Among other things, I find the music of Factory Floor to be perfectly suited to exercising on a rowing machine. The relentless, mechanistic rhythms, alloyed to punctilious electronics and disembodied barking, put me in the right frame of mind for regimen, discipline, and the pursuit of excellence. If this makes my response to their work sound emotionless, you’re mistaken. Music that seeks to elevate the sounds of the assembly line from mere repetition to mantra is, in my book, praiseworthy. (See my thoughts on the essential albums of Kraftwerk.) Which goes some way towards explaining why I have hankered to see them in a live setting: music this ritual and kinetic deserves to be united with its creators.
The first time I saw them on stage was a year ago, in suboptimal circumstances: I was plastered; they were bereft of live percussion, weaving a tapestry of inscrutable electronics across Village Underground, as part of the Convergence festival. I found myself unable to respond, emotionally or otherwise, to their set, coming as it did after three (three!) opening acts of left-field techno.
Undeterred, a couple of weeks ago I seized the opportunity to restore some balance and, having wolfed down the most legitimate tapas in London at Barrafina, walked down a block to the Charing Cross Arches.
The sight of Gabe Gurnsey behind a drum kit was instantly reassuring. It connected what I was about to witness with their records, which listen to at least weekly. Behind him, a video screen showcased Dan Tombs‘ beautifully tormented patterns, which responded to the music and cast a frenetic light-show across the venue. Set against the pixelated chaos, Gurnsey cut a consummate, disciplined figure, whether pounding the toms or unspooling intricate 16th-notes on the hi-hat. Notable was the fact his kit was the only ‘acoustic’ instrument on stage: as a consequence, the sound was perfectly isolated and precision-mixed to deliver a fair old wallop. When he leant on the four-to-the-floor bass drum, the almighty thump displaced a cave’s worth of air.
The drums, augmented by classic 808 beats, provided the anchor for Nik Colk Void’s sonic assault, unleashed from a battery of modular synthesizers, assorted gizmos, and her own smeary and effected vocals. She has perfected the manipulation of these elements in real time, which allowed the songs to unfold patiently, then self-remix, and finally interpolate motifs from other tracks. What can be perceived as sterile on record could not be mistaken as such in this setting. The centrepiece was “Ya“, which so cleverly integrated portions of “Wave” that I temporarily forgot the distracting thought I always entertain when hearing the song on record—whether the signature vocal has its roots in LCD Soundsystem’s “Yeah“. (Decide for yourself, reader.)
Amidst the throbbing noises, the gut- and gullet- punching bass tones, and the seamless symbiosis of man and machine (file next to Battles), the atmosphere flitted between raucous punk gig and Berlin techno palace. The crowd responded in rapturous fashion, their euphoria belying the undercurrent of menace that sometimes creeps into Factory Floor’s music. By contrast, the opening act Ghost Culture’s more catholic take on techno, with bendy analogue synth leads and blink-and-you’d-miss-it syncopation, came across like music you might wish to hear when transiting through an airport at pace. Functional and aesthetically pleasing, yes, but not designed to sublime. Gurnsey and Void were unafraid of ugliness and punishing textures, and through this, they achieved the sublimation I so hoped for. As the house lights came up, you could half imagine, in true DFA/Despacio style, “Here Comes The Sun” being piped over the Tannoy.
That didn’t happen, but everything else I wanted the set to deliver pretty much did. Consider myself humbled, and corrected.