the beginning was the Word, and the Word was DADA
It is difficult
to put a date to the formation of 391 as a band, because they never really
did form as a "band". Founded in the first quarter of 1978 by
Mark Lancaster of The
Instant Automatons and photographer/artist John C. Hocknell, they
began making infrequent lo-fi recordings of what has come to be known
as "industrial noise" - a sort of performance-art with musical
instruments - which they hoped would reflect the movement from which they
appeared to take their name. "391" was a Dadaist magazine edited
by Francis Picabia, although recently Hocknell has affirmed that he originally
conceived of the name during a visit to the local library - 391, in the
Dewey Decimal classification scheme, is the category for "Costume"
. This explanation, however, is generally held to be a complete and utter
fabrication on Hocknell's part, especially by the other members of 391.
An EP, Prisoner Of The Living Room, and a C60
cassette, What's Wrong With My Hi-Fi? were recorded
for release on Deleted Records, but neither subsequently appeared. Excerpts
of both these works, however, eventually emerged in the mid 1980s on the
391 retrospective cassette, New Roads: New Ruts
With the rise of "industrial" artists like Throbbing Gristle
and their hordes of imitators, 391 took the first of several direction
changes, recruiting Hocknell's colleague, photographer Sharon Petche,
and electronics enthusiast/tape collector Theo Maxwell. They left one
track, Brains Under Glass, on the Deleted compilation
tape Magnitizdat as their first epitaph.
Chaos in the Soul
Next followed an unsettled
period in which Mark was not directly involved (being busy with The Instant
Automatons and Alien Brains). Chaos was being pitted against order and
the few recorded results that emerged were ugly slabs of angular sound.
A perfect example of this form is Overture,
which appears on the cassette album No Easy Way Out,
a guitar/violin/tape-loop morass. The one track that escaped from these
sessions to be included on a contemporary release (the Alien Brains tape
Menial Disorders) was What Makes
People Behave Violently?, an unsettling collage of soundbites
from interviews with Stockhausen and Mary Whitehouse overlaying tape-loops
of breaking glass and striking matches.
In this tense environment, the inevitable happened: John and Sharon had
a major argument, Theo moved back to London to open an electronics shop
in Tottenham Court Road, and the "band" split. Hocknell went
back to photography and Random Visions, his independent design company.
Sharon and Mark had a short involvement with a band called The Small Furry
Things, but produced nothing of significance. One track, Jelly
Babies, survived and was included on New Roads:
The Advent of
1980 arrived, and in
April of that year Mark, John and a girl called Barbara decided to form
an alternative cassette/art outlet. The Famous Fashionable Trousers Label
was born, and almost immediately the two ex-391ers started planning to
collaborate on a cassette album. They needed a name and, after much debate,
reincarnated 391 for the third time. Sharon and Theo were contacted and
agreed to participate. After spending the intervening time apart with
the individual members absorbing differing influences, the sound of the
new 391 was totally different to its previous permutations. They weren't
sure how people would react, so, fearing the worst, the resulting album
was restricted to 30 minutes. The Child's Dilemma
was a co-release with 30 minutes of Merz (an electronic "pop"
band also named after a Dada periodical) on the other side. As it turned
out, the public seemed to "like" the 391 side more than the
more commercial Merz side - a fact that always puzzled 391.
The Child's Dilemma contains several different
styles reflecting the different personalities involved - throwbacks to
the "noise" and "structured chaos" periods (Blue
Suede Shoes and Mary's Got A Complex/Winks Of
The Book), poetry (I Wanted To Be A Doctor and
Poem 52), rock (Jet Plane and
Who's Riding Your Bike?) and jazz (Sausage
Factory), along with other pieces that do not fall easily
into any category (the aptly-named Category-Mistake
and the radically re-written Prisoner Of The Living Room,
No Easy Way Out
Encouraged by the positive
reaction to this release, 391 began work on their next (and, to many,
best) cassette, No Easy Way Out which was designed
primarily to be the tenth and last release on Fashionable Trousers and
to allow the label to go out in a blaze of glory. In actual fact, the
release of No Easy Way Out was delayed and FT
died a squalid and humiliating death amid unfulfilled orders, broken promises
and letters of complaint from the National Council for Civil Liberties.
No Easy Way Out was originally conceived as
having 30 one-minute tracks on one side and one 30-minute track on the
other, but this format was felt to be too constricting and was eventually
abandoned. Side Two does, however, feature the original track
In One Ear And Out The Other, approximately 30 minutes long
and structured like a classical symphony in four movements.
This cassette was also notable for the inclusion of I Passed
By The Brook, a track by offshoot band The English Assassins.
They consisted of Mark, Nigel Jacklin of Alien Brains and occasional Instant
Automatons backing singer Su The Vampyre. A considerable amount of material
had been recorded at Nigel's headquarters, a bedsit in Hanwell, West London,
for a projected cassette-album that did not ultimately appear.
Three out-takes from the No Easy Way Out sessions
(Requiem For Fashionable Trousers, an alternative
version of Living In A Factory and a version
of An Die Freude) were included on Dean Poole's
5 x C60 Various Artists package on Sexy Records. An Die Freude
(the choral part of Beethoven's 9th Symphony), a ludicrously over-the-top
jazz-punk jam that lurches and reels along for about 7 minutes, is thought
by many to be 391's finest moment of this era.
by Everyone Else
The sleeve of No
Easy Way Out bore the cryptic statement "391 - we're
the same as Everyone Else". This was meant as a pointer to the next
project: the name 391 was to be killed off and replaced by Everyone Else
in an attempt to throw off the limitations and preconceptions imposed
by the "Dadaist" tag. Two new members were recruited, John's
wife Jackie and his old art-school friend William Thorne.
Work was begun on a cassette, Everything Else,
but not far into the preliminary recording sessions Sharon announced her
intention to quit and pursue a career in film-making. The other members
of Everyone Else seemed to accept this development, even agreeing to provide
the soundtrack music for Sharon's first film The Empty Room.
However, Sharon's stabilising effect on the band had been underestimated
and in a couple of months, with only four tracks completed, Everyone Else
Subsequently, John and Mark collected up all the existing masters of unreleased
and difficult to obtain material and compiled the definitive 391 retrospective,
New Roads: New Ruts. This cassette included
material from the offshoot bands The Small Furry Things and The English
Assassins as well as all the existing Everyone Else recordings, and seemed
to hammer the last nail into the coffin of the 391 experiment.
For Goats and the Rebirth of 391
The 391 concept lay
dormant for the following twenty years until, in early 2004, Mark made
contact with New York-based cultural labourer christophilax.
From their ensuing dialogue, a plan was hatched to collaborate on an auditory
artefact, and 391 were reformed for the purpose. In the intervening years,
recording methods had advanced beyond all recognition, but the band members
embraced the new technology with an enthusiasm that only those who have
previously had to manually splice tape-loops could comprehend. The newly-reformed
391 recorded five new tracks that were sent to christophilax for further
processing and eventually released on the CD Calculus
For Goats, credited to c-391.
The original tracks were also issued as a limited edition 391 CD-EP
under the name On Carey Street,
which was given away free with all orders from the Waterden
online catalogue until stocks ran out. More CDs followed.