There is something about the music scene in Manchester that breeds iconic bands over time. In the Jazz and Blues cafes from the post-war industrial city of the ‘50s; the Northern Soul movement in the ‘60s, the rise of punk and post-punk in the ‘70s and ‘80’s, and the birth of ‘Madchester’, propelled by The Haçienda and the growing acid house scene in the ‘90s.
Leading up to the ‘80s, a record label was being set up by Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus that would help define the international image of the city through its music, art, design, mood, and attitude. Factory Records was founded in 1978 and steadily released music over the next two decades with a powerhouse roster which included the likes of Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays, The Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio, OMD, and more.
We’re looking at the platform that propelled the sound to a whole new level, the record sleeves. We’ve all met someone with a framed print of Unknown Pleasures on their wall, right? Each piece tells its own story, some are so iconic they are revered art pieces in their own right. We’ve listed some of our favorites below.
The label itself used a unique catalogue system: each release was given its own number but not just limited to music; it included more unusual listings such as the Haçienda nightclub (FAC 51); lawsuits (FAC 61); a hairdressers (FAC 98); a cat (FAC 191); and finally, the coffin of the late Tony Wilson (FAC 501).
FAC 1: The Factory (1978) (Poster) Design: Peter Saville
This first one isn’t actually an album cover but a poster for the Factory club. Industrial in style, with the use of black, yellow and white - it was unlike anything released at the time and would inform the label’s design ethos going forward.
FAC 2: Various Artists A Factory Sample | Double 7-inch (1978) Des: Peter Saville
Using the same three stripe layout as the club poster, this was their first release by Factory Records.
Consisting of a double 7’’ sleeve and replacing the 12’’ traditional card sleeve for rice paper, dyed silver and sealed inside a thin plastic bag. Designed by Peter Saville, it was a clear indication of how the label would be doing things differently.
FAC 10: Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures | LP (1979) Des: Peter Saville & Joy Division
One of the most recognised record sleeves in history. Unknown Pleasures has been reproduced on numerous forms of merchandise, from posters to coffee mugs. Featuring a depiction of radio waves emitted from a collapsed star, the original image was part of an astrophysics publication from Cambridge University, Saville inverted the image to create a dark, ominous white shape floating in black space. The omission of the title and artist on the cover was subversive at the time.
FAC 14: The Durutti Column – The Return of The Durutti Column | LP (1979) Des: Dave Rowbotham
Hailed as the “most punk album cover ever”, the concept involved both sides being covered in heavy-coarse sandpaper so the action of storing the record would gradually destroy whatever it is placed next to, in the act of removing and placing it back on the shelf.
At the time there was no production company who would create such a product, so Wilson acquired 4,000 12 inch square sheets of sandpaper. The assembly took place in Alan Erasusmus’ apartment. Members of Joy Division and A Certain Ratio were offered £15 each to attach the sandpaper sheets using wallpaper paste. It is now a highly sought after collectors item.
FAC 25: Joy Division – Closer | LP (1980) Des: Martyn Atkins & Peter Saville | Photography: Bernard-Pierre Wolff
For Joy Division’s second album Closer, Peter Saville uses a photograph by Bernard-Pierre Wolff, depicting four cowled figures grieving around a man lying on a bed. Depicted in a somber black and white, the title of the album employs a typeface that looks like it’s chiseled into marble.
Because the album cover depicted a group mourning a dead associate, Factory were accused of poor judgment by some Joy Division followers as it looked like a wake for the recently departed singer. In reality, the album artwork had been created and approved weeks before Curtis died. It was only Factory’s shambolic release schedule that delayed the record getting to the shops.
FAC 50: New Order – Movement | LP (1981) Des: Peter Saville & Grafica Industria
New Order formed in the wake of Ian Curtis’ death, infusing more modern electronic sounds to the post-punk sound of Joy Division. Saville designed the cover for their debut album Movement and it references Italian futurist artist Fortunato Depero and a poster for a 1932 exhibition Futurismo Trentino.
The idea was that Movement and futurism went hand-in-hand, since futurism celebrates the idea of energy, speed, and modernity which directly relates with New Order’s new style of music.
FAC 73: New Order – Blue Monday | LP (1983) Des: Peter Saville
This dance anthem by New Order became the fastest selling 12’’ of all time, the original 1983 edition was designed to resemble a 5+1⁄4 inch floppy disk. Famously, the sleeve does not display the band name or the title of the song. The only text on the sleeve was “FAC SEVENTY THREE” on the spine.
The legend “FAC 73 BLUE MONDAY” and “THE BEACH NEW ORDER” is represented in code by a series of coloured blocks. A key to deciphering the code was printed on the back sleeve of the album, Power, Corruption & Lies. The original sleeve was created by Saville with Brett Wickens and was die-cut with a silver inner sleeve.
FAC 183: New Order – True Faith | LP (1987) Des: Peter Saville | Photography: Trevor Key
The artwork by Peter Saville and Trevor Key was one of the most serene artworks Saville ever produced, and the first appearance of Trevor Key’s ground-breaking dichromat process. Subtle, beautiful and striking, it accounts for all the intrinsic juxtapositions of the human condition.
He explained: “This was a first work from real life. In 1986, I happened to have a trauma in my personal life and it made me very attuned to the world around me. Suddenly, I had no filters. I was parking the car one night and a leaf drifted by the window and I thought, ‘That’s so beautiful.’ It was framed by the windscreen, which is probably why I saw it as an image. So we did a leaf.”
FAC 275: New Order – Technique | LP (1989) Des: Peter Saville
Considered some of New Order's most dance-oriented music, incorporating the Balearic beat and acid house styles that were huge at the time, Saville’s hazy artwork appeals brilliantly to the ethos of the music. Partly recorded on the party island of Ibiza and influenced by frontman Bernard Sumner’s experiences at the club night Shoom, this is one of the band and Saville’s most notable works.