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Work / Publication

Why counter-culture matters: Rough Trade launches publishing venture designed by Craig Oldham

Rough Trade has announced a new publishing venture, Rough Trade Books, embodying the “same original spirit and radical direction” that the independent label has cultivated over the past 40 years and counting.

Launching with the release of 12 pamphlets known as Rough Trade Editions, each publication brings together “the very highest calibre of artists, writers, poets, musicians, photographers, illustrators and thinkers producing work relating to their relationship with the counter-culture,” Rough Trade explains.

Co-founded by Nina Hervé, each edition is designed by Craig Oldham and individually features fiction, non-fiction, poetry, comics and interviews, visually and editorially telling “the stories of why counter-culture matters, has mattered and will matter.”

Each of the editions will be available to buy individually or through a subscription service in the coming weeks (keep an eye on its website here). Meanwhile below, Craig gives us a special preview of the first 12 pamphlets, describing the process and ethos of this very exciting collaboration and new arm of the iconic label.

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

It’s Nice That: What was your relationship with Rough Trade before this project?

Craig Oldham: You know what, I don’t really know what the relationship was as I’d never really examined it. I was always aware of Rough Trade as a label and a shop growing up, mainly due to my folks (particularly my mum) consuming their records like you wouldn’t believe. But my draw to them was always their politics. They were, and still are, a record label with a point of view and that is both rare and incredibly appealing.

In later years that solidified when I published In Loving Memory of Work which included a Rough Trade record in the book, released during the miners’ strike to raise funds for striking miners’ and their families. And ironically, that then started the working relationship, leading to this.

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

INT: How do you begin a project like this?

CO: Well, the whole thing started by trying to articulate Rough Trade Books as a thing separate to the shops and the label, but that could also leverage that standing and association. And for me, you have to approach everything with meaning, because if you have to know why you’re doing something, what’s the point?

We essentially had to start to form a brand for it before we started going near the catalogue so we started looking at a marque and an attitude that on one hand did the job it needed to (tell people it’s books by Rough Trade) but then build in that spirit by how we talk about it, action it, apply it. So we went back to the beginnings of Rough Trade and built that back into this as an almost reboot.

The original marque and materials were created with a combination of type-transfers (such as Letraset) and stamps (sometimes both). As such it originally started a clean cut typeface, essentially, and only over time, as it’s been recreated and recreated, has the distressed look come into it as a result of the process – not the creative direction. So we wanted to echo that with this, and created the book logo (which appears in many orientations, standing on edge, lying down, chucked about the place like every well-thumbed book does) as a stamp and started our own process organically.

From there, it’s about seeing each book under its own merit and identity and going from there. That echoes what I want to see, in terms of books, out in the world representing Rough Trade Books – and really, as long as they prod and poke your conscience and intellect.

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

INT: Can you talk us through how you developed a design angle for the books?

CO: When Nina mentioned the model of the Editions as a Rough Trade take on pamphleteering, I was excited. Mainly because it fits and I just thought, why haven’t Rough Trade done that before?! The pamphlet or zine has always been favoured by those outside the mainstream and on the periphery, it has long been a means of fulfilling needs neglected by mainstream markets or disapproved of by conventions, and sometimes laws. It’s a platform of dissent, debate, discourse, for sure, but also a perfect place for ideas. 

So, with particular reference to the Editions series, this context was crucial, really. This mass public indifference is key. The publishing world and marketplace are saturated with a veneer of that-worked-for-them-so-it-will-work-for-us mentality. We wanted to be an antidote to that.

The initial thought stemmed from the Russian athletes competing at the Olympics. That weird censorship to their identity actually highlighted them as opposed to diminishing their presence. It’s fundamentally that simple. When you don’t engage with the pomp and circumstance of the mass, you’re inevitably on the fringe, and stand out. That’s all that led the process here with Editions: let’s get away from all the foiled-and-frilly world of the bookshop and just be what they aren’t: confident in who we are and what we’re saying. And let’s say it with industrial and utilitarian means – typefaces and colours and ideas – with a simplicity of colour coming through the framework so each could echo the set but also standalone. It’s not trying to attract any audience, but have the right audience find them.

We jokingly nicknamed them “the fag packets”, as I originally wanted them all white, and that’s where the subversive irreverent reading/smoking quips stemmed from. Each book has its own advice label hidden away for you to find. It was just about playing with it, rather than not committing to the thought.

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

INT: How do you hope people feel when they pick up a Rough Trade Book?

CO: What the fuck is this?! Ha. No, I want people (obviously) to be intrigued about the Rough Trade Books catalogue, but, for me, I want them to confront people, challenge people, but also inspire people. The whole raison d’etre was to do what the label did in music in publishing, and people are so inspired by Rough Trade because it went another way, explored other ideas, and introduced us to different things. It’s that spirit we want, in their own way, every book to embody and express.

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis

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Craig Oldham: Rough Trade Books, photographs by Beth Davis