Nik Colk Void of Factory Floor takes us on a trip through her formative influences, from her dad making concrete to a chance meeting with Sonic Youth’s manager and beyond. Strap yourself in, it’s quite a ride
PERFECT CONCRETE FLOORS
“My dad was a builder and he would take me to work on my weekend visits. It was the early 80s and seatbelts were for front seats only, so kids like me could crouch in the boot of the car or in the back of a truck full of sand with the dog.
“I’d watch him shovel aggregate into the cement mixer, it was so loud, tossing around rocks and stone with a slushy grey matter, which he’d then pour into his crusty wheel barrow. All his tools had broken handles and rust and decay, the wheel on his barrow was almost flat as it bounced along planks of wood balanced on stacked bricks to keep it level. When he tipped the cement, he would shake every last drop as it clung to the sides of the barrow then he’d reach for his mallet and tap the wood frame until all air bubbles came to the surface one by one. Finally, he would get a length of wood and run it over the top to level it out. On a dry day it would set pretty quick and when it set it was perfect.
“I never took for granted the effort that went into making something so perfect. I would miss my dad so much during the week that I took to making things with all kinds of materials. Mum used to say she knew where I’d been sitting because there would be stuff everywhere around a small space on the floor. I would try to make everything perfect. And I don’t think I have ever stopped.”
MAGAZINES AND FANZINES
“When I was in my teens, we moved to a village in Norfolk that had 67 houses and no shops. Everyone around me seemed old. At school, all anyone was interested in was rugby, the rugby team were the prefects and they’d boss around everyone who wasn’t like them or they didn’t fancy. It made me introverted and shy so I’d hang out in the art room at lunchtimes and draw from magazines – The Face, NME even Kerrang! Handmade fanzines became my thing, I’d draw people like Tupac and Kurt Cobain alongside some weird life drawing.
“I started a band called Scully and we made a self-released cassette tape with a cartoon cover, John Peel played a track from it called ‘Big Knife’. A little further down the line a guy from a fanzine in Peterborough called Vibrations From The Edge of Sanity put out the first seven-inch by another band I was in, which was picked up by a fanzine in California called Devil In The Woods. The guy who ran that released our first LP and introduced me to the world of touring the US. From San Francisco to Montreal, Detroit and Chicago to New York, I met the aftermath of riot grrrl in Olympia, people like Bikini Kill’s Tobi Vail and Beth Ditto, I met Spiral Stairs in Texas, Death Cab For Cutie in Seattle, Lou Barlow in San Francisco, Elliot Smith In LA. People were happy letting me into their gangs, sleeping on their floors when passing through. My world had totally opened up.”
“I was still living in Norfolk after experiencing all this and I’d come to a place in my life where I was getting bored again. I ran a club where I would play records that I’d picked up from touring – The Slits mixed into LCD Soundsystem followed by Aphex Twin. There was no agenda, it was just loud, but it really wasn’t doing it for me. Luck was round the corner. I met this guy at a London gig one night and we had a healthy chat. When he left people ran up to me saying, “Do you know who he is? That’s Paul Smith. The guy who signed Sonic Youth!”. And I was like, “Oooohh”. I looked at what he had done and especially his label Blast First. I got my hands on a boxset called ‘Devil’s Jukebox’, which was 10 seven-inches including Sonic Youth, Head Of David, UT, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, AC Temple, but the golden ticket for me was [experimental guitarist and composer] Glenn Branca.
“I bought Branca’s ‘The Ascension’, ‘Symphony No.3’ and ‘Lesson No. 1’ and watched his video ‘Solo 1978’ a billion times. I bought a Telecaster, read John Cage’s ‘Silence’, rewired my brain, reinvented my way of playing guitar, altered my singing style and began to make solo records as Nik Void.
“Paul Smith came in and out of my life. When I joined Factory Floor he managed us, he also orchestrated my meeting with Chris and Cosey who asked me to join them in the Carter Tutti Void collaboration, which brings me to the next phase…”
THE FASCINATING WORLD OF GEAR
“Hanging out with geekheads like [Factory Floor bandmate] Gabriel Gurnsey, Chris Carter and occasionally [New Order’s] Stephen Morris, you get sucked into this fascinating world of gear. I was happy using my guitar like my dad used his rusty shovel. I know it inside out, and I know where I can push it. Using gear has helped me turn the corner again. It’s set me a challenge: I know what feedback is good, I can take that section, sample it and feed it through some gear. I’ve been doing this for a while now and it’s helped me work out how to run my own studio set-up because I’d feel uncomfortable putting an engineer through hours of running a two-second length of guitar sound through various compressors, distressors, delays and reverbs.
“I put vocals through the Deltalab Effectron, which I sought out after a big [NYC underground dance don] Arthur Russell phase when I’d read about the equipment he used for his hauntingly beautiful delayed vocals. I discovered that I could define how my voice would sound, cut it up, manipulate it, make me sound like a man or like an old school hip hop artist from the 80s.
“After Dom left Factory Floor, there was a big hole for me to fill. I’m not afraid to try modular synthesis. I’m not afraid to play it live and mix on a desk while going through the set. Gear has taken away my shyness just like DJing helped me in social situations. I wonder if those rugby boys are still playing rugby? Probably not.”
Factory Floor’s ‘25 25’ album is out on DFA