As a kid, I was obsessed with records as early as I can remember. I had a collection of 7” records that came in books that one would listen to and read along with the audio, turning the page as the story was told. Mainly, the collection consisted of Star Wars records narrating the random crap that Han Solo and Chewbacca were up to. But that changed when I discovered my parents’ albums: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was enthralled with the packaging, looking over the gatefold covers and intricate details with the designs. At age six or so, I remember getting Kiss’ Double Platinum and being told by the older kids in the neighborhood that the silver foil album cover would reflect the image of Satan on the wall if light were shined onto it at just the right angle. Of course I could never get it to work, but I was intrigued with the idea of what record packaging could consist of. To me, that sort of extension of the music was just as important as the audio in some respects because it told more of the story behind the tunes, and was physically tangible.
Over the next decade I found myself seeking out records, such as PIL’s Metal Box, The Cramps Off The Bone (which had 3-D art and came with 3-D glasses) and every version of Never Mind The Bollocks… the Japanese import, the original yellow cover, then the orange cover before the track Submission was added to it as well as a version that had a Submission sticker, and even the rare one sided 7” that came with the later version having only that one added track.
Later, I stumbled upon the world of color vinyl. There was an endless list of things I wanted to obtain…not only to listen to the albums, but to see the subtle and not so subtle differences in pressings and quality in manufacturing from small independent labels all the way up to the majors. It was my childhood and teenage drug of choice.
One evening, at the age of sixteen, I walked into a small building located on the campus of UCSD. The place was amongst the woods, tucked away, graffittied and painted like an outdated art project among the drab architecture of the campus. Inside, vegetarian food was being served as people were loading in equipment that was quickly filling a large portion of the room. Outside, people were hanging out and loitering.
The obvious reason for me being at this location was to see and hear live music. With that being said, the music was not my entire reason for being there– some might even argue that the music being played that evening should not have been recognized as music at all. As a matter of fact, I should not have been there at all, as I was still getting over Chicken Pox… but fortunately, I was able to pass as just a pre-pubescent teen with really bad acne. Without the slightest inclination of the importance of that night, I was about to submerge myself in a subculture that defied most practical and recognized aspects of the society that I lived in.
Amidst a city geared up to suck the flaccid dick of tourism, run by institutional racist city officials, and soaked in absurd amounts of tanning lotion (and whatever else seemed fitting for the public vision of San Diego), I was about to witness Infest, Born Against, Downcast and Crossed Out play, all in one night. This event raised the bar of how I viewed music. The bands that played that night made most other bands out there seem like, well… just bands playing songs. This was the point in time when I consciously realized that music does not need to only focus on music theory, song structure, and chord progression—the opposite of what I kept hearing across the board at school by adults who didn’t get me, and by the majority of the world I was living in. There were aspects that went well beyond words, notes, and even what people perceive as a live performance. I saw a level of technicality and soul that not everyone can learn or even understand. The absurdity of what I stumbled upon musically was living under the umbrella of art, and that umbrella was underground (for legitimate reasons).
Around this time, a childhood friend of mine, Jose Palafox, and I had been playing in a band for a little less than a year, naively called Struggle. Originally called Proletariat Struggle, I pointed out that we were not all working class. Granted, Jose and I worked at the swap meet on weekends, but the so-called “struggle” that we identified with went well beyond being working class. Sure, the band was just made up of kids, who at the time were dealing with what we all thought were typical kid issues- domestic violence, child abuse, racism, classism, and figuring out what to do on a Friday night- but somehow found and fixated on the means to play music. Even though our efforts to make music and ultimately communicate with the world that we lived in ended up being small change in the grand scheme of things, it was also (much like the UCSD show) an experience more important than we ever could have realized at the time. Struggle proved to be the start of what we would see fit as part of a linear musical revolution that was more than just music, eventually manifesting into what me and my comrades are currently doing in this day and age.
It was at that time that we realized that the cliché idea of how love and hate were the opposite of each other was, in fact, wrong. As Leo Buscaglia put it, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy…it’s not giving a damn”. The bulk of my friends and I came from what most consider “broken homes.” And for whatever reason, our lives meshed when we realized that there was a greater purpose in what we were handed. Punk and hardcore is much more than music and style. Those terms have since been skewed and bastardized over the years, but for us- at that time and place- we realized that it’s how one perceives life and the world around them. With the bands on the bill that night at the Che Cafe and the messages that were there for the youth who had lacked parenting, or for the socially conscious who could not get the truth from the nightly news, or better yet, for people who realized that rock was often just boring and forgot about its creative energy, we all found a meaning that went well beyond something marketable to the masses. We found what was ours, and what we found was completely void of apathy.
The first recording that I played on came out in 1991 as part of the Give Me Back compilation released by Ebullition. The album was a benefit for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Planned Parenthood, and Shelter Services for Women. Not only was there so much meaning behind the music on that album, but also the packaging was outstanding. The cover had silver ink, and acted similar to the 7” books I had as a kid, with information and propaganda pertaining to the topics that the album benefited. On top of all that, my very first band, Struggle, shared the record with some of those whom I looked up to and admired as musicians and artists. I remember holding the cover, as I did when I was a kid, staring at it as it played over and over. I felt that I had made it among the ranks of bands like Born Against, Downcast, Bikini Kill, Econochrist, and the others who were part of that album. This opened the gates to offers to be part of other compilations, split 7” records, and so on. As a record collector, I was aware of the difference in what was put into certain albums compared to others. Anything from 4 track recordings and photocopied 7×14” covers folded over a 7” record, up to what the Give Me Back compilation consisted of.
As Struggle became part of what other labels were doing, we realized that not everyone had the detailed appreciation for product quality as well as artistic detail that we had, and for me specifically, went all the way back to my childhood, where I would obsess of records and their fine detail. Struggle found ourselves paying for recordings and handing them over to other kids, who considered themselves to be “record labels.” With the recordings and artwork submitted to people in other parts of the world, we soon figured out that the mastering of the record was not always a concern, nor was the artwork and packaging of the albums. At this point, we were well aware of the financial obstacles that, say, fifteen and sixteen year old kids might have with putting out a thousand copies of a record, so we were in no position to complain. However, Ebullition had set a standard for what we wanted to be part of. At this time we had also become friends with Bob Barley, who ran Vinyl Communications, and Matt Anderson, who was starting Gravity Records- both who had both put a lot of effort into the packaging and created a “style” for their labels. Focusing on anything from using rubber stamps and spray paint for the images on the covers, up to using brown paper bags with silkscreen artwork, we realized that there were other options out there.
Struggle pushed forward, aligning ourselves with Ebullition for many reasons, and focused on the fine details that were being put into releasing records. Over the few years that the band was together, we managed to also release an album much like the packaging of the Give Me Back compilation, as well as aligning ourselves with Seth Tobocman, creating a visual booklet for our LP. Similar to the minimalist art of Crass, for example, Struggle took cues from that style but added our own spin to it, even later on by trying to make the bland CD in a jewel case interesting by having a “hidden track,” (which is technically track zero) and having Album Leaf cover a Struggle song in their own fashion, almost like muzak.
Eventually, Struggle called it quits, based on the fact that we were all still in high school and had to eventually move on to “real life” things. Some had college in mind, some had kids in mind, and well, I was going to stick that shit out and continue on, not really knowing where it would take me. All I knew was I had determination to do everything I could and to push whatever boundaries I came across pertaining to music and art.
The next “logical” step for me was to start my own label, only a couple years after Struggle disbanded. As any messed up nineteen year old would have it, there was no business plan, no real though out concept, and no goal besides the fact that I assumed I could do as shitty as or better than a lot of smaller labels that were popping up in my world. My only real concept that I had for starting a label was that it was going to be, in a sense, a family owned business… and basically a family in itself. At this time, a portion of Struggle had assembled a new project called Swing Kids, who shared a member with Unbroken who were in my opinion one of the best hardcore bands around at the time. Between both Swing Kids and Unbroken, I was given opportunities to release records by both acts, and from there the label steadily continued to grow into what it is today.
I started Three One G in hopes to better the quality and creativity of stuff that I was part of, as well as the music culture that I am part of—something obtainable, tangible, and real. Three One G quickly developed into a family of artists who were all intertwined or on the same page as one another. For me, it is the truest definition of family: people who are of the same breed and people who are from the same way of life.
Over the years, Three One G had grown and loosely been related to a band that I’m part of now, The Locust. The relevance that The Locust has had to Three One G brought amazing artists into the picture, either meeting them on tour, as musical collaborations, or other various things that The Locust was and is doing. This really helped to diversify the label and the sounds that it encompasses up to this day. To me, having bands under the Three One G umbrella like Cattle Decapitation, Arab on Radar, Warsawwasraw, Quintron, Zs, Black Dice, Orthrelm, and so on all makes sense, regardless of how different any artist’s approach to music or their sound may be. We could all conceivably tour together, even sometimes collaborate and share members. To me, this is interesting, bringing so many new avenues of creativity, which are things that the music industry in general has since forgotten, or maybe never even noticed. Over the years we have expanded, not only musically, but geographically as well. Even though Three One G is below the radar of major labels, the bands manage to grow and reach out beyond the label’s grasp, giving a glimpse into the all too interesting underbelly of an unrefined culture. The bands manage to amaze, challenge, inspire, and essentially blow minds. The labor of love here shows sincerity, as well as integrity. The family here is solid, legitimate, and relevant.
- Justin Pearson