From very early on, Simon Penard-Philippe was interested in the crossover between graphic design and music. “When I was a teenager, I went to a lot of festivals and concerts, and I used to be — and still am — impressed by the visual language that surrounds music,” he says. “As one of my passions, I knew that if there was a way for me to connect a creative job with music, I’d do it.” Going on to study graphic design at the National School of Fine Arts in Lyon, Simon started building the foundations of this dream.
“Ever since I started studying graphic design, I wanted to work with the subject of Jamaican music. During my final year at university, this became a research topic of mine and after focusing for a while on the theory, I made a publication to document my findings,” adds the designer. Titled Pull Up!, a nod to the iconic phrase made popular by dancehall parties in the 70s, referring to a DJ stopping the selector and rewinding the dubplate back to the beginning, the magazine became a necessity for Simon. “It was the best way to edit and share my research, a tool to pass on my exploration, and in that sense it reflects my studies on the subject,” he explains. “The name was driven by this idea of restarting a history and drawing attention to its contemporaneity”
Using essays, interviews and photography, Pull Up! champions modern Jamaica through the lens of its music. However, Simon is eager to emphasise just how recent of a development this is in Jamaica, compared to other nations whose histories are long and whose cultural progression has been relatively steady. “After it won independence in 1962, there was the question of building a new Caribbean culture in Jamaica, away from British oppression. This culture, which is still very new, is really connected to the evolution of the country’s music.” And it’s this development that forms the backbone of Simon’s publication. Pull Up! wants to focus on the post-emancipation period "because “true” Jamaican culture began to surface at this time.”
In creating this work, Simon has become more than just a proponent of this culture, he’s also become a guardian of it. As a young white male living in Paris, he’s aware of the misconceptions and cliches – often the products of his peers – that plague Jamaican music genres. Connotations of drug use and idleness cloud the real values and ethos of the country’s sound. “What links every type of Jamaican music – mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae or rub-a-dub – is that it has always been conscious music,” Simon tells It’s Nice That. “Some are love songs, many are political songs, but all share the same idea of bringing the black community together and talking about ghetto life. That’s why my interest in Jamaican history cannot separate music from culture.”
And it’s this desire to promote the true essence of the music that has informed the design of Pull Up!. Printed in large format, Simon says this is symbolic of the ways in which the magazine loudly proclaims the real themes at work in Jamaican musical heritage: liberty, resistance and harmony. Tying into the emergence of dancehall in the 70s, the publication is also inspired by the editorial design trends of that time, in terms of layout and typesetting. Simon says if he was to sum it up aesthetically, the motto of London-based label On-U Sound comes to mind: “Disturbing the comfortable, comforting the disturbed.”
The soon to be released first issue looks at Jamaican identity, linguistics and poetry, and features incredible imagery from 80s reggae scene photographer, Beth Lesser. However, eager to progress with the next instalments at the same time (of which there will be five, making up the first volume), Simon has already laid the groundwork for issue two. “This one will be about the music, rituals and spaces of dancehall, with a particular focus on how women used the genre to express their creativity through fashion and dance, and how it liberated them,” he says.
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.