The locals haven’t been entirely happy about it, but Peter Hook’s re-opening of Factory Records’ HQ as a live venue and subsequent tour of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures - minus any of the other living band members - has made the North West’s old empire a talking point again in a UK press happy to portray Manchester as a musical theme park. Depending on which way you look at it then, it makes for perfect sense/another unwanted nostalgia trip to release a Factory Records compilation.
The main problem highlighted by dissenters of Madchester’s continual re-appraisal (of which the blog Fuc51 appears to be the spokesperson) is that it obscures the wider public’s view of anything fresh going on within the city, and thus forever the North West will be associated with swagger, flares and acid house. The issue isn’t that Factory is still being talked about though - it’s an inescapable fact that the renown it’s held in is as much a blessing as a curse for any Manchester act looking to get a break. It’s the way it’s presented: the same stories, the same characters, the same five or six artists getting played in indie clubs around the country. Credit then to Auteur Labels for digging deeper on Factory Records 1987 and providing a document that shows all of the label and not just the usual suspects. New Order‘s ‘True Faith,’ The Happy Mondays’ ’24 Hour Party People’ and A Certain Ratio’s ‘Bootsy’ are all included, true, but they’re the first three tracks on the album - from then on it’s eclectically enlightening listening, whilst it also revealing the not-so-well-kept secret that Tony Wilson was just as likely to sign up complete gubbins as he was genuine brilliance.
The bad first: the likes of Quando Quango, Arthur Baker, The Hood and Pleasure Crew haven’t made the annals for a good reason. The first three live up to all stereotypes about late Eighties house music and as such are very much ‘of their time’ - that means tinny Casio keyboards, random sound effects used seemingly just because they could and plastic 808 drum machines. A Nitro Dub remix of The Hood’s ‘Salvation!’ doesn’t do much to lift the cheapness of juddering mid-frequency rhythms and sloppily applied vocal reverb. Pleasure Crew’s ‘So Good’ meanwhile is almost certainly one of the factors that’s resulted in the godawful existence of Ou Est Le Swimming Pool in 2010, and for that they should be deleted from memory forever. The nadir is reached though with Meat Mouth’s ‘Meat Mouth Is Murder,’ (see what they did there?) a laughably poor North West version of the Beastie Boys, full of gung-ho tales of going on “benders” at the Hacienda. The chanted chorus of “we are young, we are tough, the underground North is rising up” making you briefly wonder how it ever did.
Yet the good stuff is very good, and shows that Wilson had just as keen an eye on developments elsewhere as he did within his own locality. The gorgeous, drawn out Rai of ‘N’sel Fik’ by Algerians Chaba Fadela is as far from associated-Factory territory you could hope for; a timeless opus of intertwining Middle East male and female vocals and instruments mixed with the electronics of the West. It’s a real ace in the pack and completely unexpected. The Durutti Column’s ‘Catos Con Guantes,’ meanwhile, is a Spanish guitar-laden meander of woozy proportions, one of the better examples of Vini Reilly’s ever schizophrenic creative side. As indicators of Factory’s willingness to explore the rest of the indie world’s fascination with C86 and dream-pop at the time, Miaow’s ‘When It All Comes Down’ and The Wake’s ‘Furious Sea’ also both make for worthwhile inclusions.
Considered as an album, Factory Records 1987 is unsurprisingly hit and miss, but as an honest document of one year in the life of one of the UK’s more important record labels, it’s fascinating - and a far more fulfilling retrospective of Factory Records and Madchester than watching a haggard looking Mani DJ down Factory HQ on a Wednesday night.
6Simon Jay Catling's Score