A Journal Of The Dark Arts
In the world of electronic music – which is often defined by 12″s, EPs, and remixes – an album seems like quite an event. The album seems like a summary, a paraphrase, a portrait of a scene, a genre, and a way of life. That’s why Factory Floor‘s eponymous debut for DFA records comes off like a ‘shot-heard-round-the-world’, a Sgt. Pepper‘s for black clad melancholic techno fiends.
Factory Floor, the trio of Gabriel Gurnsey, Dominic Butler, and Nik Colk Void, have been releasing well-received singles since 2008 on high-profile labels like Optimo and Blast First Petite, but are only just now getting around to releasing their first definitive statement, as a band. Factory Floor is a stripped-down slab of drum sequencing, brutalist basslines, disembodied vocals and deconstructed guitars. On one hand, FF are doing something distinctive, entirely unique, and on the other, they are drawing from a global current, lurking in the collective unconscious; something we’ve all been thinking.
Traditionally, dance music has solely been looking to the future, transcending the doldrums of every day life, embracing technology with the fervor of Sci-Fi Utopianists. As such, only the freshest, hottest, most up to the second vinyl was allowed on the dancefloor, unless a track was understood to be classic. Yesterday’s banger was today’s coma, and electronic music begins to bear the sulfurous reek of consumerism, a soporific commodity to prevent dissidents from doing anything real or meaningful.
Even in this nihilistic, cynical wormhole, some of us cannot help but be devoted to music. It is an obsession that won’t leave you be. So the question remains: ‘What Are We Going To Do About It?’
The music, and maybe all artwork, of 2013, is all about embracing limitations, to guide and teach one’s self, post-singularity. It all boils down to what you are trying to say, and how are you going to say it? Many electronic musicians have responded by returning to the analog, rough-hewn equipment of yore, discovering the possibilities of early academic synthesis and post-punk industrial rhythms, rediscovering the cyborg thrills of handmade electronica, the thrill of clockwork sequencers syncing up like some great mechanism, lulling the conscious mind with its stupefying intricacy.
Factory Floor are worth getting worked up about. There is something here, a way forward, a way out of the confusion. The 10 tracks that make up their debut were constructed from endless hours of jamming in their live-in studio space in Seven Sisters, an unfashionable corner of North London, then whittled down and refined into polished jewels of jittering electro and hyperpop. What separates them from legions of impostors and preset hackers is an endless and inspiring attention to detail. Their sequencers and their beats are full of endless variations, keeping the mind engaged, never bored. Listen to the difference between really bland generic hip-hop mixtapes, with cut and paste loops, and compare them to the dense aural tapestries of someone like Flying Lotus or Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin, and note the difference. The devil’s in the details, and Factory Floor are full of demons.
I didn’t know much about Factory Floor to begin with. I’ve seen their name around, with increasing frequency. I decided it was time to investigate. Reading interviews with Nik Colk Void and the rest of the band, i discovered this was the same VOID of Carter Tutti Void, a collaboration with Chris And Cosey, from Throbbing Gristle, that was a smash hit of 2012, and the pieces all started to make sense. Seeing the band reference influences like Arthur Russell, Brian Eno, TG, KTL and Glenn Branca, you start to see how they arrived at their vision of minimalist futuristic disco funk and arthouse new wave (Stephen Morris of New Order is a fan, and has done some remix work). Taking this into consideration, and Factory Floor’s place on the DFA roster, known for cutting-edge mutant disco, starts to make sense.
Like i said, Factory Floor are not inventing this style, but they might have perfected it. You can hear echoes of Optimo‘s slowed-down soul nights in Glasgow; Wierd Records wired resurrection in NY; the analog mandalas of Prurient, Pete Swanson, and Hospital Recordings noisy roster; virulent strains of millions of limited edition cassette artifacts. You can even hear echoes of The Knife’s cybernetic mutations, in Void’s vocals. The spirit of the times begins to manifest, and it is the spirit of all times. I call it hyperpop, it is the act of defining and refining a particular genre or era, mining it for nuggets and weeding out all the bullshit, until yr left with something stripped down, deadly efficacious, the Techno version of H. R. Giger’s Alien.
Some critics have given Factory Floor a hard time, feeling that they had strayed from their post-punk guitar roots they were hinting at in their early singles. I have only briefly heard the early singles and remixes (although i will be righting this as soon as i get done typing this), so this is no dealbreaker, to these years, and it seems natural, in the process of creating an album. In a recent, in-depth interview with electronic stalwarts Resident Advisor, they put it like this:
Simplicity was key during the recording process, though often it was forced rather than planned. “We had to go through a lot of stupid, complicated shit to get back to the most basic elements of what we do,” Gurnsey says. “We spent a bit of time learning that that’s how it needed to be done.” Eventually they began to de-clutter their recordings, stripping them back to all but the most essential parts.
“I think a lot of people work like that, don’t they?” says Butler. “They put everything on the table, and start taking things away until they find a shape that they’re happy with. It’s that creative way of refining something.”
Factory Floor are carrying the decadent mutant futurism of the early Industrialists into the new age, and may have created the definitive document of an unnamed movement, in the process. It carries some of the drawbacks of that style with it, leaving the listener to decide for themselves if they like listening to 8 minutes of drilling Techno repetition, until you break the matrix. Its heavy on rhythms and short on melody, and as such will inherently appeal to a certain kind of minimal trance warrior. Some of the percussion, loving sourced from hardware, can get kind of brutal and sharp, and can wear on the ears after a while, which gives Factory Floor an industrial edge, which is also an acquired taste, but worth it when you lock into the groove, when all yr cares melt away like dirty snow, when you are lost in motion, when the noise drowns out all thought. Call it cyberpunk, call it techno utopianism, call it new age… this is the sound of now, make of it what you will.
I predict that the two singles, ‘Fall Back’ and ‘Two Different Ways’ will be ruling the club nights for the last quarter of 2013, into the beginning of next year, so you might as well go ahead and find out now, and be ahead of the curve. As with most techno albums like this, i advise setting aside an hour and listening straight through, getting lost in phantasmagorical alleyways and empty early morning Avenues.
I got this the day it came out, and wandered the Industrial disctricts of Portland at 4 in the morning, crossing freeways, hopping chain link fences, smoking cigarettes on busted slabs of concrete, bathed in flickering yellow caution lights. I imagined people doing the same thing in Northern London, and felt connected to something. For once, it seems like we are all on to something, and the postmodern nihilism of being doomed to endless reruns is beginning to fade like a bad dream.
Listening to Factory Floor makes me want to write furiously and stay up all night, working on my own productions, that’s how i know it’s a great record.
Can’t wait to see where these three go from here!
you can stream the whole album via The Guardian
Nic Colk Void’s 13 records @ The Quietus
an amazing interview @ Resident Advisor