I give perhaps too much benefit of the doubt to high-concept joke bands, and rarely does it pay off. A great many DM readers are surely familiar with the drill—the cheeky name and description of the band gives you enough of a chuckle that you check them out, only to find so-so music still playing past the exhaustion point of your admiration for their cleverness.
I can think of twice when generosity with my time paid to a jokey-seeming band concept actually paid long term dividends. The first was a late-‘90s Ohio post-punk band called the Conservatives, which is a looooong story for another time. The second was when a pal from NYC hipped me to “Dub Will Tear Us Apart,” the wonderful lone E.P. by Jäh Division. It’s exactly what you’ve surely guessed: reggae versions of Joy Division songs. But don’t take this to be some fratty, Dread Zeppelinish, cheap punchline. Jäh Division (I assumed the unpronounced umlaut was there to distinguish them from a Russian band of the same name, a guess that’s confirmed below) were/are noteworthy musicians respectfully transforming Joy Division classics into lugubrious dub spiked with strange and jarring noises.
The E.P. has been out for about 11 years, and it still gets frequent and reverent spinnage in my house. The band was a hip all-star concern that featured two members of the deeply weird NYC-via-Tampa prog band Home, plus two folks from Ur-Williamsburg psychfreaks Oneida. The latter band’s Barry London was kind enough to take some time to share Jäh Division’s story with DM.
Jäh Division was myself on Moog, string synth and Space Echo, Kid Millions on DrumFire Electro Drums through an old Farfisa Reverb Tank, Brad Truax on bass and Chris Millstein on drums. The band kinda came out of a joke that Brad and I had while living together. Our other roommate Matt Mikas had brought home this Roland string synth that he found at a flea market and I traded him a mini bar I had found for it. We were messing around with it and had a drum machine running through a tape echo and playing the string synth and it sounded like dub Joy Division. Pretty easily enough we put together the words Jäh Division and we started talking a lot of shit about our reggae/dub Joy Division cover band Jäh Division, even though it was just the two of us and we hadn’t actually done any Joy Division covers or anything. We still continued to talk shit, and then one day in 2003 our friend John Fitzgerald, who does Dooodcast, called us on it. He was booking venues in Brooklyn at the time, and this bar/venue in Williamsburg called the Right Bank was closing. Fitz was doing the last batch of show there to close the place out and he booked us, forcing us to actually get it together and play a show. At the time it was just Brad and Me, we were playing together in a line up of Dan Melchoir’s Broke Revue, and Brad also was in (and still is) in Home, whose drummer Chris Millstein we were trying to draft into playing this show, because no one was available, or thought it was a dumb idea or whatever. We got Chris to play with us, and that’s kinda it. We played, it was fun, people liked it, we got asked to play again, this time Kid Millions was available but he didn’t want to play drums. We had a bunch of electro percussion stuff, so his job was to make a bunch of dubby noise, and that’s pretty much it.
Rich & Joe from Social Registry records really loved us and asked us to record some stuff, so we set up the 8-track reel to reel and recorded a bunch of stuff, and self recorded and mixed it. We played out that way for a year or two, doing Joy Division and New Order covers and some other stuff like Jackie Mitoo & Desmond Dekkar, but truthfully we got bored and we just enjoyed jamming more than anything else. So we eventually dropped doing Joy Division covers and slowly morphed into becoming a reggae/dub jam band of sorts, with a really modular lineup of whomever was available at the time, double drums, double bass and so on, many different people from a lot of Brooklyn bands circa 2001-2010 played in various lineups of Jäh Division. Brad and I usually get it together to do about one show a year now, just with everyones schedules etc, he’s on the road tour managing Animal Collective and playing bass for Interpol. Kid Millions and I do Oneida, and Kid is busy doing Man Forever which is out on the road all the time, and Chris is drumming for the Psychic Ills. We always talked a lot about doing a second record, and have some unfinished stuff lying around somewhere, but it was always meant to be fun and not work, so one of these days we’ll bang something else out. Maybe. Oh, yeah, the umlauts are totally because of Russian Jah Division.
Poster by Wolfy, printed at Kayrock. Photos below from the band’s MySpace page.
Creating dub versions of JD songs makes such perfect sense it’s sort of amazing it took until 2003 to happen—Peter Hook’s active and complex bass lines remain compelling at slow tempos, and Ian Curtis was an avowed reggae fan whose contribution of melodica on “Decades,” the final song on the band’s final studio album, Closer, was a direct nod to dub godhead Augustus Pablo.
Since the E.P. was limited to a mere 600 copies, it’s LONG gone, and used copies start at $45 on discogs.com. Unfortunately, Social Registry isn’t even selling it digitally, though the label DOES offer, free of charge, a podcast of a JD show from 2006, recorded at the now-deceased Manhattan venue Tonic.
Much love to Wolfy for his helping hand in facilitating this post.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The drummers from Oneida, Yo La Tengo and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs really tore it up on Record Store Day