Collector’s editions, luxurious foils and sculptural, perspex packages are all well and good; and one of the reasons that vinyl continues to flourish in the digital age. But the real joy in music for many of us is in a sense of community, of doing, of making friends and persuading existing ones to be as excited about a band as we are. It’s those very visceral, social aspects of music that make it such a wonderfully emotive medium, and they’re the reason that graphic designer David Blanco decided to turn the skills of his day job to his out-of-hours passion: seeing great bands, talking to them, telling other people about them and forcing their sounds into the earholes of others.
David founded the Blank Editions label with Will Shutes in 2011, and the pair run it from the kitchen tables of their homes in Hackney, east London. Aside from the recording and pressing of the records themselves, literally everything is done from said tables. Once the kids are in bed, David sets about with scalpel and stamper in hand, creating everything in a gorgeously lo-fi way, borrowing from punk, fanzine ideals and articulating them with a refined graphic sensibility. It’s quite a change for a man whose bread-and-butter work is designing sleeves for artists like Kanye West and Rihanna, for whom he worked on that ubiquitous “R” logo.
The label focuses on post-punk sounds, and has put out releases from artists including offshoots of the brilliant now-defunct Electricity in Our Homes in Charles Boyer and [ ] [ ] (not a typo, that’s her recording name), TOMAGA and Yuki Tsuji from Bo Ningen. Oh, and some chap named Thurston Moore, who also happens to babysit David’s kids on occasion.
"I met Thurston Moore in Stoke Newington Whole Foods, with my daughter who was wearing a Sub Pop babygro."David Blanco
The really charming thing about the label and its output is the sense of the community: all the artists are somehow linked, whether playing together, going to the same art school or sharing an engineer. It’s perhaps testament to David’s personality and pure, honest passion for what he does that explains how Thurston got involved, though. “Will kept seeing him around Stoke Newington, and one day I bumped into him in Whole Foods. I was with my daughter, who was wearing a Sub Pop onesie,” David explains. Playing it cool, David asked Thurston if he fancied going to a gig of one of the Blank Editions artists, Douglas Hart. It turned out he was already going, they got talking, and David ended up putting out a tape, Rosetta (which “honours comet-chaser Rosetta and its November 2014 landing on 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko,” naturally) and the vinyl release Detonation.
The rest of the acts on the roster may not be so well known, but they’re ones who have forged their own unusual, compelling niches in the capital, a place so rife with gigs and bands but often so devoid of any doing anything new or interesting. Admittedly, it’s a London-centric thing, but David wants to celebrate the idea of community, and people knowing one another – as he points out, it’s those sort of connections that make an aesthetic. “I look at things like Ebullition Records from California, Dischord Records from Washington D.C and Revelation Records from New York and they all have such a recognisable look and feel,” says David. “They would use the same designer and photographer for all the releases, and it all happened in the same place.”
From its home in Hackney, Blank Editions is championing that very post-punk, monochrome look across its releases (inspired by designers like Paul Bacon); uniting the artists through that pared-back palette and the use of one or two typefaces, mainly Akzidenz-Grotesk and Gotham. The simple, black logo-mark is informed by Blank Editions’ three facets – the curve represents records, the cog tapes, and the straight edge publishing. Moreover, David’s a long-time fan of the Open University logo. Compare the two and that becomes crystal clear.
As for the artwork, this is mainly driven by the artists: Yuki had a couple of photographs he wanted to use, one of which was a shot of a tree, and as such every one of the the sleeves contains a little envelope holding a leaf from a Hackney park.
“I’m always thinking about people’s beer money: if you’re at a gig and you’ve got a tenner, you won’t want to spend £7 on a record"David Blanco
It’s these thoughtful, hands-on touches that make the label feel so special. Rather than putting out limited releases that are trussed up to within an inch of their life and with an extortionate price tag to match, everything is around the £4 mark. “I’m always thinking about people’s beer money: if you’re at a gig and you’ve got a tenner, you won’t want to spend £7 on a record, because you want to spend that on beer. If it’s only £4, you might buy the record,” says David.
“I don’t do it to make money, if you cripple yourself by being greedy you’re not doing yourself any favours. I want it to be accessible – this is a small scene that’s meant to be kept small. It’s not an exclusive thing, that’s why we put this stuff out. I don’t even pretend to know how the record industry works. [Blank Editions] will never grow outside of this small thing, and that’s what I love about it.”
About the Author
Emily joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in the summer of 2014 after four years at Design Week. She is particularly interested in graphic design, branding and music. After working It's Nice That as both Online Editor and Deputy Editor, Emily left the company in 2016.