Musicians don’t just create music any more. They have to creative direct everything from their styling, long-form videos and merch to zines. In the process, they become the focal point of creative ateliers, forming around them a constellation of designers and creative directors to work on a mass of visuals. Just look at Frank Ocean and his recent output that’s included music, a visual album, a zine and collaborations with Tom Sachs, Wolfgang Tillmans and a whole host of filmmakers, photographers and writers.
Cover Club, a series of talks at London’s Ace Hotel, celebrates record art as cultural artefacts, giving a stage to the designers and creatives behind iconic and album design. Past guests have included ‘70s veteran Terry Pastor who designed David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust sleeves; Ian Anderson a longtime collaborator of Aphex Twin; and Lewis Heriz, an illustrator whose hand-painted retro-tropicalia adorns covers for reissue labels Sofrito and Soundway.
David Rudnick, their latest guest, is a North Londoner and self-taught graphic designer and creative director who’s designed over 50 records for artists such as Spank Rock, Evian Christ, Erol Alkan, Tiga, Nicolas Jaar, and George FitzGerald. His multidisciplinary practice includes video direction and type design, and he’s worked with everyone from The Serpentine Gallery, Nike and Alexander Wang.
David is just as inspired by 15th century altarpiece painting and printmaking as he is by Albrecht Durer and Peter Saville. Amuse met the graphic designer and discussed what subculture means today, and how real luxury is original design.
Why did you choose to work with musicians?
I love permanence and memory, and to see voices or meaningful things preserved. There is so little content now that an audience can become intimate with and return to time and again. If an artist makes an album now, there will be kids still listening to that album in 10 to 15 years’ time. There will even be some who hear or encounter it for the first time 10, 20, 30 or more years after it was created.
You started out designing posters for club nights in Philly in the mid ’00s, as you felt there wasn’t an electronic music scene in the US. Are you still building subcultures now?
I see subcultures as non-dominant cultures. I see “culture” as a system for preserving iteration – the capacity for something to repeat. If you go to work, football, log onto Twitter, go to a club, synagogue or church, that interaction has aesthetics, rituals, attitudes and languages which you adopt and which have value to you. If others participate, you start to share these gestures and attitudes with each other.
I take the notion that music, nightclubs, dancing, fashion are cultural and tribal spaces seriously. To participate in the preservation of their language and the contribution of new gestures mean a lot to me. In a world where an individual’s time and experiences are more rapaciously claimed than – our houses and nightclubs are sold to property developers, and our movements are tracked constantly online – all experience is manipulated for potential commercial value. I want to find ways to upset, redress or confuse that dynamic – to subvert it.
How do you collaborate with musicians?
I guess I’m looking to activate something that is unique to the way that they work and the way they’re trying to engage an audience; their voice and ideas. It should never be me bringing “my aesthetic” to their work. I want to respect their original voice and sometimes that means rejecting suggestions.
I love to play within the bounds of contemporary expectations, breaking established associations or forming new ones. Of course any language will have a historical component. Part of the judgement lies in what elements one reinvents, and which traditions one highlights or respects. One of the means I do that is through type. All the type in my work is bespoke. I believe the way type functions as a visual system is as a register of voice; cadence, meter, accent, attitude, position.
Do you create something utterly new for each client?
When I design a cover, even if it retails for £15 – not cheap, but not unattainable either – in 40 years’ time I hope that its elements will still have an impact on the viewer that feels unique. That’s a luxury I’m more comfortable with; giving someone a chance to have an object to be re-encountered, time and again. And to give people that experience at the most minimal personal cost.
David Rudnick is speaking with Cover Club at the Ace Hotel London on 23 September 2016.