Factory Floor, the debut full-length record by Factory Floor, is one of the year's best. It's filled with impossibly tight grooves that seem haunted by the ghosts of human imperfection. Its three makers, singer/guitarist Nik Colk Void, drummer Gabriel Gurnsey, and synth wrangler Dominic Butler, have been throwing British audiences into a frothing, occasionally nude, frenzy for the last few years with their improvisational beat orgy of a live show. The album, out on New York's own DFA Records, is educated by the human ebb and flow of those concerts, but presents a more perfected vision. Those precise recordings now feed back into the band's sets as boundaries to stretch, or break entirely. Before this weekend, they hadn't demonstrated the approach to NYC audiences as a full band since 2011. Friday night, in the second of two sold-out, tightly packed 285 Kent shows, the band was definitely wilder, less geometrically exact. Their sound ambled from undeniable, room-moving peaks to more prolonged psychedelic freak outs (with a few sound system glitches thrown in). Despite the sub-arctic chill outside, things got fairly sweaty.
Before that, though, we caught up with the band for a few idle minutes. We talked about the focusing effects of body-shaking volume, the band's differing methods for a record versus a live set, the light OCD that helps you drum like a machine, and the defining human element at the heart of this coolly mechanical music.
I read other interviews where you guys talked about the importance of sheer volume to your live show. Now that you are an established act, playing bigger venues, is it easier or tougher to get a uniform volume from room to room to consistently match what you want? Is there a set decibel level you’ve settled on?
Gabe Gurnsey: Our sound guy could get a big sound out of a little stereo system. He’s that kind of guy. So, no, it hasn’t been a problem. Our sound needs to be...you need to feel it. You can actually get that from it being quite low volume, rather than always being a high volume. There’s ways of doing it.
Did it take a while at the beginning to figure that out? That you needed that physical feeling?
Nik Colk Void: It’s just been a natural thing. When I first joined, we worked in this space that was the size of that small room there. I remember Gabe and Dom just being REALLY loud, so in that respect I had to be really loud too to get my word in, so to speak, in the conversation. It was just the way we played. It just felt necessary to have that energy, that volume behind the music.
Gabe: We just like loud music.
Have you found that sort of overwhelming quality has gotten people at your concerts off of their phones? Is that even possible anymore? Is that working?
Gabe: Yeah, I think it’s because it’s such a primitive sound as well, that people go, “Fuck’s that?” It’s not that nice, clean digital kind of thing. People are curious about it.
Dominic Butler: I think it’s the repetitiveness, innit? The mixture of something quite repetitive, but also very live. I think people want to investigate us and what we’re doing. The sound just draws people in.
Nik: Sometimes it can feel like it’s going to fall apart, but I think that’s rather nice from the audience’s point of view. Because it’s kind of like watching this thing unravel and sitting patiently with us until we actually get it. A lot of time it’s actually improvised.
Dom: If a DJ did that it’d sound terrible, wouldn’t it? Because it’d be like, “Ahh, they’re doing a real bad mix”. But I think because there’s three people on stage, you can feel this thing building and then maybe falling down again and changing shape. I mean, I’ve seen musicians and artists do that and it’s kind of fascinating to watch because you’re really in with it.
Gabe: Yeah, it sort of ties you more in with the audience. I think they feed off of that and have learned to feed off that. And we kind of work together on that with the audience. It’s kind of a weird connection.
Since you guys have been around and known for awhile ahead of making this record, did you feel like you wanted it to be a reflection of you, right in the minute making it, or did you want it to represent everything you had been doing up to that point?
Nik: It’s definitely where we were at that point. All the other releases had shown the development towards that.
Gabe: I think it’s a documentation of those two years of us doing shows and working the tracks out live on stage after writing them in the studio, and taking them out. We’ve already, in a lot of ways, progressed from the record even in the last month or so of doing shows. We’re not leaving it behind, but it’s getting more developed. That’s just the way we work.
So, do you have stuff, newer material, that you’re working out now that these shows are informing?
Dom: To a point. It differs each night, and there’s a whole load of factors involved. If there’s a really good chemistry between you and the audience, it moves it forward as well. If the equipment is kind of randomly doing something interesting between us...because we’re not kind of following a set thing, we’re experimenting as we’re going on stage and sometimes between the three of us it might not move in a particular different direction. But sometimes it moves a massive amount forward in new material. There’s so many factors that can determine that outcome.
Do you go and get a beer after the show and trade notes about what’s working well? What’s the process?
Gabe: Yeah. Sometimes we go off stage and go “Oh what about that bit? That was fucking great, what about working that back in the studio.”
Nik: Or, “Uh, what was that bit?”
Ha. Sometimes the note can be “Never again”?
Gabe: Totally, it’s a nice way to work because you keep yourself entertained and thinking.
About the vocals, since the use seems very deliberate and very spread out, were there any specific vocal influences you thought of in making this stuff? Or was it just entirely specific to the music as you were working on it?
Nik: I think the vocals were mostly a process of taking away. How we write records is we play live, then we bring these ideas to the studio, where we start live again. Production wise, I like to pitch it down, I think it goes back to that whole creative way of looking at vocals as sound, fitting the sound into the landscape, like we are doing with our instruments. The tracks don’t really have many changes, they don’t have strong melodies, but they have sounds that kind of highlight or work against what the music is doing.
Did the songs once have a lot more singing that you ended up stripping out?
Nik: Yeah definitely, I mean that’s quite a big transition from say like “(R E A L L O V E)” to the album. When I first started with Gabe and Dom, there’d be lots more singing, more chanting, because it’s very rhythmical and repetitive. I’d be using lot of delays. But when I could sit in the studio and work on the production side myself, really layering and cutting and sticking bits up into samples, as if you had typed up words and cut them up and stuck them back together again, it’s the same sort of process. That was the same what went with the guitar playing as well. There wasn’t much change in attitude between the two different things. Guitar is also made into samples and fed back in.
Gabe, in terms of drumming, do you find yourself more...
Gabe: Tired, everyday from doing it? Yeah.
Is the stuff that you listen to yourself, stuff where you’re really into the beats or the drumming, does that tend to be more mechanical dance stuff? Is it live drumming?
Gabe: I don’t really listen to records and go, “Listen to the drums on ‘em!” I don’t really listen to a lot of stuff, to be honest. I think the way we work is more about finding things that sit well together and painting pictures, shapes. There’s some sounds on the record where I drummed, but processed to the point of not sounding like drums, you know? It’s all part of experimentation, so there’s no record I’m listening to and thinking, “Oh I want to copy that...”
Are you constantly trying to make yourself sound more tight and mechanical?
Gabe: Robotic. Yeah, yeah, definitely. I was chatting with Dom about this yesterday, I’ve got a real problem with things being out of time.
In an OCD sort of way?
Gabe: Yeah, kind of. Some drummers are a lot looser than me, but I like it to be really fucking dead on, that’s why I use a lot of drum machines in conjunction with live drums.
You’re layering on top of stuff you’ve already programmed?
Gabe: It’s a mixture. Or I’ll create a rhythm with the live drums and then process that back into electronic drums, so it’s kind of back and forth, but they kind of support each other. If I heard a tape where my drumming is a bit out, I’d fucking hate it. I couldn’t sit with it. I guess that does come from listening to dance music, I just have a problem with things being out of time.
What would you say is the human element that people hear in your music?
Gabe: We all push. Dom kind of throws in stuff that tries to put me in a different mind set with things, he’s kind of fighting against me being so on it. But that’s what I like, it throws off different rhythmical things.
Dom: It’s a real rhythmic kind of dialogue going on.
The interaction, I guess, would be the answer?
Dom: That’s where the human element comes in. Three people hands on, even if the music is kind of grid-like, we’re pushing it into different shapes.