Environmental Listening: An interview with Factory Floor

Words by Steph Kretowicz

The English band’s third album establishes them as leaders of modern day electronic post-punk. Steph Kretowicz discovers the place that got them there. Above: Factory Floor from left to right: Nik Void, Dominic Butler, Gabe Gurnsey

 

“Do you remember that burger we got, between the two of us?” Factory Floor guitarist and vocalist Nik Void is laughing across the kitchen table as drummer Gabe Gurnsey, understanding all too well what she’s on about, picks up the thread. “I had no money. I had my last pound or something. I went and got a burger and I was like, ‘I’m so fuckin’ hungry.’ I came back and Nik goes, ‘Oh, let me have a bite.’ Then she just dropped it down the fucking stairs. It was like the end of the world,” he says laughing, mirth mixed with a residue of resentment, as the two artists recall the volatility of living together while skint in a rough North London suburb.

Now Nik lives in Norfolk (absent third member and synth player Dom Butler has moved to Dorset), which inevitably means she’s 40 minutes late for our interview. But there’s plenty of distraction in the warehouse space where Gabe still lives, now the makeshift studio where Factory Floor record: coffee, cigarettes and some London Pride ale among a rotating door of friends, artists and a flatulent old bulldog named Vincent. Eventually, Nik and her son Morgan arrive, which is Gabe’s cue to stop smoking, while warning me the dog’s snoring might interfere with my recording. I’ll take the risk.

That’s when Gabe’s girlfriend Ana retires to her room, flatmate Ken to Café Oto to see Sun Ra Arkestra for the umpteenth time, and a journalist friend to the recording room to, rather embarrassingly, play Factory Floor’s new self-titled record really loudly while we talk. “That isn’t us playing the album by the way,” Gabe assures me.

And this is where the magic happens. Over a period of roughly two years, the band—that have worked with the likes of Chris Carter, Mark Stewart and sound artist Haroon Mirza—have played, honed and recorded their ideas into this finely tuned record, as heard emanating through the walls next door. It’s a disrobed “primitive dance”, as Gabe calls it, that is worlds apart from the bass-led punk strut of the 2008 EP Planning Applications’ “I Was Always Wrong” (the first Nik Void contribution before permanentlay replacing ex-member Mark Harris in late 2009) that drew easy comparisons with Joy Division and The Fall. Now, it’s all about the pitched and processed malfunction of unyielding rhythm, fed through the tethers of a limited four-track recording process in an equally restrictive in-house studio. But that’s nothing compared to the limits of a paid studio, where Factory Floor could never have taken the time and the patience to evolve their sound and clarify their direction. And, as it happens, environment has everything to do with it.

 

I get the sense that living in East London, or any major city, can really mess with your head. Sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart.

GG: It’s a difficult environment.

NV: I love it. I moved out of it and I miss it a lot. I’ve moved to the country now but at the time of doing the record in the first year, I think I had two jobs, as well. Going to work on the tube during rush hour and then coming back here and then it was like [scats the frenetic rhythm of movement] for a long couple of years. But you have to put yourself in that situation to get something quite… I’m not bigging us up, but unique. You have to torture yourself a little bit [laughs]. Especially, around here, it’s really quite gritty, but I like it. It feels real and part of life.

GG: Yeah, that’s the nice thing about it.

NV: I lived here in the warehouse a couple of years before we started work on the record, in view of knowing that we wanted to take it over and build a studio here. It’s not the nicest place to live but it was interesting, I have to say. All these warehouses, walled off spaces, and they were taken over by churches and kind of all these gospel sounds. They had these massive dub PAs playing through the walls ‘til six in the morning, with this guy going, “Praise the Lord!”

GG: I kind of miss it.

You don’t really come across spaces like this anymore.

NV: Yeah, it’s just really fortunate, the whole complex. The lady who has it has been here for years. There’s always been someone in here using it as an art space and I think she likes the fact that there are people here, when they’re all gone. She’s totally left us to it. She’d been up here once or twice since I’d lived here and I lived here for about five years. I’m really conscious, knowing there’s hardly any space like this, that if someone was into the same things I was doing, I would start to get a bit like, ‘don’t start looking around because you’re not having this place’ [laughs]. You get really territorial.

Considering how much your sound has moved away from its original noise leaning, I felt like you must have recorded this album somewhere new.

NV: We all lived in East London separately before then. That’s hectic, in terms of you’re stuck in a scene with other bands and lots of people can overhear what you’re doing. You don’t feel like you can get your own space and your own bubble, so this place—being the ‘un-trendy’ part of London—It’s kind of hectic today but usually, when we were working on the record, it’s kind of isolated, and you could concentrate on recordings every day. I think we very rarely went into Central London, which is 20 minutes away on the Victoria line.

GG: You come up here and you don’t really leave it much; you’re kind of stuck. Not in a bad way; it’s a great place but there are loads of people coming in and out and it’s quite a creative environment to be in, and there’s just so much space. You couldn’t do this in a one bedroom flat. We couldn’t have done it in a studio either, because we would have paid two million pounds because of the process and the way we work.

Do you think that has something to do with your affinity with the bands that you’ve worked with, that older generation, because they also came from an environment like this? Whereas a lot of people of your generation don’t.

NV: Yeah. There’s loads of people in our generation and the new generation that are really good bands, but I do get the sense that bands that happened from the ’80s had that. You always hear about them coming from squats in Kings Cross, or [Throbbing Gristle] had their place down the road in London Fields. It sounds like quite a romantic vision of being in a band when you read about it, but you know it’s not that easy. Sometimes you have to put yourself in an environment to extract something that’s good and real.

GG: You’re in that state. When you’re in that situation, you feel a part of something and it’s totally creating your own world and environment.

NV: You’ve got to live it.

You performed at The Tanks at Tate Modern last year and the response you got is almost legendary. How is it that you got a bunch of teenagers so excited?

NV: We wanted to do something slightly different to a normal set up. We were going to treat it as an open rehearsal and, because it’s in a gallery, people would just walk in and walk out. But for some reason, we knew it was going for three hours, and people just came in a ring around us and they just stuck it out. The projections in the Tate Tanks where it’s a circular room, people just started losing their shit to it, taking their clothes off and the Tate were tweeting, “Oh my god, there are naked people in the Tate.”

GG: It was such an environment where you could just get totally lost in it. I don’t know whether it was a shape and a sound where people just felt that they could do that.

It doesn’t seem like the kind of place where you’d think to take your clothes off.

GG: That was the great thing. It was the Tate.

NV: There were no windows or anything. It’s a massive bunker, basically. I guess that’s the closest we’d get to being in a dance club, I suppose, because we were facing each other on tables, those people on the outside weren’t looking at us as entertainment, which I think is a really important thing. Being in a band, you’re looked upon as being entertainment and we’re really not like that at all. We’d really just rather people feel what they’re doing, as opposed to straining their necks trying to see us on stage. That was a great example of, ‘look, you can reach this different level if you’re not concentrating on what we’re doing and sort of losing yourself.’

GG: It’s quite a frustrating thing of being in a band, the interest of people watching you. There is the other side of it, where people watch Dom dancing or Nik moving to the music and me drumming, there’s that part of it, which can make the audience go more crazy, but we want to be a part of the audience as much as anything. ~

Factory Floor’s self-titled album is out now on DFA.