For: The Warehouse Project
Since their first release, in 2010 – ‘Untitled’, with the Blast First Petite imprint – Nik Colk, Dominic Butler and Gabriel Gurnsey have refined and developed a sound that is equal parts techno and industrial and emerged as one of the most unique groups in electronic music. The layered, hypnotic intensity of their tracks, driven by Gurnsey’s metronomic drumlines, have seen them compared to everyone from Fuck Buttons to Cabaret Voltaire, yet in reality the band have little to share with many others, such is their unique appeal.
Having inked a record deal with New York’s DFA Records (the home of LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture), the trio are currently holed up in their North London bunker studio putting the finishing touches to their first full-length album, something Gurnsey describes as “another body of work rather than a debut album” as a result of their constant studio evolution.
“We’re working on it now and it’s just kind of taking time getting it done. We’re about three quarters of the way through and it’s sounding good. It’s a weird one because we’ve not been writing the album for five years, you know, like people think we have. We’ve obviously been doing different stuff in other projects. It’s really come together. We’ve always said that we take snapshots of where we are at a particular time and this is a snapshot of where we are now, I guess.”
The band’s development has come largely thanks to their regular live shows, which have proven an ideal environment for a constant reinvention and reimagining of their sound from one gig to the next. As Nik points out, “I think one of the important things about Factory Floor is that right from the start, we’ve developed onstage. I think I’d joined for about 2 months and then we were out playing. The set and the tracks would develop show after show and we’ve done exactly the same with the recording process because we’re recording it ourselves. We jam, or work together, in a room and then record the ideas straight away and then we work on those, doing overdubs or restructuring. So it kind of makes us look at things in a different way because it gives you the added choice that you don’t have when you play live.
“It’s definitely a learning process as we’re going alone, which is the main importance to Factory Floor; that we’re learning as opposed to treading old ground that we already know. That’s the reason we didn’t want to go back and record ‘Lying’ or ‘A Wooden Box’ for our debut album.we wanted to move forward. A lot of the tracks, we really don’t know where they’re going to end up.”
That element of gripping unpredictability is what makesFactory Floor such an exciting live prospect; subtle, slow-build reworkings of their tracks breathe and stretch, gaining new rhythms and melodies as their myriad elements transform beyond recognition. Live shows see just two or three tracks extend seamlessly to cover an entire hypnotic performance; the driving, unyielding structure of krautrock thrust into overdrive. It’s a style Gurnsey refers to as “a kind of tribal intensity… a sound [the crowd] can kind of get hypnotized by. That happens to us onstage as well. It kind of engulfs the whole room.”Colk goes on: “They’re not coming to see a performance as such, or as entertainment, but to feel like they’ve walked into a club, a dance club.” As a band, Factory Floor are unique in their ability to conjure this feeling, a style typically reserved for DJs.
The sounds that create this dynamic are largely thanks to an ever-growing collection of rare, analog equipment. Steadily filling their studio – a space they describe as like a safe haven within the “gritty… intense environment” of North London — racks of drum machines, synthesizers and modulators have given the group an arsenal of sounds and effects that are opening up opportunities as they write new material. The enthusiasm with which they discuss their finds, often second-hand or repaired, borders on an obsessive, collecting mentality.
“We’ve got loads”, Gurnsey says. “We’re in the studio now and just looking around, a lot of it is analog gear. Drum machines, I’ve got a bit of an addiction to buying them but you can’t manipulate sounds on drum machines like you can on these. They’re all from the 70’s, 80’s. They’re all integral; you just can’t get that sound out of anything else, it’s got a gritty sound to it like a lot of modern stuff hasn’t. We’ve got quite a bit of rack equipment, effects stuff. We’re just always manipulating things. It’s good to be limited on certain things; a few of my drum machines, you can’t actually manipulate what they can process. It’s just hands-on; they’re objects. They’re things you can get your hands on and work with, unlike a lot of music nowadays where you’re working within software and it’s just fucking dull. And they look good as well. We’ve just got a new addition to the studio, Dave Stewart’s old mixing desk. It’s his old mixing desk from the 80’s that he used to mix. Eurythmics recorded on it. That’s a good addition because again, it’s hands-on. That’s what we do, we like to push things.”
Studio artifacts such as these represent one of the most attractive aspects of Factory Floor; the manner in which, as with their use of reconditioned mixing desks, they appropriate the styles and sounds of eras past to create something wholly current. As Colk puts it…
“I think it’s a combination of analog and digital that really appeals to us, because a lot of the recordings in the 70’s and 80’s were recorded onto tape and a lot of the analog signals, you couldn’t necessarily hear them as well as if they’re recorded through digital. The sound disguises some of the intricate sounds of synths and with digital, you can get a really clear signal, so it’s kind of interesting that we can take these old sounds and put them through a sampler. It’s like getting the best quality from both media.”
Combining past and present, Factory Floor’s ethos is remarkably similar to that of their new home DFA Records, whose motto ‘Too old to be new, too new to be classic’ brings to mind the timelessness, and simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic style, of the London band’s sound. Signing for the release of single ‘Two Different Ways’, the trio will release their debut album on DFA in the new year, with an EP scheduled for release on the label this August, featuring remixes from Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H Kirk and techno trailblazerPerc, who Nik described as having “a no nonsense attitude to the way he is as a person. His music is very straight techno, repetitive, all the sounds he uses aren’t necessarily as organic as ours… He’s just really clear of what he does. He’s got a really clear mind with the path he wants to go. He’s just got a really strong identity with the stuff he releases on his own label and the music he makes; it’s minimal, no bullshit, it’s a good crossover.”
Are band and label a perfect fit? Gurnsey certainly seems to reckon so: “DFA are always looking forward, pushing music and it’s a really good home. It takes away that really shitty pigeon-holing thing that people do with us, which is really frustrating. It’s nice to be represented by a label that’s like a photograph with colour rather than a black and white one. That’s what we get when we talk to them – it’s positive and it’s a different attitude rather than this moodiness where everything’s got to be so serious all the time.”
That rejection of the po-faced, the pretentious and the joyless came to a head with a recent trip to Berlin’s landmark Berghain club, now a spiritual home for the band. “The notion of the underground scene is kind of deleted because of the internet, so it’s great that you can’t photographs inside because that’s a true underground club” says Nik, discussing the fact that videos and photographs are banned from the club to preserve its otherworldly mystique. “When we arrived at 2 in the morning, the queue was humongous. Really kind of rocky pavement with fencing on the side. It was really like ‘Oh god, what are we walking into?’ And you walk into this massive building. From outside, all the windows are lit up and it looks like a massive party is going on inside. And there’s a real strict system going in, where you all have to be searched. If the people on the door don’t like the look of you, you’re not coming in. There’s quite a strict policy; they’ve basically got control. And in a way you can get a feel of that, and if you get in you feel really lucky!”
Gurnsey goes on: “But there’s no pretence about it. It’s not got that kind of feeling like when you walk into Fabric and everyone’s having a great time but in quite an ugly way, if you know what I mean. It’s hard to describe because it’s quite a gentle experience, they’re there to have a fucking great time, whereas with other clubs they’re just going to kick someone’s head in.”
The trio return to The Warehouse Project this October, as part of the ‘Curated by Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs’ line-up, a show they’re excited for after their appearance at last year’s The Horrors event. As Nik says, “That was great, I think that was one of our best shows of last year. It was interesting because we were playing after The Horrors and The Kills, which are guitar-orientated bands, it was interesting seeing the crowd getting more and more… I think they wanted something to dance to. Something to let loose to. It seemed to work well.”Gurnsey concludes: “It was a good vibe in there. Everyone was proper up for it. It was quite an intense show from what I remember. It was a great experience and we’re totally looking forward to the next one.”