Music Reviews
Factory Floor

Factory Floor Factory Floor

(DFA) Rating - 6/10

It’s something of an inevitability that in scanning the reviews of a debut of pretty much any up and coming act there’ll be a fair few complaints about record label pressure resulting in a rushed release; and quite often, those complaints will be entirely accurate - the amount of bands (particularly British ones) that shot themselves in the foot, or even outright imploded, due to an ill-advised attempt to capitalise on early hype seems to get longer by the day. Which makes Factory Floor's self-titled album an interesting novelty, as it's arguably a case of an act taking too long on their first record.

The trio – drummer Gabe Gurnsey, synth manipulator Dominic Butler, and guitarist/vocalist Nik Colk Void - have existed in some form for the best part of a decade, dropping some ravenously received EPs over the past five years, but only now getting around to releasing their debut, despite a pre-release campaign that started almost two years ago with the Two Different Ways single. Yet, while contemplating before acting is a rare quality in the industry, (and it’s something that more young bucks really need to do before picking up a guitar for the first time), it’s an unfortunate downside that such a path leads more often to timidity and self-doubt caused by over-thinking things, than to considered, polished work. 

To be fair, the sheer staggering weight of expectation that surrounds this record would be daunting for anyone to meet; not just eagerness from the press which perhaps strayed into the wrong side of frothing at the mouth, but also given the prestigious nature of Factory Floor's famous fans and past collaborators. The story of how they came to work with Joy Division’s Stephen Morris always seemed charmingly unlikely, but the meeting of minds with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti made a certain kind of sense, even taking into account the confusing elasticity of the ‘post-industrial’ genre. Where the intentional nausea and proto-techno of Throbbing Gristle, and industrial music as a whole, had its roots in the genuine grime of 70s' Northern England, the pristine dance music that Factory Floor are peddling in 2013 updates those freewheeling templates to reflect the sound of modern British industry; where the oddly majestic structures of warehouses and manufacturing plants long removed from their original function have been reappropriated, and reappreciated as clubs and art spaces.

This is music that’s been boiled down to its purest form, where the hyperactive drum rhythms and cold metronomic synths practically command the listener to move (as do many of the track titles themselves, such as Turn It Up, Fall Back, Work Out and Breathe In), and as such its admirable, even beautiful in its efficiency. However, there’s a problem with this formula, in that while it's effective, it also seems a little uninspired; in particular, the sound of an arpeggiated synth will make anything (anything) sound approximately 50% more bad-ass and so can end up being an easy crutch for the artist, and while they’re skillfully deployed here, that doesn’t mean that they don’t get a little stale before the album’s 54 minutes are up. 

While there are pleasures to be found in pretty much every track (the cut-up looping of One and Two not really withstanding, but then as they exist purely to act as palate cleansers, dissecting them would be rather like a restaurant critic going on about the quality of the after-dinner mints), it only takes a couple of tracks to work out that they’re the same pleasures each time, particularly the album’s reliance on that tom-tom heavy percussion that seems to be a contractual obligation for any act signed to DFA. Whatever variations that may arise may be interesting, where the synth lines fade in and out of time and clarity, like someone’s trying to pull focus in the space between your ears, but at best they’re merely minor, intellectual accomplishments. It’s a case of an act agonising over the refinement of their sound to the extent that they’ve worked it down to practically nothing. 

There’s nothing wrong with bands moving on from their origins (if only more of them were brave enough to do so) but it’s a crying shame that Factory Floor hadn’t documented their weird and wonderful first stage more completely. If the band they were several years ago had released this record it wouldn’t have sounded as impeccably polished, but it would have at least had a bit of dirt and danger to it; as it is there’s no room for anything like A Wooden Box’s sex and death-driven grind, that played like a brutalist take on Death Valley 69, or the dead-eyed detachment of Lying - Void’s vocal delivery does very much live up to her adopted name, as her mumbles and wails echo down a corridor constructed entirely out of effects units, but the remove of her intonation strays over the line from the icily remote (the still terrific Fall Back) to out-and-out bored (Breathe In being just one example) more than a few times.

What Factory Floor offers is industrial music for the contemporary audience, not so much constructed as designed; clean and impeccable, with any sharp edges rounded off lest someone accidentally poke their eye out on one. It would come as no great surprise if it was revealed that, after the band had drawn up the initial blueprints, the majority of the work had been carried out by underpaid and overworked employees in a factory somewhere in China. It’s never a bad record, or even less than listenable - the individuals behind it have more than enough good taste and sense for that to happen - but it is a mildly disappointing one, considering the sheer potential of those early releases, and there’s a nagging sense that we’ve wasted our time waiting for this album for so many years, when we could have been getting our kicks elsewhere instead.