Why chords are fucking dull, strangers can give the best insights and less is more according to the revitalised "disco funk" band.
Unlikely as it may seem, Factory Floor actually formed way back in 2005. For the first few years of their life, you could have written them off as mere revivalists - their agitated, noisy post-punk was, listening back today, pretty unremarkable. They released a few singles - Bipolar and the 'Planning Application' EP in 2008, and a mini-album called 'Talking On Cliffs' in 2009 - but it wasn't until 2010 that things began to change.
Two things happened that flipped Factory Floor on their head. The first was that their bassist, Dom Butler, switched from guitar to synth - a Roland SH-101, specifically. The second was that they recruited guitarist Nik Colk Void to their ranks. They became a totally different band.
The first single I heard from them in their new incarnation was (R E A L L O V E). Release in 2011 on Optimo Music, the single blew me away: it was an eight-minute, uptempo blast of looping synth arpeggiations and a rhythm that made my hips sway. Their follow-up, Two Different Ways on DFA, sealed the deal. Two Different Ways wasn't really any different to (R E A L L O V E) - it was slower, which definitely helped, but that was about it - yet it felt like a companion piece, a variation on a theme. Pared down to the very basics, it was like the raw, jackin' spirit of a track like Hercules' 7 Ways was being inhibited by an indie band that actually understood the importance of groove. When I went to see them perform at a Durrr night at London's Village Underground later that year, it felt like the band were tapping into a primal groove and just sticking with it, the obliteratingly loud sound mix making it seem as if the music were constantly in flux, where everything was changing and, at the same time, nothing was - which is something I've always been interested in.
Last week, Factory Floor released their self-titled debut album via DFA. I had a brief chat with them over Skype while they were based at the North London warehouse that currently acts as their rehearsal space.
Can you tell me a little bit about the warehouse you're in right now?
Gabriel Gurnsey: "It’s an ex-clothing factory in North London and it’s quite hard to describe. It’s just a big space with loads of…"
Nik Void: "Junk!"
Gurnsey: "Yeah, junk. It's a creative space where we can just set up, mess around and do whatever we want, really."
Void: "It’s a communal space where we set up [our gear] live. We’ve got a separate engineering room where we go to take the tracks from the live space on a bit further - I did a lot of the vocal processing afterwards. We felt it was important to get the foundations of the track the same as when we play live, so we’d be going on for a whole day and taking a section of what we’d come up with on that day and either abandon it or persevere with it."
You said it’s a communal space – do you invite others in, or is just for the three of you?
Void: "We only invited other people when we were going to do a collaboration with them. It was really convenient for the ICA residency, so when Peter [Gordon, who collaborated with the band at the ICA] flew over we worked in here for a few days. And then Peter came on a separate occasion, he was doing something for Café Oto, so we said to him 'bring your musicians in'. So we sort of let it out to friends - it’s a really creative space, so we like the idea of keeping that kind of environment going."
Going back to the early days of your band, at what point you really felt you reached the current incarnation you’re at now?
Gurnsey: "We always felt that Factory Floor started when Void had joined, really."
Dominic Butler: "It was a different band back then, I think."
Gurnsey: "It was just the same name. It was very different music, it was very different work ethic."
Butler: "It was in transition, and I think Nik joining at that point of the transition drew a line between what was before."
After Nik had joined, how long do you think it took you to get into the rhythm you’re in at the moment?
Gurnsey: "I think everything clicked when we were writing A Wooden Box. That was the first song we were playing together. A Wooden Box and Lying were very much at a point where we were learning how we worked together, having the initial adrenaline and nerves of playing live. With Lying and A Wooden Box, we tracked and released those really quickly, and then (R E A L L O V E) took a lot more time. I think Two Different Ways for us was quite a turning point in a lot of ways, in the way that we record and in the sound."
"Setting up the album, we approached it more in the way of how it plays on vinyl – not in terms of sonics, but running order and timings, how it works literally by flipping over the vinyl. You get another experience on the other side." - Gabriel Gurnsey
I think it was also the point where people really got where you were coming from as well.
Void: "Yeah, definitely. Before, the tracks were recorded in a studio space with an engineer, and with Two Different Ways we worked on our own area and then grouped up together [afterwards]. We had that time to concentrate on our own part. I remember doing the vocals and wanting to move away from swamping them in reverb and sounding quite dark, I wanted to play with pitching backing vocals down and minimalizing what I was doing, and that’s kind of how you two both approached it."
Do you feel this album has been a long time coming?
Gurnsey: "I think if we’d tracked it when we were doing stuff like Lying and A Wooden Box we would’ve…it didn’t feel right at the time I don’t think, we were still learning a lot of things and still wanting to explore what we could do."
Were there times when you wondered if it was even necessary to do the album?
Gurnsey: "Yeah, there were times when we thought 'why do we have to do it in that conventional way?' Setting up the album, we approached it more in the way of how it plays on vinyl – not in terms of sonics, but running order and timings, how it works literally by flipping over the vinyl. You get another experience on the other side, as opposed to it just continuing from the album."
I don’t want to get too deep into your process, but how long does it take to do a track end-to-end? Is it a particularly easy, live process to start and finish a track, or is it something that has a lot of constant revision and post-production?
Butler: "Some tracks were immediate, some took a lot more figuring out."
Gurnsey: "It’s different for different tracks, but the ones that stuck were like Fall Back - that was a live take. There were other ways, overdubbing and stuff. Work Out was done in a similar way, Here Again, that was one take, Turn It Up as well. The foundations of the ones that stuck were forged with the three of us playing in a room together. But there were a lot of surplus tracks where we totally killed it by overediting."
Void: "I think it’s just a really hard question to answer, it’s like asking 'how long is a piece of string?'"
Gurnsey: "They’re lengthy, but we like to record for a long time to get to the point where we do live, where everything’s locked in. You can’t just get that instantly by going 'right, go.'"
Butler: "You kind of know when it’s there, don’t you? Everybody has a kind of group understanding, where it’s like - 'this is where it should be right now.' Sometimes you'd go beyond that point and you’d have to abandon it."
Your music is very stripped down and primitive, but how technically accomplished are you? Is there an element of "unlearning" that's necessary in order to work?
Gurnsey: "None of us have been taught, none of us have had lessons, so technically, no - we haven’t got a clue, I guess."
Void: "We were probably moulded into playing in a certain way with the music we grew up with and that our peers were playing, and what bands we were in before Factory Floor, so there was a bit of unlearning all those past influences."
"There were definitely points where we’d go back a few steps and say 'the suggestion of that there is all that’s needed, it doesn’t need to be so literal.'" - Dominic Butler
I know there’s a history of a lot of people who have made amazing music, really raw music, without knowing anything technically or musically. And then there’s people that try to forget all that they know in order to reach that certain point, and I didn’t know which would apply to you.
Gurnsey: "The first, definitely. We like to do things instinctively, and the three of us are quite hands on in a kind of DIY way, we like to get our hands on things, actually physically, and mess around and forge sounds rather than doing it methodically."
Were there points where you were trying to strip away parts you'd added? Like, adding more to the songs and then thinking "we ought to pare it down"?
Void: [laughs] "Gabe..."
Gurnsey: "Yeah, I did for a few bits."
Butler: "Nah, I think we all did. There were definitely points where we’d rewind what we’d just done, go back a few steps and say 'the suggestion of that there is all that’s needed, it doesn’t need to be so literal.'"
Void: "I think we got to the point where we were very trusting of each other as well, because there’d be points where we probably couldn’t tell if we’d put too much of ourselves in. Gabe or Dom would tell me I’ve put too much guitar on that track, that it’s probably better to pull back a bit. Less is more. And sort of vice versa - that’s kind of the quality control of our tracks what with it being all self-produced."
There were a lot of things you were being described as in your earlier days – post-punk or industrial, and things like that - and a lot of those descriptions, now, feel quite unsatisfactory. How would you describe the kind of music you make?
Butler: "Enquiring music. [laughs] But I do think we do, we’re kind of inquisitive and creative…"
Gurnsey: "Funk. Disco funk, man. There’s bits of all sorts in there - the post-punk/industrial thing is kind of…"
Void: "It’s a bit tired."
Gurnsey: "It’s a bit boring when people say it - it’s like, come on. We’re not saying we don’t want to label ourselves, it’s just that our next record is probably gonna sound like something else."
I suppose you’re kind of a different band for different situations as well. The first time I saw you was at an ATP gig in 2010 and I remember thinking it was – and you’re gonna have to hear me out here - I didn’t really like it at all…
Gurnsey: "That’s alright."
…and the second time was at a Durrr night, more of a nightclub vibe, and I absolutely loved it. Thought it was one of the best I’d been to.
Gurnsey: "Were you off your trolley on pills?"
I wasn’t off my trolley on pills, no, but I was having a really good time.
Gurnsey: "Hang on, which ATP night was it?"
It was with Liquid Liquid.
Gurnsey: "Oh yeah, that was fucking awful. It was a really shit show, I’d agree with you there. Yeah terrible, shit, I agree with you on that one, I can understand if you thought we were shite. It was proper hectic setting up the technical stuff. Total nightmare."
I think the crowd was a lot of beardy types who just stood there watching, whereas now, I'd think of you as a dance band.
Gurnsey: "I think all the technical stuff, we have to spend a long time setting it up, because there’s a lot of subtle changes in stuff. But that’s boring technical things."
"If people think music can only be created by chords then they’ve got a fucking dull way of looking at life." - Gabriel Gurnsey
Well you say that you spend a lot of time on the technical stuff, but didn’t your album get mixed by someone you’ve never met before?
Gurnsey: "Yeah, we completely laid the trust in the hands of a guy [Timothy "Q" Wiles] we didn’t know and we’d never met. He lives in LA , he’d never seen us live, didn’t know our sound – but he totally got it. In a lot of ways it’s good that he didn’t know. You feel you can let go of it a bit easier, and when you get it back off that person you don’t feel like it’s your own thing. You can appreciate it more as an experience because it feels like somebody else’s."
Especially if you’ve been so hands-on the whole time.
Gurnsey: "Definitely. I think there was a point where you needed to let go. You lose sight of it at a certain point."
Why don’t you use chords?
Void: "I don’t play guitar in a traditional way, so it’d be really wrong of me to use chords."
Butler: "Same for me. I play more rhythmical sounding things, and Void plays her guitar in a certain way."
Did you ever collectively agree on it? Or did you just find it was something you were just doing?
Gurnsey: "It was a natural thing for us to each explore something more interesting. If we’re running over that ground again then it’s kind of boring for us."
Butler: "It’s a bit more abstract as well, because I think we kind of prefer that."
Do you feel that might be why a lot of people would accuse your stuff of all sounding the same?
Gurnsey: "In terms of the repetition?"
Gurnsey: "Well, there’s no rules to things. If people think music can only be created by chords then they’ve got a fucking dull way of looking at life. Music can be done in any form, it can be made in any way you want. People are still quite narrow-minded and it’s 2013. There’s a lot of comments like 'oh, the monotony', and things like that…"
Butler: "If you heard a samba rhythm playing you wouldn’t go up to the guy and say 'where’s the chords?'"
Gurnsey: "We’re exploring elements of primitive music, we’re not trying to explore being a popular indie band. It’s dull. It’s not in our nature."
I mean, I don’t mind – some of my favourite songs are just one note.
Gurnsey: "Sometimes less is a bit more, innit?"
DFA released 'Factory Floor' on September 9th. Buy it here.