The patient rise of Factory Floor – a trio obsessed with art, escapism and lawless music making

Exit Music (For a World)

You only have to watch TV for ten minutes to realise that the purpose of life, for your average Jen or Eric, is to ‘shine’ – an abstract that neatly bypasses the ‘more rich and famous than anyone else’. It’s like, having sat and thought about it after nearly a decade of the whole Pop Idol thing, we’re all joining hands to become a race of shiny-skinned sales execs at Me Inc., unified in our ambition to slip into the well-greased machine. Meanwhile, the biggest-selling records and primetime ad space are hi-five-ing each other over a cultural apocalypse that’s shifted effortlessly into third gear, found its prescription-strength X-Factor in the glove box and driven off to the party shop for streamers.

If you subscribe to this kind of glass-half-endless void media take on the Mayan calendar and you’re expecting everything to go bang right in time for London 2012, then you should stop necking those tablets you found on the bus and return ‘The Bible Code’ to the library. But hey, we’re not your mum, and if the Everything Is Going To Shit Theory works for you then knock yourself out. We’d only recommend that while looking for something to drown-out the hum of colliding galaxies, super-volcanoes and alien invasion (seriously, it’s all on this website, man), you’d consider Factory Floor as the ideal soundtrack to The End. They’re a London three piece that deal in monolithic loops, acid-casualty vocals and motorik beats, usually turned up punishingly loud, and here’s why you should give a fuck.

“I’m sure before the Olympics they’ll splash a bit of paint on it,” says Dom Butler. Responsible on stage for keeping FF’s synths pounding, he’s lashing the ground with a piece of cable, underneath the railway arches of the new East London Overground line. A large-ish rock gets thrown at him by Gabe Gurnsey (drums), it misses breaking his foot by inches and is hurled back while guitarist and singer Nik Colt watches smiling. The photo shoot is over and they all look quite glad to be out of the lens. Above them the trains, tricked-out imaginatively in horizontal strips of orange and white, inspire a bitch about the missed chance to create a convincing kinetic spectacle. Scoring low on both form and function – roomy, air-conditioned and almost permanently empty – they’re diametrically opposed to this band.

Factory Floor have started finding this sort of comparison to urban spaces and industrial production lines a little overbearing. Though it springs inevitably from the propulsive, metronomic and dissonant quality of their music, not to mention the name, if you sit them down (as we do minutes later in a pub down the road), it turns out they’ve more of an affinity with the countryside.

“I love London, man,” says Gabe “it’s good, but I like getting into open spaces and that inspires me more, really. My Dad used to take us fucking walking and all that, a lot of the outdoors kind of thing.”

Dom: “I think as a person it’s really important not to become familiar with where you are. We’re all really lucky that we can go to the seaside or wherever, we’ll take ourselves out of the city to maintain that kind of… hmm.”

He searches for the right word as Nik jumps in: “We’ve always recorded out in the country ‘cause you can totally detach yourself from the reality of your own life. If you record in the middle of nowhere, it does mean that you’re sleeping on the studio floor and you can’t go and get a packet of fags, Gabe… unless I drive you.”

Dom: “We did go and get fish and chips, didn’t we.”

Gabe: “It’s a bit like camping but recording at the same time”

Dom: “It was a bit surreal this time weren’t it? Cause we were there in this kind of space… and there was… Stephen Morris.”

Gabe: “Hahaha! Lovin’ it as well”

Dom: “He loved it didn’t he? He had a real good time and we’re all sat there eating our chips and curries in the middle of nowhere.”

The Joy Division drummer agreed to remix ‘Wooden Box’ after the band’s manager posted their ‘Untitled’ EP [Blast First Petite] to ‘Stephen Morris, Macclesfield’ in a moment of marginally insane optimism.

Dom: “Yeah, he didn’t have his address, did he? He just sent it – Ha!”

Nik: “And it got to his house!”

He promptly joined Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter, alterno-stalwarts Liars, Gavin Russom, No Age and Fuck Buttons on a growing list of leftfield bigwigs who count themselves as Factory Floor’s friends, fans and collaborators. A far cry from a cold file-sharing endeavour, the new single and the preceding remix series were the product of Morris leaving the Mac for the creatively immersive environs of the ‘middle of nowhere’, namely the Sick Room Studios in Norfolk.

“It’s this really organic space,” explains Dom “and the guy, Owen, he and maybe a few other people have built this studio and it’s grown and grown and wrapped around it is… it’s like a small-holding in a way, there’s a river that runs through it, it’s an amazing place. It’s very inspiring and very DIY. They built a bridge across the river which was really… we stood on it and it was wobbling but it was from an old railway and they’d brought it in.”

Nik: “It’s a nice juxtaposition ‘cause you’ve got the country and stuff which is really calm and then you’ve got DhjuhDhjuhDhjuhDhjuh-DhjuhDhjuhDhjuhDhjuh going on in the Studio for twelve, fourteen hours a day.”

Gabe: “They’re the same thing to me man, like an endless sea of fields is the same to me as an endless arpeggiator rhythm”

Nik: “It’s a natural order, isn’t it? And our music’s a natural order.”

Dom: “Everything falls into that… If it’s a wave hitting a fucking pebble, everything falls into that natural order eventually… Fractal, thank you! That’s exactly… I didn’t want to say it, haha! ‘Cause it sounds pretentious but everything, you know the edge of that table, if you looked at it, would be a fractal, which is the same as a guitar feeding back, which is the same as… you know, it’s all there and Sick Room really fucking pulls that out of us.”

If you hadn’t guessed already, Factory Floor have a little more between their ears than the usual collection of soundbites and tired default answers. The standardised pre-set for recording artists follows a pattern drawn by the corporate hi-jacking of punk’s DIY origins, a regrettable coup that’s left us with thousands of woefully tacky, major label-aping band Myspaces, the Hacienda Apartments (thanks) and delusional, tone-deaf postmen degrading themselves on telly. For this lot, like the best musicians, it won’t do. Instead they’ve overhauled it and written their own one; true Rip it Up and Start Again-types for the digital age.

Dom: “We don’t follow a formula every time, if you’re that kind of person you can’t deny that in yourself can you?”

Nik: “Definitely, since I got into Factory Floor, I’ve thought of a different way of approaching an instrument, like the guitar. I’ve been playing for years and used to play in a more traditional way, but then it’s like ‘nah, get rid of that – I don’t want to play a chord series anymore, I want to make noise and sound and use bows and drumsticks and make a different sound with it’. You can end up getting into that formula where you try and play like other people have played, especially if you teach yourself – and I think we’re all self taught, I don’t think we’ve been to music school?”

Dom [mock-erudite]: “I trained at Mu… No.”

Gabe: “Hahaha! I am grade eight…”

Dom: “…On the piano.”

Nik: “You look to other people to teach you about the instrument you play but I got fed up and disregarded all that and started again and it’s really good, it’s like developing your own skill.”

Dom: “It’s like your own language, innit?”

Nik: “Yeah definitely, like the guitar is predominantly a male instrument and it felt like I was playing like a guy for however many years and now I don’t want to play like a guy.”

Dom: “Hehehe.”

Nik: “Shut up. Well, it is, it’s quite a fucking, it’s quite a phallic thing isn’t it? And sometimes I think I hate it, I don’t wanna play this anymore, but then…”

Dom: “No, it is, totally. If you look at guitar heroes they’re all men aren’t they? Jimi Hendrix…”

Nik: “Yeah, absolutely, and any female guitarists are kind of looked at as being quite masculine, so yeah I just changed my path a bit.”

Dom: “It’s a real brave thing to do isn’t it, to shake off.. it’s really hard to do, it takes…”

Nik: “It takes a nervous breakdown or something – haha!”

Dom: “I was gonna say, it takes something… if you’re working with an instrument or a material or a media, it’s really easy to slot into ways of working and you have to be quite severe with yourself to crack out of it.”

Nik: “Even more well-known artists, like Picasso or anyone, before they’re painting brilliant life-like pictures and then suddenly, ‘fuck that, I’m going to paint with a line, it’s more expressive’… I think there’s a point where that just happens.”

It’s startling how often the band diverge from musical analogies to bring in examples from the other arts – intertextual hopping is as easy for them as crossing the road. They see the art and music worlds as organically conjoined and, having spoken to us last year about their multimedia outlook, it’s positively life-affirming to see they’ve no desire to streamline themselves into a one-trick pony. The Untitled EP comes with ‘Solid Sound’, an hour-long audio/visual head-fuck on DVD and a refreshingly accomplished development of their video art (you can find other examples scattered online). As with their music, their attitude in this department is defiantly independent and their time in art school (they all went) sounds like Usain Bolt running the Pac Man maze.

Dom: “I kind of did an art education bullshit kind of thing but it carried me from Lincoln down to London, basically – I grew up in a small seaside town called Weymouth, left when I was sixteen and did an art foundation in Lincoln. I felt I wanted to get as far away as I could and Lincoln was the furthest that I got offered a place. Then I moved to Cambridge, did a degree and ended up in London. To be honest, I’ve always done art and I went into education doing art and actually felt very disillusioned with it. Studying art is weird because people are artists, it’s a bit like someone saying, ‘yeah, pay me to do a course about studying about being you’, you know, and actually I can do that myself. I could have spent the same amount of money on a studio somewhere and done the same amount of work.”

Gabe: “Yeah, cause if you’ve got the drive to do it anyway…”

Dom: “I spent most of my nights at home making music so I’d be up ‘til like five in the morning then have to go into college and play the fucking student. Any creativity, if you’ve got someone looking over you marking it, it fucking kills it. It’s like someone pissing on it.”

Gabe: “I think art’s the same as music, you’ve just got to do it, get in there and get on with it. I mean, there are colleges for bands aren’t there and all that shit, which is terrible, fucking shocking…”

Dom: “It’s bullshit, teaching you to tune your drums…”

Gabe: “And that just draws all the fucking spontaneity out of it, it’s a shocking way to go, just get in and do it yourself.”

Dom: “If you put like five technically fucking amazing musicians in a room, they will come up with…”

Gabe: “Shit”

Nik: “Hold on a minute, you can’t, you can’t… do that! Everyone’s an individual, you can’t just pigeon-hole people!”

Dom: “No, I agree, that was generalising”

Nik: “I had a really good experience at art-school. I went to Norwich. It was good. It was a new, conceptual art course and there weren’t any rules and it was down to yourself to experiment. There was a lot of industry that surrounded it so I could go out to these industries and ask them to weld stuff. There was freedom to explore and that’s what’s good about what we’re doing, we’re exploring, we’re not just writing songs to play live. Did you see how I switched it round back to talking about Factory Floor?”

Like anyone who breaks ranks from the line of pie and chips indie bands, you’d expect these three to be looked at askance from some quarters as elitist, pretentious art freaks. Sixteen months on from the last time Loud And Quiet interviewed them, and with the chainsaw-like buzz returning, you still can’t find a Factory Floor keyring anywhere. It’s partly to do with the band refusing to court the hype (“Longevity, isn’t it? It’s important to not just exploit yourselves.” – Gabe), but, in their myriad of interests, their reconstructive approach and severely modern sound, are they too awkwardly shaped to be digestible? Are they, frankly, too inaccessible? Well, no. In fact, their top priority is to make people dance – something that ranks with fucking, eating and sleeping in the list of fundamental, universal human pastimes.

Gabe: “I think it’s turned into a predominantly dance sound, there’s a lot of dance rhythms. Basically, that’s where we want to go with it and where we’re heading with it already. Whatever people think of it, they can put it where they want, but it is dance music.”

Dom: “You could apply that [reformulating approach] to say, like, the whole 303 being used in techno. The Roland 303 was designed to replace a bass guitar and, uhh, some scientist was sat in a little engineering hut thinking ‘how do we make a drum machine of a bass guitar?’. You’ve got a 303 and an 808 but people didn’t use them as pretend bass guitars and pretend drummers, they used those tools to make something psychedelic, something very expressive. I think we’re taking the gear that we’re using and we’re trying to kind of push it, we’re really trying to stretch these instruments. Nowadays, you hear good dance music and – lo and behold – they’re using old analogue synths and drum machines but they’re pushing them a little bit further with the technology that’s about now. Back in the late ’80s, there was a limitation to what you could do with recording techniques but now you can do stuff in your bedroom, you can open it up like a spectrum of colour. That’s where we’re striving to, taking a sound and pulling it apart.”

Gabe: “It’s like we’re deconstructing dance, it’s like a primitive dance thing, you know?”

Along with the acid sounds and beat-driven odysseys, Factory Floor share with the Balearic generation a desire to escape the bleak surrounds of an austerity-phase economy and conservative social environment. Depending on which side you fall in the glass-half-whatever debate, they’re either a hedonistic expansion pack for reality or a 140bpm funeral march.

Nik: “I think there’s a lot of tension at the moment… people are finding it really hard, no one’s got any money, there’s so many rules and stuff. The thing that we can give to that is that people can just hopefully forget about that and just lose themselves.”

Gabe: “It’s escapism, innit?”

Nik: “It is escapism and I feel it when I’m playing as well, I kind of blanket all that out.”

Gabe: “It’s progressive, you can get immersed in it, it is a form of escapism for us too and a lot of people have said, it’s a cheap… narcotic… apparently – hahaha!”

Nik: “It’s just getting a point across, isn’t it, and opening people up to thinking differently towards something. But I think with art and music you’ve always got an audience unless you know, you keep everything to yourself and it gets discovered after you die but, essentially, because we base our music on life-experiences… I’ve lost my train of thought…”

Dom: “It would be hard to do that when you’re dead.”

Gabe: “That would be fucked up.”

Dom: “I bet there’s some way of doing it.”

Gabe: “Just keep the arpeggiator running mate, just laying there.”

Dom: “You could just rot on top of a sequencer, it would change the LFO as you dripped into it.”

Gabe: “It’s a possibility.”

Dom [gremlin voice]: “Sprinkle my dust on an 808…”

L&Q: What do you think happens when you die?

Dom: “I think you rot.”

Gabe: “I don’t know man, I’ll let you know, I’ll give you an email… I was knocked out once, when I was punched in the face. I was unconscious for five minutes and I couldn’t remember fuck all so I think it’s like that.”

Nik [stoned earth-mother voice]: “I think you go back into the earth and y’know, start the whole recycling thing.”

Dom: “Turn into shit.”

Gabe: “You go down into the ground… then come back up again…”

Nik: “I think you might feel a real sense of happiness when you die, just getting out of your own presence, you know… ‘free’ – haha! Not that I want to just yet, you know.”

Dom: “You know when you’re really tired and you’re just nodding off to sleep and you’re fighting it and then you’re finally like, aahhh, I’m going to go to sleep.”

Nik: “That’s really sad.”

Gabe: “It could be really terrible, It could be series of really bad dreams with fucking all of your life being played over for the same amount of time, you know what I mean? I don’t know, just all your memories would probably play really slowly like an old VHS cassette tape…”

Dom: “In the sky.”