History > Factory Obituary

DAVE HASLAM, former Hacienda DJ, writes Factory's obit.

The demise of Factory Records is a tragedy, with the ending long-predicted now having arrived. Their past looked sweeter than their future, their ambition had misled them, and the more of Anthony H. Wilson's bragging soliloquies we heard, the less convincing it all seemed.

Plainly, Messrs Wilson, Gretton, and Erasmus must be thanked for pushing music to where it has most value; the way it can communicate, and change lives. Factory Records expressed Manchester's energy brilliantly, from Joy Division to Happy Mondays, and with The Hacienda they provided us with a focus for local music-obsessed youth culture, the most spirited kind of British culture you can find.

New Order and Joy Division dominate the Factory Records' story. Especially in retrospect, they tower over the roster both artistically and commercially. Unknown Pleasures and Technique are two of the finest LPs any record company has ever released.

With music from the young A Certain Ratio and James, and slivers of greatness from the likes of Biting Tongues and The Durutti Column, Factory in the early 1980s thrilled us. So with Happy Mondays, an explosive discovery. But take away New Order and Happy Mondays from the last six years and you're left with pitiful product.

Those six years have confirmed Factory Records as an A&R disaster zone. It's a mind-boggler; while The Hacienda was the dance club in the world, the glory years of house music spawned, on Factory, To Hell With Burgundy, The Wendys, The Adventure Babies, and tie classical music offshoot.

To pile on the agony, by 1988 former Factory A&R man Mike Pickering was signing dance acts to DeConstruction instead, including the massive Black Box. More recently, Rob Gretton started his own label putting out great dancefloor tunes by The Beat Club and Sub Sub, among others.

The failure of the record company to gather a roster of depth left a fundamental weakness at the heart of Factory Communications Ltd, but it was a weakness undetected during the 'Madchester' euphoria Those 'Madchester' years coincided with Chancellor Lawson's, boom': the nation was high on credit, Factory diversified, and invested hugely in a new HQ.

In 1992 things look different: the Happy Mondays bubble has burst, The Hacienda is only full at weekends, Dry isn't the only civilised drinking place in town, and now we're stuck in the middle of Lamont's dreadful slump.

The economic recession in the leisure industries has hit the independent music sector hard, and the reality of Factory's weakness is now apparent. As the economists say: 'You can't tell who's swimming naked until the tide goes out.'

By the end, Factory's self-belief was turning into arrogance, but once their musical Midas touch deserted them, there was no hope. They were never 'great businessmen' in the classic sense; they were flakey, inspiring, music enthusiasts who got entangled in the manacles of the business world. An insider once confessed to me that the perennial financial problems of Factory were rooted in the fact that business plans amounted to little more than 'lurching from one Wilson whim to another'.

These things can be read two ways; for 'whim', try 'flash of inspiration'. Maybe the seeds of Factory's failure were there in their wayward genius.

It leaves us with one of life's insolubles; when has a person awash with grey reality, au fait with VAT, and ruled by prudence and reasonableness ever been worth loving? What would you rather have; charisma or commonsense?

Taken from City Life 217, Dec 2-17 1992