Auteur Labels \ Factory Benelux [LTMCD 2521]
The ongoing compilation series Auteur Labels profiles independent record labels with a unique and enduring sound, vision and design sensibility, usually guided by one or two directors, and concerned more with creativity than commerce.
This volume highlights Factory Benelux, the Factory sister label founded in Brussels in 1980, with close links to Les Disques du Crépuscule. Cover art by Benoît Hennebert.
1. THE DURUTTI COLUMN lips that would kiss
2. SECTION 25 je veux ton amour
3. THE NAMES calcutta
4. MINNY POPS time
5. CRISPY AMBULANCE the presence
6. CRAWLING CHAOS breaking down
7. STOCKHOLM MONSTERS miss moonlight
8. THE WAKE something outside
9. LIFE dites-moi
10. SWAMP CHILDREN you've got me beat
11. QUANDO QUANGO love tempo
12. NYAM NYAM fate/hate
13. SIMON TOPPING prospect park
Auteur Labels Factory Benelux
The Factory Benelux label was the result of an informal arrangement made in 1980 between Factory Records and Les Disques du Crépuscule in Brussels, whereby the latter released 'spare' recordings by Factory artists, and provided the Manchester label with an exotic entrée into Continental Europe. Now defunct as a political entity, the term Benelux referred to the pre-EU customs union formed by Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Factory had already undertaken at least one similar overseas project with the limited edition release of the Joy Division single Atmosphere through French art label Sordide Sentimental, and had also set up a North American branch, Factory US Inc.
It was occasionally alleged that Factory Benelux became a convenient drop zone for bands and records that failed to receive unanimous approval at Palatine Road. But this jaundiced view distorts the truth, and says little or nothing about the musical quality of the Factory Benelux catalogue as a whole. True, The Gas Chair by Crawling Chaos sounds deeply weird in comparison to Factory's domestic output, and Tony Wilson was never enthusiastic about Crispy Ambulance. However, many connoisseurs consider records such The Key of Dreams (Section 25), Everything's Gone Green (New Order), Shack Up (A Certain Ratio), Calcutta (The Names) and The Plateau Phase (Crispy Ambulance) to be genre jewels in the Factory crown.
The creation of Factory Benelux was agreed in April 1980, when Tony Wilson visited Brussels with ACR and Section 25 for a show at the Plan K venue, and met with Michel Duval and Annik Honoré. The first release should have been a live mini-LP by Joy Division, to be recorded in June 1980, and that same month an exhibition of Factory artifacts and Peter Saville designs was staged at Plan K. However tragedy intervened, and instead the debut release on Factory Benelux was the timeless Shack Up by A Certain Ratio (7", FACBN 1), issued in August. A solid indie hit, the single gave the new label a flying start, and was swiftly followed by two more excellent Martin Hannett-produced singles: Lips That Would KissMadeleine by the Durutti Column (12", FACBN 2), and Charnel Ground b/w Haunted by Section 25 (7", FACBN 3). Released in September and October respectively, with artwork by Jean François Octave and Benoît Hennebert, all carried dual catalogue numbers, hinting at a second new label, Les Disques du Crépuscule.
The 'Factory Night' show at the Free University of Brussels on 31 October featured A Certain Ratio, Section 25, Durutti Column and Brussels band The Names, who had recently recorded their classic Nightshift single with Hannett in Manchester. In true Factory style the poster, designed by Claude Stassart, was awarded its own catalogue number: FACBN4-011. However, any lingering confusion between Factory Benelux and Crépuscule caused by these dual catalogue numbers ended after Factory director Rob Gretton wrote to the Brussels office in September, reminding Duval and Honoré that Factory artists alone were to be associated with Factory Benelux, and that Crépuscule should remain entirely separate.
Curiously, there were no Factory Benelux releases during the first half of 1981, and the first raft of singles on the Crépuscule imprint took priority. The first Crépuscule music release, the compilation cassette From Brussels With Love, had already appeared, including contributions from several Factory acts. An 8-track 10" by Blurt (FACBN 5), recorded live at the Free University in Berlin in December 1980 was cancelled after the band parted company with Factory, although the album was released through Armageddon the following year as In Berlin. A 7" by the obscure Manhattan Project (FACBN 6) titled Nicky also failed to appear. Although it had initially been proposed that some standard Factory releases would be also released simultaneously on Benelux, thus avoiding import delays and prices, this seems not to have happened until FBN 8 in November.
June 1981 saw the release of the Crispy Ambulance 12" Live On A Hot August Night (FACBN 4). Far better than their earlier 10" on Factory, this Martin Hannett production was perhaps the band's finest hour, although the long ambient drone at the close of Concorde Square perplexed Rob Gretton. A month later, Section 25 released their second Benelux single, Je Veux Ton Amour (FACBN 5), issued ahead of their (delayed) Factory album Always Now, and in fact a French-language version of Dirty Disco. This would be the first time, but not the last, that a Factory band recorded a bespoke French-language version for the Continental sister label.
In the autumn of 1981 the label prepared to release The Factory Complication (FACBN 7). A 60 minute VHS video featuring clips by New Order, The Durutti Column, ACR, Section 25 and others, the video was one of the first of its kind, was premiered in Amsterdam on 30 October. The limited production run sold out within a few months. Nearly half of the content was recycled 10 months later for A Factory Video in the UK, although those elements that were not (including two tracks from an early New Order performance, shot at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels on 15 May 1981), as well as the video's unusual but very handsome blue PVC packaging, make this a highly desirable artifact.
The most popular Factory Benelux record of all time, Everything's Gone Green by New Order (FBN 8), appeared in November. A superior counterpart to the Factory 7" Procession, the FBN 12" featured two excellent (and exclusive) b-side tracks in Mesh and Cries & Whispers, but marked the end of the band's working relationship with producer Martin Hannett. In that context it's worth noting that EGG is the first New Order record to fully explore their new electronic/dance direction, and contradicts the received wisdom that the band did so only after dropping Hannett. It remains a superb record, and if their debut album Movement disappointed some, the three singles around it offered ample proof that New Order were a potent creative force.
Also in November, Dutch music magazine Vinyl came with a free Minny Pops flexi, Een Kus (FBN 13), an outtake from the sessions for their upcoming second album. Meanwhile The Names issued their third single, Calcutta, on 7"and 12" (FBN 9), another record of great beauty, and smartly dressed by designer Benoît Hennebert. The single was mixed by Martin Hannett, who went on to mastermind their Swimming album and swansong single The Astronaut, both released on the Crépuscule label. Like Minny Pops, Factory Benelux provided a natural home for The Names, who also had a far larger audience on the Continent than in the UK.
Bizarrely, the first album on Factory Benelux was The Gas Chair by Crawling Chaos (FBN 6), released in January 1982. An unfathomable anti-art project from Tyneside, Tony Wilson had unleashed their single Sex Machine on Factory, but the band were loathed by Joy Division manager Rob Gretton. This is probably why the self-produced album appeared on Benelux, having been assembled from a larger selection of tapes submitted to Factory by the band. Mixing folk, progressive rock and surreal prankery with a truly macabre sleeve selected in Brussels, the finished album surprised all who saw and heard it - not least Crawling Chaos themselves, who had titled the album Gas Chair Clown.
Another band exiled from Factory to its Benelux cousin were Crispy Ambulance, who were also somewhat surprised by the sleeve their first album arrived in. Having excelled with Hannett on FACBN 4, the band recorded their debut album with engineer Chris Nagle, producing an ambitious, experimental yet melodic rock album in The Plateau Phase, released in March 1982 as FBN 12. Saddled with unfair Joy Division comparisons by some critics at the time, the greater injustice was surely inflicted by Factory Benelux, who released the album in an awful lilac sleeve. Thankfully later CD editions used artwork based on the excellent Hennebert design for FACBN 4.
Dutch experimentalists Minny Pops, who had impressed on Factory in 1981 with Dolphins Spurt, were more fortunate in this respect. In April their single Time b/w Lights appeared on 7" as FBN 11, followed a month later by the excellent Sparks In A Dark Room album (FBN 15). The title inspired graphic designer Rob van Middendorp, the brother of frontman Wally, to create a sleeve resembling a packaging for photographic paper. The music - austere electronic dance, with driving motorik rhythms - sounded more Mute than Factory, and still sounds fresh today.
Section 25's second album, The Key of Dreams (FBN 14), emerged in June. Recorded during the latter half of 1981, the spacey, improvised tracks marked a departure from the Hannett-controlled sound of Always Now. Due to the long delay in releasing Always Now, some consideration was given to the idea of releasing the two records as a double set. However, by the time Key of Dreams appeared on Benelux guitarist Paul Wiggin had departed, leaving the Cassidy brothers to re-think and pursue a more electronic direction.
By 1982 the Cold Wave was thawing fast, and the second half of the year introduced new sounds and styles. July saw the release of A Certain Ratio's Guess Who? 12" (FBN 17), followed in September by the Taste What's Rhythm 12" ep (FBN 16) by Swamp Children. Swamp Children shared several members in common with ACR at this time, and in October released So Hot (FBN 21), an undervalued funk and latin album. Although commissioned by Factory Benelux from Brussels, So Hot was shortly afterwards issued by Factory in a different sleeve. The following year the band became Kalima, and pursued a more jazz-orientated agenda.
After a delay of some 15 months, Factory Benelux finally released the Durutti Column's Deux Triangles project on 12" (FBN 10) in September 1982. The ep was trailed as coming with a free 7" (FBN 100), containing two outtakes from previous sessions, Weakness & Fever and For Patti, although it seems that only about 100 copies of the 7" were pressed. The main ep was an experimental record, and includes a piano improvisation (Piece for Out of Tune Grande Piano) lasting fully 13 minutes.
In 1983 Vini Reilly recorded an entire Durutti Column album for release on Factory Benelux titled Short Stories For Pauline, without regular drummer Bruce Mitchell but accompanied by several guests including Tuxedomoon violinist Blaine L. Reininger. Despite being allocated a catalogue number (FBN 36), this excellent album went unreleased, although one of the key pieces of the album, A Little Mercy, was expanded into a long orchestrated piece and released as the Factory album Without Mercy the following year. Short Stories for Pauline remained on the shelf, but eventually all the tracks would be released across various compilations, and the catalogue number recycled for a later Durutti Column album on Benelux.
Not surprisingly, Factory Benelux's output during 1983 was dominated by a new generation of Factory bands, including Quando Quango, 52nd Street, Stockholm Monsters and The Wake, many of these acts recruited to the label by Rob Gretton. Indeed for several of the more dance-orientated artists 1983 became the year of the extended 'New York Remix' on 12" format. Issued in February, Cool As Ice by 52nd Street (FBN 20) sounded light years from their debut single, the old-school funk-soul of Look Into My Eyes. Produced by Bernard Sumner (as Be Music) and Donald Johnson (DoJo) of ACR, the track is rightly considered an electro classic. A 'restructure' of Cool As Ice, mixed by New York DJ John 'Jellybean' Benitez, was picked up in clubs across the Atlantic, and later brushed the US dance charts. The Benitez mix was then issued as a limited edition 12" through Factory Benelux in June (FBN 20 BIS).
The infectious and oft-compiled Love Tempo by Anglo-Dutch duo Quando Quango received similar treatment. This time DJ Mark Kamins delivered the remix, and the record was released on 12" (FBN 23 BIS) in November. Factory Benelux even issued a special limited 'Brussels Mix' on 7" only (FBN 23 TER). Elsewhere another New York DJ, John Robie, was responsible for the 12" version of Cabaret Voltaire's Yashar, remixed from their 1982 Rough Trade album 2x45. Yashar was released by Factory in several territories around the world, but the Benelux edition (FBN 25) was the only one with a proper picture sleeve, designed by Patrick Roques.
Released on 12" only in October, Something Outside b/w Host by The Wake (FBN 24) saw the undervalued Scottish band begin to experiment with dub textures, and proved to be their last record with bassist Bobby Gillespie, later frontman of Primal Scream. Benelux also issued their Factory mini album Harmony with an extra track, Chance. The Stockholm Monsters also released their third single, Miss Moonlight, as FBN 19, and completed a European tour with New Order. For Christmas 1983, this run of recent 12"s (FBN 19, 20, 23, 24 and 25 with the addition of an unauthorised remix of ACR's Guess Who?) were compiled on the album Factory Benelux Greatest Hits (FBN 27). However this was a poorly packaged effort, and had none of the wit and style of the festive compilation(s) released by Crépuscule, Ghosts of Christmas Past.
If Everything's Gone Green stands as one of the best New Order singles, their next Benelux offering was surely their weakest. Murder (FBN 22) appeared on 12" in April 1984, being an instrumental outtake from Power, Corruption & Lies dressed up with sampled dialogue from Caligula and 2001: A Space Odyssey. A bizarre choice as a single, it demonstrates just how idiosyncratic Factory's radar could be on occasion, and is better remembered for the stately instrumental version of Thieves Like Us on the flip. That same month saw the released of the Crispy Ambulance 12" Sexus (FBN 18), hurriedly recorded in Brussels in January 1982 while the band were on tour with Section 25. Arriving some 18 months late, however, the band were no longer around to promote it.
Previously, only artists who had already appeared on Factory in the UK were permitted to make records for Benelux. However in 1984 no less than four acts made their Factory debut via the Brussels' satellite: Surprize, La Cosa Nostra, Nyam Nyam and Lavolta Lakota. All came and went, and offer an interesting parallel with the brief Factory careers of bands such as Shark Vegas, Abecedarians and Red Turns Too, all of whom debuted on the Manchester parent label around the same time, and cutting just one record.
Surprize were a Bologna-based funk outfit, who may have attracted the attention of A Certain Ratio while on tour in Italy. Their 4-track 12" ep In Movimento (FBN 26) was released on Factory Benelux in April. The session was recorded in Manchester, with Bernard Sumner (New Order) and Donald Johnson (ACR) producing, and was heavy on then-vogueish DMX programming. Nyam Nyam and Lavolta Lakota were both mentored by Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order, who also produced (as Be Music). Lavolta Lakota featured Ged Duffy (ex Stockholm Monsters), Dave Hicks (later of Revenge) and Michael Eastwood, and played several dates supporting Southern Death Cult, although by the time the band released their 7" Prayer b/w Mitawin (FBN 34) in July 1984 they were on the verge of splitting. Hull band Nyam Nyam went on to record an album for Situation 2, and featured future Mojo editor Paul Trynka.
The generic Be Music credit covered almost all production work by members of New Order undertaken between 1982 and 1985. In this regard Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris were less prolific than Sumner and Hook, but did produce both singles by Life, an electro trio featuring New Order crew technician Andy Robinson and singer Rita Griffiths. Their two singles for Factory were released on 7" in the UK and on 12" in Benelux: Tell Me (FBN 37) in July 1984, and the double A-side Better b/w Optimism (FBN 42) in April 1985. The FBN 37 maxi contains an extra track not on the UK 7", Dites-Moi, namely Tell Me sung in French. It's probably fair to say that Rita's French accent was slightly more seductive than Larry Cassidy's effort on FACBN 5 four years earlier.
In February 1985, former ACR frontman Simon Topping returned with a polished solo single, Prospect Park (FBN 41). The 12" contained three Latin flavoured tracks, and had as much in common with his new group Quando Quango as with ACR. Ironically, and by pure coincidence, just two months earlier Factory Benelux had released A Certain Ratio's Latin-orientated 12" Brazilia (FBN 32), a transitional record for the band before their return to form with Wild Party.
Further label activities in 1985 took in three more releases, all issued in August on 12" format only: Crazy Wisdom by Section 25 (FBN 45), How Corrupt Is Rough Trade? by Stockholm Monsters (FBN 46) and Euphoria (FBN 49), by little-known New York outfit Playgroup. The Benelux edition of the third New Order album Low-Life (FBN 100) was no different to the UK release, though their version of The Perfect Kiss (FBN 123) contained The Perfect Dub, a mix not available elsewhere.
During 1986 it became clear that the label's days were numbered, despite a fine start in March with the Durutti Column single Tomorrow, issued on 7" and 12" (FBN 51). The single was followed in May by vinyl and cassette editions of their fifth studio album, Circuses and Bread (FBN 36), with Factory UK releasing the CD format. That same month former Thick Pigeon singer Stanton Miranda's Wheels Over Indian Trails single arrived (FBN 44), featuring New Order's Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris. This turned out to be the last true Factory Benelux release, since the remainder were cancelled, including two untitled compilations, and The Executioner (FBN 48), a collaboration between the Paul Haig and Cabaret Voltaire.
Ultimately the Factory Benelux story would end with the movie soundtrack Salvation!, featuring New Order and Cabaret Voltaire, and issued in February 1988. Despite being a Factory Benelux/Crépuscule co-release, the album carried a Crépuscule catalogue number, though the companion New Order single Touched By the Hand Of God was released as FBN 839. The official closure of the Factory Benelux (along with Factory New York and Factory US Inc) followed in March 1988, with Factory chairman Tony Wilson suggesting that both foreign operations were no longer cost effective. The collapse of Factory Benelux distributor Himalaya in late 1987 no doubt informed this decision.
Fortunately, after 1990 an increasing number of Factory Benelux albums were made available on CD, initially through Les Disques du Crépuscule and subsequently LTM. Several archive live recordings taped in Europe also appeared on CD, including sets by the Durutti Column (Live in Bruxelles 13.8.1981), Section 25 (Live In America & Europe 1982), A Certain Ratio (Live in Groningen 1980) and Crispy Ambulance (Fin). Finally, in 2012, the label was revived via a series of CD and vinyl editions by Section 25, Durutti Column, The Wake, Blurt, The Names, Crispy Ambulance and Minny Pops.
FRANK BRINKHUIS (2008)
"Outstanding compilations, sophisticated scholarship. This volume audits the formal if somewhat complex professional relationship between Crépuscule and Factory, with standout tracks from The Durutti Column and The Names. Just as engaging, however, is the emergence of a lighter pop sensibility, evidenced here by the rolling exuberance of Dites-moi by Life" (The Wire, 08/2008)