility seems contrived where the Banshees are concerned, that says something about London’s social and cultural dominance as the unmarked ‘city in your head’ of the British cultural imaginary.



To return to an earlier question, in contrast to the iconography of Joy Division, why are there no famous images of Sioux et al. shown in their “native” London streets and so on? There’s the legendary graffitti “SIGN THE BANSHEES, DO IT NOW” scrawled by zealous fans outside London record company buildings (I couldn’t find any images of it online), but significantly this urban intervention happened before the Banshees’ first proper recordings. Once they got signed, the massive body of Banshees imagery—documentary and promotional, generated by the band, their label, the music press and fans—characteristically avoids or obscures urban context of any kind. See for yourself and browse the extensive Banshees photo archivecompiled by Peter Routley, from which I’ve borrowed the few “urban” pictures in this post. Visual images and associations of the band are usually interior and/or set at mid-range to close-up so as to exclude bystanders or (when the band is shown outside) identifying backdrop from view. It’s interesting to think about why there’s so little ‘real place’ surrounding the Banshees’ music and visuals.

One reason stems from the fact that the Banshees were generally uninterested in any kind of social realism. Typical auto-didacts for the punk era, the band members acknowledged reading then-contemporary authors like William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard and Anthony Burgess, but the themes and images in their lyrics, artwork, videos and fashion generally drew on sources from pre-modern literature (Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Lewis Carroll), ancient history (the petrified ruins of Pompeii), and foreign settings (Saudi Arabia, Japan). The most contemporary source of imagery in their work is probably 20th-century Germany from Christopher Isherwood’s Weimar-era tales to the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp (and let’s not forget those swastikas the band wore in their earliest appearances). If there’s a consistent theme in their lyrics (which were usually written by Sioux or Severin separately), it’s the exploration of the psyche’s darker side: anxieties, obsessions, childhood fears, cognitive disorders, seductive fantasy, and so on.

Given these aesthetic inclinations, contemporary urban themes or contexts seldom appear in the Banshees’ work. There’s seldom room in their lyrical psychodramas for more than one or two characters, and rarely does their music identify particular tribalisms, nationalities, and collective identities, or speak of social conditions in then-contemporary Britain. To illustrate, let’s look at two atypical songs that could conceivably nullify this hypothesis.

The first is their debut single, “Hong Kong Garden,” which Sioux has said she “mentally dedicated to my local Chinese takeaway in Chislehurst High Street, which opened when I was 12 or so and at a time when there were loads of skinheads around. I was so sorry for the racist abuse that the people who worked there used to get” (pg. 67). However, the lyrics to “Hong Kong Garden” struggle to communicate any social commentary; setting, action and viewpoint are ambiguous, as the narrative is preoccupied with summoning a swirl of decontextualized Asian imagery, much like the song’s hook uses an ersatz Asian melody. I love this song, but nevertheless it’s understandable how these lyrics could be interpreted as racially insensitive. I tend to think of them as simply ineffective, the work of a band still trying to find its lyrical footing.

The second song is “Monitor,” a highlight off the Juju album and possibly their most urban song in subject matter. The lyrics concern the use of closed-circuit TV in an uncivil society, suggesting the song is an uncommon attempt at social criticism for the Banshees. However, the music and lyrics emphasize the perspective of cognitive interiority—in this case, a voyeur’s telemediated gaze out into an unidentifiable environment. A classic piece of banshee metal, “Monitor” sets McGeoch and Severin riffing sixteenth notes and Budgie laying down a Bonham-esque downbeat, interrupted several times by an extended rhythmic caesura that feels like a parabolic moment of zero gravity before the guitar commences to hurtle the listener back to earth. Punctuated by some of Siouxsie’s most unrestrained caterwauling, “Monitor” viscerally conveys the glee of the armchair voyeur safely removed from urban disorder by technology as the violence and cruelty ‘out there’ become the fodder for sadistic entertainment ‘in here’. But while listeners might have little difficulty grasping the real-world relevance for the song, the lyrics dwell upon the subject’s gaze upon the CCTV monitor, where stationary viewpoint and video-signal noise prevent the identification of particular people or places, making the monitor’s feed more snuff film than urban documentary.

There’s nothing aesthetically inferior or politically wrong with the Banshees’ disinterest in explicitly referring to the social conditions and urban environments of their day. Far from it—the visual and thematic bricolage found on every Banshees album and every constume change by Siouxsie is potent in large part because the band drew inspiration far beyond the here-and-now of their era. Nor is there anything sociologically noteworthy about the thematic and perspectival tendencies of the group (or, since lyrics are most relevant here, the individual lyricists Sioux and Severin). But if we pull back from the group to focus on their cultural phenomenon—as mediated via recording, performance, video, press coverage, merchandise, clothing, and especially the productive consumption of fans and onlookers (a thousand Siouxsie clones, a million notebook scrawls and bedroom shrines, etc.)—then we see a much broader collective investment in/construction of the band’s significance. It’s here where we can glean further insights into the Banshees’ urbanism—not in terms of their place of origins, but the social relations that constitute the urban via the occupation and representation of public space.

Here I need to bring gender to the forefront of the discussion, specifically in terms of the iconic figure that Siouxsie Sioux has cut in popular culture. Much has been said about her complex negotiation of femininity; a charismatic, visually striking frontwoman, Sioux has carefully controlled her appearance and performance so as to resist objectification by the male gaze. She’s beautiful and glamorous but signals little about her sexuality (at least until those publicity shots of the Creatures, her side project with Budgie, were greeted by considerable controversy). On stage and off, Sioux seems to have been undeterred by male opprobrium and the threat of violence that traditionally enforce a submissive role for women in public space, if not exclude them from public view altogether. Her fearlessness is illustrated in an anecdote about a 1981 concert date in Minneapolis.

SIOUX: It was 11 in the morning, freezing cold and everyone else was asleep. I looked around the bus and thought, “You fucking tossers, I’m going for a walk.” So I put on a Stetson and a poncho and went. I had this mission in my head to hit the bars and drink brandy. The town was desolate and windy but—God Bless America!—the bars were open. I remember walking through the business banking district in a foul mood looking for somewhere to drink, and I wandered miles, ending up in a much rougher neighbourhood. I was praying for some smartarse to make a comment about it not being Halloween yet so I could pick a fight. I went into this bar determined to get fuelled up and beat the shit out of someone. I sat in the corner scowling and giving off such a threatening vibe that everyone simply stayed away from me. You’d think that a girl on her own looking weird would be a prime target to gang up on or mug, but they weren’t having any of it. I really wanted someone to pull a gun on me or something.

BUDGIE: When the rest of us woke up she was nowhere to be seen, so we split up and each headed across town in a different direction trying to find her. We thought she’d got lost somewhere because her sense of direction is hopeless at the best of times. We didn’t imagine she’d gone off on a bender. No one could find her so we went to the venue to start soundchecking, by which time it had got dark. She’d been gone for hours. Eventually she turned up completely pissed. I remember her walking on stage and grabbing a microphone that wasn’t there. That’s when she realised she wasn’t quite herself (pg. 116).

Yet despite her refusal of traditional norms of femininity—or, more accurately, because of it—Siouxsie & the Banshees must be seen as having a gendered significance in popular culture. In fact, they highlight the gendering that goes on in pop-music culture around male and female-identified performers alike. As feminist scholar Angela McRobbie argued in her critique of the Birmingham cultural studies ethnographic tradition carried out by male researchers like Paul Willis and Dick Hebdidge, young women are underrepresented in the studies of urban subcultures not because they’re uninterested in the allures and functions of subcultural resistance, but because patriarchal norms confine their sociality and leisure to the spaces of home, school, and consumption. It’s in this way that Siouxsie & the Banshees are a ‘girl’s band’, since the perhaps quintessential moment of fan identification with Sioux happens in the interior spaces of leisure and domesticity that are the special prison of young women. The story that Shirley Manson relates in the foreward of the Banshees biography is an emblematic one, I suspect.

SHIRLEY MANSON: I was 14, at a girlfriend’s house and she put on this single, ‘Happy House’. I can remember thinking, ‘What the fuck is this?’ I’d not heard anything like it. And the B-side, ‘Drop Dead-Celebration’, encapsulated every single thing that I felt at that time as a totally inarticulate, podgy, pasty, unempowered child. I became addicted. I bought the record and played it obsessively.

At the time, I had no idea what she or the band looked like. The voice and the music were enough. But when I saw how she looked, I was hopelessly seduced. No woman I’d ever seen looked like that. She was one of the first to project a really powerful iimage of womanhood. There had been a lot of protest singers, but their music never resonated with me. I got into Patti Smith at around the same time, but Siouxsie Sioux was the one I connected with immediately. You never got the feeling that she was anybody’s victim or anybody’s whore. She was my girl, and has been ever since (pg. 8).

A comparison with Joy Division further illustrates the gendering that goes on in pop-culture reception. Their stereotypical fan cult has always been the gloomy lads in trenchcoats, maybe asexual yet definitely homosocial. As Mark Fisher (a.k.a. k-punk)wrote in 2005:

There was an odd universality available to Joy Division’s devotees (provided you were male of course). Look at those whom they left their mark upon, whom they still haunt: Savage, Morley (who has made an art out of not writing about them), Sinker, Eshun, Bohn, me. Gay, black, straight, white, postmodern, anti-postmodern: the point when you could count yourself one of Joy Division’s ‘we’—’the sorrows we suffered and never were free’—is prelapsarian now, a time before the straitjackets Identity Politics had tailor-made for us had been cooked up.

Provided you were male of course… The Joy Division religion was, self-consciously, a boys’ thing. The group wanted it that way and we, we colluded. Deborah Curtis: ‘Whether it was intentional or not, the wives and girlfriends had gradually been banished from all but the most local of gigs and a curious male bonding had taken place. The boys seemed to derive their fun from each other.’ ([Touching from a Distance, pg.] 77) No girls allowed…

Interestingly, while Fisher acknowledges his discomfort at being part of the JD boys club, elsewhere in the same essay he takes a different kind of gendered swipe at the Goth subculture that began with the Banshees.

Strange in many ways to see [Joy Division] canonized as Goth princes [ina special NME issue on Goth]. There was no question of course that theirs was a fiercely expressionist sound—a sound in fact that was much more genuinely Gothic than that of the Caligari-faced panto turns who have appropriated the name or who have delighted in having had it foisted upon them… Yet the austerity of Joy Division’s image—their staged refusal of Image—set them at odds with the post-Bowie mummery of the Banshees, the Cure, Bauhaus and their diminishing returns photocopy-of-photocopies offspring. They were Gothic, but not Goths, surely.

Why Fisher doesn’t regard Joy Division’s “staged refusal of Image” (emphasis added) as another variety of the contrived self-display he criticizes Goths for, who can say. But his caveat notwithstanding, Fisher’s remarks draw on a traditional criticism of fashion-mindedness and public artifice that have anxiously reasserted a number of social hierarchies—race (particularly in the U.S.), class (no doubt relevant to the U.K., I’d guess) and sexuality among them—as they intersect with dominant masculine norms of authority and propriety. The nexus of social relations revealed by Fisher’s remarks here should be understood to constitute a kind of urbanism—a system of proper behavior and privileged groups in public space. It’s an urban code that, not coincidentally, Sioux, Severin et al. have long refused to abide, much to the delight of their fans, Goth and others.



Finally, if we’re going to look at the various contributors to the cultural reception surrounding the Banshees and Joy Division, then a word about music journalists who have written about these groups is in order. Both groups have set critics’ pens afire with florid praise at different times, but Joy Division seems to have attracted a special breed of journalistic advocate, most notably Paul Morley and Jon Savage, whose writings on into recent years have sustained interest and offered perspectives on the band. By contrast, the Banshees never had such dedicated journalistic advocates. This could be the result of their oft-remarked “elitism” and disdain of industry hobnobbing, although I suspect the Banshees may have granted far more interviews than Joy Division did in those post-punk years. It’s certainly the case that Joy Division’s management generally advised the band to clam up around interviewers, which only encouraged writers to fill in the blanks about the group’s aesthetics and importance—probably by management’s design.

There’s an unexpected reversal of gender roles here: Siouxsie and the Banshees defined and controlled their image more effectively than Joy Division did. More relevant to my argument here, Joy Division’s journalistic advocates may very well have emphasized the question of Manchester urbanism more than Ian Curtis et al. ever did. Bernard Sumner, it should be remembered, only went on record about the traumatic influence of his neighborhood’s destruction long after Joy Division ended. In the interim, readers of the British music press had many years to digest Morley and Savage’s repeated references to Manchester environments (which may have been further primed by Tony Wilson’s interest in Situationism, an interest that Savage shared). By contrast, which journalists or other contributors have held the critical flag for the Banshees as consistently? And did any of them look beyond the group’s manifest aesthetics, or beyond the subcultural contexts and gender politics that would surround them, to emphasize their urban orientation?

So here then, some 30 years after their postpunk heyday, I modestly offer an urban sensibility that apparently no one has given the Siouxsie & the Banshees over all this time! My analysis, which follows out of some basis frameworks from urban studies, illustrates how one might “hear the city” in music—by identifying the geographic context of a band’s career, assessing the presence of urban perspectives and themes in their music, and elaborating the urban relations posited by their art and its popular reception. That said, objective truth about or critical insight into ‘the music’ hasn’t really been the main concern in this essay, which has exemplified the same phenomenon that it sought to investigate: the social contexts and external interventions (by fans, media, management, urban boosters, academics, etc.) that promote a certain kind of aesthetic orientation toward the music—in this case, an urban sensibility. The study of this sensibility is, I think, an important undertaking for pop-culture research. But is this urban sensibility essential to an understanding and appreciation of a ‘non-urban’ group like the Banshees—or, for that matter, the evidently ‘urban’ music that Joy Division made during its brief existence?