Factory Records, almost a mythical thing in 2012, a griffin or a dragon or at least a dodo. The famed record label nurtured some of the best names in post-punk – Joy Division and New Order, Happy Mondays, A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, and many others. Mostly based in Manchester, the label was the finest documentarian of a crucial local scene this side of Dischord Records. The strains of dance music pulsing within smart rock music today, from LCD Soundsystem and DFA to Hot Chip to Future Islands and a thousand others, owe more than a little something to the Factory roster. The proliferation of half-assed indie rock remix singles can be traced back to Factory, as well, a decidedly more ambiguous legacy. Still, when Strut Records released Fac. Dance: Factory Records 12” Mixes & Rarities 1980-1987 in 2011, the compilation marked a welcome opportunity to spin long-lost (or at least not readily accessible) remixes of tracks by label marquee names like A Certain Ratio and Durutti Column as well as lesser known acts like Blurt and Quango Quango. Mixed results, sure, but entertaining for anyone interested in Factory, the remix, Madchester, and a handful of other slices of musical history.
Now we have a second Strut-curated set of remixes from the same seven-year span of the label, and it feels like making a second batch of coffee from the same grounds. The same highlights from the usual suspects, A Certain Ratio and Durutti Column, along with a few welcome surprises strewn together with tracks more interesting from a historical perspective than a headphones one. The obvious weakness of this compilation is the same as its predecessor: nothing from New Order or Joy Division, the label’s primary lifeblood even today. New Order owns its own back catalog, a likely hitch in Strut’s step here.
But all is not lost. A Certain Ratio’s “The Fox” and “Lucinda” benefit from strong bass work and a general tone of twitchy dread, while Durutti Column’s “Self Portrait” flirts with the other end of the post-punk spectrum, a prettier, looser track with touches of droning ambience. New York’s wonderful ESG pops up like a Bronx accent at Oxford, the remix of its lone Factory single “You’re No Good” sharing space with “Moody,” both welcome doses of pure, undeniable grooves on an often rhythmically abstruse collection. Berlin’s Shark Vegas offers “You Hurt Me,” a new wave classic, all goofy German self-seriousness and ‘80s-radio hooks. Section 25 injects a good bit of angular aggression into the mix with the sneering “Knew Noise”, while Biting Tongues slows things down in the free-jazzy, horn-laden “Meat Mask Separatist”.
Taken together, those songs would make a fine single-disc experience. Unfortunately, they’re easily outnumbered by fluff and oddities padding the tracklist. Someone more versed in dub than I might be able to suss out the value of X-O-Dus’s “Society” and Sir Horatio’s “Summadub”. “N’sel Fik” by Algerian duo Fadela & Sahrawi (curiously listed here merely as “Fadela”) is an interesting curveball, its sound at once mirrored in Factory’s usual rhythm-centric attitude and about as far as Manchester as one could get in the early 1980s. Those tracks point to a side of Factory generally forgotten these days, a less UK-centric, globally minded attitude, and it’s a valuable reminder. But it’s not enough to salvage this compilation as a whole. Most of the remaining songs – and we’re talking nearly a dozen, here – are forgettable stews of diffident vocals, dated synths, and crunchy bass. They pogo past without making a memorable impression, more interesting to the completist or pop music scholar than the average listener. In that way, Fac. Dance 02: Factory Records 12” Mixes & Rarities 1980-1987 ends up much like the used record bins where you’d previously find these songs – offering a few exciting finds, but mostly destined to be thumbed over.