On, By, With, or Near the Factory Floor

Way back in whatever year it was, I appreciated industrial music, but only a specific kind of industrial music. If assembly robots formed choirs, I never knew or loved them. If gantries and conveyors started up jazz fusion bands, they never told me. If extruders and refineries did after-hours DJ gigs, I wasn’t on the guest list. But, there was one form of industrial music that I did appreciate, at least for its attitude more than its actual sonic output.

Among the founding patrons of industrial music is Wax Trax! Records which, interestingly, I have a vague tenuous connection to. Watch carefully:

Wax Trax ... the original store

Wax Trax … the original store

  1. The record label founders starting a record store in Denver, Colorado.
  2. In 1978, they sell the record store to someone who keeps the name going in Denver
  3. They open up a new store in Chicago
  4. In a backwards way, the store morphs into the record label business
  5. History is made
  6. My favorite record store in Denver was Wax Trax which had already been sold by the founders.

Pretty remote, eh?

In fact, it’s this specific label (Wax Trax!) that gave me my brief period of enjoying the actual music. My entry drug? My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, specifically, “Kooler than Jesus”. Soon after, I got into label mates Front 242, and then Skinny Puppy scared me away from the whole scene. After a quick detour to Nitzer Ebb, I was gone for good. Even as I left, I really like industrial music concept, mixing Depeche Mode with nightmares and horror movies. Even more, industrial music started to stretch the concept of music where keyboards and synthesizers could create menace right alongside mutated guitars. Angularity and militaristic intensity rode side by side leaving the listener as unsettled social misfits who, frankly, didn’t really want to fit in anyway. Also, if you wanted, you could dance, without shame or even skill. What’s not to love?

Factory Floor by Factory Floor

Factory Floor by Factory Floor

Which brings us to today, maybe not this specific day, but this time period: the present. I was cruising through a whole bunch of new albums when this beautiful yellow-backed abstract thing popped up. I listened, briefly, to a couple of tracks, thinking, “This is not your ordinary bloops and bleeps band.” It’s a simple start to what may become a long-lasting relationship.

Bloops-and-bleeps electronic is not really my thing, although I’ve tried it out many times. Factory Floor is something different. Like Fuck Buttons, Factory Floor has a more organic, less formulaic, take on electronic music. Unlike Fuck Buttons, Factory Floor really does have a kind of mechanical relentlessness to it, an organic machine, but still a machine.

The machine has components. Dominic Butler’s duties include synthesizers and electronics which, at first glance, makes him a classic knob twiddler. But, let’s be clear, that’s “knob twiddler” and not just “laptop button pusher”. Listening and watching, you can tell that there’s often one or more basic programmed loops which, through knob twiddling, Butler manipulates, changing the phase or timbre in ways that actually allow electronic improvisation (Imitate that, laptop bands!). Nik Colk’s role includes more traditional keyboards/guitar/vocals except there’s little traditional about any of them. Her keyboard and sample triggering work … somewhat as expected. Her vocals are often processed and altered, leaving her sound a little like the twin sister of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. But, it’s the guitar that is completely different. I thought I couldn’t hear guitar at all, but, when I watched a performance video, I realized the guitar was something else completely, a real guitar, yes, but played with drumstick, bow, and other mutant devices. She doesn’t strum it, she scratches it! The organic part comes with the drummer, Gabriel Gurnsey, who, along with the high-cymbaled John Stanier (Helmet and Battles) and the shlong-photoed Zach Hill (Death Grips) has become one of my favorite drummers. Hunched over, he bounces rhythmically attacking the high hats, straightening up occasionally to give the rest of the drum set it’s well deserved pummeling.

This music is industrial, really, or post-industrial. The rhythms are mechanical and precise, almost militaristic. Instead of the horror movie samples or angry vocals, there’s a vague detached ghostly sound going above it. Album opener “Turn It Up” starts it off with an industrial rhythm and male vocals wondering “What is a good way to start?” I would have been lost if Gurnsey’s drums hadn’t entered in, adding a punctuated tribal feel to the mechanical sample-driven rest of the track. But. I. Couldn’t. Stop. Listening. Next up, “Here Again” starts off differently with a simple synth sequence where the simple act of knob twiddling makes a simplistic sound into something vastly interesting, almost hypnotic, except for the little dancey nod that has just taken over your body, or mine. The machines talk to each other in “Fall Back” and it’s not as scary as you might think. It’s just confusing and twitchy. Gurnsey’s drum fills remind you that this is a human-controlled endeavor, but just barely. Around that, short tracks “One” and “Two” feature Colk torturing her guitar … the poor thing. If you prefer to not stop dancing, just put the twitchy shakiness of “How You Say” on and notice a female voice, over the top, do an artsy female Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), while your head and hips fight a rhythmic battle for dominance. Notice how the high-pitched drum and Colk’s voice keep it human amongst the machines in dominating the disco floor. If you wondered what New Order would have sounded like if Ian Curtis hadn’t committed suicide (and had a sex change), “Two Different Ways” is for you … but not for me.

In short, I have never been this excited by an exercise featuring lots of knob twiddling. My respect for the genre has grown, although Factory Floor gets all the credit. As an aside, Nik Colk did an interview on the Quietus where she described her creative process as one where she’d learned the rules, but couldn’t really access her creativity until she threw them away. It shows, I think. Great stuff here!

 

9 thoughts on “On, By, With, or Near the Factory Floor

  1. I listened to about half of the video.. I have to be honest and say..
    It does make me rethink (and appreciate) the genius of John Cage’s 4’33”
    (guess I’m just getting old).. šŸ˜‰

  2. There’s so little industrial left in my music mess (but I still have Skinny Puppy) and you’ve just made me remember so many things that I suddenly can’t live without. Oh, the wanting is exhausting….

    • If I had extra Skinny Puppy (or any), I’d send it your way. I really respected them as artists, but I wanted nothing to do with them as a listener. Factory Floor, though, I’m completely sold on.

Am I wrong?