Publications > Scream City > Scream City Issue #5 > A Factory Trip Around the World by Andrew James
For a label so closely associated with its hometown of Manchester, Factory actually had a geographically diverse and admirably un-parochial A&R policy. From the UK, the label took in acts from as far afield as Sheffield (Cabaret Voltaire), Leicester (Kevin Hewick), Edinburgh (The Wendys) and Glasgow (The Wake). Heck, they even put aside generations of inter-city emnity, and put out releases by Liverpool-based acts (OMD, The Royal Family & The Poor). As well as spreading its A&R net across the British Isles, the label looked overseas for talent, and the 1980s saw record-shop racks bulging under the weight of Factory vinyl by groups from Holland (Minny Pops), Belgium (The Names), Germany (Shark Vegas) and the US (Thick Pigeon).
This internationalist outlook extended to its overseas release policy. While other independent labels of the period exported UK-made product abroad through various distribution channels, Factory were unusually forward-thinking in exploring as many avenues as possible to get their artists' music into the hands of as wide an audience as possible. To this end, they embraced licensing, overseas manufacture, joint ventures, and employed a network of trusted associates to facilitate their plans for world domination.
While it was typical for a major international label like CBS or RCA to sell into foreign markets by manufacturing at their pressing plants overseas, setting up joint ventures or by licensing their artists' work to other labels overseas, it was unusual for a small independent label to do the same, and pretty much unheard of to do so on the scale that Factory did.
Whether Factory's decision to attempt to sell widely overseas can be attributed to optimism or naivety is open to conjecture, but it almost certainly never occurred to Wilson, Erasmus et al that they shouldn't.
As good situationists, they would have heeded the exhortation to "Be reasonable: demand the impossible." Rather than asking "why?", Factory's attitude to overseas marketing (as in most other matters) was "why not?" Deciding that continental cousins should be able to enjoy Do The Du or Atmosphere was of a piece with the mindset that thought that opening a nightclub in a former yacht showroom was a good idea.
Of course, given Factory's somewhat haphazard business reputation, it should come as no surprise that not all of its overseas business ventures were unalloyed successes. For instance, there's the apocryphal story of a UK Factory employee forgetfully licensing the same Happy Mondays LP to two separate Brazilian labels. By and large, though, licensing British product to overseas imprints worked reasonably well, and provided a regular revenue stream for Factory UK. Brazil's Stiletto label released a lot of Factory's output into its home country, as did Italy's Base Records. (On a personal note, I have fond memories of my long-lost cassette of Still, manufactured in Italy by Base Records and imported back into the UK.) Unusually, though, as has already been alluded to above, as well as simply licensing materials to other labels, Factory created its own subsidiary labels abroad, run at arm's length from Britain by a variety of cultural entrepeneurs. While much of the output of these labels was merely re-badged British FAC releases, some overseas releases are unique, and never enjoyed a release on the Manchester parent label. Even more unusually, some bands that recorded for overseas subsidiaries never got a look-in at the Palatine Road HQ. Here's a short round-up of some of these labels and their highlights.
Factory US / Of Factory New York / Factory America
Long-term fans of the imprint will be unsurprised to learn that Factory's overseas business arrangements were not always neat and tidy. In the United States, Factory had three connected, overlapping but separate operations, all run by one Michael Shamberg (disappointingly, this isn't the same Michael Shamberg that now produces Hollywood movies alongside Danny De Vito and Stacey Sher, as I assumed for many years). Of the three, Factory US (catalogued as FACTUS, and occasionally FACUS) was the first to start up and the last to close down, releasing its first product at roughly the same time as Factory Benelux (see below) in mid-1980.
Though much of the FACTUS catalogue was devoted to releasing into the US material that had already been recorded for the UK market (such as US editions of Closer and Unknown Pleasures), this did give rise to some interesting anomalies. For instance, in the first few years of its life, the British arm of Factory had an unwritten rule not to include singles on albums. It also had a policy of not issuing cassette counterparts to its vinyl albums, contrary to standard record industry practice at the time.
The US arm of the label, however, didn't adhere to these strictures. Thus, my first FACTUS artefact was the cassette of Power Corruption & Lies, bought as a US import (there wasn't a British-made cassette of PC&L at the time), in large part because it also featured both sides of the then-recent Blue Monday single. Factory US was also this label that gave many of us Brits our first opportunity to hear Joy Division's Atmosphere. Though it had appeared on a limited edition French single some months previously, its appearance as FACUS 2 in 1980, twinned with She's Lost Control, was the single's "proper" release and the one that entered the independent charts (confusingly, it was soon released in the UK under the catalogue number FACUS 2 UK).
Of note, too, is FACUS 4, ACR's 12-inch which compiled Do The Du, Shack Up, Son and Heir and The Fox in a delightful Peter Saville-designed sleeve, and FACTUS 8, a New Order 12-inch comprising Everything's Gone Green, Temptation, Mesh, Hurt and Procession housed in an even more delightful sleeve designed in part by Saville's girlfriend at the time, the ex-Muffin and then Associate, Martha Ladly.
The FACTUS label was not the same as Factory OFNY, which, bewilderingly, operated more or less simultaneously out of the same headquarters and was headed by the same proprietor. Again, this was largely concerned with re-packaging and relabelling British FAC product for American consumption, though it seemed to cleave in part to the more danceable aspects of the label, releasing material by Cabaret Voltaire and Quando Quango. Also seeing stateside release on Factory OFNY were videos by The (slightly less danceable) Birthday Party and The Fall, both of which originally saw the light of day via Ikon, the visual wing of Factory in the UK.
OFNY also oversaw the release of some FAC-originated material on other labels.
These included the issuing of New Order's Confusion on hip-hop label Streetwise, and a 52nd Street release on A&M, both of which had OFNY catalogue numbers appended.
At the same time, FACTUS and OFNY are not to be confused with Factory America, even though, again, Michael Shamberg ran the operation. Not as prolific as the other two American labels, FA was nevertheless responsible for the only home-grown output from Factory's various American divisions. Ike Yard, whose untitled first album (sometimes called A Fact A Second, though this seems to be a mistaken reference to its catalogue number) was released as FA2 in 1982.
Ike Yard, the brainchild of New York musical polymath Stuart Argabright, who later went on to some notoriety with avant-funk outfit Dominatrix, traded in deep, dubby, rhythmic sounds not a million miles from ACR and 23 Skidoo, and as such fitted in perfectly with Factory's worldview circa 1982. Despite this, the LP never gained a release outside the US, though the tracks it contains have recently been compiled on an Ike Yard retrospective entitled 1980-1982 Collected on Acute Records, which is well worth tracking down.
Factory's Australian wing was headed up by Andrew Penhallow, and unlike the American subsidiaries, was affiliated to major labels throughout its existence. As with Factory's activities in the US, Factory Australasia was mainly concerned with releasing re-badged British material down under. However, there are a couple of nuggets that are worth mentioning.
One is the Durutti Column single, Sketch For Summer/Sketch For Winter, an Australia-only release. While both tracks were included on Vini's debut album, they were compiled in a specially-designed sleeve and released as a single by the Australian operation; again this was at a time when Factory's UK arm was against the idea of releasing singles from albums. Later in the label's existence, it released an Oz-only Robert Racic remix of ACR's Bootsy, which, again, appeared in a specially-designed sleeve as a single to accompany the group's Force album; this remix is well worth getting hold of.
In addition, the label was responsible for some detailed posters advertising its wares; large-format promos accompanied the releases of both New Order's and Joy Division's Substance compilations, both of which were designed by Andrew Penhallow. Both posters condensed a large amount of Factory promotional info into a relatively small surface area (the one produced to advertise New Order's Substance managed to cram in references to 18 other additional Factory Australasia releases, and Tony Wilson was reportedly so impressed that he had a copy framed and put on the wall in Manchester!).
Of all the overseas FAC operations, Factory Benelux had the highest profile and, seemingly, the most autonomy. Operated by Michel Duval of Belgian label Les Disques Du Crépuscule, Factory Benelux (like its American and Australian counterparts detailed above) released some re-badged material that had previously been issued by the UK parent, such as New Order's The Perfect Kiss. However, the bulk of its releases were unique artefacts, available nowhere else and imported in significant numbers into Britain and elsewhere. FBN was, perhaps unfairly, seen by some as the graveyard to which Wilson, Gretton and others confined material that did not pass muster in Manchester, such as New Order's Murder and Crawling Chaos's The Gas Chair, the band's sole long player for the Factory organisation.
Despite this perception, Factory aficionados regularly cite much of the material that saw release solely through the Benelux offshoot as some of the strongest in the extended Factory catalogue. The Crispy Ambulance material released by FBN (in particular their LP The Plateau Phase and their 12-inch Live On A Hot August Night) is regarded by many as essential, and the label also released the terrific Durutti Column single Tomorrow, which never saw the light of day as a UK release.
Other Durutti material worth tracking down on the FBN label includes the Deux Triangles EP, which contains Vini's 17-minute opus, Piece for Out of Tune Grand Piano, and the 7-inch single For Patti. The latter was originally intended as an accompaniment to Deux Triangles, and was released in a extremely limited edition of 100 (!). As such, I have to confess that I've never seen or heard it.
Other unique artefacts released by FBN and recorded by acts associated closely with the Mancunian parent label include French language versions of singles by Section 25 and Life, a couple of singles by Stockholm Monsters, and ACR's Brazilia, and while many critics felt these were slightly sub-par tunes, they're all worth a listen. Factory Benelux was also quick off the mark in the multimedia department; its Factory Complication video cassette featured Section 25, Cabaret Voltaire, New Order and others, and was released almost a year before Ikon managed to get something similar onto the British market.
Even FBN's aborted projects offer a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. One project that never saw release on the label was a collaboration between Paul Haig and Cabaret Voltaire, while an early poster issued by the label detailed mysterious releases by Blurt and the Manhattan Project (nope, me neither) that never made it past the drawing board stage.
As well as releasing material by groups who also recorded for the Mancunian arm of Factory, the Benelux operation saw fit to give space to a number of groups who didn't record at all for Factory UK. These include Nyam Nyam, Surprize, La Cosa Nostra and Playgroup (the latter no relation to either the outfit that recorded for On-U Sound, or Trevor Jackson's recent punk/funk supergroup), all of whom released one-off singles for the Belgian imprint. While far from essential releases, they illustrate the extent to which FBN was able to forge an identity of its own, related to, but separate from, its British parent.
Like the other two labels mentioned here, FBN was eventually closed down by the powers-that-be in Manchester, and described by Wilson as an "unnecessary money pit". In their heyday, though, Factory's American operations, Factory Australasia and, in particular, Factory Benelux, all contributed greatly to the legacy of the Factory brand, and releases on all three are something of a must-have for collectors.
This article would have been considerably more difficult to compile without the following comprehensive discographies:
Sebastian Luetzow's factory-overseas.de
Dennis Remmer's factoryrecords.info
Frank Brinkhuis's Factory and Crépuscule Pages
Dennis Remmer's factoryrecords.info
Frank Brinkhuis's Factory and Crépuscule Pages
Issue 5 index
- A Factory Trip Around the World by Andrew James
- The Absence Of The Object Becomes A Presence You Can Feel by John Cooper
- Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records by James Nice
- The Distractions by David Quantick
- Closer, Karamazov and K550 by Ian McCartney
- 33°52'38.29"E / 151°13'05.79"S by Matthew Robertson
- Our Man in Germany by John Cooper
- Factory Over America Part 1 by John Cooper
- Factory Over America Part 2 by John Cooper
- Looking From A Hilltop... at Lytham St Annes by David Nolan