Tony Wilson leaves behind a musical legacy that changed the face of indie forever – and will continue to do so.
Go look at your record collection right now. See anything with the label Factory down the side? Cool, we like you already. If not, how about something recent from, say, New York? Like Interpol or The Rapture? If so, you’re looking at the children of Joy Division and Happy Mondays right there. What about some Hot Chip, Bloc Party or even Arcade Fire? New Order pretty much invented all that 25 years ago. Whether you realise it or not, your record collection is positively teeming with the sound and spirit of Factory Records.
But the music itself is only the tip of the iceberg. Ever felt inspired to get out and start something? Anything. Regardless of how much money you’d make or how many people you’d impress? Like forming a band. Or starting a clubnight? Or writing a fanzine? That’s the DIY spirit of Factory coursing through your veins.
“All Factory bands have freedom,” founder Tony Wilson declared during the label’s conception in the late ’70s. “The freedom to fuck off.” And it was these punk ideals – an ethos that included splitting all the profits 50/50 with bands, not drawing up proper contracts and losing money on the biggest selling 12-inch of all time (New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’) – that would be their making and, ultimately, their downfall, leading the label to the eventually being declared bankrupt in 1992. But that’s exactly what made Factory Records – which, at last the count, was on to its fourth incarnation before Tony Wilson passed away two weeks ago – so utterly brilliant as a concept, an ideal, and a way to live your life.
And it’s the reason why Tony Wilson’s vision will live on – if not by name, then certainly in the hearts and minds of forward – thinking, DIY-spirited punk droogs everywhere. Fittingly, here’s everything you’ll ever need to know about the label that changed everything…
Pills, thrills and bankruptcy – A history of Factory
May 1978 – Tony Wilson, a news anchor on Granada TV, starts the Factory clubnight at the Russell Club, Hulme, Manchester, with mates Alan Erasmus and Peter Saville. Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire are on the bill.
January 1979 – Factory Records is set up and based in Erasmus’ flat on Palatine Rd, Withington. Producer Martin Hannett joins, as does fifth man, Joy Division/New Order manager, Rob Gretton.
June 1979 – ‘All Night Party’, a funk cut by A Certain Ratio, is Factory’s first single release. Joy Division snub label giant WEA to release the first LP, ‘Unknown Pleasures’.
June 1980 – In the wake of Ian Curtis’ suicide the month before, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ becomes the label’s first Top 20 hit.
1981 – Hannet quits the label. Saville also quits as a partner but continues designing sleeves.
1982 – Factory and New Order open the Haçienda Club together, converting a victorian textile factory. Despite being packed, it loses 10K a month.
1983 – ‘Blue Monday’ is a multi-million-selling hit.
1985 – Happy Mondays release EP ‘Forty Five’.
1989 – Trendy Fac boozer the Dry Bar and record shop opened in the city’s Northern Quarter.
1992 – London Records try to take over Factory. Deal falls through when it emerges that New Order’s back catalogue is owned by the band, not the label.
1994 – Wilson starts up Factory too, for unsigned Manchester bands.
2005 – Wilson continues to back the city’s emerging talent, like grime crew Raw T and prole rockers Young Offenders Institute on new F4 imprint.
2007 – Wilson assigns Happy Monday’s new LP ‘Uncle Dysfunktional’ a FAC number… despite it not actually being released on his label.
10 brilliant Factory FAC-ts
- The label was named after a neon sign advertising a factory sale that Erasmus noticed while driving along Manchester’s Deansgate. Not, as often misreported, Andy Warhol’s boho ’60s art studio.
- In the 2002 movie 24 Hour People, Tony Wilson “signs” the first Factory cotracts with Joy Division and Durutti Column with his own blood. This was actually a myth started by Wilson himself during the film’s production.
- Factory released the only good football song ever, New Order’s ‘World In Motion’ – featurinng a peerless guest rap from footballer John Barnes. And Lily Allen’s peerlessly irritating dad, Keith.
- Martin Hannett, auteur of Joy Division’s sparse, eerie, sound, once ordered drummer Stephen Morris to complete his drum sessions on the roof of the studio.
- A European imprint, Factory Benelux, was set up in 1990. One release was for Lavolta Lakolta – whose drummer was NME’s Rick Martin’s cousin Mike.
- Along with million-selling records such as ‘Blue Monday’, Factory put out useless tat too – the daftest being a menstrual egg-timer.
- A vocal version of ’60s garage instrumental ‘Telstar’ – originally by Matt Bellamy’s dad’s band The Tornados – was released in 1984. The band were called Ad Infinitum and included Peter Hook.
- Wilson got the idea for the cover art for the first Factory sampler after staring at a Thai import copy of Santana’s ‘Abraxas’ album. He claimed to see the psychedelic sleeve “come alive” when off his tits.
- Wilson once said of The Smiths: “They’re the most Factory-like, non-Factory band”. He claimed years earlier that Morrissey was “a woman trapped in a man’s body”. Mozza would retort that Wilson was “a pig trapped in a man’s body”.
- Everything made by Factory – records, posters, bars, shops – was given a catalogue number. Even things as vague as ‘concepts’.
The five best things to come out of Tony Wilson’s mouth
- “Punk was Stalinist. It tore away the dross but all it could say was, ‘Fuck you!’ Joy Division came along and said something much more dark and complex. They said, ‘We are lost!'”
- “We thought with ‘Blue Monday’: ‘It’s in this new 12-inch format, it’s not going to sell, so it may as well look good.’ It was an utterly contemporary and utterly timeless piece of design, and it was hideously expnsive because excellence always in.”
- “In its first two years, Factory has this non-promotion thing: ‘We don’t promote. No press officers.’ It was all about not treating the music as a commodity.”
- “Every two years there’s a producer and a piece of kit and they change the way music sounds. With Martin Hannett, it was the digital delay foomm AMS in Burnley – it made drums sound the way they sound today.”
- “You learn why you do something by actually doing it.”
How to buy Factory
Essential… Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)
Quite simply, the 10 songs that irreeversibly changed the face of music – forever. From Ian Curtis’ apparently Sinatra-inspired baritone vocal delivery, to Hook’s low-slung bass rumble, to Stephen Morris’ sparse, haunting rhythms, Joy Division’s debut is a dark, strangely euphoric record that no music fan should be without.
Follow up… New Order – Substance (1987)
From the ashes of Joy Division rose the Phoenix of New Order, with Bernard Sumner taking over vocal duties after Ian Curtis’ suicide. This double-album collects the band’s first dozen singles – including dazzling electro freak-outs ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Temptation’ – and documents how, over the previous half-decade, they changed the direction of music all over again, this time re-inventing dance music.
Recommended… Happy Mondays – Pills’N Thrills And Bellyaches (1990)
“Son, I’m 30”, rasps Shaun Ryder on opener ‘Kinky Afro’, “I only went with your mother ‘cos she’s dirty”. From the funniest, cockiest couplet to ever open an album, there on in its tight grooves and funk-pop mishmashes inspired a million pilled-up kids to pull their best Bez-style freaky dance moves.
Wild card… Marcel King – Reach For Love (1991)
Marcel King was the singer in ’70s group Sweet Sensation – the winners of New Faces, a kind of ’70s X-Factor – and this was his one and only solo cut for Factory. It’s a soulful belter too and, apparently, Shaun Ryder’s favourite ever release on the label.
Avoid… Northside – Chicken Rhythms (1991)
Viewed by many as Factory’s cynical cash-in at the tail end of baggy, this Manc lost lacked the lyrical nous of the Mondays or the tunes of James and The Charlatans. These days cited as a major influence by the Twang, which should tell you everything you need to know.
Burn your own best of
OMD – ‘Electricity’
They went rubbish later, but this tune shows what a great Kraftwerk-apeing electro-pop band they were at the start.
Joy Division – ‘Transmission’
Gloriously uplifting and anthemic, especially when Ian Curtis exhorts “Dance, dance, dance to the radio“.
The Durutti Column – ‘Lips That Would Kiss’
A tribute to Ian Curtis that proves the talent of mainman Vini Reilly.
ESG – ‘You’re No Good’
The Scroggins sisters fused electro, hip hop and punk for a unique sound.
A Certain Ratio – ‘Shack Up’
Listen to this scratchy white funk cut and you’ll know instantly where Franz and The Futureheads got their sound.
James – ‘Hymn From A Village’
Back from when James were a lo-fi indie act clearly in thrall to The Smiths.
New Order – ‘Blue Monday’
Genuinely revolutionary, and it all came from Stephen Morris fannying around on a drum machine.
Happy Mondays – ‘Hallelujah’
From the ‘Madchester Rave On’ EP, ehich coined the name for the new indie-dance movement in the city.
Northside – ‘Shall We Take A Trip’
It’s proper shit, but it is very funny, and encapsulated the hedonistic times.
Joy Division – ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’
Curtis’ epitaph, voted by NME as the best single of all time in 2002. If anything, its raw, emotive power have grown.
New Order – ‘True Faith’
New Order at their peak, when everything they did was magnificent.
Electronic – ‘Get The Message’
They finally managed to get one of The Smiths on Factory. The best of Marr and Sumner’s dance and guitar pop.
Happy Mondays – ‘Kinky Afro’
A top five hit back in 1990, this is rock at its most keef-indebted sleazy.
Why I love Factory
“What a great legacy of music. A lot of people from the indie world learned a lot from Factory. Including a hell as a lot about how not to do things, because Factory was less than perfect. But Tony was out there having a go.” Mani (The Stone Roses / Primal Scream)
“Tony believed Factory should be not like any other label and believed that the artist should own the music and be able to walk away whenever they wanted. It wasn’t some kind of gimmicky statement. That was how he thought the world should be. And he did have ideas, and he kept having them.” Stephen Morris (New Order)
SOURCE: NME magazine