Still A Novel Experience

Mark Paytress

Record Collector, Dec 1992

Back in the early 70s, Virgin Records issued three budget-prlced albums, ostensibly to Introduce British progressive rock audiences to their expanding stable of European rock artists. The price-tag ensured that sales were strong (If ineligible for chart consideration), but it wasn't long before copies of Gong's "Camembert Electronique", Can's "Limited Edition" and The Faust Tapes by Faust ended up clogging up the racks in second-hand shops. Gong's brand of freeform psychedelia proved too playful and anachronistic; Can and Faust's collections of out-takes were just plain weird.

But when the authority of "Tubular Bells" and "The Dark Side of The Moon" was severely tested in the wake of punk rock, the influence of this trilogy of boundary-smashing best-sellers was quite evident. Offered an entry into rock music by the new network of independent labels, experimental acts like The Pop Group, Lemon Kittens, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire wreaked their revenge by drawing on the example of these early musical iconoclasts.

Gong and Can have since been rehabilitated into the rock canon, but little more was ever heard from Faust. "We may have split up almost 20 years ago," says vocalist guitarist Jean-Hervé Péron, " but we've always kept the group afloat, even if that meant only playing one gig a year."

There was little sign of Julian Cope, who recently penned an enthusiastic tribute to the band in NME prior to the group's first UK concert in 20 years, but Faust certainly didnt expect to play to a heaving Marquee audience, as the capital rejoiced in its second biggest cult reunion of the year (the other was Arthur Lee and Love's summer gig). Unsurprisingly, a who's who of the left-field music scene turned out to witness this unique event, including ex- or current members of Throbbing Gristle, Henry Cow, Shock Headed Peters, Current 93, Blue Aeroplanes, Loop and Danielle Dax.

"I could have done with a bit more noise," said Dax afterwards, while recalling how The Faust Tapes provided an island of inspiration back in 1973. But noise, though an important ingredient in Faust's make-up, was never their sole raison d'etre: what the group brought to popular music was an absence of formal rules, an approach that, 20 years on, they still keenly support. "95% of the lyrics were improvised tonight," says Péron, "and much of the music too although there are certain structures that we fall back on." Among these basic outlines was a rendition of It's A Rainy Day Sunshine Girl, from the So Far album which, apart from some of the more memorable untitled excerpts on The Faust Tapes, remains the group's best-known track.

What's remarkable about Faust's performance was that they didn't need to infuse it with a 'modernity' in order to make it work in a contemporary context. Only the strictest adherent to the postmodernist ethic would have grumbled at the purity of the group's project, which is, according to Péron, "that we are afraid, we are insecure, and we don't know what's going to happen on stage".

Actually, we all had a rough idea what to expect, and the four original members of Faust performed - using the same equipment that saw them through the 70s - a set every bit the equal of those fragmentary albums recorded two decades ago. Playing behind a backdrop that said simply Rien (that's French for 'nothing', Eurosceptics), which was promptly destroyed by a chainsaw during the encore, Faust are living justification of the old adage that "nothing is more real than nothing". This was no circus routine, a nostalgic get-together to churn out lazy versions of old favourites, but an all-too-rare example of musicians thinking aloud in the public arena.

"I wanted to applaud the audience at the end," says Péron. "lnstead of calling out for material from our albums, they generously accepted Faust for what it is." In fact the mood was more than one of simple acceptance; and what was probably a combination of elation and sensory overload caused at least one observer to pass out during the concert!

The likelihood is that Faust will return, and while there is an interest in recording again, there are no definite plans. The rumour is that self-confessed "genuine long-term Fausthead" Julian Cope has expressed a desire to work with the group.

Mark Paytress, "Still A Novel Experience", Record Collector 1992