Two Different Ways: Factory Floor on 25 25

Ahead of hotly anticipated new album 25 25, Factory Floor's dynamic duo talk fluidity, geography, and why the term ‘post-industrial’ doesn’t do them justice.

Feature by Duncan Harman | 12 Aug 2016

The year 2016 is fucked up. Its inhabitants are mean, the news is drunk, and we need a whole new set of musical heroes because the current lot are all in the morgue. We could do with something to get us back into the groove. To assist in that quest to keep feeling fascination. A new Factory Floor record, you say? Yes please. Plug us in.

“Utilitarian,” says Gabe Gurnsey as The Skinny asks them to describe 25 25.

“Playful. Minimal. To the point,” adds co-conspirator Nik Colk. And then they both laugh…

It’s been three years since their eponymous, critically-acclaimed debut, a period in which losing a member (Dominic Butler exiting soon after the release of Factory Floor) coincided with a recalibration in how their darkly hypnotic sound could travel.

“We had a change in set-up in terms of gear,” percussionist Gabriel Gurnsey explains. “We started migrating towards other instruments, Nik starting to explore modular synthesis and moving away from the guitar, which really worked. That was the backbone when we were embarking on 25 25.

“It’s quite a major part of the story – we both didn’t know modular synthesis at that time. I think that’s why it’s quite minimal and exploratory. We set up in an old silk factory up north, and we put a big PA in there, so we were actually playing through the PA as we were making the record.”

“We had the warehouse in north London where we were set up,” says multi-instrumentalist Colk of their previous modus operandi. “We were recording as we went along, but it’s more a kind of jamming in a sense, and you listen back to those recordings and take a section that works, where everyone’s working together.

“This one was a lot more clinical. Because of the process of playing more club-orientated shows and changing set-up, Gabe and I were more in sync with each other. Because there weren’t any room mics everything was fed directly in, and we could talk or show each other over the top of recording. There was this dialogue going between us at the same time as writing, and it was really exciting. It was almost like playing anew; that’s why I say that the album is pretty playful.”

Another shift is in location; if Factory Floor was their London album, the 25 25 journey takes in such diverse settings as Manchester, Los Angeles, and rural Norfolk. Not – as Gurnsey details – that this was necessarily deliberate.

“We follow where we can find the space at the time. We always find ourselves in some kind of big, old warehouse where we have to plant ourselves in and get in that headspace of creating a record, and not really listening to external stuff.

“That’s the way we work, and the way we like working as opposed to going into someone else’s studio or whatever. We need it to feel like it’s our own space – to be able to make a mess and be as loud as we want. That’s a big part of the process, and because we’re blasting it through a PA at the same time as recording, you can kind of really lose yourself in it.

“It’s just a great way of working because you’ve got that intensity of the sound as opposed to mixing it through headphones or tiny monitors.”

Colk continues the geographic theme. “After Manchester we took the files away and had our own separate space from each other. I set up a studio in Norfolk – I’ve moved to the countryside – and Gabe was in LA, and we both had the same equipment so we could hear the same things that were going on.

“The difference from being out of London is that now I can go for a couple of days without seeing anyone – the closest shop to where I am is five miles away – and that sense of being away from what’s going on, it makes you really focused and get lost in what you’re doing.

“You kind of detach yourself from reality in a way and pick up your own narratives through the tracks. Every track has a different type of vocal; I was really excited about playing around and manipulating my voice. I took it about as far away from my natural voice as possible so you could read a different persona in each track.”

And does that feed in to the album’s rich seam of claustrophobia? “Yeah, I think it’s probably down to the fact that I was a bit claustrophobic, not seeing anyone…”

“But the drums sound really LA…” Gurnsey replies, cueing further laughter.

It’s an approach that works on manifold levels; there’s a necessary relentlessness to 25 25, its pared-back physicality trapping the listener in its sly momentum. “I love the way the band is now,” Gabe continues. “It’s like the communication’s been concentrated into an easier, more fluid way of working. Instead of ping-ponging ideas between three people it’s now going between two, and it seems a lot more of a spontaneous process.”

Colk agrees. “It did feel like being 'at one' as opposed to three. Before, we were keeping our separate space, whereas this time we kind of changed our tools to suit our personalities. I think we’ve got to the point where we know what our sound is so we feel easy about exchanging ideas and not being too precious about it.”

Gurnsey, again: “It’s really fun in that way, we’ve got an amazing freedom to do that on stage as well. Factory Floor have always had that spontaneity of changing stuff live, and it’s going to continue on this record.”

And should Factory Floor exist as a fluid concept, it certainly seems to suit the duo’s mindset – particularly, as Colk admits, a change in the particulars of playing live has afforded the opportunity to evolve in multiple directions.

“We’ve been playing these late club nights, but we’re going to go back to playing drums to tour this record because we want to keep growing; we don’t want to just go out and play the record as it is. We’re shifting our instruments round again and we’re going to interpret it as more of physical version. If we’re offered a show in a club, we’ll probably think more electronically but if it’s a venue then we’ll probably do a drum set-up; you can feed off both.

“I think that’s what people like about watching Factory Floor. That it’s like a machine has started – so we like people to feel that there are humans behind the machine, to bring the drums back in.”

Again, Gurnsey is in agreement. “The fact that we’ve changed set-up, it’s opened a massive door in terms of having confidence. We were worried about the intensity of our live show as a solely electronic set because you haven’t got the human element in there, but we’ve achieved that in a lot of late nights at festivals and smaller clubs in the last year, so it’s great that we can switch between those two, and it will be different each time. It opens up more possibilities, to grow creatively.”

So how would they describe their sound, currently? Certainly not as ‘post-industrial’ – a categorisation that’s been applied in part to Colk’s work – as Carter Tutti Void – with industrial veterans Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti.

“It’s weird,” Gurnsey suggests. “It doesn’t piss me off but it seems strange that people aren’t coming up with more interesting terms. The post-industrial thing – I don’t really think that we fall under that a lot of the time; maybe we do live – we do sound a lot heavier live than we do on a record – but we always like switching between those ways of working; it’s not a set thing in my mind.

“Going back on the drums and doing the live set again – I think that bringing that into the equation is going to send us in another direction. It could throw up a lot of possibilities.”

“It’s exciting,” Colk concludes. “This way we have of communicating is real exciting. There’s going to be a lot of interesting paths that the band are going to take in the future.” A future that, with the August release of 25 25, starts shortly. Bring it on – no way can it be worse than the present.

25 25 is released on 19 Aug via DFA Records. Factory Floor play Electric Fields in the grounds of Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries on 26 Aug.