Friday, 29 November 2013

Interview: Factory Floor (GetIntoThis)

Factory Floor: Definitions, experimentation and the industrial life


Factory Floor come to the Kazimier in December armed with one of the debut albums of the year and the promise of a superb live show, Getintothis' Mike Townsend met with them to talk about being pigeon-holed, their creative methods and the future.

Post-industrial. Tech-disco. Funk-noir. Who even knows.
These sort of weird, meaningless terms seem to follow London's Factory Floor around, as they avoid classification by traversing an astonishing array of genres and influences. And with a debut album out on DFA earlier this year, long-serving fans of the band finally have the chance to see how they contextualize within the boundaries of a singular body of work.
Three years of almost constant touring has allowed them to cultivate their sound around a deep respect for the way people experience it. So from their atmospheric, challenging earlier singles, they have found more focus, striking a better balance between song craft and atmosphere and creating a record that more than anything else, is extremely enjoyable to listen to.
They are still one of the most brutal propositions on stage you'll experience this side of Deafheaven, but unlike before, they've left the door of these new songs just slightly ajar, making them more accessible and ultimately, more rewarding.
Ahead of their show at the Kazimier on Thursday December 5, we caught up with synth man Dominic Butler as he prepared for the next leg of their world tour.
Getintothis: So how are things?
Butler: Busy. We're just getting ready for the upcoming shows.
The tour has been great so far though. We just did the European bit, which was good fun, and now we have Japan coming up. So busy busy busy really.
Getintothis: It's taken a few years for the debut album to come around. What's been the hold up - did things just keep coming up or were you deliberately trying to hold off?
Butler: It was a bit of both really. We were developing our sound for the recording really - you know, going away doing a lot of gigs, playing together as much as possible. Most our songs start from playing live and then we kind of improvise a bit from there, so a lot of the performance aspect drifts back into the recordings. We were always aware there was more time needed if it was going to turn out how we wanted it, so we needed to hold off to keep that natural development going.
Getintothis: Is that how you approach the song writing as well - just laying it all out and seeing what happens, rather than meticulous planning?
Butler: Yeah totally. I don't think we're able to do it any other way really, as we don't have any musical background or training.
Getintothis: Yeah, we saw in your interview with Dummy Mag that you avoid coming at songs on a melodic or tonal level.
Butler: Exactly. It's a very instinctive thing. When you're writing by yourself you lay something down, think it sounds good and then move on. When there are three of you are doing it, there is a point where chemistry comes in and it's not a monologue anymore; it's a dialogue between the three of you and you know when it starts to sound right.It usually starts quite rhythmic, with a pulse or a beat on the guitar or drums or synth, and you know, we just build from there and go with what feels right. Sometimes it goes completely wrong and you step back and start again, and other times it doesn't and we come away with a song.
Getintothis: That certainly comes across on the album. The whole thing almost feels very primal, not dissimilar to the way a lot of electronic, mainly techno, producers approach it.
Is techno and electronic music something you guys associate with quite closely?
Butler: Yeah absolutely. Its part of our culture really, to the point where its really shaped and formed what our generation calls now. The live shows we do tend to either be more performance based, gallery based shows, or they are full on techno nights. We've played Warehouse Project a couple of times now, and we absolutely feel at home there. That environment is perfect for what we do, because that sort of crowd isn't expecting fully formed, three-minute songs anyway, which is what we like to stay away from.
Getintothis: The album certainly feels more dancefloor ready, with steady pulses and throbbing synth. And compared to your earlier singles, which were more atmospheric and focused around noise and timbre, it certainly feels a lot more beat driven. Is this something that's developed gradually with the shows you've been playing and the music you've been listening to?
Butler: We were very aware that we were getting pigeonholed into that sort of heavy, industrial, slightly serious corner early on. And whilst that stuff is important to Factory Floor, we still like to have a laugh we like fun. So with the album, we thought carefully about this space we had and how we could use it, and whilst we do occasionally nod back to the earlier stuff, we wanted to show that side of us as well.
Getintothis: Has that influenced the venue choice for the upcoming tour then? You mentioned earlier that you used to play a lot of shows in galleries and exhibitions. Will you be moving away from that?
Butler: I don't think so. I think that sort of space has worked very well for us. I mean I love the idea of playing these quiet, subtle venues and bringing our loud, dance elements into them. So I think we are going to stick with this. For us, the most important thing is that the venue is interesting and manages to resonate in some sort of way. Whether that be the Warehouse Project, the Berghain or the Tate. These are all great places to play because they have a character, they have something about them rather than being just a bog standard venue.
Getintothis: It was interesting to hear you talk about being pigeonholed earlier, because you see a lot of journalists come up with all kinds of weird terms for your music.
We've seen things like Post-Industrial, Disco-Noir, Noise-Funk; all meaningless really. Do you get any pride when people struggle to classify you?
Butler: I think it's interesting that people need to classify us. We are just experimental really, that's how I'd like us to be described.
Getintothis: Does that experimentation come quite naturally to you guys? Or are you making a conscious effort to push the boundaries?
Butler: It comes naturally to an extent, but it is still very important to us as a band. I think if we could not longer do that with Factory Floor then we wouldn't exist. We all share that mindset, and I think that comes largely from not being musically trained, and from having to find our own way with all these instruments. We have to test and experiment as we figure out the best way to play it.
Getintothis: Can you see another drastic progression with your next album then?
Butler: Absolutely. We don't like to repeat ourselves. It doesn't feel like a conscious thing, it's just what we do, we need to move forward and we need to experiment, even if we are just pissing about with new sounds.
Getintothis: You were all living together in a studio space when writing and recording the album. What was that experience like?
Butler: Yeah, I lived down the road for most of it. It was great actually. It totally shut us off from the rest of the world, and I think we really needed something like that. We had always looked to get our own space, something that was just ours and that we could occupy. So when the time came to getting the album sorted it seemed like the right thing to do.
Getintothis: Did you feel any relief when the album was finally finished?
Butler: It was intense and it was very draining. But it worked, and it isn't often you get to do something like that in your life. I'm not sure we'd do it again though. Next time might be a case of going away somewhere and just spending two weeks of solid writing.
Getintothis: You worked on high profile releases with the likes of Peter Gordon andMark Stewart before the album. How do you approach collaborations? With such a powerful and distinctive sound, we imagine you'd have to make some concessions?
Butler: Collaborations are definitely important to us, and they keep us on our toes in many ways. The Peter Gordon one was interesting. We were doing an ICA years residency, so that helped get things into place because we had a venue and a routine to work around. We just emailed Peter and told him we liked is stuff and asked if he'd be interested in working with us. The people we like to work with are generally further down the experimental line than we are, so it works very well. We're heading over to the States in mid December, and I think we're going to do something else with Peter.
Factory Floor play The Kazimier on the 5th December, with tickets still available here.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Feature: Circa Waves (BidoLito!)

Circa Waves

“I’ve just got back actually. We’ve been on a two week mini tour of Europe, ending up in Amsterdam and Hamburg”. It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Kieran Shudall and his band CIRCA WAVES. One rainy evening last month, I was three service stations deep into a mercilessly long five-hour drive from my hometown in Kent. And after exhausting a four year old, painfully over-sentimental compilation CD that I found under my seat, I turned on the Radio and was greeted by that familiar, Kiwi yelp introducing what he referred to as the Hottest Record In The World. Despite being one of the most polarizing broadcasters of our generation and sounding like a philosophy student on his third line of beak, being brought up on Zane Lowe’s show means that sort of ludicrous hyperbole still resonates quite significantly with me. And having been a functioning (although entirely unsuccessful) music journalist in Liverpool for a couple of years now, I’d even dare to suggest that I’ve developed a not entirely misplaced local pride (although my six pint faux-scouse accent probably is). The song was Get Away, the new single by Kieran Shudall’s CIRCA WAVES. A punchy, confident number that has rightfully propelled the band to the summit of the industry’s endless guitar bands to watch lists.

Most acts don’t make it out of the city, let alone the country, so this European tour is a remarkable milestone for a band still barely getting to know each other. “We basically drove like twelve hours”, Shudall explains. “Eventually we arrived at a radio station (Holland’s renowned 3FM Radio) and played a little session. So on the following day when we played the London Calling Festival in Amsterdam, people had got onto the recording and were already into it, so it was pretty packed out for our show and everyone went a bit nuts”. You can forgive Shudall for sounding surprised, as he recalls these tales like a man who can’t quite believe his luck: “Circa Waves was just me until earlier this year. I didn’t really know what I was doing before then, just sort of wandering around Liverpool and playing a few shows. I had written some songs that I thought were quite good, and I had a few mates who had kind things to say. Then eventually people who’s opinion I respected suggested that I needed to start a band. My mate knew a bassist and drummer so I got them pretty quickly. Then I drunkenly met our guitarist at Sound City. So yeah, it all came together very easily actually”. Circa Waves’ debut release, a double A-Side consisting of the aforementioned ‘Get Away’ and new track Good For Me comes out via the excellent Transgressive on the 2nd December. Otherwise though, Shudall is keeping his cards close to his chest: “I’ve got twenty-thirty demos which I’ve played to a few industry people and close friends”, he reveals tentatively. “We’re going to lay them down soon, but I’m just trying to figure out the best way to record them at the moment, whether we do it ourselves, bring someone else in or whatever”.

Between wedging young women into their ceilings, Two Door Cinema Club recently urged their 340,000 twitter followers to check out Get Away. And reluctantly or not, with their sharply executed tunes and bouncy rhythms, Circa Waves will have listeners compulsively comparing them to the likes of TDCC, The Vaccines and the relentlessly competent series lad-rock acts heralded as the savior of the great British guitar band. “Yeah, it’s nice to a degree I suppose. I mean they’re all pretty successful artists”, Shudall explains cautiously. “I’m massively influenced by The Strokes as you can hear. I do think that the next few singles will show a lot more of a diverse sound though, which will hopefully have people drawing more varied comparisons”. He’s right to sound concerned, as time has proven that for every apparent savior there are ten VIVA Brothers. The fact is though, Circa Waves are worth paying attention to not because of what they sound like, but what they’ve done with those sounds. Those frantic, immediate opening guitar swipes, the wild and frenetic chord changes, all allow the song to burn through a range of emotions with fearless abandon. It’s a plaintive tale of anxiety and fear disguised as an anthem, which is what makes it so disarming. And unlike The Vaccines and their many contemporaries, Shudall doesn’t sing like a man who thinks that apathy and ennui is the same fucking thing. And I know its just one single, but by avoiding detachment and conceding that however imperfect, however irrational, he might actually have something personal to say, Circa Waves have already outgrown that sort of meat and potatoes rock that they are being relentlessly compared to.

The bands more starry eyed backers have them down as one of the biggest new acts in the country, with many in the industry even hailing them as the next Arctic Monkeys. Guitar music has been meandering in the UK for some time now, though. That’s not to say that there isn’t good stuff out there; it just seems to exist in this perpetual state of perceived underachieving. The fact is that it hasn’t really connected with youth culture on a mainstream level in Britain since the days you were questioning your sexuality over The Maccabees’ video for Toothpaste Kisses. “Yeah, this is definitely something I’m quite wary of”, he explains carefully. “I’ve been trying my best to keep a reign on all this sudden attention. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, and I definitely didn’t expect any of this. We’ve had everyone and his dog interested over the last couple of months, which is good and bad really. I mean, it’s quite hard to write songs when you’re getting fifty phone calls a day like”. We all know that hype can be a double-edged sword, and Shudall certainly seems to be treading it very carefully.

It’s impossible to predict what the name Circa Waves will mean to Liverpool next year, and Shudall will know as well as any that he could just as easily be on the cover of NME as he could busking on Church Street. You do get the feeling though, that despite the accessible hooks and widescreen choruses, if he is going to find vindication for all this hard work anywhere then it won’t be among the fickle masses, but with those quiet, attentive listeners, treasuring these songs with the knowledge that they mean more to them than they do anyone else.

Mike Townsend

Live Review: Tom Odell (BidoLito!)

Tom Odell
Liverpool Academy

It’s been a strange year for TOM ODELL. After topping the Brit Awards one’s to watch poll and landing a place on the revered BBC Sound of 2013 list, he must have gone to sleep quite soundly. Then Mark Beaumont, the polarizing NME journalist penned one of the most contentious album reviews this side of a decade, awarding the young Chichister born songwriter an emphatic zero out of ten for his debut album.

Now honestly, before even listening to the guy I was one of Tom Odell’s biggest detractors, lamenting that kind of beige, nu-boring pop music that had inexplicably captured the public’s interest. It’s not that there isn’t a place for it, it’s just that place is on Radio 2 and Mother’s Day compilations rather than at the forefront of mainstream youth culture. That zero out of ten though, that declaration that this is an artist completely void of any artistic merit, created an underdog out of the guy, slightly skewering his position in the publics consciousness and forcing many, including myself, to reassess what he means to UK Music.

On a performance level, tonight’s show is excellent. The immensely likeable Odell sits confidently beside a piano, muttering small talk with the charm of a New Orleans jazz hall pianist. Opener Grow Old With Me doesn’t offer much when it comes to innovation, but the earnest cries from the remarkable number of besotted young girls singing along is actually very moving. Can’t Pretend, easily his most complete song to date, is a rousing, sinister number, complete with appropriate ooh’s and ahh’s from a tight ensemble beside him. Similarly, current single Another Love just about manages to withstand its own weight in passion to create a stirring display of build and release. This is where Odell excels tonight and indeed on record, with a steady, stomping bass drum and almost euphoric crescendos, capturing that sort of exhilaration that can completely remove you from your surroundings. Where it all falls down of course, is with the slower, more somber numbers, as Odell attempts to convey poignancy that sadly, is far beyond his means. I Know, with its twinkling piano and quivering falsetto appears to drag on for hours, and Supposed To Be is barely audible above the symphony of disinterested chatter near the bar. The trouble is that just alone with a piano; Odell’s songwriting is stripped to its bones. So without the cymbal crashes and without the building textures, you’re left with pieces of music that melodically and lyrically are extremely basic. And even the kind of apathetic idiot who thinks Haim are too ‘hipster’ can see through that.  

Before an encore consisting of the Ghostbusters theme tune (I won’t even go into that), Odell returns to that winning formula with a soaring, singalong inducing rendition of Hold Me, displaying a showmanship that makes it easy to see how he has got this far. Ultimately, this is a guy performing a load of very average songs very well. Whether or not it will be enough for him to maintain any sort of longevity as an artist - I’m not so sure. But if the younger generation’s poster boy is a choice between this guy and a whining, ghost-written Jake Bugg and his contrived backstory of scribbling lyrics on the side of a council house; I suppose we could do a lot worse.

Mike Townsend


Live Review: Big Deal (Liverpool Echo)

White Cliffs
The Shipping Forecast
7th November 2013

Throughout a short and relentlessly average career as what you could vaguely call a music journalist, my biggest fear has been turning up to a show, suggesting I was on the guest list and my name wouldn’t be down. Everyone in the queue would snigger and I would practically be boo’d out the venue. That was until tonight though. My biggest fear now is turning up to a show and proceeding to explain to a baffled looking door man that I’m on the guest list for what is, to my surprise, a completely free entry show. People didn’t boo me out or anything, but they were definitely sniggering. ‘Everyone’s on the guest list lad’. Yeah, thanks.

White Cliffs have received praise from some corners of the city, but it’s difficult to not feel self-conscious around songs this dated. I’m sure there was a place for this sort of whiney post grunge at some point, but I am thankfully not old enough to have been there for it. I don’t know, hopefully it’s ironic and I’m just missing the point.

It’s easy to see why London’s Sisters were included on the bill tonight, with guitars scuzzier than the black floor beneath us. They need some serious work on their sound set-up, but with tunes this good put through such a shoegaze filter, there is still plenty to get your ears around.

Big Deal are an entirely new proposition tonight. On their excellent debut Lights Out, the whole boy girl, shared microphone thing was enough to put many people off. For those actually listening though, you’d have noticed that they are a cynical bunch, offsetting anything you’d be tempted to refer to as twee with lyrics dark enough to make you wonder if anyone really likes each other and generally doubt the existence of love at all. I’m exaggerating, but on tracks like Chair, where Alice Costello sings “You just want me for my lungs / You just want me for the songs I write about you”, they transformed that lightweight accompaniment into a disarming fragility, allowing the album to get under your skin before you’ve even had a chance to consider why.

On their sophomore effort June Gloom, Costelloe and Kacey ‘Kc’ Underwood brought in a drummer and turned the guitars up to create a more aggressive and all-together more confident sounding record. Golden Light, with its lazy vocals and woozy chords is an impressive introduction, and certainly quashes any fears that the new line up might be having teething issues. New single Swapping Spit, despite that title, is very moving this evening, with its sepia tinged reflection of romance softened by Costello’s indifferent vocals. In Your Car turns the volume up, allowing Underwood a moment of indulgence with that piercing, power stance inducing lead guitar part. The show spikes with the blithely anthemic Dream Machines, as the band meet each other at those downbeats in scintillating unison. Talk is their only retreat to that debut album, although it is almost recognisable as they race through it in double time behind a 4/4 drum beat. The song still manages to stand up, but it is certainly an indication of a band keen to disassociate themselves from their earlier sound. It is a shame in many ways, as that vulnerability was what elevated much of these songs above their indie-pop frameworks and their many contemporaries. Progression is important though, and the only way forward after an album that self-conscious was bigger. It’s difficult to see what form Big Deal’s troubled tales of romance will take on next. Tonight suggest that however bad it gets, that space between sadness and acceptance will continue to look like the easiest place in the world.