Factory Floor: Post-Punk and Acid House Collide in U.K. Trio's Artful Throb

'Sometimes when we play, all our instruments just shake on the table in front of us, and it's like, 'Shit.''

Factory Floor
Factory Floor Photo by Emilie Bailey
Philip Sherburne WRITTEN BY
Philip Sherburne

Who: The members of U.K. trio Factory Floor — Gabe Gurnsey, Nik Void, and Dominic Butler — downplay any explicit link between their name and Tony Wilson's Factory Records, but you could be forgiven for believing otherwise, if only for the way their taut, throbbing, overwhelmingly textural jams close the gap between gritty post-punk and springy machine music, the iconic Manchester label's opposing poles. "The feedback we're getting is that our music is hitting all these different genres, and we're stuck on the fence in the middle," says vocalist Void, who cites Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham as inspirations for her own style of deconstructed guitar work. "It's a nice place to be, because we can progress creatively rather than being stuck in one genre."

Raising The Roof: Butler and Gurnsey give the group's music its architectural heft: the former via metallic synthesizer lines and step-sequenced arpeggios, and the latter through muscular drumming so metronomic that you wonder if dude would fail the Voigt/Kampf test. Factory Floor's rhythm section wasn't always as tight as it is now, however. "I came to a show and saw them play in 2009," recalls Void of the era before she joined the band. "I was kind of struck by how disorganized it was! They seemed to be playing something completely different to each other, but it seemed to work at the same time, and that really appealed to me. So I went off and bought their seven-inch in Rough Trade the following day, and I contacted them — in those days, it was Myspace — and said how much I liked the record. From then on, we just kept in contact over the Internet. All of us were based in East London at the time, but we never met each other for about six months. I did some vocals for an EP they were working on, and that was sent by filesharing. I'm not sure why we didn't meet up; I think we were just nervous." Gurnsey concurs: "We were young and shy."

Jam The Box: "They're all experiments," says Gurnsey of the songs on the trio's eponymous debut album, due out next month from DFA. "Because we were writing and tracking the record at the same time, we didn't go into the studio with the tracks already written; we didn't go in with the intention of recording any of those. They're often outtakes from an hour, two hours, of us actually playing." (Even, suggests Void, six hours.) But live shows are equally freeform affairs. "We start with key things," says Butler, "motifs that we use in the songs that are kind of recognizable, and then just develop it from there as a response to the gig, really. Sometimes we follow similar routes, and sometimes they're very different to how they've been played before. Maybe key changes we all know will happen at some point in that improvisation, but it's all very loose. It's a fun way of working with songs — you don't have to stick to these boundaries, you can just see what happens with them."

Post Punk – The Next Generation: For such a relatively young band, Factory Floor have worked with some of alternative music's serious heavyweights. New Order drummer (and Factory Records alumnus) Stephen Morris and Chris Carter (of Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey) both remixed singles by the band, and in 2012, Void recorded a full-length album with Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti under the name Carter Tutti Void. "They came to see us at the ICA (London's Institute of Contemporary Arts), and Cosey said that she hadn't been to a live show for a long time and actually enjoyed dancing. She said when they made Throbbing Gristle tracks for records, she used to test them out by trying to dance to them, and she felt that with our live shows. From then on, we kept in contact."

The Art Of Darkness: An ongoing residency at ICA also gave Factory Floor a chance to work with other musical heroes, including composer Simon Fisher Turner and the composer and avant-disco bandleader Peter Gordon. It also allowed the band to escape the limits of rock clubs and discotheques. "I think people want to see different kinds of shows," says Butler. "They're not just into that stage at the front, that band kind of thing. There's so much that can be done, especially with electronic music and collaborations with visual artists." For one show, called "Blackout," the band played from behind a curtain to an audience completely in the dark (literally and figuratively: the band wasn't announced on any lineup). "It was a great experience," says Gurnsey. "Really, they were feeling it rather than watching it. We like the idea that they're as absorbed in it as we are on stage, volume-wise. They've got the same escapism we get from playing. Pulling people out of their comfort zones and making them listen to music in a different way is really interesting to us, and it's something we'd like to do more of in the future."

Pump Up The Volume: Void cites a Pan Sonic show as one of the experiences that introduced her to the "brutal but cleansing" aesthetic the band favors: "It was super loud. You could feel it as opposed to hear it. It got to that point where your clothes were as if you'd been windswept. If you can feel the music more than hear it, it does this thing to you. It upsets your heart, your rhythm. There was a Sonic Youth show at the Brixton Academy where it was just feedback for the entire show. That was my first point in understanding that if you're brave enough, you can go up there and do anything you want." Says Butler: "Sometimes when we play, all our instruments just shake on the table in front of us, and it's like, 'Shit.' But it's exhilarating." Adds Gurnsey: "It's a beast that you can't rein in. You just let it go, and it's fun. It's like you're riding on the back of a bull."

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