On putting together this new website for four three six, and specifically a new 'our story' page I had to think long and hard about what four three six's place is in the world. As well as the more succinct version on the website I thought i'd put this article out out there in case anyone wants to see the thought process behind the brands DNA...
A little while back, I took part in a course focused on building a streetwear fashion brand, and one of the first tasks was to define your brand’s purpose. And the purpose wasn’t allowed to be ’to sell clothes’. This really threw me, because i found it really difficult to identify what it was four three six was all about, which should have been easy as it was me who had created it. It propelled me into some sort of brand existential crisis, and made my brain feel like was knotted every time I tried to think about it.
We had been running for just over 18 months, and had originally been combining electronic music with street art on our ‘wearable releases’, but I felt that only touched the tip of the iceberg. In my previous business, a record label, I had defined our purpose as being ‘to release awesome music’, and this was pretty much what we did. A friend had defined the role of a record label as finding music you love, and adding value. And this originally had felt similar, it was like a record label but with a new way of putting out the music. But this was just a piece of the puzzle, I felt like four three six had more to offer
Coming of age in the 90s I had two main musical interests, world music and electronic music. I was learning drums at the time and was being exposed to several rhythms and beats that made me realise there was a wider world than the small town where I was growing up. ‘World Music’ was on trend, and Real World was the record label du jour, putting out a frenetic catalogue of releases from artists from around the world (or particular significance to me were release by Rossy and The Drummers of Burundi).
At the same time a local music promoter wanted to put on a rave in a field belonging to a farmer nearby, which suddenly brought the sleepy town kicking and screaming into the 90s, and every member of the town’s population suddenly had an awareness, and an opinion, on rave music. This was around the time of several ecstasy deaths, so the town folk weren’t too keen on having such an event on their doorstep, and the rave never happened, but it sparked an interest in me, what was this music?
My jumping-in point was Orbital playing at Glastonbury 1994, and in particular the track ‘impact’. At the time the BBC covered Glastonbury and they played around 15 minutes of Orbital’s performance. The whole thing was so alien, two guys wearing lights on their heads, no band, but an incredible energy, I was hooked.
These influences stayed with me, and as the new millennium came around and the advent of the internet allowed infinite search capabilities suddenly a world of incredible music was opened up allowing the discovery of so much more music, and most excitingly for me, a place where these two musical strands met, and the discovery of electronic music genres from around the world.
Little did I realise it at the time but a big part of the energy of that Orbital performance came from the aesthetic, the performance looked unlike anything I had seen before. Before making my own journey I worked for a brand called Orange, a mobile phone company who put aesthetic and design at the forefront of everything they did. The brand was everything and there were even rumours that there was a team of ‘brand police’ who went around unearthing DIY point of sale material, and badly designed communications and correcting them so they fitted within the correct look.
Unconsciously this attention to detail on design opened my eyes to imagery and graphics in other areas in my life, particularly in art and fashion. Both these words previously had nuanced meanings for me - art was something I was told at school I wasn’t good at, and fashion was clothes for the society elite (to this day I still prefer the word style over fashion). Through the record sleeves of Unkle I discovered the work of Futura, and then a whole world of street art, and then art. Through the art of Futura, I discovered the brand Maharishi (they stocked Futura’s own brand Futura Laboratories in there London store). Through their associations with and sponsorship of DJs and clubs I discovered the brand Addict, and through that brand I discovered the artwork of SheOne, and also the music of the Nextmen. The whole thing started becoming a circle of influence, with one discovery leading to another.
As much as the internet became a useful tool for discovering and searching for new stimuli, the chain normally started as a physical artefact, and then the journey started down a digital rabbit hole, with associations being presented through research and discovery, and quite often leading to a destination significantly different to the starting point.
And that is where the cyberspace has yet to live up to it’s full potential, although we can search for everything and anything, everyone searches for the same things. Big media still has a stranglehold on culture because they provide the initial stimulus for the internet experience. A product is only as a good as its inputs, and as the saying goes ‘garbage in, garbage out’.
So the quest became to discover interesting things, things that would spark a search and in consequently turn up more interesting things. A mixtape, a random book in Japanese, a slogan t-shirt which appeared to make no sense, a record bought without listening, a random photocopied zine, an art exhibition, a mural on a wall, a documentary about a music scene - the better the input, the more exciting the discoveries. Every time I visited a new city I would be on a quest for new input, and in turn that led to the discovery of incredible places, mostly off the beaten track.
And that’s what four three six is, it’s a scrapbook of my analogue and digital rabbit holes, and an amalgamation of what inspires me. It’s well made, well designed products, inspired by digital archeology and analogue discovery, which in turn I hope will be the point of departure for a journey down a rabbit hole for the owner.