Wonderland: Nik Void interview
Here's a scan of an interview I did with Nik Void from Factory Floor in the September issue of fashion magazine, Wonderland. The full version is pasted below.
If anyone can do great things with nothing, it’s sound sculptress Nik Colk Void. As one-third of industrial disco outfit Factory Floor, she is Queen Drone, harnessing the technique’s hypnotic force to create a new kind of primal, minimal dance music. The band are one of the most exciting and truly alternative acts, notorious for their improvisational live shows and about to release their hotly anticipated debut album on DFA Records in September.
They’ve spent the last two years recording it at their very own Factory of sorts, a live/work unit in north London. The band set it up in 2010 after being kicked out of their original rehearsal room for “being too loud”. The warehouse’s bleak urban setting suited them perfectly, from its grey steel gates to the monotonous click-clack of the nearby clothing workshops’ sewing machines. It also made for an intense studio space: “We recorded every day and it would start usually about 12noon and go to 11 at night,” says Void. “It’s difficult to wind down when you’re used to so much noise. I couldn’t sleep because it was so quiet.”
To add to the pressure, they recorded their debut album themselves. “When you have an engineer or producer it colours what you’re doing. You don’t tend to have a creative accident when you’ve got someone else doing it for you,” says Void. “That’s one of the reasons it too so long to finish. We were teaching ourselves how to use software, how to use desks, how to manipulate our own sounds.”
The hours paid off in the end. Factory Floor, the record, is a spellbinding slab of narco-disco, comprised of jacking, Chicago-inspired analogue synths, the smoke machine-filled hypnosis of acid house and the odd machinistic freakout. Track two, Here Again, could be an oscillating LCD Soundsystem epic, shattered by ominous clashes and Void’s bad-trip-voice-in-your-head vocals. Testament to her truly leftfield technique, she says: “That track was probably the most experimental track for me, in a weird way, because it was me trying to write a pop song when I don’t know how to do it.”
For this issue, then, it made total sense to shoot her inside her very own makeshift anechoic chamber. These angular rooms allow very little reverberation, being designed to absorb echoes and, much like Void’s approach to music – and as her performing name suggests – simulate the conditions of unobstructed free space. An infinite dimension of nothingness, if you will.
“I feel like a gothic Florence and the Machine,” she quips from under her domineering fringe, which protects her like a shield. Of course, the pair couldn’t be less alike, especially considering that, for her solo work, Void ventures even further into the, er, abyss. The former front woman of indie-punkers KaitO, she eventually fell out of love with her guitar and decided to blur it out of recognition instead. “I wanted to reinvent a language,” she remembers. “I think it’s the same when you do anything day in day out: you get really bored of it. So I deconstructed and reconstructed everything I did on guitar or with my vocals. And then introducing electronics into it allowed me to have the tools to do that.”
Inspired by the darker electronic artists on KaitO’s label, Mute, like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, as well as wiggy drone guitarist Glenn Branca, she began to play her instrument using what she calls “extended techniques”. Instead of strumming, Void attacks the strings bows and drumsticks, unleashing all manner of savage feedback. And in lieu of writing traditional song structures, she’ll “take a sound, manipulate it, put it through my sampler, regurgitate it and then spit it out.”
That spontaneity completely drives her work. “With improvising, you get a sound immediately in its raw form, so that’s what I stick to throughout,” she explains. “I don’t want to add to it because it’s so lovely as it is, whereas there is often a tendency [with other musicians] to fill that sound with noise.” Likewise, her live shows with Factory Floor’s drummer Gabriel Gurnsey and electronics impresario Dominic Butler have gained a reputation for their untamed walls of sound, caught somewhere between an art installation and an immersive club experience. “We’ve been trying to master how to tame that raw sound over years of playing,” she continues, “and the only way to do that is to practice onstage, in front of people. I’ve gone beyond the point of playing something that’s been rehearsed. Factory Floor haven’t rehearsed for probably about a year!”
Though the music itself is organic, Void puts careful thought into her releases. She cast a sculptural eye over 2012’s Gold E – a playable record sleeve made of polyurethane filled with gnarly feedback. “That was about wanting to emphasise the fact that the actual vinyl is as important as what is on it,” she says. “If I’d done something that was easy to listen to then it would take away from the significance of the object. Over time, the polyurethane will degrade – the grooves on the record will change so the sound will change.” Such solo material is, she says, “more of a learning curve than it is about perfecting my sound in terms of entertainment.”
Even so, it’s little wonder that an impressive list of visionaries have signed up to work with her. A mark of their ability to transcend traditional gig formats, Factory Floor have been in residence at London’s ICA this past year, working with artists like Hannah Sewell. In May, Void also expertly mangled artist Haroon Mirza’s soundscapes for his major Lisson Gallery show – “I had a baby at the same time; I was doing the remixes the day before I had to go to the hospital!” she laughs.
So striking are her artistic chops that industrial originators Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle tracked her down last year and asked her to start a band with them, Carter Tutti Void. The trio performed at the Roundhouse in Camden and released an album of the recording on Mute Records last year. “It was a bit daunting at first,” she says of working with her heroes, “but it gave me a lot of confidence in what I do. It made me realise that I’m going down the right path. Because obviously they’re, like, up there,” she says, gesturing to the sky, “and if they like what I’m doing then I must be doing something right.” The three are due to continue working together and are planning another album – they’ve also persuaded punk fashion designer Pam Hogg to appear on some tracks.
Motherhood has given Void a new tenacity for her artistic vision, too. “It’s made me more determined to progress because that’s how I want him to live his life, to not be afraid of doing something new,” she says, blinking back tears. She sits back, takes a sip of her black coffee and regains her composure. “He’s had to put up with all of the music as well because I was making the Factory Floor record when I was pregnant and living in that warehouse, so he’s very good with sound. He’s an extension of myself like my guitar; I really want him to be immersed in my whole environment. All through my twenties I thought, I can’t have children when I’m doing this. But I’ve realised that I can do all these things.” She pauses and laughs. “He’ll probably grow up to be a lawyer.”
After three years, Void has moved out of the Factory and returned to Norfolk, where she grew up, to be with her new family. But, she jokes, she hasn’t really left – she still has a room there filled with stuff, and following our interview and shoot, she’s off over there to film the video to Factory Floor’s next single, Turn It Up. Later in the year, there’ll be a Factory Floor tour, another collaboration at the Roundhouse, this time with Ashley Paul and Tom James Scott, and she plans to put out a solo album next year.
That anechoic chamber may not have any echo – but Nik Void and her co-workers are set to reverberate with their glorious racket around the world.