What is a good way to start? Let’s start by getting naked.
There’s no more time to wait. It’s time for the weight. An arpeggio starts. Bass thunder rolls in from the sea, across beaches and over cliff tops, it ripples across fields and through the suburbs. As city streets narrow and scrape the sky, the noise is intensified into a beam. The modified Roland SH101 – the bastard runt of the Japanese acid machine sisters followed in tandem by a Gallifreyan modular synth – creates the jugular pulse. On the temporal axis the drums hammer in as a contradiction, played by a human as if he’s a machine. They are repetitive and metronomic in tempo and signature yet ever shifting, ever surprising, ever ear-boggling. A battered drum kit, Jomox Xbase drum machine and Roland SPDS sample pad create the tools for deep and effective hypnosis. This is music to dance to. This is music to march to. It is a rhythm that comes rushing up mine shafts, up bore holes, through volcanic vents, up via tectonic cracks, until it pierces the surface tension. Then great ragged chunks of guitar noise fall like flaming rock from the sky. A symbolic Fender Telecaster is brutalised with fists and fraying violin bow, an assault complimented by Roland SP555 sampler. And the voice… what is the voice saying? What is the voice doing? Sleepers awake. Once you know you cannot re-forget.
This is music stripped to the bone. This is functionality raised to an art form. Skin expertly flayed from a living animal reveals glistening bone cage, throbbing organs, aching metres of nerve, pulsing veins and arteries, twitching muscle and taut viscera. The organisation of noise laid bare for anyone who dares look.
Factory Floor demand your participation. They brew up an overflowing cauldron of sound that spills outwards to fill the venue they are in. Witnesses are broiled in noise. When playing in The Tanks, a space below London’s Tate Modern, on Saturday August 25, 2012, the mainly teenage audience created a near perfect feedback loop with the band. Howling with ecstatic impulse they began tearing their clothes off, stripping away at barriers to the experience. Had they adamantine claws and chrome teeth they would have ripped their skin away and bitten the fat away as well, puncturing their exposed bone savagely to allow more immediate and deeper access to the sound.
Factory Floor in its current, fully formed incarnation got together in late 2009 when guitarist/vocalist Nik Colk Void joined the dark-hearted, 21st Century rhythm section of drummer Gabe Gurnsey and synth player Dominic Butler.
Within months their astonishing gigs had earned them a rabidly devoted audience. Some of them were as much spiritual guides who heralded a new and singular talent arriving as they were fans. The trio figured that putting a demo in the post marked simply, “Stephen Morris: Macclesfield”, would be a good way to contact the Joy Division/New Order drummer. That it arrived at his house was surprising; his enthusiastic response to what he heard, less so: “I listened to the tracks ‘Lying’ and ‘Wooden Box’ and thought they were brilliant… In the tracks I could hear something which reminded me of the spirit of New Order in the early days… They were raw, chaotic, fantastic and different – everything I’ve ever liked in a band.” Not long afterwards they worked with Chris Carter from Throbbing Gristle and he was so impressed with them that he ended up joining their ranks for a number of international festival shows in 2011.
In the two years after the trio formed they released a number of EPs and 12”s on labels such as Blast First Petite and Optimo while all the time their live sound was shifting away from an all-out noise assault – that was delivered at such intense and overpowering volumes that their equipment would occasionally burst into flame – into a much more spacious and confident exploration of techno, minimal, acid and post-industrial rhythms and textures.
Perhaps the most unlikely aspect of the band’s rise to notoriety has been their versatility. They produce a sound, that even their most ardent of fans describe as punishing or austere, yet they seem equally at home playing raves, alternative festivals, art galleries, cinemas, nightclubs and rock shows; on top of that they’re as much at home collaborating with members of Throbbing Gristle and New Order (not to mention Richard H Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire, Simon Fisher Turner and Peter Gordon) as they are with contemporary artists such as Haroon Mirza and Hannah Sawtell.
Where is a good place to start? Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start.
Factory Floor are releasing their debut album on DFA. Label boss Jon Galkin explained their love for the trio after seeing them play live in NYC’s Mercury Lounge and Knitting Factory: “It had a presence to it that was the same feeling I had when i saw say MBV in 1991 or Black Dice in 2001. It was just… exhilaratingly full and loud and relentlessly rhythmic… sonically it came at you and attacked you.”
The self-titled album was recorded in the band’s North London warehouse space and recorded by themselves in their tiny studio (on a vintage mixing desk originally used by Dave Stewart three decades ago to record all of the Eurythmics’ early hits). It is a vivid snapshot of a progressive band, still in the ascendant, smashing through yet another ceiling. It opens with ‘Turn It Up’ their most minimal track to date. They are reduced to the core trio of elements: mass, velocity and momentum – mixed in astonishing detail by Timothy ‘Q’ Wiles, an LA based producer who has previously worked with VCMG and Afrika Bambaataa. It also features a pitched down voice demanding to know: “Where is a good place to start?” The listener should start with the immense volume that the title demands. Good speakers and even better headphones reveal a hidden world of deep listening behind the minimal frame of agitated percussion, dub echo and bass rumble, beneath the austere framework of the track.
‘Here Again’ is almost (but not quite) their pop song. Gabe calls it their “Ibiza track” and Nik claims she was channelling Michael Jackson when she wrote it. It’s hard to tell who has tongue planted firmer in cheek. What is does contain is cascading arpeggios, counterbalanced with synth melody lines, plaintive vocals almost demanding to pour from Fabric’s sound system and a rhythm that literally won’t quit.
The album contains the definitive version of ‘Two Different Ways’; the muscular and sleek ‘Fall Back’; ‘How You Say’ is the sound of New York’s dance underground (ESG & Delta Five) rebooted for a near future inner city digital versus analogue battle; ‘Work Out’ is anything but, despite the desultory title, it is in fact sinister street sound electro; and ‘Breathe In’ is funkified acid disco.
Repeat after me: Factory Floor are disco’s steel fist in a velvet glove.
Or repeat after the band: “Repetition is the platform for free thinking.”
No more talk. It’s time to start.