I really wanted to like Factory Floor’s long-awaited debut. It’s cool to like them. Not in the youthfully exclusive hipster way but in an intellectual thinking man’s electronic music sense; people who like Factory Floor are ‘connoisseurs’ not ‘trendy’. It’s cool to like them in the same way it’s cool to watch obscure Italian movies from the 70s, or quote from 19th century French literature. Anatole France once boasted that ‘I haven’t even read a third of the books I own’, in reference to his famous library. I don’t need to have actually read Rimbaud, Verlaine or Baudelaire to quote them; and so it is I don’t need to have listened to Factory Floor to know who they are. Its ‘bogus hipster’ and fake of course but then so is the internet.
But approached them I did, starting with the mini-album Talking On Cliffs (2009) and then the 2010 double single EP Lying/A Wooden Box, and thought them equal to every superlative that had been sent their way from all corners of the music press. They managed to amalgamate the minimalism of punchy glitches and clipped drum beats with danceable drone. Think of what constitutes modern dance music: scintillating pace, regular beat, uplifting synth hooks, ‘the drop’, wankers in chinos. They meet those criteria (except the last two) but add Keiji Haino noise and barely endurable drum bass repetition. Clamour for a proper full length rose until… nothing. There were a couple of singles between 2010 and now but nothing of album length.
There were some suggestions that they had ‘missed their chance’, that they had failed to take advantage of the peak exposure Factory Floor were receiving to release something substantial. But they delayed. Or perhaps waited for the hysterical attention to subside. Inaction might indicate a media naivety but it does furnish them with the aura of artistic integrity – allowing Gabriel Gurnsey, Dominic Butler and Nik Colk Void (from the band KaitO and other electro industrialists Carter Tutti Void) to move at their own pace. F.F. also knew that their output had the requisite mystique and highbrow capital for fans to bear a barren spell – their post-industrial music is completely independent from the fluctuating nature of alternative trends. They are no guitar band who live and die by Hype, having to adjust everything they do to placate Hype. Thankfully F.F. appeal to an audience with the patience and fluidity of interest to wait. And they have been rewarded.
So, the self-titled album. From the outset it’s clear that F.F. have shed the abrasive techno-noise-babble of earlier tracks like ‘Solid Sound’ in favour of cleaner, punchier production. Factory Floor isn’t just a stagnant reproduction of their earlier singles: they have made a concerted effort to remain as new and original as possible by re-working the older singles ‘Two Different Ways’ (which came out in 2011) and ‘Fall Back’ (video from January of this year), sharpening their respective edges so as to slide easier in the dance-based concept of the album. ‘Here Again’ has the hookiest vocal melody and ‘Work Out’ features a distinctively simple synth line that pounds away on a New Order rhythm rendering it the most 80s cut on the record. But the whole track-list bleeds together in such a fluid and focused manner that it’s difficult to truly differentiate between the songs. There are though several tasteful one minute segues that serve not to distract but augment the full length eight, nine minute tracks. ‘One’ is a looped vocal, ‘Two’ portends a deferential nod to Haino/industrial white noise and ‘Three’ pays flawless tribute to 70s German synthesiser artists like Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk. It’s as if F.F. are signposting the influences that makeup the album, earnestly saying ‘look this is where we’ve come from and this is where we’re taking it’.
Vocals are not exempted from electronic contortion either: Colk’s female tones are frequently looped and grinding, rarely changing key within a track. But they are part of the fabric of the music with little to no emphasis on the words or intentions behind them, providing a new layer of texture less reliant on relentless staccato beats. ‘Two Different Ways’ is the exception – the lyrics are intelligible but the meaning is as opaque and seemingly meaningless as the rest. That is no condemnation though. The meat of Factory Floor was never going be delivered by the lyrics but the thumping tracks Colk’s voice supplements.
The album has been officially streaming on the guardian website for a week now and many of the comments on the page’s forum have reacted negatively. New listeners to Factory Floor have accounted for some of the criticism (‘The first song I heard was tuneless and the second song sounded as tho it was being played backwards’ was the uncouth bellow from chap no.1 on the list), but there are also those in the know who appear similarly disenchanted with the dancier lilt of F.F.’s hypnotic drone. It’s true this ‘techno’ floats lithely and post-modernly between a variety of genres but it’s difficult to agree with those who oppose the creative progression that comes with constructing a whole album’s worth of material. It’s also difficult to apply a quantitative rating to Factory Floor because of its divisive style. In terms of listen-ability there’s little doubt it’s equally comfortable confined to headphones or at a rave, but the unyielding pulse and beat will surely turn off many a listener. It has been dismissed as pretentious and unharmonious, cast as the bastard offspring to Throbbing Gristle (which is weird because Chris Carter has occasionally played live them) and denounced for being ‘too cool’. That subversive exclusivity, though underpinned by bright and razor sharp music, is part of the Factory Floor allure.
Factory Floor came out Monday on vinyl, CD and in digital via Rough Trade. Here is the Jan 2013 video for Fall Back.