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Mark Stewart flyerMark Stewart
Factory Floor
Village Underground, London
Thursday September 27 2012






Silhouettes against blue light. A rhythm that sounds like the building itself has a heartbeat. Sounds sweep in and out. It could only be Factory Floor, getting things moving with their shifting, shuddering, post-industrial pulse.

The drums, urgent, implacable, always pushing forward, are the engine room of the band, the key machine on Factory Floor's factory floor.

Although it's not unheard of to add live drums to music that is otherwise all electronix and effects (Cabaret Voltaire did it, to great effect), it's still a counter-intuitive idea that yer average electro-Johnny would never consider.

But Factory Floor are not yer average electro-Johnnies. They're out on their own limb, and all the better for it.

Factory FloorI seem to have mentioned the words post-industrial above. Well, Mark Stewart could probably tell us a thing or two about the pre-industrial musical landscape.

He started out in 1978 as the vocalist with the Bristol post-punk-avant-everything collective, The Pop Group.

When the 80s rolled around, he cropped up as part of Mark Stewart And The Maffia, itself part of the On-U Sound collective, and a group responsible for some dub-funk-industrial workouts so fearsomely heavy they make the works of Trent Reznor sound like the twittering of little birds.

Now Mark Stewart has re-invented himself again, this time as a solo artist - and it's probably fair to say he's edged just a little closer to the mainstream even as the mainstream has assimilated the ideas he pioneered.

His new album features guest appearances by such comfortingly mainstream names as the Jesus And Mary Chain and Primal Scream - plus Lee Perry and Factory Floor themselves, representing the left field. Notwithstanding that mix of collaborators, it seems Mark Stewart's current live incarnation swings things somewhat in the mainstream direction.

Mark StewartHe's got a band of well-drilled musos generating a tough, tight-knit funk-rock sound that would sound kinda out-there if it was, say, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers doing it, but which sounds surprisingly accessible for Mark Stewart.

Still, the opening tune, the mighty 'Hysteria', an oldie from 1990, heaves into sight with all its sharp teeth intact.

From there, it's newies all the way, from the alternorock rush of 'Autonomia' to the killer dub rumble of 'Gang War'. Mark Stewart himself strides to and fro, a burly, commanding figure in a white suit, his vocals an agonised rasp. The sound is towering, thunderous, and walks the line between Mark Stewart's signature dub/funk/dance territory and yer actual alternative rock.

In a way it's odd to see Mark Stewart take even a cautious step towards the accessible zone, but when Nik Void of Factory Floor comes out to lend backing vocals to 'Stereotype', for a moment there it gets almost poppy. 'Baby Bourgeois' shoves the set up to a climax, with its gonzoid chorus chant - "Na-na-na-n-n-n-na!", but it's the final song - and the only other oldie tonight - that gets the old Maffia heads in the crowd seething. It's Mark Stewart's fractured, gritted-teeth version of 'Jerusalem', still as powerful as ever, but soundiing distinctly odd amid the rock/dance accessibility of his new numbers.

I'm not entirely sure what to think of the new, more listener-friendly, reaching-out-to-the-mainstream Mark Stewart. As a career move, I suppose it's a wise idea. Certainly, the new album has been reviewed extensively (and favourably) all over the media, including in places that previously would not have mentioned Mark Stewart at all. And sure, the new music is punchy enough. But it's the earlier stuff - manic, uncompromising, and at times downright difficult to listen to - that made Mark Stewart's reputation. And, contrary little bugger that I am, that's the stuff I like best.

Mark Stewart: Website | Facebook

Factory Floor: Facebook

For more photos from this gig, find Mark Stewart by name here.

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