In honor of Independence Day, KEXP is saluting some of our favorite indie record labels who’s DIY-spirit helped revolutionize the music industry. As an independent radio station ourselves, KEXP is thrilled to give a 13-gun salute to these pioneers with a series of label spotlights through the Fourth of July. In this profile, we look to one of our UK forefathers, Factory:
In 1978, Factory Records was established by Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus in Manchester. Wilson brought the business drive and entrepreneurial spirit needed to create a competitive local label out of nothing, while Erasmus brought knowledge of the entertainment business and experience in the spotlight. Joined by music producer Martin Hannett and graphic designer Peter Saville, the team created an independent music experience that was unmatched in its provocative and unconventional spirit.
Early on, Factory released singles for a wide variety of acts, some who would stay (A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column) and some who would leave (Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, Cabaret Voltaire). But in 1979, Factory really got to show off their strengths with Manchester’s most mysterious new punk act, Joy Division. Disappointed with how production was handled for their scrapped debut album Warsaw, band manager Rob Gretton pursued Factory for an independent take on post-punk. In the hands of Martin Hannett, a handful of Warsaw tracks were rerecorded and joined by new ones to create a dark and introspective work. With a high contrast packaging design by Peter Saville and the infamous pulsar mapping for a cover, Unknown Pleasures was born. After the release of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” a year later, Joy Division became Factory’s first big name.
In a year’s time, Factory had enough money to begin thinking bigger picture. Factory needed to be more than just a record label, and its founders — as well as its bands — recognized its potential. With the help of New Order Factory opened its own club, The Hacienda (FAC 51), in 1982. The door price was so low that the club hardly made any profit, but its events were headlined by Factory acts and the design by Ben Kelly held the Factory feel. Factory Records set the precedent for independent labels because they gave their bands more than just a producer and distributor. Factory established everything under their banner — whether it be a 45, an LP, a concert, or even an ad poster — as a member of an elite collection. FAC 4 was a schedule of upcoming shows at the Russell Club in December 1978. FAC 21 was a Factory “F” badge you could wear around town. FAC 61 was a lawsuit involving original Factory partner Martin Hannett. For better or worse, Factory was an experience that you could partake in.
In another year, New Order’s “Blue Monday” became an international chart hit and introduced mainstream audiences to UK acid house, and by the mid 1980s, Factory hosted some of the UK dance scene’s best acts, including Happy Mondays, Section 25, and Quando Quango. Factory opened up a bar and a shop in Manchester and enjoyed success through the second half of the 1980s. Due to financial troubles and eschewed contracts, Factory went under in 1992. Most of their successful bands switched over to London Records who had been interested in buying out Factory for several years. But looking back, it is impossible to ignore the impact of Factory’s unique approach to the idea of a record label.
Here is a list of some of Factory’s greatest titles:
- A Factory Sample (FAC 2) – Joy Division, The Durutti Column, John Dowie, Cabaret Voltaire
- Unknown Pleasures (FACT 10) – Joy Division
- The Return of the Durutti Column (FACT 14) – The Durutti Column
- Always Now (FACT 45) – Section 25
- Blue Monday (FAC 73) – New Order
- Power, Corruption & Lies (FACT 75) – New Order
- Battleships & Pigs (FACT 110) – Quando Quango
- Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out) (FACT 170) – Happy Mondays
- Electronic (FACT 290) – Electronic