Monday, June 16, 2008

Factory Records Pt. 1 - A Brief Audio History

Manchester, England is probably best known for grey skies, football hooligans and for being the birthplace of the industrialized city. For a majority of us reading this, Manchester (or Mad-chester) played a substantial role in our musical education and adolescent woes. For me it was a series of records with often cryptic, yet stunning artwork and glorious waveforms. The sounds were similar from LP to single to EP albeit radically different from one another in myriad ways. When Tony Wilson, a media figurehead and Alan Erasmus, an out of work actor and band manager started Factory Records, little did they know how they would influence the terrain of independent music for years to come. Today Factory’s influence can be heard across a broad spectrum of artists today including !!!, Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, and of course, Interpol.

Factory’s aesthetic both sonically and visually can be traced back to the team of Martin Hannett and Peter Saville, also partners in the label. Hannett, a rogue recording engineer and record producer developed a unique style that is best represented by early A Certain Ratio and Joy Division releases (and drugs and guns legend has it). Often sparse with heavily effected drums and frequent use of delays were just two of Hannett’s signatures. Combined with Peter Saville’s stunning prowess for design, it wasn’t rare for an absence of title or band name on a majority of sleeves with an emphasis on New Order’s releases. Hannett and Saville working in concert created a mystique to this young label, which would ultimately suffer from its unorthodox business practices.

While most labels struggle at birth, Factory found success quickly with Joy Division and its troubled leader Ian Curtis. The caveat was written in blood, literally, when Tony and Joy Division entered into an agreement that basically gave Factory little to no control over their properties. This was just the first in a queue of monumentally bad business decisions by Tony Wilson. From the onset Factory engaged in a policy of no contracts with its roster. This policy, or gross lack of, directly attributed to the demise of the label. Factory’s two most bankable acts New Order and the Happy Mondays along with escalating gang trouble at the legendary club the Hacienda eventually bankrupted the label. Factory closed its doors in 1992 but left a mighty legacy that continues to inspire. To be continued..

No comments: