3 Jan 2007
Pet Shop Boys Versus Factory 
The excellent book 'Pet Shop Boys - Catalogue' (Thames and Hudson, ISBN 978-0-500-51307-1) by Philip Hoare and Chris Heath contains a number of insights relevant to ardent Factory fans and is a darn good read and beautifully put together to boot.

Main PSB designer Mark Farrow served his apprenticeship at Factory and brought with him many of Factory's design ethics as the following extracts show (with occasional annotations):

West End Girls

'the 12" sleeve was partly designed by Chris. It has a marked relationship to the design of New Order's Blue Monday 12" by Peter Saville (which emulated an early computer disc and was die-cut and ruinously expensive to produce) - the release of which was said to have brought Neil close to tears when it arrived at Smash Hits, so liberally did it seem to borrow from the. style of their favourite producer, Bobby 'O'.'

(Bobby 'O' would later, in turn, in a supreme irony, rip off Blue Monday. In a further twist, New Order would also do a live cover of Divine's Love Reaction which was a Bobby 'O' production!)

West End girls (remix)

Mark Farrow - 'I hated the original sleeve - the fact that there were two different typefaces, one of the typefaces had three different sizes in it, just everything about it I loathed and detested. I had the whole Factory ethic in my head. So the first thing I did was strip all the type off it, and we just had the coloured blocks and the background.'

(The myriad unofficial remixes like 'West End Sunglasses', put out by Bobby 'O' feature badly designed sleeves that have nothing to do with the Farrow designs, except for some "borrowed" typeface theft.)

Please (album, 1986)

'The design of Please, released in March 1986, was as minimal as its title. Virtually every detail was stripped away, leaving only an image barely bigger than a postage stamp, with the group's name and album title below. The effect was to draw the viewer in, towards what is ostensibly an innocent image, but is in fact one of seductive desire. Mark Farrow had designed a sleeve at Factory Records for the group Section 25 with a tiny photo on it, and had liked the way it looked. 'It's almost the starting point, when I design a cover, that it shouldn't look like a cover', says Farrow.'

Opportunities (single, May 1986)

'It's a kind of a Factory sleeve, really', says Mark Farrow. 'It was gold and silver because that's what money is. I don't remember there being any big decision about there not being a photo on it.'

Domino Dancing

'Again, that's like a Factory sleeve, but rather than finding something really obscure, it was a Polaroid of Neil and Chris. It was presenting everything to do with the record in a very matter-of-fact way.'

Behaviour

'In Japan the album was released also in a white velvet box, a fantastically impractical and almost fetishistic object to rival Factory Records' celebrated The Return of the Durutti Column, which came clad in sandpaper.'

(It might be added that the "velvet" box really has nowhere near the "fetish" aspects of FACT 14. But it does have an almost magnetic attraction to dirt and dust and it doesn't ruin the rest of your record collection.)

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Furthermore, photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe, The Douglas Brothers, Wolfgang Tillmans, Trevor Key all did PSB and FAC work.

And then there's Electronic...

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With thanks to OMNY.

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Peter Saville colour wheel
Biting Tongues

In the grey days of late 1970s post-punk Manchester, youth culture was a serious affair: every musical performance was measured mostly by the conviction of its delivery. The term 'New Wave' opened up free vistas where acquired skills could once again be exercised after punk's monochrome blur. It could be applied to anything from a James 'Blood' Ulmer record to the latest Throbbing Gristle release, Magazine to Swell Maps. Move outside that terrain into Sun Ra, Parliament, Frank Sinatra and Martin Denny, and your options were suddenly without limit...

Then came Tony Wilson's Factory Club (at the Russell Club in Hulme) offering an open invitation to experiment that was taken up when Ken Hollings, Howard Walmsley, Eddie Sherwood and a few others decided to make some noise to accompany their 16mm silent epic Biting Tongues. A further performance followed a few weeks later, when Colin Seddon and Graham Massey disbanded their Post Natals project and joined up. The film itself, a flashing series of negative images, became a memory; the name remained.

- extract from the LTM Biting Tongues biography

Factory Records

The Durutti Column