Wednesday, February 28, 2024

VA - Factory Records, Communications 1978-92 [2008] (4 x CDs)


VA - Factory Records, Communications 1978-92 [2008] (4 x CDs)

Four CDs covering 15 years in roughly chronological order: Communications 1978-92 has the difficult task of summarizing a famously wayward label. As you might expect, it can't do the job painlessly. Factory's magnificent, quixotic approach to branding-- catalogue numbers for buildings! Record sleeves that lost money on every purchase! -- helped build its legend, but also acted as a smokescreen for its erratic quality control. Almost every label makes duff signings, but Factory's were somehow excusable because of the mystique surrounding the organization-- founder Tony Wilson's charm, patter, and heroic whim giving the impression that allowing Crispy Ambulance to make awful records was part of the grand plan as surely as the menstrual egg-timer (FAC 8) was. Take away the aura the label cultivated, and a lot of the music on the box set feels awkwardly exposed.

What saves it is Factory's uniquely local quality. Born out of Wilson's enthusiasm for the Manchester arts beat he covered for a regional TV show, Factory had a close relationship with the city's music scene from the start, which became positively symbiotic when the label opened a club there. "The Haçienda must be built" was the situationist slogan that gave the venue its name: "The Haçienda must be filled" was the more pragmatic principle guiding much of the Factory aesthetic from the second disc of this box set onwards. The club provides one (literally) concrete reason for Factory's status as the UK indie label that engaged first and fiercest with dance music, and tracks here from Quando Quango's bubbly "Genius" to Happy Mondays' threatening "Hallelujah" were designed for its dancefloors. And though the Haçienda never funded Factory, its legal and financial struggles amid the decline into violence of Manchester's club scene formed one backdrop for the label's collapse.

Being the center of a local scene has a big impact on the kind of bands a label works with. If you're a Manchester group in 1979 and you idolize Joy Division, who are you going to send your demo tapes to? Wilson may have been the presiding artistic spirit at Factory, but the musical agenda was set by whichever band was making the running and the headlines in the city-- Joy Division, then New Order, then Happy Mondays. Not only is each group well represented on this box set, so are several acts who sound roughly like them. This has the unfortunate effect that the most famous music here is almost by definition the best.

Luckily, each formula was rich enough to allow a few kinks, and time has often been kind to acts who were crucified as copyists in their day. Tunnel Vision's "Watching the Hydroplanes", a rant against 1950s Britain and its legacy set to monotonous hand-me-down post-punk, received across-the-board pans back in 1981: Free of that context you can better appreciate its odd, venomous intensity. There's also a sense in which the most generic, trend-chasing music can be more sharply evocative of a time and place than its innovators are-- the clumsy, defiant lilt of Northside's "Take 5" tells you more about British indie's response to dance music than the Mondays' far superior "Kinky Afro".

So by telling a story, Communications manages to make its mediocre tracks more interesting than they actually are. Luckily, there's also plenty of purely musical intrigue. The songs you already know are great sound greater still in the context of what they inspired, and there's also fun to be had tracing the careers of Factory stalwarts like A Certain Ratio from the primitive gloom of "All Night Party" through the rippling unease of "Knife Slits Water" and "Flight" to the slick, stiff funk they ended up playing (their whistles-and-tracksuits Latin dance incarnation is mercifully absent).

More than this, the label's parade of non-hits and fleeting pleasures brings out a few gems. It's hard not to like John Dowie's comical "It's Hard to Be an Egg", especially coming in the midst of the grey-raincoated first disc. OMD and James appear in early, rough-draft versions-- bands working in very different styles, but both giddy with ideas they're not quite up to realizing yet. Miaow's "When it All Comes Down" is a delicious piece of tweepop, Marcel King's "Reach for Love" is yearning digital soul, and Cath Carroll's elegant "Moves Like You" had the misfortune to be cool and thoughtful at a time when what the press wanted from Factory was libidinous lads.

And through it all runs the beat. "Blue Monday" and the Happy Monday's "W.F.L." may have kickstarted different phases of the label's relationship with dance music, but Factory was always ahead of the pack when it came to exploring the possibilities of space and groove: Martin Hannett's experiments in rhythm and dread helping set an agenda that the label never backed away from. Tony Wilson's death in 2007 makes it tempting to view this box set as a testament to one man's vision, ear, and dreadful business sense, and it's true that you'd probably have to be Tony Wilson to enjoy everything here. But what Factory achieved was greater than that, it helped build a city's idea of itself, and, in the wider community of British independent music, it kept the door open for eclecticism and idealism. The strength of this set is that you can hear that in the bad stuff as well as the good. (






Track lists


01 Joy Division - Digital 2:51

02 Cabaret Voltaire - Baader Meinhof 3:23

03 A Certain Ratio - All Night Party 3:15

04 Omd - Electricity (Factory Version) 3:45

05 Joy Division - She's Lost Control 4:54

06 Distractions - Time Goes By So Slow 3:21

07 Joy Division - Transmission 3:36

08 Durutti Column - Sketch For Summer 2:58

09 X-O-Dus - English Black Boys 4:46

10 Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart 3:26

11 A Certain Ratio - Shack Up 3:14

12 Section 25 - Girls Don't Count 4:28

13 Crawling Chaos - Sex Machine 5:40

14 A Certain Ratio - Flight 6:04

15 Names - Night Shift 3:37

16 New Order - Ceremony (Original Version) 4:37

17 Minny Pops - Dolphin's Spurt 2:51

18 John Dowie - It's Hard To Be An Egg 3:10

19 Crispy Ambulance - Deaf 3:57

20 Section 25 - Dirty Disco 5:19


01 New Order - Everything's Gone Green 5:34

02 Tunnel Vision - Watching The Hydroplanes 3:51

03 Durutti Column - Messidor 2:31

04 A Certain Ratio - Knife Slits Water (Lp Version) 7:35

05 Royal Family And The Poor - Art On 45 4:48

06 Swamp Children - Taste What's Rhythm 6:05

07 New Order - Temptation 8:57

08 52nd Street - Cool As Ice 7:47

09 New Order - Blue Monday 7:28

10 Cabaret Voltaire - Yashar (John Robie Remix) 7:30

11 Quando Quango - Love Tempo 7:54

12 Wake - Talk About The Past 6:24


01 New Order - Confusion 8:13

02 Marcel King - Reach For Love 5:27

03 Section 25 - Looking From A Hilltop (Restructure) 8:10

04 Stockholm Monsters - All At Once 2:57

05 Life - Tell Me 3:10

06 Durutti Column - A Little Mercy (Duet) 2:33

07 James - Hymn From A Village 2:53

08 Kalima - Trickery 4:28

09 A Certain Ratio - Sounds Like Something Dirty 6:56

10 Quando Quango - Genius 6:25

11 Happy Mondays - Freaky Dancin' 3:45

12 Miaow - When It All Comes Down 3:30

13 Railway Children - Brighter 4:55

14 Biting Tongues - Compressor 4:52

15 New Order - True Faith 5:54

16 Happy Mondays - 24 Hour Party People 4:38


01 New Order - Fine Time 4:45

02 Happy Mondays - W.F.L. (Think About The Future) 7:12

03 Revenge - Seven Reasons 4:09

04 Happy Mondays - Hallelujah (Club Mix) 6:29

05 Electronic - Getting Away With It 5:16

06 Happy Mondays - Step On 5:18

07 Northside - Shall We Take A Trip 4:24

08 New Order - World In Motion 4:32

09 Happy Mondays - Kinky Afro 3:59

10 Durutti Column - Home 5:39

11 Electronic - Get The Message (Dna Remix) 5:27

12 Northside - Take 5 4:12

13 Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (Dna Remix) 6:33

14 Other Two - Tasty Fish (12' Mix) 3:51

15 Happy Mondays - Sunshine And Love (Lionrock Remix) 7:19




  1. One of the primary forests of the modern English pop. Thanks a lot BB.

    1. Hi Hervé.
      Very nice comment. A lot of great tracks on this.

  2. Nothing like a bit of Manchester - thanks BB

  3. A very valuable compilation: Factory ruled the airwaves for some years, indeed! Many thanks & best, TC

  4. Thanks BB. brings back a lot of me memories from the 90's loved Durutti Column and still do.

    1. Hi Frazz,
      It's great when the memories come flooding back.