Factory never died, it turns out. It just moved south. For LMYE's Label of the Decades, Touch, is the label Factory promised to be and might even have proved to be had it sustained its own model of a defiantly independent, endlessly ambitious imprint (something more than just a record company) - as Touch so manifestly & triumphantly has across its now 35 years of inspiring operation.
So many happy returns today - the latest anniversary of co-founder Jon Wozencroft's first contact with New Order (by Touch mythology, the official start...).
Factory has been a profound influence on Touch across the years, of course. Both New Order & Tuxedomoon feature on that first Touch tape later in 1982. Even today Chris Watson (of Factory Sample-ed Cabaret Voltaire) remains a core Touch artist.
The connection was highly evident at Touch's last big birthday event at the end of 2012 - from the pontifical blessing of Atmospheres 4's audience with Peter Saville to the Ian Curtis postcards handed out to Wozencroft's willingness to frame almost anything in terms of Joy Division/New Order (& his Blue Monday beat-boxing to send the last night audience home) to an in absentia rendition by Watson.
You might also compare Touch with the even more long-lived ECM. The two clearly share an insistence on the integrity of the whole product - emphasising recording & presentation - with quite a shared visual aesthetic - alongside/around the music.
But where ECM has been underwritten for most of its near 50-year life by the earnings of a few outlying successes (Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert, in particular - as Factory was too, of course: think Blue Monday...), Touch has sustained itself despite a championing a more resolutely uncommercial output - one that has been subsidised neither by the market nor public money.
After all this time it combats middle-aged spread with an unmatched appetite for going beyond conventional boundaries. Who else runs a mentoring programme, hosts conferences, publishes print & audio-visual work, repositions the organ, curates free recordings by aligned artists, experiments not just with formats but multi-channel recording, proclaims a psychological/digital 'Kingdom', & even collates recipes & commissions its own beer mat?!
As a label Touch remains the benchmark despite its age - essential, genuinely pioneering, unself-consciously experimental, constantly reinforcing & broadening its unmatched body of work. One mark of its greatness: even 34 years in, few other labels - apart perhaps from eMego - rivalled the richness & vitality of its 2016 output.
Ditto almost all of LMYE's 10 years...
Of course, Touch's non-pareil roster of artists - from Oren Ambarchi to Fennesz to Philip Jeck to Phill Niblock to Watson - is ageing with the label. Will it outlive them & its founders?
That's still unclear. As Mike Harding, Wozencroft's partner in Touch, considers in a typically thoughtful response (taken from an unpublished interview): "The artists we work with tend to be middle-aged – they’re in their 30s, 40s, 50s. I’m stretching middle age to encompass not-youth & not-extreme old age, that period. So ‘will Touch survive the artists around whom we are flourishing?’ I honestly don’t know because I don’t know what’s going to happen. And I don’t know what’s going to happen in relation to the reaction against things digital which is definitely alive and kicking hard. You never know. Someone completely outside our experience might come along and find a huge amount to relate to and vice versa, because all of our relationships are completely collaborative."
"We never react to anything. We respond, giving it the dynamic activity of a communicative dialogue-based relationship. Something doesn’t happen & we go ‘Ooh’. We do thoughtfully and carefully respond to issues that arise. And it may not seem to be necessarily very direct but all the time we’re having this discussion and these debates and conversations about what we think’s important."
Certainly Touch is far from winding down with age. On the contrary, it's been replenishing its ranks. As noted, its most compelling releases last year were Bethan Kellough's Aven & Claire M Singer's Solas.
More established parts of its canon, BJ Nilsen & Hildur Gudnadottir are other younger artists who could "carry the flag into the long-term future". Moreover, the label has embraced Simon Scott in recent years.
It is also mining an increasingly rich seam on the US west coast - scene of its 2016 'conference'. This connection links it with Kellough, the Richard Chartier/Robert Crouch/Yann Novak nexus & older Touch connection Mark van Hoen (Harding's collaborator in the excellent drøne), as well as Lustmord (Dark Matter).
Novak's outstanding recent Ornamentation is soon to be followed by Crouch's Sublunar & Something You Are Or Something You Do by Chartier alter ego Pinkcourtesyphone for the allied Tapeworm...
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