Wednesday, December 28, 2011

CD Review: FAC. DANCE: Factory Records 12" Mixes & Rarities 1980-1987

Those forking out huge amounts of money to see The Stone Roses’ reunion shows this Summer might be surprised to learn how unfashionable indie music was in certain quarters during the Eighties. While admitting to a liking for The Chesterfields of The Brilliant Corners was never something to be entered into lightly, even a penchant for the decade’s big hitters was often sneered at – The Smiths, Bunnymen and company were ‘white boy indie’, music for bedroom dwellers (as opposed to Alan McGhee’s later bedwetters) and often played out to sparse audiences.

This was never more the case than in Manchester itself. While the Roses and Mondays have been afforded retrospective credit for firing up The Hacienda, the boom that nonetheless failed to save such a poorly run concern was largely the result of Music of Black Origin – achingly trendy nights like Nude and Hot brought acid house and funk to the masses while Thursday’s Temperance night was a poor third in the hipster canon.

Given that Joy Division were already abandoning the post punk template on tracks such as Isolation, their successor band’s swift embracing of dance music should have come as no surprise. Sure, it was always leavened with a dose of guitar – not least from Mr. Hook himself, but interviews with the foursome have always seen them quick to distance themselves from their indie roots.

As the primary act on a label whose other main assets, A Certain Ratio and the Mondays also owed little to Swell Maps or the Buzzcocks, New Order’s influence in Factory was profound. As a unquestioning fan of the brand, I was quick to lap up anything to do with it – the rectangular cassette boxes drew me in and I was soon investigating every obscure act the label could produce.

Pre-internet, this was always difficult – so the release of a double album of early Factory rarities brought back a few memories. It’s not one for completists – the accent is largely on dance music (Stockholm Monsters do not appear) and all the songs are twelve inches . Also, neither New Order nor the Ratio feature – one suspects more box sets could be in the offing.

The result is a fascinating breakdown of the influences on early Factory from a host of acts which, given they nearly all hailed from the one city, represent a robust musical scene. An array of former punks, purveyors of industrial experimentation and other assorted council house kids and scenesters make up the dramatis personae and if the music seems raw in comparison to post-1987 house and techno, it’s a good overview of how England came to be influenced by the sounds of Detroit, Chicago and New York, while applying its own rain addled spin on things of course.

Several tracks are straight up commercial – Shark Vegas’s Pretenders of Love sees a soul diva wailing over a vaguely New Orderish beat but isn’t that far away from Go West territory, and three tracks from 52nd Street nod vigorously towards The Big Apple. John ‘Jelly Bean Benitez’ remixes the version of Cool as Ice herewith included and Diane Charlemagne (later to provide vocals on Goldie’s Inner City Life) lends vocals to a track that Paul Morley announced as NME Single of the Week on its release.

There are anomalies – The Durutti’s Column’s plaintive fretwork is out of place in a dance compliation, good as it is – but many of the oddities provoke respect at the breadth of the Factory roster – from the Trojan records style dub reggae of X-O-Dus to Blurt’s Beefheartian work-out on Puppeteer; from twelve minutes of minimalist clubby beats on The Hood’s Salvation to Swamp Children’s warbling that recalls a range of acts including The Beatles of Revolution Number 9 and The Slits.

Most rewarding ultimately though are Section 25 – especially on their album opener, Looking from a Hilltop and the curious Royal Family and the Poor, a front for the projections of just one man in Mike Keane and critically berated at the time. John Cooper Clarke lends vocals of a seriously situationist bent to Art on 45 and Motherland contains a breathless vocal croon over low key but luscious synths.

So, it’s a real pot pourri and naivete is very much to the fore – angular skinny white kids attempting to conjure up the spirit of The Paradise Garage while remaining in thrall to Throbbing Gristle doesn’t sound like a great combination, but it largely works and just about every track stands up as a historical timepiece. Congratulations to Strut Records for making it all available.

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