The art of clubbing

Budding designers have long cut their teeth on music flyers, but until now little has been done to archive this ephemeral art. With a new museum set to open, Angus Montgomery examines the relationship between clubs and creativity

Working on flyer and poster designs for clubs and gigs is a traditional route into graphic design, well trodden by many luminaries. Peter Saville with Factory Records and Malcolm Garrett with the Buzzcocks cut their teeth in the Manchester music scene, while Designers Republic started out designing flyers for bands including Person to Person and Age of Chance before going on to greater glories.

Much of this iconic work, previously to be found on grubby record-store pinboards or peeling walls of basement clubs, is now more at home in the display cabinets of museums. Come the autumn, one more institution will be displaying the work, with the Museum of Club Culture opening in Hull.

The museum is the brainchild of Mark ’Wigan’ Williams – its founder, designer and curator. A lecturer at Hull School of Art and Design, Williams is a former photographer and ’roving reporter’ for iD magazine. His archive of photography, video and graphic work – including more than 2000 polaroids – will form some of the museum’s permanent exhibition.

Williams draws his Wigan moniker from his frequent visits to the Wigan Casino nightclub, and cites that club’s Northern Soul scene, as well as London’s warehouse scene, as some of his key touchpoints. He says, ’We also have a collection of early flyers from the 1980s, which are pre-Apple Mac and have a very cut-and-paste aesthetic.’

’Nowadays there are a lot of branded superclubs – with iconic trade marks they operate very much as big brands,’ Williams says. But this doesn’t mean that the music industry is closed off as a route in for hungry young designers, far from it, in fact. ’A lot of underground clubs in London and other places are using illustration and graphics graduates to create work for them,’ adds Williams. ’A lot of my students get into flyer design initially.’

Kate Moross, who graduated from Camberwell College of Arts two years ago, has worked for Nike, The Guardian, Kiehl’s and other major commercial clients. ’I was designing for clubs from my first and second years at university,’ she says. ’I cut my teeth doing this – flyers and posters were my thing.’ For keen clubber Moross, like many students, getting into flyer and poster design was a natural step. ’It came from being there and being part of the movement, from participating in it,’ she says.

Like Moross, Jiro Bevis, who graduated in 2005, got into flyer work through knowing promoters, working on projects for People are Germs at the Old Blue Last. Bevis, who now works for clients including Sony and Umbro, says, ’Some of the first work I did as a graduate was in flyers. It was all about getting the work out there, and they allowed me to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do creatively.’

Bevis says, ’The main benefit for me was seeing my work printed, as a student you can exist in your own little bubble. Also, because flyers often have very short deadlines it gives you a better idea of working under pressure.’ He adds, ’I haven’t done a flyer in a long time – I’m a bit more fussy now.’

Moross says she too hasn’t worked on a flyer ’for at least a year’. She says, ’Doing it was definitely good for me. It got my work into a lot of magazines – now I have an agent and a studio. I definitely learned a lot from it.’

This is a world that Saville, Garrett et al would well recognise, with one exception – neither Moross nor Bevis hardly ever saw their work printed. Internet and e-flyers have taken precedence over printed slips of paper, and these accounted for most of the work Moross and Bevis produced. ’I was always happy when someone produced a paper flyer,’ says Moross, who adds that one benefit was that it meant that she was more likely to be paid.

Fully open creative briefs aren’t just the preserve of Friday night clubs on east London’s Broadway Market or Brick Lane. Consultancy Studio Output has been working with Ministry of Sound (perhaps the epitome of the superclub) for around five years. Stewart McMillan, senior designer at the consultancy, says, ’We’ve built up a relationship with MoS now and there’s a certain amount of trust – it’s up for trying something new.’

Studio Output, which carried out a brand guidelines exercise for MoS about six months ago, places an in-house designer in the MoS offices, a role McMillan has previously filled. He says, ’We used to do a lot of stuff ourselves, but we realised it would be more creative to commission some of the stuff out.’ The group has commissioned material from illustrators Will Sweeney and Jethro Haines and Australian painter Michael Steele in its MoS work.

Judging by the work coming out of clubs at the moment, the Museum of Club Culture had better make sure it keeps some display space free.

The Museum of Club Culture

  • Set to open in September at 10 Humber Street in Hull
  • Curator Mark ’Wigan’ Williams says it will feature graphic art, illustration and footage of club scenes, as well as interviews with former clubbers
  • There will be shows about swing nights in the 1940s, interviews with people in their 80s reminiscing about Mod clubs, and studies of club culture in New York and Japan
  • A preview show – The In Crowd – will be held at the site of the museum from 17-18 July

Latest articles