Do It Yourself!
FOUR NEW BOOKS EXPLORE THE D.I.Y. ETHOS IN MUSIC, ART & DESIGN
This year offered a bounty of beautiful books featuring the art, typography, design and photography of an array of musical styles: punk, post-punk, reggae, dancehall and hip hop.
A deeper look into these seemingly disparate musical cultures reveal that, at their core, they all share and espouse the “DIY" philosophy, in both music and art.
As both a fan of reggae, typography and design, this book is a dream come true. Author Maxine Walters, a native of the island, has collected over 100 handmade signs for this unique collection of street art. Marlon James, author of the acclaimed novel A History of Seven Killings, provides a masterful guide in his introduction. “If hip hop’s visual language is graffiti, then dancehall’s visual language is the sign, the event poster.” He notes that function triumphs over form in these pieces, and that “there is a subversive code.” However as we learn through some of the conversations in the book, there is, in fact, form, and the code is not only subversive, but also specific in the design and information hierarchy it projects.
West Indian author and scholar Caralyn Cooper points out, “Every dancehall sign must give information on who is putting on the dance…(it) has to name all of the big acts on the show (and) advertise the entry fee. It’s the graphics that catch the attention …and determine whether or not the show will sell out.” But this is not a book solely for designers; as James points out, “If you’re going to bring the word ‘aesthetic’ into it, you’ve already missed the point.” Rather, it’s a celebration of Jamaican spirit, innovation and pure love of music and the dance.
Buy Serious Things A Go Happen from Amazon here.
This book is a Kickstarter project of mononymous NYC photographer Godlis, who was on the scene to document the birth of CBGBs and the Bowery punk scene, which forever altered the course of popular music, style and culture. Many of Godlis’ shots are iconic: the front of CB’s — particularly the shot of the Dictator’s Handsome Dick Manitoba with his hand on his girlfriend’s ass; the Ramones, and Blondie onstage and Patti Smith on the sidewalk out front are instantly recognizable.
And although I’ve read some complaints that there are too many staff/fan/ambient shots, I’d argue it fills in that community aspect and punk tenant that broke down the barrier between performer and audience. It is directly in keeping with the photographer’s reflection in the afterword, with his “visions of Diane Arbus and Robert Frank floating in my head.” This book is, in fact, exactly that — the leftover, re-invented children of the everyday people featured in photographer Frank’s book The Americans. The dark, grainy portraits perfectly capture the gritty low-budget but cinematic qualities of the Lower East Side, and the semi-desperation of New York City in the 70s.
Not too many people were taking photos of a snowstorm in The Bowery in 1976, or the pure poetry of the sanitation truck rolling up in front of the club. Godlis was. This is a unique and beautiful book — a snapshot in time. History is, indeed, almost always made at night. Bring on the night.
Buy History Is Made At Night here.
NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988-1999 by Stretch Armstrong & Evan Auerbach
This book is Manhattan hip hop and club culture’s answer to Serious Things… and a fascinating comparative study. DJ Mark Ronson states in his introduction “When you look at a great club flyer, there’s a beauty in the economy of design. There’s so much to say in so little space…a killer flyer didn’t guarantee a good party, but you look at any flyer in this book, and you can picture the great time being had.” Sound familiar? The signs and flyers follow a similar structure to Jamaica’s dancehall signage, but the vibe is all NYC. It’s pop art, stolen and modified imagery, hand drawings and typography — whatever can be thrown into the mix. Anything seemed to go here, depending on the vibe of the party or venue. Grace Jones and Madonna sit comfortably next to Keith Haring illustrations, MLK, the Lion of Judah, Toucan Sam and the Energizer Bunny.
You can clearly see certain venues and DJs dabbling in early stages of what we now call “brand building,” at times using those pirated images. Coke, chicken noodle soup, laundry detergent, McD’s, breakfast cereal and candy were all fair game for corruption — “Whatever it takes” seems to be the motto of the NYC flyer. All of this wonderful art is supported by recollections from DJs, promoters and artists. And, like Serious Things… it documents a unique time in music, art, and the freestyle collision of entrepreneurialism.
Buy No Sleep from Amazon here.
Australian Punk/Post-Punk Record Covers by Murray Bennett
Let's start with the obvious: Murray Bennett’s book documenting the 7” artwork from the highly-influential Aussie punk scene is a behemoth. Clocking in at an inch and half thick and nearly 10 pounds, there are hundreds of beautifully reproduced sleeves and vinyl labels from bands such as Radio Birdman, The Saints, and The Go-Betweens, as well as interviews with the musicians and graphic designers, who were often one and the same. Product 45 is nothing less than the visual and oral history of the Australian musical landscape from 1976 to 1980.
Author Bennett, a graphic designer himself, says “how (the) music is visually represented is important, to best reflect (the bands) style and feel to existing fans or a new audience.” Those styles, design, and print processes were unique to each band and run the creative gamut. Bennett produced it all, from the germ of the idea to self-publishing, and the two and a half year journey is a collector’s dream — not to mention inspiration to DIY bands everywhere.
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