When Factory Floor emerged, back in 2008, with clanking robot arpeggios, iron-filing noise and steelwork beats, the ready money might have been on a short life for the trio. Dominic Butler, Gabe Gurnsey and Nik Colk Void made music so intense, the tension at their gigs so palpable that it seemed likely that they would implode before they ever released a record. Yet, against all odds, they found a place to hole up, a warehouse in run-down Seven Sisters, North West London. Here, with the machines of a clothes-making plant whirring on one side and the songs of African evangelical churches leaking through the wall on the other, Factory Floor forged their own sound. They’d surface occasionally for festival appearances and collaborations with past masters of electronic music (Peter Gordon, Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter, visual artist Hannah Sawtell and Simon Fisher Turner), and released a series of 12″s on Blast First Petite, Optimo Music and DFA. It’s the latter label that, impressed by Factory Floor’s first New York performance, is now releasing their self-titled debut album.
There’s still no compromise in their unrelenting sound, but the harsher noise has been hammered out in favor of taut funk – the steel of Cabaret Voltaire given a radical modernization in “How You Say” or “Breathe In” and a pop militancy in the dugga-dugga of “Fall Back”. Interspersed throughout the album — which also features a new version of former 12″ “Two Different Ways” — are short sound sketches made by each member of the band. It’s claustrophobic music that, perhaps, gets its power from its extended gestation, and doesn’t sound like anything else released in 2013.
Luke Turner talked with Factory Floor about performance, perfectionism and why the album took two and a half years to make.
Why the decision to record in your own studio in Seven Sisters? Was self-sufficiency important to you?
Gabriel Gurnsey: We made a conscious decision that the album should be written, recorded and produced by us purely because of the fact that we knew how we wanted it to sound, and it saves a lot of hassle laying it on to someone else.
Nik Colk Void: That was partly to do with what the EPs and singles were about, to explore different ways of recording. We actually enjoy that part of the process of playing with our own factions of Factory Floor. You wouldn’t get that if you had someone else doing it for you.
So all the singles and EPs are a document of you learning?
Gurnsey: Yeah definitely, and the album is to a certain extent as well. It’s a document of us learning how to write and record an album. Which turned out to be over quite a lengthy amount of time.
Why did you even bother doing an album? You could have just continued releasing 12″s.
Dominic Butler: There was a point where we discussed that, but I think people want an album, it’s still a way that you can have a piece of a band and get to know it in a certain way. You can build a relationship with an album, look back at it. I’ve got 12″s that I love, but an album is a narrative.
Void: There won’t even be albums soon, it’s nice to have one before they cease to exist.
Are Factory Floor perfectionists?
Void: There are still bits on the record where I think, “That’s not what I was trying to do.” I’ve not been trained, so I get there in my own way. Sometimes I’ve got something in my head and it comes out sounding completely different. But it still works, so I just go with it.
Gurnsey: It’s not going, “Oh I recorded this through a bin in the middle of a field.” We don’t work like that. We just turn to each other and say, “That sounds good.”
Why did it take so long to complete the album? Was perfectionism to blame there?
Gurnsey: It was more about finding what kind of route we were happy with, and developing the sound by playing live — it was a good thing that we played so many shows, [because it helped us] to grow the music. We were essentially getting to know each other during those gigs.
What might have happened if you’d tried to work with a producer?
Void: It wouldn’t have sounded anything like this. I think if we’d gone to a studio and recorded 10 tracks, we’d have taken them away, been really unhappy and butchered them.
Were the collaborations a learning experience, too?
Void: It was treading ground that was a bit risky to us. It keeps your attention on trying to better yourselves as musicians, especially when you’ve got someone coming along who’s established themselves, like Peter Gordon. He occupied a space that was already there, sonically, so that was great. We’ve always invited musicians along who we know there’s a space for. I think the great thing about collaboration is that there’s no room for ego, you have to listen to each other to come up with your own way of replying to what they’re putting into it.
Some cross-generational collaborations can come off a bit back-slappy. Is there a sense that your collaborations are more about sharing ideals, rather than stealing ideas?
Gurnsey: That’s what it was. It wasn’t “Let’s get them in because we want to sound like them” or they wanted to sound like us, it was just sharing a common goal of making music and enjoying it, and not having a fear of a spontaneous, improvisational way of working. Although I was shitting my pants before we played at the ICA.
Void: That was the great thing about those shows, we were knocking ourselves out of our comfort zone, and that’s what Factory Floor always does. If you don’t go down that road, you don’t learn, and you just end up standing still. We’re not in it for love, or money, it’s the learning. [Laughs.]
Do you want to push your audience out of their comfort zones too? Not just in the sonic assault of your earlier gigs, but how this record is quite steely. It’s not what people might expect from a DFA record.
Gurnsey: That’s why I’m excited to see what people are going to say. They’re going to make so many assumptions, based on the Factory Floor name, based on DFA, based on what we’ve done in the past. I’m just happy knowing that it’s not going to be anything like what people think.
Void: I don’t think it sounds different from what I’d expect of a Factory Floor record.
Butler: I think it’s enquiring, and that’s what we wanted to do with it. We wanted to make our way into our practice as a band and unravel something, and I think that’s what we did. If we hadn’t, I’d have been a bit disappointed.
Was there anything you didn’t want it to be?
Gurnsey: I don’t think we’ve had any influences from what’s going on [in electronic music] at the moment. What’s great about being up here [in Seven Sisters] is you’re outside of what’s going on musically, a “scene,” all that kind of shit.
Now that Nik has moved to Norfolk and Dom lives in the middle of nowhere in Hampshire, will it have an impact on where you go from here?
Void: We’ve all set up our own studios in our new places. I think it’ll be really interesting to see what happens from being separated from each other and then coming together and working on stuff in a bit more concentrated manner, and in a shorter amount of time.
Gurnsey: I think it’ll be a lot less intense next time. It was fucking hell at some points. It was fucking hard work, a lot of frustration, because we took everything on ourselves. It’s been a bit of a mad journey, these past couple of years.