It’s been a long time coming, but British post-industrial trio Factory Floor have finally made it out to the US west coast. The band dropped their self-titled debut LP last year on DFA after releasing one-off singles and remixes in the current lineup for the better part of four years. Over the years, their unique, minimalist dance music has caught the eye of Chris Carter, members of New Order, and Trent Reznor, to name a few. And finally, in preparation for their first appearance at Coachella, the band is heading down the coast, melting one set of speakers after another. After playing an excellent in-studio set at KEXP, the band headed up the Hill along with West Coast opener DVA Damas and Seattle’s own Stres to light Barboza on fire. The show was brilliant, and we wish this excellent new band the best of luck with their well-deserved festival spot down south.
Stres is the one-man project of Seattleite Josh Bolof. On his newest EP Old Lives, Bolof teamed up with local electronic producer Erik Blood to showcase his unique take on electronic-infused post-rock. Armed with a live drummer and a backing track, Bolof played guitar and sung and gave Stres a really full live stage presence. Old Lives tracks like “Windows” sounded massive on the Barboza stage. While mood stayed pretty mellow with Bolof’s ambient, emotionally rendering tracks, the duo played beautifully and started the night off right.
DVA Damas is the two-piece goth western project of Taylor Burch and Joe Cocherell. DVA Damas Americanizes elctronic post-punk in a really interesting way. Their debut record Nightshade, out last year on Downwards, is chalk full of bizarre, dark-wave synth pop with a twang. Tracks of theirs like the title track, “Half-Mask”, and “Out of Thin Air” are reminiscent of Daughn Gibson in their post-modern combination of 80s new wave and with roadhouse country guitars, with Taylor Burch’s unique vocals playing narrator to the spooky groove at hand. The Californian act is uniquely their own, and a continuous performance without a word of introduction or goodbye made for a charming warm up before Factory Floor took the stage.
Factory Floor perform their own sound check and then begin their set without a word. Lit only by a weak, stagnant blue light, they are the second band this evening to perform their whole set without once affirmatively acknowledging the crowd or even the concept of a show with a beginning and an ending. But as Dominic Butler queues up the sequencer that begins the band’s marvelous single “Two Different Ways“, the chaos of the sound check and the crowd noise and the clinking glasses on the bar slowly synchronize into a steady, circling pattern. After setting up a drum machine and finding his desired tempo, Gabriel Gurnsey introduces a drum part without warning. Suddenly, the loops have a backbone, and the idea of a groove begins to form. Like watching Pangea break apart in reverse, the pieces slowly form a clearer, brighter, meaner picture as the groove settles into an industrial banger of a track. At this point, Nik Colk Void steps up to the microphone and puts an alien, distorted vocal line over the swirling layers bouncing off the walls. The lyrics are few and far between - when she’s not singing, Nik is throwing in spacey vocal samples off her Roland-555 and adding to the oscillating noise with some supremely impressionistic guitar, playing with either bow or drum stick. Gurnsey’s drums build in volume and intensity as Butler’s arpeggiating sequences ascend and increase. The energy reaches its maximum sustainable levels at around 8 minutes. It hangs on there just long enough for the crowd to feel comfortable moving back and forth, then it slowly begins to disintegrate and repossess itself into another number. Up next is the band’s newest single “How You Say“, conflicted with bits of “Two Different Ways” still hanging on. A sharp, sequenced static gives the band and the crowd the idea of a bone structure, then Gurnsey fills out the skeleton with a blur of disco hi-hats. And then once again, the song slowly starts to evolve and appear and decay like a ghost on film.
If there are indeed “Two Different Ways” to do a dance show, Factory Floor find themselves among a small number who prefer the “Second Way“. While their record may draw the quickest comparisons to the likes of Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, and Movement-era New Order, Factory Floor’s live presence like a deconstructivist take on LCD Soundsystem or the Rapture. The build of a dance track has several crucial facets, and Factory Floor intentionally defy all of them. There’s no infectious melody to depend on and sing along to. There’s no chorus to repeat again and again and again until the whole building is singing. There aren’t even any breaks between songs to let the crowd know when to go get another drink or when to clap or when to listen for their favorite. Factory Floor give us dance music turned inside out. And with all of the traditional elements of crowd participation stripped naked on stage, there is only primal instinct to guide them. When a track like “How You Say” uses anxiety as its primary mode of emotional outreach and oscillates with insatiable power without hardly a single melodic note and yet still makes you want to scream and dance and sway and react with every cell in your body, that’s how you know that these fine young Brits have tapped into some deeper level of your subconscious that you might not want to venture into alone. That’s what makes Factory Floor’s live set such a relentless experience.
Those waves of mutilation didn’t let up for a straight 50 minutes. Butler floated back and forth across a table topped with ludicrous amounts of electronics and wire, keeping the most foundational elements of each segment of the show moving. Gabe Gurnsey’s drums hinted at Stephen Morris in that they seemed to be guided by Butler’s non-percussive elements, and not the other way around. Gurnsey deserves some serious recognition on the drums if only for surviving every night - 50 minutes of nonstop dance punk is not an easy feat, and the fact that he does it marvelously is only an added bonus. Meanwhile, between the guitar, samplers, and avant-garde vocals, Colk Void supplies the most dynamic elements. It’s her that teases the vocal samples from “Breathe In” and “Turn It Up” before the band dives into another cut entirely. It’s her that manages to make a guitar sound like a harp being destroyed in a car wreck. And in a single moment of breaking character, she’s the one that smiles (only slightly) after the front row sings along with the opening lines of “Fall Back“. Their last cut of the evening, it’s the only moment where the continuous wave breaks to give the crowd a chance to let out rapturous applause and acknowledge the band’s biggest single to date. This live cut of “Fall Back” goes far past the ten minute marker, ending the evening with a massive, chaotic explosion of sound. As they leave, a couple people look down at watches or phones, amazed that it’s already been an hour. Time flies when your mind is being blown.
Factory Floor are making their way down to southern California for a Sunday appearance at Coachella on the Gobi stage. If you are headed that direction, make sure and catch them, as they will undoubtedly end up among your favorites.