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11 August 2009

Responsibility is my albatross

Seriously though. It is. The same can not be said about the San Francisco band Girls if their latest video is anything to go by.

And I love them for it. My previously established band crush continues. I am reminded of visits to friends in unfamiliar cities; of idealized staycations; of taking pleasure in your friends & what’s around you.

I clicked around some more online and found some older videos by them. These ones are a bit more homemade than the already homemade aesthetic of their more recent vids. I’ll admit that, by comparison, they are somewhat pitiful. In an awesome way — all of them suffused with that same California mood & California light. But still. Sort of pitifulawesome. After the jump, more of these halcyon days & halcyon ways.

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27 March 2009

Peter Saville doesn’t do email

The continuing stylish wisdom of Peter Saville made manifest:

I want to be this guy when I’m 50, only without the accent. And, well, I probably can’t pull off white pants.

This particular video is actually a viral online advertisement for Adidas and, thereby, kind of vague and unconfrontational as far as interviews go. But it’s interesting just to see this guy in the flesh.

Best quote: “I don’t do my own email.” Oooh, I especially love that.

Via The Daily Swarm

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21 May 2008

Damien Hirst, Tom Waits, the Beatles, and the birth of the ubiquitous contemporary persona. PLUS, some cool shit I saw while I was in London and some thoughts on the Amerindie aesthetic vs. the Anglophile aesthetic.

Last week I was in London — sighting Bjork at a crowded Battles/Dirty Projectors/Fuck Buttons gig at the Astoria

…getting my first introduction to Union Chapel in the Islington section of town, one of the loveliest venues I ever have seen…


…and, finally, checking out Explosions in the Sky’s ATP in Minehead, on England’s West Coast. There, Animal Collective were my overwhelming favorite with their loud as fuck, beat-heavy, ecstatic set. I heard a rumor while over there that their upcoming record — slated for January 2009 — was done in collaboration with a notable hip-hop producer. If the ATP concert’s take on the Animal Collective sound indicates what direction they’re going in, well, start getting excited now.


(All above images via Flickr.)

Anyway, it was a fun fucking weekend, and — despite the fact that I saw mostly American bands — a kind of topper to my increasing fascination with all things having to do with British music, a fascination that’s been very evident in my contributions to this here blog — be it in pieces about the iconic crusty punk band Crass, top-dog graphic designer Peter Saville, or a possibly-destined-for-obscurity new group such as These New Puritans.

This UK kick that I’m on is a huge about face for me. When I was growing up I was a complete anti-Anglophile, obsessed with the Amerindie scene as defined by labels such as SST, Dischord, K, and Touch & Go. The music I loved was amateurish, working class, and unsophisticated. That’s what I liked about it. Those aforementioned record labels offered a portrait of Americans trying our best to make art in a country quite inhospitable to expression. By comparison, British music always sounded like it was made by people that had gone to art colleges, grew up posh, and were overly cognizant of the history of English literature. To sum up the difference, I think British music seemed like it was overly beholden to the past, to history, to the bank of past knowledge; American music sounded free, and like it had its eyes on the future. When I was younger, I loved the ahistorical qualities of Amerindie; now that I’m older, I’ve begun to understand the merits of music that has an awareness of a larger cultural sphere…

080521_teenagekicks_hirstonwaits.jpgAnyway, even my digressions are starting to digress. What I’d like to present to you right here is a quote that shows not all British people are beholden to the past. I especially like how it wraps up in a bow my increasingly UK-friendly orientation (Damien Hirst) with a quotation from a prototypical American original, one who is currently experiencing a burst of activity (Tom Waits). I like it even more because it then pulls in references to an evergreen UK pop group (The Beatles) and concludes with some vast overarching statements about the nature of life today (which appeals to pretentious assholes like yours truly).

The quote is from On the Way to Work, a 2002 book which presents Hirst’s artistic autobiography by way of a series of interviews with novelist Gordon Burn.

Here we go:

Gordon Burn: When I read this quote from Tom Waits I thought of you: “Most of us expect artists to do irresponsible things, to be out of control. Somehow we believe that if you’re way down there, you’re going to bring something back up for us, and we won’t have to make the trip. This is part of the tradition with artists; the problem with that is that you will have people who will write you a ticket to go to hell. Go to hell with gasoline drawers on and bring me back some chicken chow mein while you’re at it.”

Damien Hirst: Love it.

Gordon Burn: Then he says this: “The fact is that everybody who starts doing this to a certain extent develops some kind of a persona or image in order to survive. Otherwise it’s very dangerous to go out there. It’s much safer to approach this with some kid of persona or image in order to survive. Because if it’s not a ventriloquist act, if it’s just you, then it’s really scary.”

Damien Hirst: I was born with a persona. Tom Waits can say that because he’s older. I’m of a generation where a persona goes without saying. It’s just in your toolbag when you’re born. It’s just part of my make-up. I’ve never questioned it. It’s like everybody I know. You get it in your kitbag.

I’m a chameleon. That’s my joy. I lie and change my mind and make things up. I’m a snake; I’m an eel; I’m a chameleon. And that’s not slippery. It’s truthful, to change like that.

In that area, the best thing that’s ever come out of Britain, or anywhere, is the Beatles. It’s a massive lesson for everyone. It’s the most inspiring thing. To watch them publicly grow up in a very real arena of publicity and fame and success and everything… To see them publicly, before everybody, go through that… I was born in those years. That’s what I do.

Gordon Burn: You were too young to witness it in real time. You were only born in 1965.

Damien Hirst: Fuck real time. This is even better. It’s not like being there, ’cause you can’t see it when you’re there. I was right at the perfect point, in between that and punk, to be able to look at it from the distance you need. If you say to me, “What kind of music do you like?, I go, “The Beatles.” Full stop. But if you ask the people who were there, they go, “Well, the Beatles just did ballads, and they did country ‘n’ western, and they took rock ‘n’ roll and they took black music and r&b…”

They took every fucking kind of music. They took everything they wanted. They took the lot. They just took the lot. To me, that’s the Beatles. They’re not country ‘n’ western. They’re not r&b. They’re the Beatles. They just went and got everything they wanted and they’re pure to themselves and they did it.

After the jump, Damien Hirst starts to digress in a way awesomer fashion than I ever do.

While you were there, you were going, “Do I like the Stones? Do I like the Beatles?” There’s no contest for me. The Stones are just nowhere. They’re absolutely fucking nowhere. [Crosses to the window.] Oh, look at that little black bunny. Little cute black fucking bunny. Can you see it? There’s a baby one an’ all…

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8 May 2008

Peter Saville explains why he won hearts & minds with his record cover designs

You’ve probably already seen this:

…it seemed a good moment to share it again, though, because it’s a meme that has legs. Check out the new video for R&B singer Erykah Badu. (Annoyingly it’s is not embeddable but you can view it by clicking over to YouTube.)

080508_teenagekicks_so.jpgWhy do album covers stick with us so deep in memory, as indelible as old photos of family and friends, if not more so? Well, this phenomenon popped into my head as I was reading Designed by Peter Saville, a book about the British designer most renown for his work with the post-punk scene of the early 80s (Joy Division, Factory Records, and OMD). As his reputation grew he began to do more and more straight ahead pop projects — including Wham! — and this work remains somewhat less appreciated by the hipster cognesceti. But there’s no good reason for that, really. Take, for example, the cover he designed for Peter Gabriel — a piece which, to my mind, pioneers an entirely new sub-genre of graphics: erotic typography. (A detail of Saville’s cover for Gabriel’s So appears to the right of this text. Note the masterful use of two different fonts side-by-side, the “S” and the “o” caught in a push/pull relation as compelling & tense as a pair of foiled lovers.)

080508_teenagekicks_saville.jpgIn the early 90s, Saville and one of his partners — partnership & collaboration being a major part of his practice — spent a few years in Los Angeles where he produced work like that pictured to the left of this text. While he was in LA, he worked for my uncle for a brief spell. Eventually, Saville was fire because of his disdain for corporate clients; his disinclination to work during banker’s hours (or even a designer’s more lax 11am-to-9pm schedule); and, finally, his gross inability to fit into any kind of standard workplace environment. (I believe he was caught fucking in his office.)

In any case, I guess we should be thankful for Saville’s inability to grow up. Because he is a designer who remained young — his imagination fired by desire and interest rather than pragmatism and professionalism — his portfolio never went to shit. It’s something most of us can only aspire to. This Q&A from the book gets at his philosophy & understanding of why record cover designs can be so unique, so memorable, so poweful.

Peter Saville: On a trip to London in the early seventies, I bought a pack of soap flakes from the Biba shop — they were packaged in art deco dark brown and beige. I thought “Why don’t supermarkets sell groovy-looking soap flakes?” It was about positioning the product in the context of lifestyle. The first opportunities that came to us were a Buzzcocks cover for Malcolm, and a clothes shop for me.

Christopher Wilson: Of all the badly designed products you saw around you, surely many of them — such as soap flakes — looked generally worse than the average record cover?

Peter Saville: Yes, they did. But you don’t get much work to do when you’re young, because you haven’t learned how to do it yet. You certainly aren’t given the soap flakes. You’re given simple, disposable things to design for other young people

This is the most important point pertaining to my work: Malcolm and I, and to some extent Neville, were granted an autonomous zone within pop because it didn’t matter. Records were not sold the way soap flakes were sold, so we were given opportunity.

But we got to do that work in service of another work — the music inside. It was made by young people, on its way to other young people, and into their hearts and minds. That’s the key thing. A soap flakes box was never addressed to hearts and minds. But pop music, and particularly subcultural pop music, is a delivery system which goes straight there. It’s the single biggest influence on teenagers. Those covers could have been posters or postcards, and a few people might have quite liked them. But without the music it would not have gone to the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands people.

I don’t know if I’ve ever read a better articulation of why records (covers & all) are so important to me, and why I hope they survive into the digital age. Wouldn’t we all be a little bit less with images like these in our lives?


After the jump, a few more words from Mr. Saville…

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