Things we here at It’s Nice That can confidently state about Los Angeles, California: Laurel Canyon looks really pretty, you probably see Hollywood A-listers stocking up on Aquafresh every time you step foot into a Walgreens, and for a good few years the Smell was one of the most exciting music venues on the planet.
A long and narrow converted movie theatre in the city’s Downtown district, the Smell is the stuff of LA legend. “On any given night it could be the epicentre for punk, noise, experimental, electronic with ten people there or 500 people — you never really knew,” says Grammy-nominated graphic designer Brian Roettinger, who spent a lot of time at a dirty, dank space best described as “quintessentially punk”.
It was at the Smell that Brian bumped into his old high school friend Dean Spunt. By then Dean was playing with Randy Randall in a band called Wives. Wives became No Age, and Brian became the designer responsible for the group’s entire visual corpus, a vast collection of work that has now been collated into No Age & Brian Roettinger: Graphic Archive 2007–18 published by LA-based print collective Hat & Beard.
Comprising of a litany of No Age-related ephemera ranging from, complimentary stickers to bespoke typefaces, 7” sleeves to posters, the archive is a treasure trove for anyone with a semblance of interest in just what can happen when creative forces combine to create something bigger than their parts. Scratchy, greyscale, DIY aesthetics are the order of the day, which isn’t surprising given Brian’s introduction to the world of design.
“Skateboarding and punk in the early 90s were my gateway drug,” Brian says. “Everything I learned about visual communication stemmed from skateboard graphics, DIY album covers, and everyone involved,” with everything from discovering the perfect way to taper a pair of Dickies to the fine art of scamming copies at Kinkos opening up his aesthetic horizons. “I was looking and thinking about every aspect of design, not exclusively from a graphic perspective, but just as a whole, and I didn’t really know it, it just felt like commonplace.”
Brian — who has also worked with the likes of Helmut Lang, Jay-Z, and Hedi Slimane — says that assembling the book felt like “going back in a time machine.” For most designers, he thinks, cringing at previous work is an inevitability: ideas change, interests change, and yet he didn’t find a huge amount to feel embarrassed about.
“I’m OK with things feeling dated, they weren’t when they were made. Not everything has to feel timeless. The ideas reflect what we were into or thinking about during those times, some being ten years ago, some being five months ago. I can say I’m happy it all exists.”
“The book was never meant to be a literal graphic survey as we didn’t find that to be compelling. It was the thinking of how can this be an in-depth look at every graphic solution and decision that went into each project,” says Brian. “From photography, typography, how track listings are set, what colours are used, what images we didn’t use, it goes on. I think Ben who designed the book did a really great job of communicating that.”
In terms of his long-running relationship with the band — who, for the uninitiated, play a frantic and often beautiful version of lysergic, lo-fi noise rock — he points out that his role was always “more than just graphic design or art direction,” telling It’s Nice That, “it just happens to be that the byproduct of what we make is graphically designed.”
The result is a gloriously scrappy, but rigorous, account of a working relationship that’s been seen in pretty much every good record shop on earth. Long may it continue.
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