I caught up with Dom, Gabe and Nik of Factory Floor just before their very first gig in Copenhagen, drinking whiskey and ginger with Will Doyle (East India Youth), their support act for the tour. All four of them are welcoming and chatty long before the interview begins, Will recommending his favourite music journalists, Gabe pouring drinks, and Nik attempting to unplug the fridge to reduce the noise.
The interview is longer than usual, but it has remained unedited, since it captures the thought and passion the trio put into their music, both live and recorded. Behind their easy-going nature there is an energy constantly bubbling up to the surface as we discuss artistic development, North London, and collaborations with their favourite visual artists and musicians.
Here Today: You have been around in various guises since 2005, with singles, EPs, and so on, but what finally convinced you to make an album?
Nik: The three of us have been together since 2009… Well I can’t really speak for you two, because I joined you.
Gabriel: But I think that Factory Floor, before that, was just pissing about.
Dominic: It was a different band.
G: Yeah it was, just under the same name. I know all that history comes into it, but it only really started when us three got into a room together.
D: There was a lot of development, a lot of gigs…
G: We didn’t want to go, “Ah, there’s a bit of interest in us, so lets just do an album and disappear.” I think we wanted to make those steps really carefully.
D: We had releases in between, they just weren’t albums: EPs, singles, collaborations, they were all informing what the album was going to be like.
G: It was a big learning curve, the album, recording it, writing it as we went along, it did take a long time. But you have to go through those processes. You can’t get to a point where you’re totally happy with something until you go through that real process of development and learning. It’s very lengthy.
HT: Is that process more about refining composition, or is technical as well?
D: I think composition is a big thing. The way we work together is a hands-on, quite creative, artistic approach. We wouldn’t sit down and write music, it’s more about recognising something when it’s working, instinctively, between the three of us. When you are playing live, it’s great because you are expressing yourself in a certain way and it happens in real time. But when you have to capture it in a recording studio…
N: We built our own studio. We aren’t producers or engineers, so we had to learn how to record ourselves, because we wanted to recapture what we did live, but we also wanted to produce a record that was different from our live performance, that was more stripped down, clearer, more focused.
HT: You’ve collaborated with all kinds of people, musicians and artists, but it sounds like your recording process is much more insular.
D: When you’re working with other people, they inform your own practice, and what we got from that really came back in when we came together as the three of us again. So it’s not like we separate them, but we made a conscious decision on this album that, because it was our first document, our first LP, it was important that it should just be us.
N: We had engineers coming in, we worked with Stephen Morris as a producer, which was great, but we end up rerecording parts and manipulating them to the extent that it felt easier if we just did it ourselves and had a more hands-on approach. You experience all these creative accidents; it’s just a more creative way or recognising what we’re doing. I think fifty percent of what we do is to get these tools and work it out, as opposed to making tracks with lyrics about falling out with a friend. It’s about sound. We were working in this place in North London, where we were using the building to make our sound as well, and dismissing that idea of being in a studio, which is quite daunting. We knew we needed a place where we have all our stuff set up, and we can just walk away from it and come back the next day with it still set up.
D: You feel more relaxed in your own space. If you’re in someone’s studio you’re worried about scratching stuff or knocking a microphone over.
G: It’s a love and hate relationship, I’d miss it if it weren’t there.
D: It might well not be there, they’ve knocked the whole street down.
G: The street’s being developed, it’s all getting knocked down. It’s not far from Stoke Newington and Shoreditch, all that area, and it’s the last bit of London that’s going to be gentrified. It’s going and we can feel it on our doorstep.
D: We’ve got a Costa on the corner…
G: I don’t think there are going to be any places like that… It did influence us, but it was a massive distraction as well, but I think it needed to be there. And there’s a good drum sound if you mic it up in the toilet.
HT: So do you think that the area informed the album in some way?
G: It’s an isolated area of North London…
D: It was quite a strange time, though, because there were the riots while we were recording. There were massive things happening around, which I’m sure had some kind of unconscious influence. We were sandwiched between two Nigerian churches that would go on until the early morning. It’s an agitated area of London, there are so many things colliding. Not in a bad way, in a really creative way.
N: It felt really raw and real. And then you’ve got high volume Factory Floor music coming through the warehouse. It was an intense couple of years.
D: It’s quite weird that when we finished the album, that’s when the change started to happen. We were quite lucky really. I think we would have spent all our time in Costa…
G: I think the day the album came out in the UK, they started drilling next door to knock the building down. It’s been like that for two months, it’s bizarre and horrible.
HT: You were talking about your drum sound earlier. This album comes out on DFA records, who are known for quite a distinctive sound in terms of their drum and synths. How do you see yourself in relation to the other artists on their roster?
D: We were going to build a massive cowbell and wheel it on stage in a Tesco trolley, but someone had done that before…
G: I think we all love the New York, pre-dance stuff. It was more about organic instruments producing dance music, as opposed to digital plugins or whatever, which we aren’t against at all, but it changes the humanistic element of it.
D: DFA felt like a gateway to New York, in a weird way.
G: It’s a weird escapism. I’m in New York, but I’m in Seven Sisters, but I’m not…
N: It’s the same as moving to North London, which is away from all the scenes happening in London, because it’s the uncool part of the city. It’s nice to have that distance, so we can do our own thing.
HT: I think the use of live drums might be the thing that connects you most to that DFA sound.
D: The live drums and guitar really shift what we do from being – I know sound like I’m putting myself down – mediocre. You hear so many programmed dance outfits, but because we’re doing it live, we’re feeding off each other, it’s a very instinctive live set. It falls into improvisation at points, then it comes back.
G: You can’t really do that with a laptop. We like going against the pre-programmed stuff.
D: We push to get off that grid.
HT: Do you think of yourselves as mainly a live band?
In unison: Yes!
G: You’ve got to have that physicality. Instead of pressing one button to get that sound, press five buttons to eventually get to that sound. It’s good to think about it to get that humanistic DIY. That feeds through to the sound you’re creating. You’ve got to be hands-on with it to get to that point.
N: And if you hit the wrong one, hit it twice, so it looks on purpose.
G: Or do it for half and hour. But we all play, and I think that’s really apparent in the shows, that you can see points where it isn’t working. That doesn’t matter to us, we’re not precious about the shows being the same. There are points where it drifts into the unknown, where it starts to fall apart. It’s the trying to get it back from that where new things happen, new ideas and discoveries.
HT: This is a bit left-field, but I was interested to hear that the album was recorded on the same mix desk that the Eurythmics used. Is that coincidence?
D: We spotted it on ebay, I don’t know if we looked through the list [of previous owners] before we bought it.
G: It’s just a big volume control. It’s got some nice EQs on it, and the powerplug on it is quite nice as well, but that’s about it.
D: When did we discover that?
G: Jaki Liebezeit of Can, they were involved. But it was made in 1982, and I was born in 1982, so we were born the same day.
HT: But you have worked with a lot of your heroes and influences (Stephen Morris, Throbbing Gristle).
G: I think the mutual thing between these people and us is that they have the same approach to music. They go into a room with no preconceptions of what they are doing, and they just go with it. It’s an amazing thing. That’s why we do different live shows all the time, because we would get bored. They are from the same angle.
D: If you think a lot of the music industry is based on youth, it’s nice to meet people who are still as sharp as they have ever been; they are still inquisitive about their art.
N: They’re still transgressive …
G: Yeah, they’re not just one genre, not packaged into one thing.
D: It’s inspiring for us, to realise that hopefully in twenty years time we’ll still have that.
G: Still be in the warehouse…
HT: It’s interesting that, with your deep affection and relationship with certain periods in music history, the album sounds completely current.
G: But I just started ripping people off.
N: [To Gabe] That’s not true!
D: Some music when you’re growing up really impacts on you. I know that when I first heard “Atmosphere” it had a massive impact on my taste, whether it was the Velvet Underground or people like that. I think there is a point when you are starting when you need those seeds, but then you make your own language.
G: You’ve got to learn and progress into your own thing.
D: There was a lot of interest in the post punk era at that point. But we made complete strides away from that, didn’t we?
G: Everything happens for a reason; members are there or not there for a reason. If it’s meant to happen, it will. People come in and out of it, until you get the chemistry.
HT: You’ve worked with many visual artists, at the ICA, the Tate Modern. How did that come about?
D: We’re all from art backgrounds, we’ve all studied art up to a certain level. I think of Factory Floor as my artistic career. It’s my output at the moment.
N: It’s really important to mix art and music in the same box, it’s the same creativity. The ICA asked us to do a one-year residency after a show. The history of the ICA has always been about merging art and music, so it seemed inevitable that it would be a really good fit. We were allowed to use the space and make our show specific in terms of rearranging the space, using quadraphonic sound and different visuals. There’s one show where I’m out of it –Simon Fisher Turner’s taken my place –doing the visual for that, and Peter Gordon brought along Kit Fitzgerald, his life-long partner, who’s always looked at visuals and music in relation to each other. And Hannah Sawtell, we worked within her exhibition.
D: It’s only the industry that brings in the separation. You buy a record for fifteen quid, but you buy a piece of art for two million. That’s what separates it, the artists themselves don’t see any kind of division. Look at the Chapman brothers, they are making records, and they’re really good.
HT: And do the visuals influence the way you play?
G: For me, when we’re playing live, because I’m on the side I can see it, but it’s quite different for you [Dom], because you’re facing the audience. So they make you play, they create a mask in a way. You play along with them, when the audience is going mad, or when they’re not, it affects the show.
N: We’re driven by instinct, and it’s just another instinct. If the screen goes to green, I’ll hit my guitar, it’s really simple.
D: When you have patterns revolving, it doesn’t take long for whatever part of your consciousness to join them. Those connections are quite rewarding as an audience or an artist playing. You start to make these connections, which feels good and helps this escapism.
HT: You’ve used this word, escapism, quite a few times. But you’ve also spoken about how your environment has influenced you. So what does escapism mean for you?
N: The live element is enabling the audience to detach themselves from their every day lives. Because we have this repetition, and the lyrics are really simplified, there isn’t any narrative content there, it leaves space for the person listening to make up their own mind and respond in their own instinctive way.
D: It’s not very often you get a lot of people in a space who are able to escape from their reality and share that experience. If you go to an art gallery, you’re by yourself. You look at a picture and have your escapism. But there’s something about a performance that’s different. You’re with a group of people and you’re all sharing this dialogue between the artists and the audience.
N: That’s why it was really important for us to set up base, living in a space and being in our own bubble. It’s having that gang mentality, thinking about the same things and having the same vision. You want put that out to the people you play in front of, so they are all experiencing this sound and feeling it, losing themselves.
HT: Have you had any surprising reactions to your performances?
D: At the Tate Modern…
N: People taking off their clothes!
D: We set it up as a three-hour rehearsal, where people could come in, like an open studio. It was such an incredible reaction, because it was such a long period of time to play, it unravelled differently. People reacted quite profoundly, I think.