Non-Consumers’ Product Guide: Factory Benelux Day, pt 2


'No-one can escape this kind of war, thirty thousand feet above the floor' - Section 25In 1979 when I asked Rob Gretton for an interview in a Belgian magazine, he didn't know where Belgium was - Annik Honore'Not understanding is what we thrive on. Mystery is what we survive on'. - Simon Topping







The kicking in of a potential dance drug- the space cake can have Ecstacy-like properties- couldn’t have been better timed. Wasn’t intentional. I really must pay more attention in the New Age section of bookshops. Re-incarnation, all that. Was I once, perhaps, Tutankhamen’s flattest and most pointy-beaked girlfriend?

In 1983 Factory Benelux received a shot of new blood- with and without marijuana in it. 52nd Street, Quando Quango, Cabaret Voltaire, The Wake, and Stockholm Monsters- who’d played a tour of five Dutch towns the year before- all made their FBN debuts.

52nd Street: Cool As Ice/Twice As Nice 12” (1983)

This club 12”, produced by Bernard Sumner and Donald Johnson, is one of Factory’s best five, or maybe three, dance records. It just goes and goes. Surprisingly mid-paced (like nowadays), with snarly sequencers, and dub production. Atypically, the dub b-side is excellent, and now sounds contemporary, having sounded very dated ten-odd years ago; funny how your ears change. Never heard 52nd Street’s LPs, released on Virgin. They’re probably pretty good mid-80s street soul, in the Loose Ends/SOS Band region…I can picture intimidating-looking people at an early ‘80s fashion expo in Ghent dancing to ‘Cool As Ice’- and I like what I see. Too much. Let’s move to the window, and get down. This is Holland. You don’t hide behind curtains. Curtains are for Catholics.

Stockholm Monsters: Miss Moonlight 12” (1983)

I think soundman Hooky and the Stockholms carried on skinning up after they got back from Holland, as this is three good-to-great songs marred by a rather hazy and thoughtless production. Socialist Realist painting on the cover. The pace has dropped. It’s time for…

Quando Quango: Love Tempo 12” (1983)

So good. It’s like dancing to a sort of hypothetical version of Lionel Ritchie’s ‘All Night Long’ recorded by the Man City team on reaching the 1983 cup final. On space cake, it’s hard to resist miming the saxophone- now I know why Kenny G’s got funny eyes.

ATTN: Litigious Americans. The above was a joke. 

The artist-engineer

               *!*   Mike Pickering of Quando Quango ran the Hacienda and produced the first Happy Mondays single. Gonnie Rietveld, once the other half of the Quango, is Dutch, and she’s now a professor who’s apparently written a good book about going raving, which surely means she can’t have enjoyed it very much. Gerrit Rietveld was a Dutch designer and architect who changed the world by, amongst other things, making this chair in 1923, which influenced all coming flat-pack furniture. It was designed to be cheap, mass-produced and used by ordinary people; it was a socialist chair, and made of wood- the only sustainable production material on earth, that you can even make high-performance aircraft from. 

This wooden chair will now cost you 1,200 Euros. The commoditization of beauty really is a fucker, and one of the less pleasing aspects of human life. Rietveld, as consolation, gives his name to one of the main art schools in Amsterdam.

Cabaret Voltaire: Yashar 12” (1983)

Good tune, bit harsh, produced by John Robie. Throughout my life, I have read John Robie referred to in the manner of, “Pioneer seminal New York club visionary DJ genius John Robie.”  Robie is a fortunate man. He produced the Pet Shop Boys, some New Order singles that make you feel like you’ve drunk a pint of Benedictine, and close to feck all else, as far as I can discern.

               *!* Regards to Cabaret Voltaire, as one of the most culturally provocative groups ever. For what it’s worth, they were among the first post-punk ‘musicians’ to receive awards from institutions like MOMA. To take an interest in the Cabs is to take an interest in Dada, anti-capitalist ‘70s German freedom fighters, Burroughs, Jean-Paul Sartre, Neville Brody, theist fundamentalism, Finland (where Donald Johnson filmed a video of them in 1982), Marshall Macluhan…and that’s just off the top of what was once my ‘head’.

Tried drinking a second Westmalle. I’ve still got a bottle of jenever, too- lethal Flemish gin. It’s really only the Brits, Belgians and Dutch who’ve ever bothered to turn flowers into gin, which speaks highly of all three.

As for Westmalle…Belgian monks. They live at the top of the country’s six precipitous hills, arguably so that you’ll end up as panting and red-faced as they are if you pay them a visit, and then brew thick beer, naughtily aware that it’s for others’ consumption and not their own, with enough poke to taste like Mel Gibson wazzed into a glass of lukewarm chocolate. No.

The Hacienda must be built! And then closed, due to firearms regulations!

The Wake: Something Outside/Host 12” (1983)

Super. The Wake always sound like their best songs were written on the first sunny morning of the year to hit Edinburgh. Good hang-dog lyrics. “They build me up, knock me down- I feel just like a weatherman. One day sun, next day rain. I look up to the sky again.” I’m with those who argue that The Wake, who at their outset were almost parodically influenced by ‘Procession’-era New Order, ended up as a more interesting band than their mentors, after a year or two.

New Order: Murder 12” (1984)

‘Murder’ is a listless and unwanted instrumental that New Order pro-actively and enthusiastically donated to Factory Benelux as their new European single. It sounds like a hung-over Peter Hook scrubbing out his pants with a disintegrating block of Shredded Wheat- which has happened, by the way. The b-side’s extended dub of ‘Thieves Like Us’, however, is another unusually good dance mix, with some proto-House noises whizzing about on it; a hidden gem for today’s ‘80s-obsessed DJs. It’ll fill the floor much more euphorically than The Human League, or some such other example of rehabilitated nonsense.

Crispy Ambulance: Sexus/Black Death (Life Is Knife) 12” (1984)

The Factory story is littered with delays in release schedules. New Order’s watershed ‘Low Life’ LP was delayed six months by the sleeve production- can you imagine such a thing happening in the music industry now? All of ACR’s Factory LPs were released the year after they were recorded, thus condemning ACR to being cyclically represented by last year’s music (‘To Each’, for instance, is the sound of ACR in early 1980, not early 1981. ‘Sextet’ is the sound of ’81, not ’82, and so on. It makes a big difference to the nuance of what they were doing.)

Factory Benelux topped them all by releasing Crispy Ambulance’s new single two years after the band had split up. This will surprise no-one who has seen the progress of Dutch road works, or waited for a Dutch engineer to come and reconnect their internet, after another Dutch engineer has incompetently, mistakenly, and rudely disconnected it.

The single’s good, by the way. Echoey, loping, Chic-guitared; the studio sound is identical to the first two Mondays singles. The spasms through my body, much too much. Girl, what’s that you keep doing to my heartstrings?’

OK- two problems. 1- I feel strange. 2- I can’t find some of the upcoming singles in the flat. Anywhere. Although I have just spent some time on my stomach, with ‘Black Death’ playing in the next room, studying the edges of plastic bags under my bed. It’s nice lying there. Warm. I’ll be back.


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