One thing’s for certain: when Ian Curtis from Joy Division killed himself in May 1980, the rest of the band wasted little time in refashioning themselves as New Order, first playing as a trio under that name two months later.
It’s tempting to wonder what Joy Division would’ve done had Curtis not applied that rope to his neck. Quite possibly they would’ve turned out like New Order anyway. It’s not desperately hard (at least not to my mind) to imagine Ian Curtis singing "Blue Monday", and let’s not forget New Order’s debut single featured two tracks written when they were still Joy Division.
Speculation of this sort is usually fruitless, but in this case there’s a possible bit of evidence that Joy Division could’ve gone outright electronic. To wit, a track called "As You Said". Until the Heart and Soul box set appeared in 1997, "As You Said" resisted reappearing (though it may have made bootleg appearances). To that point it had only appeared on the "Komakino" flexidisc released a month before Ian Curtis’ untimely exit from the world. The other two tracks on the flexi reappeared on the Substance compilation, but "As You Said" would remain in hiding.
It’s a real oddity in the Joy Division canon, being 1) an instrumental and 2) as far as I can tell, entirely electronic. The drums are programmed, there is no bass (only a noise that could be meant as a bass drum), and the rest of it is synth sounds of varying sorts. It surely doesn’t sound like Joy Division.
And to be sure, it doesn’t sound much like New Order either. There’s no pretence at a tune. The other synth sounds are drones and squiggles. The dominant feature is the brisk, metronomically precise beat. Tempting to call it a sketch left unfinished by Ian Curtis’ death, except it had appeared before then.
"As You Said" was probably just an experiment. There’s no saying whether it would’ve taken them in a fruitful new direction or just led them into a cul-de-sac. Still, had it been better known back in the day, perhaps Joy Division would be given credit as electronic pioneers now. Where their earlier work laid a template for the sound of post-punk and early goth music, "As You Said" appears now as an interesting forerunner to more modern abstract electronica. Hard to imagine Joy Division as the inventors of post-OK Computer Radiohead, perhaps, but I suppose you could make that case if you wanted…