Factory FloorEdit this event
Part way through a cigarette, I pause briefly outside The Empire and am instantly struck by the thought that I’ve turned up at the wrong venue. Muffled through several closed doors, there’s a throbbing sound emanating from the building, the effect of which is highly reminiscent of driving to an open-air rave; the music becoming tantalisingly clearer as the car passes through screens of trees and over the brow of hills. Entering the venue does nothing to dispel the illusion, as monstrous four-to-the-floor kick drums bludgeon the walls and bend the lenses of the eyes, whilst acid squelches ricochet between mercilessly mechanistic hi-hats. It’s like walking unprepared into a vast squat party, to the extent that I’m subconsciously surprised to see the kookily self-aware, fashionably shambolic audience in place of a bunch of dreadlocked, gurning ‘crusties’ accompanied by dogs on strings. This is a group called Factory Floor, and they appear to currently be smashing through London’s complacently trendy haircut-ridden factions with a sound which is ascetic and psychedelic in equal parts; on the strength of this performance they’re taking no prisoners.
As I head towards the front it’s fast becoming apparent that this isn’t a standard techno act either. As the kick drum fades, immense washes of sound spread tidally over the crowd, and suddenly we could be listening to Flying Saucer Attack or My Bloody Valentine. Heavily-processed Alan Vega-esque mumblings enter the mix coincident with an emergent acid line, and as the filter sweeps up to puncture through the intensifying guitar textures, I see that there’s a live drummer poised to begin. Subsonic sine waves build until they’re pummelling the speakers, and the drums begin to pound. The beats are razor sharp, and the sound of the kick drum is devastating in its attack and depth. The material recalls Jeff Mills’ early style on tracks such as Basic Human Design and Phase 4, except the swirling Juno sounds are replaced by abrasive art-punk guitar, waves of immersive synth texture and indistinct, delay-soaked vocals.
Maybe this unexpectedly confrontational sonic barrage wrong-foots me to some degree, but by comparison Liars seem tepid and two-dimensional. The quality of the material is consistent throughout, with new songs such as 'No Barrier Fun' and 'Scissor' sitting comfortably alongside opener 'A Visit from Drum' and the cathartic 'We fenced Other Gardens With the Bones of Our Own'. These pieces are rendered tonight with a consummate professionalism, and as a result they’re somewhat stripped of excitement or danger. It seems at times that the expanded five-piece band papers over the cracks rather too efficiently, and instead of eerie, tense minimalism we’re left with a sort of flaccid, filled-out stadium rock sound. Granted, the poor sound quality doesn’t help matters, but the band’s demeanour also seems at odds with the threatening and painfully emotive sentiments conveyed with ease in the studio recordings. Frontman Angus Andrew is certainly energetic, making every effort to charm and interact with the audience. In doing so he conveys a willingness to relate through grand gestures, which serves to neutralise the atmosphere of malevolence and dread these songs were written to convey.
To compound matters, at some point Andrew decides to ‘do a bit of a Bono’, declaring that he’s “pissed off” about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and asking us what we’re going to do about it. Ah yes, it’s all in the name: British Petroleum. I guess it must be our fault then; terribly sorry about that, chaps. This is either a wry attempt to get a cheap rise out of the audience, showing a distinct lack of taste in the process, or a rather pointless misdirection of anger and an exercise in preaching to the converted. It feels like an empty rant rather than a drive toward any kind of genuine catharsis, and the set continues along the same plateau. Some sense of atmosphere is clawed back during the brooding build-up of 'Proud Evolution', with its moody, crooned vocal. As the song reaches its climax though, it feels that the band are failing to capture the rolling menace of the recording, recalling as it does Seventies Krautrock titans Neu! Subtleties are lost in the sheen and the band exude a certain swaggering bombast; I’m left wondering whether this is what U2 would sound like if they suddenly took it upon themselves to try and gain credibility with the ATP set.
The band is stripped back to a three piece for the encore of 'Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack' and 'Broken Witch', and the band find a degree of sonic incisiveness as a result. For me though, it’s a case of too little too late. I leave feeling underwhelmed and disappointed by Liars, but determined to hear more from Factory Floor.
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