Ex-Factory Floor man Gabe Gurnsey is back with his second solo effort, ‘Diablo’. Featuring his girlfriend Tilly Morris as both muse and singer, it’s a pulsating, dancefloor-centric banger teeming with hedonistic abandon, aching desire and a wicked after-dark edge

This is perhaps the first piece for Electronic Sound to encompass cigarettes, blancmange, casseroles and bagpipes. Admittedly, most of that is journalistic bluster, but why let facts get in the way of a good tale? Today’s story is about the creation of Gabe Gurnsey’s second album, ‘Diablo’.

His previous long-player, 2018’s solo debut ‘Physical’ – which saw him branching out alone from his cool-as-heck Factory Floor outfit – was marketed as “an imaginary soundtrack to a night out”. ‘Diablo’, meanwhile, appears to be a soundtrack to an imaginary night out, a subtle but key difference that marks a significant step forward for the producer.

Flipping the desk calendar back a few pages, during the 2010s, Gabe Gurnsey found success with Nik Colk Void as the drummer for ice-cold electronic body-poppers Factory Floor. Their two studio albums, 2013’s ‘Factory Floor’ and 2016’s ‘25 25’, were a Haçienda fever dream – modern EBM complete with throbbing veins and straining cartilage. The press went wild, likening their sound to Joy Division, Nico and Larry Heard. To cement their reputation, New Order’s Stephen Morris came on board as a producer.

And then in 2018, Gurnsey went solo. Let’s not get into the history of drummers venturing alone, because that means thinking about Phil Collins, and no one wants to think about Phil Collins. Gurnsey’s debut, ‘Physical’, was a looser sound than his group work, described in these very pages as “not so much a factory floor as the staff refectory, complete with ping-pong table and a bowl of Benzedrine”. And yes, Phil Collins was referred to in that review too. We really need to get away from the Phil Collins thing.

“Before ‘Physical’, I’d not released any solo stuff, so it’s been a learning curve,” explains Gurnsey, lighting a cigarette. “But I need to keep producing stuff. Keep going.”

He’s relaxed and jokey when I talk to him, but putting out ‘Diablo’ was clearly a massive stress release.
“I was almost crying when I announced it,” he admits. “The frustration of the last two years has been mad. You over-listen to stuff, and you end up thinking it’s a miserable fucking pile of shit. I was quite overwhelmed by the reaction from people. It feels great, man.”

Diablo’ is a fabulous listen. The bouncy bass of lead single ‘Push’ is an instant win. It’s surrounded by oodles of acidic disco and drugged-out electro trips to keep any party going until the break of dawn, or at least until the last bus home. There are notes of Neu!, Suicide, New Order and Working Men’s Club. All the while, the lyrics – “proper clubby lyrics”, as Gurnsey describes them – insist on bringing the heat, getting on the dancefloor, giving someone their love and other, similar youthful shenanigans.

“I remember my brother bringing back mixtapes when I was a kid,” he reflects. “They were full of that kind of stuff.”

‘Diablo’ is Gurnsey at his most joyous. We’ve gone from the factory floor via the staff refectory to a rave in a roof garden. Yet this was originally going to be a very different work.

A couple of years ago, ‘Physical’ had left Gurnsey energised. He’d torn through the festival circuit, playing glamorous locations, such as Chicago and Cheshire. He’d shared the stage with Doves, Nine Inch Nails and The Jesus And Mary Chain, and made Best Album lists along the way. (Cue a ‘Rocky’-type montage of Gurnsey doing synth-powered workouts in the studio while looking really pleased with himself.) So it made sense that the follow-up to ‘Physical’ would be a collection of club stormers inspired by the vitality of live crowds. Four-to-the-floor and then some more.

“And then the pandemic fucking hit,” he says.

Live gigs shut up shop, and his plans for album number two scaled down dramatically. Instead, Gurnsey decided to produce a sister record to ‘Physical’ with a mellower soundtrack vibe. Think MGMT going off on one with ‘Congratulations’ or Moby suddenly going ambient – a reflection of the strung-out days of lockdown.
“I had about 10 tunes,” he says. “They didn’t have any drums or vocals on.”

But the memory of pre-pandemic gigging lingered, and this was clearly a man with a gig-shaped hole to fill.
“I had a lust for it. Being immersed in going out and having a good time, just dancing, with no one speaking.”
He even remembers the moment when his soundtrack idea withered away. He was playing an early version of ‘Push’ to a crowded room at a festival in France. The track didn’t yet have its signature vocal hooks (“Let’s push! Together!”). In fact, he was pretty much writing it on the fly.

“The set was going sweet, then the bassline kicked in,” he recalls. “Just the kick and the bass went down really well. That secured the direction of the album for me.”

The new chilled-out direction didn’t gel. He returned to the original plan – four-to-the-floor dance tunes, albeit with a Gurnsey twist.

Yes, this is a solo outing. Gabe Gurnsey’s name stands alone. A fine name it is too – he sounds like an archangel from the Channel Islands. But there’s a key member of personnel we haven’t talked about yet – his partner, Tilly Morris. As with ‘Physical’, her vocals feature throughout. This time, even more so. Gurnsey worked-up rhythms in the studio, then set up a mic to allow Morris to mumble half-melodies – sometimes pulling back, sometimes over-doing it, with a lot of trial and error and re-recording – until they coalesced into something outstanding.

“After I decided it wasn’t going to be a mellow soundtrack, Tilly took the reins,” says Gurnsey. “I wanted her to dominate the record. She did a massive part of the writing, so it’s a collaborative album in a lot of ways.”

There’s a real pop sensibility to her vocals. The pair of them duetting on ‘Hey Diablo’ is ever-so-disco. The layered lines in ‘Give Me’ present themselves as psychedelic folk euphoria, albeit drenched in analogue synth work. And if you squint your ears, the uttered narrative on the drumless ‘I Love A Sea On Fire’ could be slow-motion crowd hype.

“I wanted to get a pop element in there,” says Gurnsey. “Some of the vocal processing in pop music is incredible, like Lady Gaga, for example, or Charli XCX. The production is insane. Tilly’s a big influence on that side of things, of course.”

The artwork on ‘Diablo’ boasts a particularly memorable visual aesthetic. You could recreate it at home if you wanted to. Get your nearest television. Turn the saturation to maximum. Now smash your head into the screen. Result – you are Gabe 2.0! The cover has Morris’ face illuminated in nuclear pink, her dark hair a violent blood magenta, eyes glowing as if possessed by an exploding blancmange. The ‘Hey Diablo’ track is accompanied by a video that bursts with purple and pink hyper-colours, its visual frame glitching out of shape with frantic energy. Even the records are made from neon vinyl. It’s a far cry from the functional geometry of Factory Floor’s artwork.

“That visualiser went through a thousand versions,” says Gurnsey of the ‘Hey Diablo’ video. “It was doing my head in. It’s tricky to get the aesthetic of the track you’re working with, but it all fitted together nicely. And there’s definitely a bit of a devilish look in Tilly’s eyes on the cover.”

Incidentally, let’s get the devil out of the way. ‘Diablo’. Part of speech: noun. Definition: “devil”. Taken from Spanish, which in turn was derived from the Latin word “diabolus”. Not to be confused with “diable”, which is a casserole dish. Unfortunately for a journalist continually digging for metaphors, I’m sad to report there isn’t much to be derived from any religious meaning. This isn’t Enigma and their sexy monks.

“I wrote ‘Hey Diablo’, so then I thought, ‘I’ll call the album ‘Hey Diablo’,” says Gurnsey, although he chopped off the “Hey” to make the title a little more pithy.

“There is a lot of sex and lust on the record in terms of the lyrics,” he concedes. “I like the idea of being led astray and feeling comfortable with that. So there’s a few devilish ideas in there!”

Please don’t think about Phil Collins during this next bit. Since the, er, genesis of Factory Floor, Gurnsey has been billed as a drummer. His brief has been wider than that in practice, but ‘Diablo’ is notable for being his first album as a non-drummer. An ex-drummer. The drummer is a dead parrot. He’s put down his sticks and is pining for the fjords. The album, he says, “didn’t really need it”.

Instead, drum machines now dominate his sound. ‘Diablo’ is packed with the metronomic kinesis you only get from letting the diodes flash until there’s smoke coming out. Although, on ‘Higher Estates’ there are real bongos, which he dropped into a MIDI track, and to keep a connection to his previous album, there’s a load of samples from the very drummy ‘Physical’ that he shoved into the sequencer of his Elektron Digitakt drum machine.

“It’s just endless what you can do with stuff now,” he says with genuine wonder. He’s excited about the LinnDrum kicks, and he credits his mixer and label boss Erol Alkan with some especially delightful hi-hats. He and I both get excited about the ricocheting 909 claps on the album track ‘Blessings’.

“I love claps,” he says. “The track I’m working on at the moment has about four going at the same time. They’re bloody panned all over the place. That’s probably not the best way to do it, but it’s fun.”

Gurnsey is delightfully deprecating when it comes to the equipment he uses to make music, despite clear evidence that he knows his way around a studio like the back of his knob-twiddling hand. Take his Bitwig, for example. This is not, as you might expect, a hairstyle popular with cryptocurrency bros. Bitwig Studio is a digital audio workstation used by the likes of Richie Hawtin.

“Everyone asks me what I use. I say Bitwig and everyone goes, ‘What the fuck is that?’. I’ve been using it for years.”

He talks about oscillators and modulation before moving on to his Roland JD-XA – “one of the big new bloody ugly ones”. He loves its choir sound but tends to steer clear of some of the presets.

“I try to avoid the bagpipes one,” he says, before we both decide that he definitely needs to use the bagpipes one.

Another thing to be avoided was social media, especially during lockdown. Which was a shame because Gurnsey’s tweets are entertaining.

“Heading into the studio with a ‘Live Laugh Love’ poster and a bottle of vodka. See what comes,” says one tweet. “Heading into the studio with a pack of Tuc Cheese Sandwiches and an open mind. See what comes,” says another. You get the idea. It was funny at the time.

“I totally dropped off Twitter – it was doing my head in,” he admits. “There’s just too much fucking information, so I focused on being in the studio a lot more.”

Let’s put the desk calendar away and look at the bigger picture. In terms of studio album count, Gabe Gurnsey’s career is now as long as Factory Floor’s. That’s if you don’t include Factory Floor’s 2018 live score to Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’, which we probably should (though, as was said earlier, why let facts get in the way of a good tale).

So, given that Nik Colk Void has been busy launching her own solo career, will Factory Floor be back any time soon? Gurnsey reveals that there have been rumours of a FF reunion. Sort of.

“Well, Nik said in The Guardian that we’d re-form, so we’ll see,” he clarifies. “She’s totally done her thing, I’ve done my own thing, and it would be cool to see how we merged. We’ll get back into it at some time in the future.”

For the time being, though, Gurnsey’s focus is on producing with other people, including working with Stephen Morris on a remix of Neu!’s signature ‘Hallogallo’.

“Steve’s brilliant, as always – synth and drum machine king.”

And, as his solo work has opened up all sorts of new possibilities, the future might well be pop for Gurnsey. As well as producing “Manny on the rise” rapper OneDa for Heavenly Recordings, he’s also hooked up with London singer Rose Gray – an artist who has been hyped by the likes of Radio 1, NTS and Popjustice – and soon he’ll be collaborating with Oxford avant-popster Julia-Sophie too.

“I want to move in a more pop style of production,” says Gurnsey. “I want to keep learning – that’s what I buzz off.”

We’ve had cigarettes and blancmange and casseroles and bagpipes. Against all odds, Gabe Gurnsey has emerged victorious from his suss-studio to live another day in paradise. Sorry, that’s way too much Phil Collins.

But seriously, Gurnsey is already planning more reworks of ‘Diablo’ tracks. Even as we speak, he has his sights set on ‘I Love A Sea On Fire’ – the one with the slow motion crowd hype.

“I’d love to whack a 4/4 kick on that,” he grins. “Just make it absolutely disgraceful for a club.”

Four-to-the-floor? He knows the score.

‘Diablo’ is out on Phantasy Sound

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