Factory Records: Labels That Changed Music

Posted on 9 July 2010
By Kraig Heymans
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More has been written about Factory records than likely any other record label in history, and probably with due course, Factory predicted and successfully harnessed the rise and fall of punk, new wave, and the dance rock of Madchester, all without much effort, and without any business sense whatsoever.

Formed in 1978 by television personality Tony Wilson, and actor Alan Erasmus, the label was supposedly named after Erasmus saw a sign that read “factory closing”, and as such named the label accordingly.

From the start the label cultivated a unique labelling system, providing FAC-# catalogue entries for everything from EP’s, ball-point pens, to the now legendary Hacienda club.

Wilson recruited a talented bunch of artists, producers, and musicians, who included Peter Saville and Martin Hannett, to help craft and create his often impossible vision of a perfect indie label, fashioning an image and style that is still emulated today.

The business policy of Factory records was one to work on a basis of no formal contract, enabling bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark to come and go, releasing a single, and frequently leaving to pursue more successful major label endeavours.

After the sudden death of Factory poster boy, Ian Curtis, the label was thrown into a torrid whirlwind of confusion; practically losing its identity altogether, before the new band New Order restored it as the hip face of alternative culture once more.

It is often said a successful label needs one big band to support the other artists on the roster, and undoubtedly New Order were that band. They practically funded Factory records for twelve years, subsidising it with cash from the sales of their hugely popular records, living just above the breadline themselves.

It was not until 1992, eleven years after their first release, that New Order began making money, when they finally signed with London Records.

Factory finally closed in 1994 and Tony Wilson maintained a popular, outspoken media celebrity until succombing to cancer in 2007.

Factory classics:

#1: Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division.
The first Joy Division album took the anger and dissonance of punk, and melded it with the bleak, dystopian imagery of William Burroughs novels. It’s a perfect album, hyperbole aside, featuring formidable strong point after strong point. Buy it now.

#2: Low-Life – New Order.
Much maligned successors to Joy Division, New Order were often criticized for forsaking the memory of Ian Curtis – but we know this to be utter trash. The band continues it’s evolution to this date, with understated vocals, chunky synths, robotic drumming and ridiculous basslines, this being their best effort.

#3: Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches – Happy Mondays.
Notorious party boys Shaun and Paul Ryder actually show quite successfully that they had an authentic, uncompromising voice of an ecstasy addled generation. Pills is the archetypical Madchester record, loose drumming, draaaaaawn out vocals and very ridiculous lyrics. Groovy man.

#4: The Return of… – The Durrutti Column.
Vini Reilly is the constant figure of ridicule in Manchester. This is probably because his music is more acoustic, heartfelt and often brutally honest than the brash and cocky styles often favoured in the region. Get the sandpaper vinyl, and wreck your record collection.

#5: The Graveyard & The Ballroom – A Certain Ratio.
Tony Wilson wanted a band of his own, and he got one in the shape of the hugely inconsistent and experimental Ratio. This compilation compiles their best singles and most listenable cuts into one handy CD.