Date
4 August 2016
Reading Time
5 minute read
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Unit Editions’ Action Time Vision – an alternative look at the aesthetics of punk

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Date
4 August 2016
Reading Time
5 minute read

Share

“Those three words, ‘action, time, vision,’ really seem to capture people’s imaginations. I wish I got royalties for the use of those three words!” Says Mark Perry of Alternative TV and Sniffin’ Glue fanzine on his infamous single that changed the look and sound of punk for years to come.

In 1978, two years after the first Ramones album that birthed punk, the genre and lifestyle was in full throttle. This was the year Alternative TV released Action Time Vision, a single that encapsulated the creative force of a genre that music enthusiasts and designers consistently look back to for inspiration. To celebrate a long lasting love of punk, the sleeves, the attitude and the characters involved, Unit Editions has released Action Time Vision, a book celebrating and referencing the 7” sleeves that made such an impression on the arts. The book flicks through the record collections of Unit Editions co-founder Tony Brook and punk-scholar Russ Bestley, highlighting underground sleeves that influenced their practice. Additional features include an essay by Russ Bestley, interviews with celebrated graphic designer Malcolm Garrett, Mute founder Daniel Miller and of course, Mark Perry whose three words bring the book together in one swoop.

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

“It was serendipitous that the release of this book coincided with the 40 years of punk,” explains Tony. “It’s a subject we’ve been interested in doing for a while, mainly because it was a formative influence on myself as a designer.” Tony and Russ’ collections display the punk sleeves we aren’t often shown, referencing those that “didn’t follow that cliché, they were still punk in an entirely different way.” The decision to highlight sleeves by lesser known bands and designers was also a happy accident: “There were a couple of big record companies who wanted to charge us a fortune for reproducing their sleeves. On reflection I don’t think this did any harm because people are so familiar with that work, it meant we put in a few that were a little more off the beaten track.”

Rather than referencing the Sex Pistols or The Clash, Action Time Vision credits the designs of Wire, Bauhaus and Penetration sleeves, the ones with a “disquieting look about them.” This curation of sleeves allows a representation of the extensive language of punk, while cleverly concentrating on its graphic design influence. This fulfils Tony’s intentions for the book: “I hope overall that you get the impression that it was a very broad church and there were a lot of creative things happening at that time, record sleeves being one of them.”

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

Unit Editions’ astute focus on the design of punk is what encouraged Mark Perry to contribute. “Sometimes books on punk try to cast the net too wide and those links they come up with are very tenuous. But when they start to pare it down with something like just the graphic design of that time, I quite like that. I like that kind of decision-making, like this is a representative of that so lets do it, and then they just go for it.”

Mark Perry’s contribution to Action Time Vision is a key representation of the sense of urgency that has made punk artwork so influential. His design of the Sniffin’ Glue fanzine and Alternative TV’s sleeves set a path for the punk aesthetic. “The lettering on the sleeve for Action Time Vision was a conscious decision for it not to look like a punk record. They all looked the same you know, ripped up paper and safety pins. I wanted my single to stand out. I made sure we used Arial, a big bold typeface, I thought about the statement that could make on it’s own. I didn’t want to dilute that message, it strips away all the bullshit.” With one 7” sleeve Mark proved that for punk to be truly groundbreaking it had to look outside itself, he noticed that sleeves had “become very formulaic and sometimes you have to go out of your immediate circle of people to create something fresh.”

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

The importance of a record sleeve’s aesthetic at the time of punk was predominant, it had to embody the sound of the band perfectly in order for teenagers to spend their pocket money on it. The need to grab attention is something Tony believes “is sometimes ironed out of a graphic designer.” The records he collected and poured over are such significant pieces of design that he still has them today: “I was looking for anything that I could find that was interesting, I was fascinated by just how clever they were. It seemed to me that there was a real sense of intelligence behind it as well. It was that sense of it being slightly out of control, not knowing what they were going to do next, but isn’t that what makes it fantastic? That’s what made it interesting.” Mark felt similarly and when talking through his own favourite records repeatedly stating: “The artwork is as important as the sound, for example The Rolling Stones with Sticky Fingers, great album great sleeve, The Velvet Underground & Nico, great album, great sleeve, all the early Beatles records, great albums, great sleeves!”

Both Tony and Mark also had instances of buying records solely for the design of their sleeves but once putting the needle on the wax, they realised it was a false representation of the group. For Tony this was Black Star Liner by a Reggae artist called Fredlocks: “It was very cheap, on sale or something, I would’ve been about 16 or 17, it was an absolute stinker, but it’s actually quite groovy now.” For Mark it was a more mainstream group that got it wrong, “The New Order sleeves were often a lot more exciting than the actual records. You just need to get the balance right.”

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

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Unit Editions: Action Time Vision

Record sleeves with a statement and sense of urgency is what this book praises and encourages in designers today, Tony believes it is necessary “to be reminded of the spirit that was possible through graphic design.” Action Time Vision also highlights the shame of record sleeves not being used as a reference for young designers today. “It’s a tragedy,” explains Tony. “I’d love to think we can do more books on music design, bringing that passion and attitude back. Mostly because I can’t think of too many designers I know who weren’t influenced by record sleeves, or it wasn’t their initial investigation of wanting to be a designer.” This book could be the start of discovering the past in order to inform the future of graphic design, that is if we follow Mark Perry’s instruction to “make a statement of intent. It doesn’t matter what era you are from, that is what you have to do.”

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.

lb@itsnicethat.com

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