Factory Records was a Manchester-based independent record label, active between 1978 and 1992, that was home to many prominent acts in the area such as Joy Division/New Order, Happy Mondays, The Durutti Column, and A Certain Ratio.
Factory was formed in 1978 originally as a club by TV presenter Tony Wilson and band manager Alan Erasmus which held performances from bands who would later be signees on the label; Factory began releasing singles and albums in 1979, with their first album being Joy Division's debut Unknown Pleasures. Similar to 4AD Records, another British Post-Punk label with a cult following, Factory used a Production Posse (including Record Producer Martin Hannett and graphic designer Peter Saville) to give the label and the artists recording for it a particular sound and image, one that ended up extending to the artists' genres as well, with Joy Division in particular becoming the defining band of the post-punk movement. Factory also used a unique (in all senses of the word) cataloging system that provided numbers not just to recordings, but also artwork, projects, and whatever the hell Tony Wilson felt like assigning a number to. This included The Haçienda, a Manchester club that Factory owned (FAC 51); a lawsuit filed against the label by Hannett (FAC 61); a nameless stray cat who lived in The Haçienda's basement (FAC 191); a short-lived hairdressing salon in that same basement (FAC 98); a table (FAC 331); a bet between Wilson and Joy Division manager Rob Gretton (FAC 253); a dental surgery procedure Gretton underwent (FAC 99); and a Happy Mondays album issued in 2007— long after Factory went bust— on a completely different label (FAC 500).
Factory was well-known for only having a handful of acts releasing material for them at any one time. Aside from Joy Division/New Order and Happy Mondays, the label's other stalwarts included A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column, Section 25, Northside, The Railway Children, Cath Carroll and Kalima. They also released one-off singles from Cabaret Voltaire, James, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Crispy Ambulance.
In the early 80's, Factory opened branches in America and Australia. It also created a European division, Factory Benelux, which got many exclusive releases (some of which had been passed over by the British label).
By the mid 80's, the success of Alternative Dance bands New Order and Happy Mondays (the former of whom was born from the ashes of Joy Division following Ian Curtis' 1980 suicide) allowed Factory to open to a variety of acts, particularly in the techno and acid house genres. It also expanded into Classical Music with the Factory Classical label, which was launched in 1989.
However, the success would not last forever; in 1992, due to the costly failure of Happy Mondays' album Yes Please (itself having already burned through most of the record label's money) and the lengthy delay in New Order following up their acclaimed 1989 album Technique, Factory began to have serious financial problems. While London Records was interested in buying Factory, the deal went south when they found that Factory's earlier practice of not using contracts meant that the bands (particularly New Order, who at this point was the Face of the Band for Factory) held the rights to their own backlogs, not the label. Thus the label was forced to declare bankruptcy in November 1992. Many of Factory's artists, including New Order, would go on to sign with London Records anyways; it would be through them that New Order would finally release Republic, the Technique follow-up that could've kept Factory going. In 1994, Tony Wilson revived the label (in partnership with London Records) as Factory Too, with the Durutti Column and some new acts on the roster, but this incarnation ended later in The '90s; during its brief lifetime, Factory Too also had an offshoot label called Factory Once, which was devoted to reissuing Happy Mondays and Durutti Column material previously released on the original Factory Records.
Tony Wilson died of cancer in 2007; his coffin received the last Factory catalog number assigned to date, FAC 501 (the highest Factory number is FAC 511, which Wilson gave to a 2004 memorial event for Rob Gretton, who would have been 51 that year).
A sightly inaccurate and somewhat flippiant history of Factory Records was depicted in the 2002 film 24-Hour Party People (FAC 401). Another Factory-centric film is Control, the 2007 Ian Curtis Biopic.
In 2006, British author/music executive James Nice released Shadowplayers, a documentary film about Factory's history; he turned it into a book in 2010. In 2012, Nice revived Factory Benelux, which releases both reissues and new recordings by Factory artists, preserving and extending Factory's legacy into the 21st century.