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Factory Floor
Factory Floor Rory Gibb , September 6th, 2013 06:05

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Over the several years they've existed, Factory Floor have come to embody a certain attitude of resistance. Resistance to audiences and labels that would have happily gobbled up several full-lengths in the time it's taken them to release Factory Floor. Resistance to their peers; the trio have spoken in interviews of how moving operations to a warehouse in a knackered industrial estate in Seven Sisters offered an escape route from involvement in any sort of scene. Resistance, it's often seemed, to one another, with each member of the trio bringing a different vision to bear upon their collective activities, causing the resulting music to bristle with tension. Resistance to predictability: no two Factory Floor shows I've witnessed have felt anything like each other. And resistance, above all, to the conventions of any one musical style. Eluding attempts to pin them in place, they've instead spent the last few years free-floating in a wide open zone somewhere between noise, techno, post-punk and post-industrial, with each release and performance plotted to a slightly different set of map co-ordinates. Their varied collaborations and involvement in the art world - a residency at the ICA, shows at Tate Modern and frequent work with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, among others - seem to have been born of that essential fluidity, which has allowed the group's members to mould their work to suit all manner of different settings.

So, then, does not it seem counterintuitive, if not downright bizarre, that their self-titled debut album - a format typically used to summarise a band's activities to date - finds them playing it stylistically straighter and more accessible than ever before? Perhaps it does on the surface of things, but then again, it's another potent jab to people's expectations that they've emerged with a debut album that is, first and foremost, a dance record. Factory Floor is not a noise or a post-punk record (although as a band they remain firmly in both those camps), at least not in the manner that Nik Void, Gabe Gurnsey and Dominic Butler established on the Lying/A Wooden Box single. Nor does it quite occupy the death-disco overlap region of 'R E A L L O V E' and the brusque 12" versions of 2011's 'Two Different Ways'. Its crisp sound palette and the functional nature of most of its tracks certainly seem a neater fit for DFA than any of their former work - it consists primarily of extended dancefloor workouts, constructed from chestbusting drum machine kicks and cowbells with nary an obviously acoustic sound source in earshot, each one repetitive almost to the point of playing like a locked groove.

But listen closer and louder - titling the opening track 'Turn It Up' is no empty instruction - and there's a predatory, serrated edge that's absent in most of the house contemporaries you might otherwise file it alongside. In fact, it's one of the more sinister dance records I've heard in a while, precisely because everything you might expect to hear in a DFA club track is present and correct, but used in a way that feels harsher, starker and slightly sadistic. The volcanic eruptions of Void's guitar around Gurnsey and Butler's arpeggiated, darkly funky backline - such a defining aspect of their earlier work - are admittedly largely absent here, stripping away one particular characteristic we've come to associate with Factory Floor. While in the past they felt like all the unresolved tension in the trio's musical interactions reaching bursting point and hissing upward like steam from a hydrothermal vent, on Factory Floor the malice is instead distilled and allowed to simmer away beneath the surface throughout. Each element in the mix is shaped and carefully positioned to the nth degree, the better to reinforce its steel-clad impact, and they're all set within a backdrop of profound and eerie silence, a potent signal that we're entering unfamiliar territory for the band.

You might expect the woodblock ticks that open 'Turn It Up', for example, to possess some reverberant qualities, but instead they ring out sharply into echoless space then die almost immediately, each a brittle snap like springing a plastic ruler on the edge of a desk. It's an alienating and uncompromising opener despite its ostensible club-readiness, barely doing anything for its six minute length save clunking along stubbornly, each repeat iteration gouging at the nerves like an elastic band being tightened around your temples. Void's vocal utterances, meanwhile, are depth-charged and corroded to the extent that they're nearly unrecognisable. At the other end of the album, the volatile spittle funk of 'Work Out' and 'Breathe In', steely and austere in temperament yet sensual and mischievous, reminds me a little of Richard H. Kirk's techno forays post-Cabaret Voltaire, in particular his Sweet Exorcist collaborations with Richard Barratt.

The tracks in between significantly amplify the intensity, each pulsation sending chemical blood throbbing around a sugary pop heart. 'Here Again' displays more pop suss than anything the trio have released since 'Lying', but stays taut, wiry and graceful, doling out energy in small doses rather than gifting its audience anything as gauche as an obvious drop. 'Fall Back's heartbeat kick and unfathomably catchy two-note splatter of a melody line are streamlined slightly from the single version released earlier this year. The murderous 'How You Say', which has been a key presence in the trio's sets for what feels like forever, is even more of an earworm, despite its central motif consisting of nothing but a single note tapped out in Morse code dot-dash. It's the album's highlight, spitting out gobbets of bright green acid as it grinds along at sustained climax, and also serves to emphasise the disconnect between Factory Floor on record and onstage. In the live arena Void's chants, drenched in reverb, whip up into storm clouds of feedback; here they're violently cut short every time they threaten to escape the grid, snapping abruptly off to chilling effect.

And herein lies what makes Factory Floor so continually intriguing as a group. If some of the sonic elements of Factory Floor might attract accusations from some quarters of seeming a bit retro - its arsenal of vintage-sounding drum machine clunks and chirps, a certain sonic kinship with earlier incarnations of DFA - the context surrounding it reveals it to be anything but. Rather than being definitive and fixed in stone, these recorded versions present only one single possible endpoint for each song. With reactive and semi-improvised performance so central to what Factory Floor do, each composition comes loaded with the potential to completely change shape in the live arena - to be extended or shortened, to be strafed with lashings of feedback or reined in to little but a delirious, strobing dialogue between sequencer and synth. In a broader sense, this links them into the growing trend of hardware-based live performance in club music that's become prevalent in recent years. In the same way that many house and techno artists dabbling in live improvisation on the dancefloor might not strictly be breaking new genre ground, what's more important is that the approach itself fosters an exciting feeling of freedom. Equally, the precarious nature of improvisation in the club, leagues from the locked-in pulse of pre-programmed sets, is utterly thrilling as a dancer, leaving open the terrifying (tantalising?) possibility that things might bend entirely out of shape at any moment.

Indeed, with the energy of a crowd and each other to bounce off, on a good night Factory Floor are one of the most startling live bands around, capable of stretching these base grooves out to what feels like near-infinity. Theirs is a physically and mentally overwhelming (and exhausting) form of full body sonic experience that's equally akin to the psychedelic techno battery of Jeff Mills and the blissed-out sensations of swimming through MBV's arcs of feedback. With its airless surrounds and restrained feel, however, Factory Floor clearly doesn't sound quite like they do onstage. If there's one proviso to be made about the album, it's that the gradual honing process - the stripping away of their sound to bare bones and sinew - has perhaps taken away with it some of the urgency, abandon and spontaneity that's marked out much of their live work. That said, the trio have remarked in interviews that there seemed no point in trying to replicate their live sound on record, reliant as it is on unpredictable external factors. What Factory Floor presents, then, is simply one perspective on a project that exists in a perpetual process of flux.

So to title this joyous yet unsettling album Factory Floor, a name that suggests a definitive document, is perhaps a bit misleading. A better name might perhaps have been One, or something similar to imply, as the music does, that it offers listeners the first in a (hopefully ongoing) series of studio missives charting the evolution of this most difficult to place of groups. (For an idea of what I'm envisaging, check out the work of the Entr'acte label, whose standardised, numbered artwork for each release beautifully embodies the music it contains - each one a newly issued bit of electronic experimentation, fresh off the, ahem, factory floor.) The past 18 months has seen a fairly prolific flush of activity from a group often stereotyped as working at glacial pace: this LP and the 'Fall Back' single, live electronics sessions from Butler and Gurnsey, Void's solo performances, the marvelous Carter Tutti Void album and live collaborations at the ICA with Hannah Sawtell, Simon Fisher Turner and Peter Gordon (the latter of which was recently released via Optimo, and contained some great, freaky mutant disco). If their by now well-established patterns of resistance enable them to continue this current run of form - and if even some of the results of their live and studio explorations find their way onto record - it won't matter a great deal if it takes another three-odd years for Two to take shape.

J M
Sep 6, 2013 10:12am

Spot on Rory! I thought exactly the same thing when reading through the comments on the Guardian the other day. This album is epic.

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J M
Sep 6, 2013 10:41am

That said, I'm so twatted-out on lathe-cut Silent Servant reversed-polarity vinyl bootlegs these days I'd have difficulty telling F.F. & Rolf Harris apart, hence my tendency to blather out of my acned rump. Turn it up!

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J M
Sep 6, 2013 12:20pm

In reply to J M:

Brilliant.

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dirigible
Sep 6, 2013 4:23pm

This album sounds like contractual obligation. It's the flaccid and repetitious aural equivalent of those novels written by an author too famous or self published to bother with an editor. If it was released labelled as a series of unmixed outtakes from their earlier, better, output nobody would question it.

Kudos to the band for milking their one song for almost a decade. On this album it feels more like nameless aeons. They strip that song down not to its pulsating core but to the bottom of the barrel. Ten times (OK, there's some quick noisefarts, so not quite ten). I kept waiting for the first track to start. Then I kept waiting for the album to end.

I pre-ordered this. Thank you, Guardian, for streaming this album so I could regret that. I'm sure they're a great live band, but they wouldn't be the first one to not translate to recording. What's weird is that they seemed to promise to for a while.

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austy
Sep 6, 2013 4:27pm

I still like Factory Floor but yeah this is pretty damn boring... Kinda like this review, but maybe I should have read it first and hear the album second

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snoozing
Sep 6, 2013 7:53pm

3 times iv streamed this and 3 times im left blank by it.critics seem to love it,everyone else seems a bit bored.

enjoyable review though.

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Fuctory Flaw
Sep 7, 2013 5:23am

A very disappointing release and this review reads like a spin doctor engaging in damage control. The Quietus is my favourite music site because of its generally well-tuned bullshit detector, but in this case it has taken leave of its brutal honesty.

Shame.

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Fuctory Flaw
Sep 7, 2013 5:57am

The most damning aspect of the album is just how incredibly dated it sounds. Quasi-ironic 1981 retro cow bell nostalgia is so 2005. If FF were really as edgy as the Quietus likes to believe it wouldn't be trying so hard to recreate the past.
We can complain all we like about EDM, but at least its NOW!ism reflects the times we live in.

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Ben
Sep 7, 2013 5:16pm

"A very disappointing release and this review reads like a spin doctor engaging in damage control."

...Spot on. This unnecessarily wordy review could be boiled down to "Oops, it's not very good, but they are good live!".

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Tenbenson
Sep 8, 2013 4:50pm

I haven't heard it yet, but I certainly shall. It's a bit of a shame that bands get judged so harshly on their debuts these days. I'm imagining something like New Order's "Movement"... hints of things to come.

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Tenbenson
Sep 8, 2013 4:52pm

In reply to Tenbenson:

And yeah, I know they've spent ages on this, but at least they've made some actual DECISIONS. Surely that's preferable to the focus-group led, offend-nobody approach taken by so many.

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Rory Gibb
Sep 8, 2013 7:39pm

In reply to Ben:

Errrrr, no, it can't, since nowhere do I once say 'it's not very good'. They are great live though, were on storming form at the Corsica party the other night.

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Pablo
Sep 11, 2013 2:12pm

Have to agree with many of the comments posted - it's dull & very uninvolved. I shelled-out a fair whack to pre-order it & get it shipped to Japan, where I reside. Cost me a packet. Total waste of money & time spent trying to get through the album without just giving up & filing under 'forget'. Quite simply, it sounds like a band's first (rough) demo. Disappointed & then some.

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William Burns
Sep 11, 2013 6:17pm

Personally thought the repurposing of DFA kit was a cool concept, in my opinion the album get better with each listen. It really sticks out from everything else that is happening in the dance world at the moment. Glorious Repetition!

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Lisa Moaner
Sep 11, 2013 7:55pm

Silent Servant & Sandwell District do this kind of thing a lot better, & without recourse to the conservative/commercial DFA-approved veneer that F.F. have unfortunately submitted themselves to...

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Harry Sword
Sep 12, 2013 12:03pm

In reply to Lisa Moaner:

?

This LP sounds absolutely nothing like Sandwell District, or any Silent Servant solo record.

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Lisa Moaner
Sep 12, 2013 10:36pm

In reply to Harry Sword :

Of course it doesn't, both of them are far more interesting than Factory Flaw for a start...

The F.F. album sounds closer to something Wax Trax! might've released in 1989, I admit.

Or a bad imitation of a good Underworld record, perhaps?

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Rory Gibb
Sep 13, 2013 10:46am

In reply to Lisa Moaner:

Basically, what Harry said. There are plenty of artists you could a bit more rightly compare this LP to but Sandwell District and Silent Servant are pretty damn far away in theme, sound and execution from FF, as techno goes. Odd comparison.

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Lisa Moaner
Sep 13, 2013 9:20pm

In reply to Rory Gibb:

The S.D./S.S. comparison was with relation to aesthetics & (obvious) influences. F.F. spend (i.e. waste) a lot more time "retro-glancing" than either.

"Sonically", F.F.'s debut l.p. has much more in common with (ha) late '90s Underworld, I admit... Naff dad-techno for the menks who missed it first time 'round, I suppose?

If it's pioneering electro-dystopia you're looking for, why not skip the imitators & give the real thing a listen?: http://www.beatport.com/release/mutazione-italian-electronic-and-new-wave-underground-1980-1988-compiled-by-walls/1126373

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aaron.
Sep 14, 2013 7:45pm

What it reminds me of is HEALTH with all of the ebullient fun stripped out.

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Sep 18, 2013 6:40pm

The album is dogshit, though thankfully ephemeral. The review is ridiculous and anyone who read it through to the end needs a serious intervention. Libraries are free in most places, fucking USE THEM (for something besides porn).

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caonai
Sep 25, 2013 10:12am

I don't think this is half as bad as some are making out (granted, I've not seen them live to make a comparison) - thought losing track 1 & 3 would have improved the album's cohesion. Someone mentioned New Order's Movement, and I sort of hoped there would be something like a C21 Everything's Gone Green on board, but the singer / guitarist is too enamoured with Cosey Fanni Tutti for that to happen. Too long on the making and the (over)hype is not good for band or audience. Let's see what happens next...

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