Sunday, July 31, 2011

5 Minutes With Rebels In Control

Design for print and digital

Recent projects: » Andrew Poppy » Ash International » Autofact Records » Bobsoho » Comme des Garçons » David Sylvian / Samadhisound » Faster Than Sound » Fractured Recordings » Guiden » Helmut Newton Foundation » Hildur Guðnadóttir » Isis » J Smith Esquire » Jamie Reid » Landscape-perception » Martin Gustavsson » Ostgut Ton » People Like Us » Salvo/ZTT "Element Series" Reissues » Short n Curlies » Steve Jansen » Sweet Billy Pilgrim » The Elgaland-Vargaland National Anthems » The Opiates » The Rights Workshop » The SPZ Group » The Suffolk Symphony » Touch » Trevor Horn » Velorose » Voiceworks » Whispering in the Leaves » ZTT Records » Zerocrop

Here is the cover done for a vinyl release by The Opiates - the work of one of our all-time favourite artists Billie Ray Martin.

Q1. What was the first record that you bought and did it change your life?

Parker: As a very small child I had various pop singles of the early seventies but the first album I painstakingly saved up for was when I was seven years old. It was a cheap compilation of songs by Marc Bolan mostly from his Tyrannosaurus Rex period but including the T.Rex hit single Ride A White Swan which was also the album title.

It had a stupendously vile, glossy purple cover ( but the record itself is a triumph. The final track was my favourite - a seven minute verson of the classic Elemental Child which concludes with an extended heavy-duty freak-out on electric guitar, guaranteed to make my Dad scream at me to "turn off that Jungle Music." Had he but known, he was on the verge of inventing a hugely important music genre and cultural phenomenon twenty five years too early.

The record didn't change my life - an attraction to other-worldly sounds and unusual voices had set in from a very early age. Alas for my parents, I was the youngest by eight years of three, music-obsessed brothers, and I too was obsessed from the time I took my first little dancing steps. We were interested in very little else but playing records all day long and either lying motionless on the floor listening to them or in my case springing about the room, fancying myself a member of go-go dancing troupe Pan's People. I still love Marc Bolan and I still have the record.

Philip: As far as I can best recall, the first album I bought was a 1978 waxing on the Pye imprint, "The Muppet Show, Volume Two". The second track on its flipside, wherein Miss Piggy pleads with Captain Link Hogthrob to let her press the mid-course correction button, still gets a regular airing round our way. "You pushed the wrong button, bacon brain…"

Q2. Your company is called ‘Rebels In Control’. What would you say you are you rebelling against?

Philip: It's partially a sly wink, acknowledging that we are not just another agency, we have no interest in having a business card. We simply want to do strong work for our clients with none of the corporate self-branding bullshit and to enjoy what we do.

Parker: Our name encompasses a lot of things for us personally. It is partly a reflection of way in which we have designed our working lives to be distinct from a corporate approach. Since we began working together we have alternated working for commercial businesses with arts, music and fashion creators as well as working continously on our own private arts projects.

Q3. Rebels In Control has a very specific and refined aesthetic. Can you tell me where you find inspiration and what influences your approach to design?

Philip: Our basic visual influences are relatively routine - so, a list: Muller-Brockmann, the cover art of my teenage years (Saville, Farrow, Wozencroft, 8vo, v23). Also, the attitude of Rei Kawakubo, the clarity of Charles & Ray Eames, the inky teenage words of Penman and Morley and the anger of Wyndham Lewis. If one thing unites these people, it is possibly; taking a classic, pure structure and then twisting it ever so slightly - reconsidering it, making the cold into human. What interests us is, stripping away the unnecessary, the ornate, the mere styling of it all and then looking for a way to make the basic structures sexy, somehow. Oh - and good humour - that's incredibly important to us both.

Wyndham Lewis - Blast 1

Q4. Can you tell me about the work Rebels In Control did for ZTT Records 25th anniversary and some of your other recent projects?

Philip: We have really enjoyed working with Ian Peel on the ZTT reissues - it has been almost literally child's play, as many of these covers were the ones I copied and traced at the kitchen table, when I was a kid - and, quite probably, the first real understanding I had of what design could achieve. Most of these reissues have been "extended remixes" of the original albums' artworks - taking the works of Dave Smart, Mat Maitland, Mark Farrow and others, then spinning them out. So, it's been back to the kitchen table, back to my youth. Then there have been fresh designs for Art of Noise, 808 State and Claudia Brücken, where the task is to direct a release to feel present yet with winks to the labels past. Working with Paul Morley and Claudia Brücken on her "Combined" compilation was a particular pleasure.

Parker: One recent project stands out for us both - a thrilling experience earlier this year working as artists in residence at Guidhall School of Music and Drama - part of our work on the Voiceworks project. It was a great pleasure and a completely new experience for us to travel daily to the Barbican centre and spend time with music students from classical disciplines, learning a little about how they work, seeing them perform and understanding something about the problems of singers and composers. As a regular punter, most classical music is experienced from a seat in the audience. It's very unusual to get a chance to sit six feet from a full orchestra in rehearsal. What impressed us both was that far from being a theoretical and hi-flown existence, the life of a musician in the classical field is physical and visceral.

Q5. You have established long relationships with a large number of pioneering creative women. Do you feel that women are treated with equal respect in creative arts compared to say twenty years ago?

Parker: While it is true that we have worked with a large number of creative women, this is not something we have deliberately aimed at or even think a great deal about until the rare occasions transpire on which we are confronted by reactionary behaviour. I guess that a lot of our work for clients centres on being designer-as-facilitator. Does that way of thinking have connections to a more nurturing, feminised role, in terms of our relationship with clients?

It seems to me that the respect that women receive varies tremendously by creative profession and to some extent by country. For instance, it's not unusual for a comedy panel game on today's British national television to feature four male comics on the panel and a male comic in the chair. By contrast in the USA there is a very long tradition of female comedy protagonists, from Lucille Ball, to Mary Tyler Moore, through Rhoda to Roseanne (who was number one for seven years) followed by Grace and Ellen and so on. There is clearly not a problem with funny women in the USA, but there remain very few female standups in the UK.

I have often found women musicians more interesting and creative than men. It is interesting to reflect that someone like Joni Mitchell was collaborating with "world" musicians in the early seventies and Kate Bush was an early adopter of the sampler in the early eighties, but the credit for these making these innovations mainstream in pop music went largely to men.

My formative teenage years were spent following artists like Siouxsie and The Slits who projected a very sexual image but who were at the same time threatening and intimidating. Their public demeanour and style was about entertaining themselves instead of being sexual for the male gaze. In her earliest days Siouxsie was wearing on-stage, SM gear that hadn't been seen outside of the bedroom, certainly not in a pop music setting, although maybe not pop music as we had known it before. Nevertheless she was much stronger than any man on stage, the strongest person in the room, the opposite of a blond, smiling and approachable figure. Today, some of that pioneering work is in danger of being reversed. Too many music videos seem to feature a scantily clad chick appearing totally overcome at the mere touch of some disgusting, overdressed ogre.

Being a teenager in the late seventies impressed on me how far punk liberated women from being pretty backup singers. A lot of women artists who have had long and influential careers got their chance around that time because for a short period the record companies were confused and their doors were open. Collectively those women created a huge space for others to follow in many fields beyond music, some of whom we are working for today.

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