I don’t know exactly when it was but around the time in the mid 80s, I was 11 or 12 I was swapping Commodore 64 games with a bunch of folk and headed over to unit in Ashfield to swap some stuff with an older bloke who would have been 18 or 19. Sitting around waiting for the terribly slow 1541 disk drives to copy all these games he decided he’d put on a record he’d just bought and thought was amazing. It was New Order’s Power, Corruption & Lies. I had never heard anything like it before and the sleeve gave me no easy hooks to hang it on. It was grim, slightly depressing, and electronic. It left an indelible mark on me.
A few years passed of teenage pop but it wasn’t that long until I, too, became obsessed with New Order and Joy Division. I’d head out to visit a girl in Strathfield who had a similar obsession. I’m not quite sure how we met up, but I think it involved some classified in the local street rag Drum Media. She’d lend me live videos to dub and she’d tape a few of the things I had that she didn’t. It was probably her that got me into a range of other related bands, and expanded my fascination into the Factory label in general. Now in this internet age the whole idea of needing to seek out similar minds in a much more labour-intensive way seems really quaint, let alone the idea of sitting around ‘dubbing’ tapes and videos ‘in real time’ – but it was that requirement of ‘real time’ that opened up space to talk about other things.
Even after Madchester, the Happy Mondays, and my absorption in the rave scene, all things Factory kept crossing my path. In the mid 90s a friend who was intensely in to hip hop decided to part with his entire Factory collection – giving it generously to me, filling some holes in the catalogue – and act I still can’t quite comprehend.
For the long term Factory Records obsessives there are two new collectables to seek out.
Boutique UK label LTM last year released a great DVD called Umbrellas In The Sun which finally brought together a best of selection super-rare videos of live recordings and videos from the early years of Factory, Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crepuscle which had been rescued from VHS. Now James Nice, who runs LTM, has released a great two hour DVD called Shadowplayers which covers the early history of Factory. Countering a lot of the myths perpetuated by Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, Shadowplayers is basically a series of candid interviews with Tony Wilson, Peter Saville, Peter Hook, Vini Reilly, and members of A Certain Ratio, Section 25 and others. Totally lacking in music or live excerpts (except intro/outro credits), Shadowplayers relies on its content, tight editing and revealing interviews. There are disagreements over versions of events, and there is a sense that these were crazy, disordered, chaotic and essentially exciting times where, somehow, things held together through the most difficult of times. If there is anything wrong with Shadowplayers it is that there are no introductions or contextualisations – for the main well known characters in this story this is forgivable but for others who have been marginalised in the past, you would need to be a pretty knowledgeable person to immediately recognise them. Instead, short bios are included as text slides available only from the main menu. Shadowplayers provides an excellent balance to 24hr Party People as well as useful companion to Simon Reynolds’ recent book on post-punk, Rip It Up And Start Again, that reinforces the uniqueness of the period and people.
Fortunately, Shadowplay is released at the same time as Matthew Robertson’s coffee table book Factory Records – The Complete Graphic Album (Thames & Hudson). This lavishly designed book is the definitive discography of the Factory label – it even has its own FAC catalogue number (FAC461) – and contains lovely well sized reproductions of every single piece of Factory artwork including Hacienda flyers, record sleeves, posters and promotional items (at least everything with a catalogue number). The Factory story, as regards graphic design, is generally accepted as being the story of Peter Saville, but as this book reveals there were several other key designers, most importantly in the later years Central Station design who burst forth with work for Happy Mondays. A lot of the early releases reveal the innovative and experimental packaging design done by a record label that seemed to operate with scant regard to making ‘cost effective’ releases. It is great to be able to see, up close, releases by Section25 and Durutti Column that are discussed in Shadowplayers. Matthew Robertson’s text is informative and reveals much of the inspiration behind particular designs and in that sense the book is a great resource to explore art and design styles that Saville and others drew upon.