Factory Floor are a London-based trio who create post-industrial music with elements of traditional electronica and techno, noise, disco and post-punk. The band’s sound is defined by their live instrumentation, performed by Gabriel Gurnsey (percussion, tape loops), Nik Colk (guitar, vocals) and Dominic Butler (synth, laptop). They have released singles on taste-making labels like Blast First Petite and Optimo, with a forthcoming release on DFA Records. I caught up with the group under the neon lights of Asbury Lanes during a run of inaugural stateside appearances surrounding their slot at the All Tomorrow’s Parties curated by Portishead. That night, the group would deliver a barnstorming late night set to a capacity crowd of dancing revelers.
This is your first US tour as Factory Floor. How has the reception been so far?
Gabriel Gurnsey: Philadelphia was great, amazing, really good crowd. New York was great as well, it’s good to have a different audience rather than just the UK or Europe.
What’s the difference between American and UK crowds?
Nik Colk: I think you get different crowds everywhere, you get different crowds in London as well. You’ll play the ICA and you’ll get the TG crowd or you’ll play Brussels at three in the morning and you’ll get people that are just there to dance. I’ve found that the New York crowd was very similar to London in general, a real seriousness about it, difficult to let themselves go.
GG: Yeah but Philadelphia totally like Glasgow, people dancing straight away. The first band were on, people just dancing’ and losing it, escaping in it.
NC: I’m sure it happens in New York, it’s just about finding the right venue.
Your music straddles the line between dance music and more experimental genres. When you are working on a track how do you reconcile the dancey versus the arty impulse?
Dominic Butler: With dance music, there is a very tribal, primitive thing going on there and with art there’s a tribal, primitive thing going on as well. I think that’s the link. As a band, we can tap into that part of ourselves. It automatically…
NC: …comes out. When we play live it’s semi-improvised.
How did the three of you come together as a band?
GG: I had been in a lot of shit bands and me and Dom started doing some writing together and Nik joined and something happened in the room when we were working together and it clicked and became quite intense.
NC: It was a little bit like fighting for our own noise to come through, now it’s more like appreciating each other and having space for each other and question-and-answering each other. We’ve learnt by doing the live shows you have to listen really hard to each other.
DB: We try and put the harmonies and the disharmonies within the noises we’re making individually and then play around with that and shift it and move it in different ways. To have moments where you think it’s all gonna fall apart, you think: This is weird, what’s going on? And all of a sudden another element will come in from Nik or Gabe and that will lock it back in again and move it forward. It’s quite instinctive. It’s good fun, it keeps you on your toes. A lot of bands have songs, they rehearse the songs, they play them out, they put them on the record, I’d fucking die of boredom doing that.
Live, you keep it semi-improvised?
GG: Yeah and we try and do it in the recordings as well. We’ll do a few takes of a track, not like: This goes here, that goes there. There are certain structures but when they happen, they happen. When it feels right they’ll happen rather than being a song, which like Dom said is just boring.
Do you guys have a dedicated studio space where you can rehearse and record?
NC: Yeah, we live in it. [Laughter]
DB: I don’t, I escaped. We’ve just started to build it, I mean there was a studio in there before, but we’ve put a lot of our gear in there and tailored it to our own way of working.
GG: It’s what we need to make Factory Floor music. That environment, that space. It’s kind of messy, cables everywhere, and that feeds back into the music.
NC: We’ve stuck stuff up on the walls that’s inspiring to us, make, like an art studio. What we’ve found is that when we entered a studio we’d end up redoing it again anyway.
DB: It can take a day or two in a studio to acclimatize to the actual space, it’s a pain.
NC: We’re really lucky. It’s in London but it’s in North London, it’s not central, obviously it’s cheaper out there. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to go out in London now because we tend to stay in all the time. Then you’ll go out on the tube and be like “Oh my god.” I think it’s necessary for us to live there, because the environment really does come up in our music; the repetitiveness.
How do you edit or decide what to release?
GG: It’s quite hard to do that actually, to narrow things down, because it’s kind of contradictory to what we’re doing. To freeze something so that when you stop it, you stop a part of its essence.
NC: We’ve got loads of unfinished recordings, quite an archive. That’s the benefit of having your own space, putting everything onto cassette and archiving it and coming back and visiting it.
GG: Records are more like photographs than films, a snapshot of where we’re at at that time. Our first record doesn’t sound miles away from the DFA single we’re doing in November. There’s definitely a progression, there are shots of where it’s going. It always progresses anyway, like the show in Philly yesterday was totally different to the show in New York. That’s what keeps us interested in what we’re doing and keeps us coming back, no two shows are the same.
Do you record your live shows?
DB: No, but we should start. We do so much improvisation.
NC: We recorded last night’s and we were listening to it today in the car and it was like “I don’t wanna do that bit again.”
Do you spend a lot of time reflecting on recorded material?
DB: No, not at all. It was a bit weird too. I said in the van “Can you turn this off? Cuz it feels like I’ve been looking in the mirror for 45 minutes.” You don’t spend that much time staring at yourself. I find it’ — not uncomfortable — but it shifts you a bit.
GG: With the gigs it’s like, they’ve happened and it’s done. There’s no necessity in listening back to it. We learn mistakes or good things from just doing it. We’d like to remember it for how it was rather than…how it was?
DB: Yeah, like the space, the environment. Like tonight is a really…this space is amazing, we’re already kind of feeling this space. When you do something in space it’s quite hard to then go away and describe it.
NC: I think it’s really important to other people though. I think it’s important to remember to record these live shows.
DB: It’s like you hear some artists say they never read their own reviews. But other people will read those and other people will listen.
So whether you engage in listening to the live shows or the material you put out, you know other people are going to be living their lives through it?
GG: And we’re not opposed to that all.
How did you get asked to play Portishead’s ATP?
GG: Geoff [Barrow] emailed us a couple years ago just to say hi and say how much he liked what we were doing. We’ve never actually met him. I love Portishead though.
So this is just a series of shows rather than a proper tour because you had the opportunity?
NC: We’ve got these other shows surrounding ATP set up so we’ll get our visas.
DB: I was thinking it would be great to do an after-show party that’s a bit more DIY.
GG: Dave who does Making Time in Philly had been emailing us. He really wanted to get us over here and I think it went really well.
Do you find that it’s easier to get a reputation in the States before you’ve played here because of blogging and file-sharing?
DB: We did East Village Radio, I was surprised how much they’d heard about us and knew about us.
GG: They knew a lot of our background.
In terms of playing live, you do have a preference for DIY venues?
DB: We set up a warehouse party in central London and brought in a quadraphonic sound system and set up in the middle of the space, with buildings surrounding us. It was so much better, so much more engagement with the audience and vice-versa.
GG: It would be good to bring it over here. We’d like to do things more like that, rather than venues with loads of bands playing. It’s just not Factory Floor. We like to create our own environment. It’s just more intense, it makes more sense.