Tony Wilson or Andy Warhol: Who Ran The Factory?

The Factory was an infamous space during the early years of alternative music. But did you know there were two?

Tony Wilson and Andy Warhol each ran businesses called Factory. One was in New York City and the other in Manchester, UK. Both were epicenters in alternative music history. 

So which one was “The Factory,” and are they related?

Let’s find out!

The Story of Andy Warhol’s Factory

Andy Warhol was an American visual artist and enigmatic icon, most known for his 60s pop art. His silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans have become hallmarks of American Art. 

Andy was a force in the New York City avant-garde scene in the 60s and 70s. He opened his art studio, The Factory, in 1964, and it was the mecca for all things cool. Famous musicians like David Bowie and Debbie Harry would hang out with stars like Liza Minelli. Transgender artist Candy Darling and writer William S Burroughs were regulars. 

The Factory was an inspiration for painters, performers, and people wanting to push the boundaries of expression. The name was carried with Warhol to each of his studios from 1963 to 1987. A budding star, Madonna, would find her way there in the early 1980s.

One of The Factory’s most significant claims to fame was their house band, The Velvet Underground. 

Andy Warhol’s Factory remains a symbol of a transgressive artistic powerhouse to this day.

The Story of Tony Wilson’s Factory Records

Factory Records was a highly influential record label hailing from Manchester, England. It was founded in 1978 by Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus. Initially, they began by hosting Friday nights at the Russell Club and called it The Factory. The club night showcased local post-punk, eclectic bands such as Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire. 

By January 1979, the Factory Records label took off, and their first EP, ‘A Factory Sample,’ was released. 

Tony Wilson was a music entrepreneur with a remarkable eye for talent. He began his career as a reporter for Granada Television, eventually hosting his own music program called “So It Goes.” The show hosted punk pioneers like The Clash and the Buzzcocks. Granada abruptly canceled the show after a raucous interview with Iggy Pop.

But Tony loved all of it – the entire rock and roll circus. Music was sacred to him. In fact, the Factory’s mission statement was ‘We own nothing. The musicians own everything.’

Although Tony’s uninhibited management style eventually made Factory Records crumble, he wouldn’t have it any other way. He enjoyed the ride. 

What’s the Connection Between Andy Warhol and Tony Wilson?

Great Question! Is there any? 

The connection between Andy Warhol and Tony Wilson may only exist within music mythology. Although many articles and publications state that The Factory Manchester was named after The Factory New York, several more claim this is false. 

We know that Tony’s business partner, Alan, suggested Factory after seeing a sign near the Russell Club property that read “Factory Warehouse Sale.” “The Warhol connection never occurred to me,” said Tony Wilson, according to independent.co.uk. But rock and roll loves a good lie now and then. So who knows?

We also know that Factory’s album covers were purposefully made to look simple, with plain font and stark images. According to the L.A. Times, this was a style evoking the process used by Andy Warhol’s Factory. 

And then there is the mutual love affair between the Manchester and New York underground music scenes. Nico, who sang with The Velvet Underground in the Warhol days, moved to Manchester because of the music. Tony was in New York nonstop, either with his bands, looking for new ones, or hobnobbing with local promoters.

In the end, we think the connection between Andy Warhol and Tony Wilson was a happy accident. Maybe the Manchester club was initially named from a ‘for sale’ sign. But the reference to Andy’s Factory certainly worked in Tony’s favor.

Factory Records’ Best Known Artists

Joy Division

Twenty years ago, Joy Division was the sweetheart of the post-punk scene. You could wear their band shirts as a calling card for like-minded individuals. Now, they’re sold at Target. We wonder if people who wear their t-shirts now even know their music.

Joy Division’s most well-known track is Love Will Tear Us Apart. Joy Division formed in 1976 after band members attended the infamous Sex Pistols gig at the Manchester Factory. Tony Wilson was also there but didn’t discover Joy Division until 1978. Love Will Tear Us Apart was released one month after lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide on May 18, 1980.

New Order

And on that note, you might think the remaining members of Joy Division would throw in the towel. Instead, the band carried on. Guitarist Bernard Sumner became the lead singer, and they added keyboardist Gillian Gilbert. Their rebirth was complete when they renamed themselves New Order. 

At first, New Order’s music was heavy-hearted due to the mourning of Ian Curtis. But things changed after they played a few gigs in New York City. They discovered post-disco, freestyle, and electro-pop, which cheered them up and gave them a new direction. 

New Order’s most well-known song was Blue Monday. It was a top ten hit and can still be heard on dancefloors today.

Happy Mondays

And now for something completely different! Madchester. That was slang for the non-stop drug-fueled rave scene at Tony Wilson’s second club, The Hacienda. And Happy Mondays was at the center of it. 

Happy Mondays signed with Factory Records in 1985 and was best known for its cross-pollination sound of funk, house, and hippy psychedelia. The group’s best-known rave hits were Step On and Kinky Afro.

Why Did Andy Warhol Call it The Factory?

Andy Warhol’s New York City Studio was a constant buzz in the 1960s. He had so many projects going on at once that his friends started calling it “The Factory.” And the nickname just stuck.

Friends initially dubbed the infamous studio the “Silver Factory.” Warhol’s creative collaborator and part-time-lover Billy Name decorated the entire space with tin foil and fractured mirrors. 

Author Fran Lebowitz is quoted as calling this factory location “a medieval court of lunatics.” And she meant lunatics in the most affectionate of ways!

The Factory’s name was fitting on many levels. There was an assembly line of silk screen printing, sometimes at a rate of 80 prints per day. Parties and events were constant. Whether it was a movie screening, a play, or a sexual ‘happening,’ something was on 24/7. This was not the spot for shut-eye!

Warhol created pop art with the intention of availability for the masses. He liked the idea of a factory rather than some elite social club. Anyone can own a factory-made item, and any weirdo can come to a party at The Factory. At least in theory.

Does Factory Records Still Exist?

Factory Records went bankrupt in 1992. Happy Mondays snorted their assets away and New Order’s sixth record took too long to produce. Tony revived the label briefly in 1994 and again in 2004 under various names, but neither stuck. 

Throughout the turbulence of it all, Tony remained a significant influence on the underground music scene. He launched an annual music conference called In The City in 1992, which lasted until four years after his death in 2007. He also worked in the television industry, hosting shows like After Dark and unstructured late-night talk shows. Tony did it his way until the bitter end.

The Factory Was the Scene

So, who ran the Factory? As we circle back to the present day and ponder, the answer is absolutely both! In 2012 journalist Josiah Hesse called Wilson “The Andy Warhol of Manchester, England.” We think it’s fitting.

If you insist on splitting hairs, though, we suppose Andy Warhol would win. He owned physical spaces called The Factory for over 20 years and named his first nearly 15 years before Tony. But Wilson did own a Factory, just for fewer years, and in the form of a record label.

They were both mavericks with a knack for gathering the most interesting people together. Because of this, each Factory held a massive influence in the music world.

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