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Back In The Day: Give Up Art

In the late 1930s a young designer called Alex Steinweiss set it upon himself to change the face of the recorded music industry. Up until that point artwork on records hadn’t really existed – the majority of the vinyl sold were packaged in unattractive plain grey sleeves. He convinced his employer at the time (CBS Records, an arm of Colombia Records) to let him start designing art for their albums, revolutionising the future of album artwork and design within the music industry. Considering how integral we see the visual aesthetic to bringing the essence of music to life, it’s hard to think back to a time where there wasn’t one. Using the foundations that Steinweiss had laid, this area of art and design became increasingly popular, with some artists becoming synonymous with the visual character of certain genres. Artists like Mati Klarwein and Reid Miles were known for Jazz, Funk and Soul, Peter Saville and Brian Cannon for Indie and Rock, Andy Warhol for Pop music, and so on. Fast forward to the early 00s emergence of Dubstep out of South London and there’s an individual responsible for a large chunk of that music’s identity – namely Stuart Hammersley at Give Up Art

Give Up Art is an independent design studio based in London, founded by Hammersley – along with his Wife Emma – following a period of working as an Art Director for various magazine titles. One of his initial design jobs within music was to create the logo for his friend Neil Joliffe’s label and clubnight Tempa and FWD>>, two projects he ran with Sarah Lockhart (who now co-manages Rinse FM). After hearing some of the early Tempa releases Hammersley became quickly submersed in the “excitement, openness and acceptance” of the community that formed around FWD>>. This personal connection with a clients project becoming the basis of the majority of work Give Up Art would go on to do. Whether working alone or in collaboration with photographer Shaun Bloodworth, GUA have worked with brands such as Bleep, Rinse and Bloc and artists like Skream, Katy B and Delphic, to name but a few.

For the latest in our ‘Back In The Day’ series we spent some time in the Give Up Art studio to talk about his records, raving pedigree and re-branding Rinse FM.

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First encounters with Dance music and Groove Records in Soho

I grew up in a little village in North Essex miles away from anywhere, so it was through my older brother I suppose who would go to the local nightclubs. He started buying a few dance 12-inches of the time. This was really early stuff, I suppose it was kind of Jazz-Funk-ish stuff. I remember stuff like ‘Chief Inspector’ by Wally Badaroo,  that got me a little interested – but then around the time my older cousin Nicholas gave me a tape. He taped a copy of some of the Street Sounds old Electro compilations and I remember being round his visiting on a Sunday with my mum and dad, he gave me this tape and I went home and played it. That was the moment when I think it really grabbed me, that kind of music – the Electro of the time, it was amazing. So that got me into trying to find out more, I would buy NME and a magazine called Record Mirror at the time. I found out about Mike Allen on Capital Radio who used to have a show, that was pretty instrumental in finding out about this music. I think even Dave Pearce, you know that guy that ended up playing awful Trance stuff?

I had a mate of mine Simon London, who liked Hip-Hop as well, and we just kind of found out about Groove and saved up money from out Saturday jobs so we could go up there. It was just that whole gateway to another world really. You listened to this music that was coming from New York or L.A and you had no concept of places like that. It was just really exciting and intimidating as well. I mean it was intimidating, not in a way that the people were unfriendly whatsoever, but just because I was… probably 15 and not really knowing what to do and how to act. It was an old shop front and there were two guys working inside. I seem to remember them being like North London Greek boys, and their mum would also sit behind the counter and they had decks underneath a glass counter and you could go up and they would put records on for you, if you mustered up the courage. They would just be kind of like hip B-boys hanging out, people you’d maybe seen wearing cool  jacket and we would just be the kids up from the suburbs.

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Early record buying habits

I’d be buying Mantronix, I kind of loved Mantronix. That first Mantronix album, I probably bought that in an OurPrice, that was pretty freely available – he had 12″s on UK labels like Ten. Through Mantronix I found out that he was producing someone like Just Ice. Just Ice’s first album ‘Back to the Old School’ was just an absolute classic, a favourite of mine. As soon as that was out on the radio, I remember we’d go shopping with a list, and I bought that, the first Boogie Down Productions album, ‘Criminal Minded’, the first EPMD album, ‘Strictly Business’, stuff like that.

So that was the early stuff, and through that you’d discover other records and eventually you pluck up courage and talk to the guys behind the counter who were just really sound, really nice and pleased that someone so young would be coming in. They’d show you stuff and having limited funds at that age you had to be quite selective – in those days it was just really exciting. It was just really opening our eyes to all sorts of other experiences, like the Hip-Hop thing. We’d walk around our little village with a tape player and hang out, trying to do some breakdancing. From that we discovered the ‘Ultimate Breaks and Beats’ albums and ‘Super Disco Breaks’, all these kinds of bootlegs. We’d listen to Hip-Hop, and through that I discovered James Brown and then Disco, The Incredible Bongo Band and all of that, which I suppose lead into House Music.

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Trax and early House 

I think because Electro grabbed me so early, ‘Planet Rock’ that kind of stuff, there was always that kind of groove element to it – it wasn’t necessarily just about hard rhymes. That kind of groove-based music, instrumental Electro was really like that, records like Original Concept – ‘Can You Feel It?’ on Def Jam.

Again my cousin Nick used to tape shows on LWR, which was a London pirate station. I think a guy called Jazzy M used to do a show, he was one of the first guys in London that played House. He’d have tapes of that, where Jazzy M would have stuff like old Chip-E records or Adonis and it would be mixed in with ESG – ‘Moody’ and it just sounded good.  I recognised a couple of the names from hearing it and from seeing them in magazines, so I would go into Groove and buy it. The Trax stuff particularly is stuff that I’ll still, if I’m DJ’ing parties for friends, is stuff that’s still in my record box. I’ll pull one out to show you now, it sounds appalling. There’s all these legends that they used to melt down old records and chuck in trainers just to make enough money to repress. I’ve got this Farley Jackmaster Funk thing that I played yesterday and it just sounded awful, but at the same time it’s fantastic.

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Raving at ‘Sunrise’ 

That’s where I kind of discovered this whole world of Dance music I suppose. Shopping at Groove was maybe ’85, ’86, ’87-ish and then by the time 88 came along and the Summer of Love, I was aware of it. I was just reading about things happening in London, in i-D and The Face, and just thinking that looked amazing. We’d drive up with friends every now and then to try and go to interesting clubs in London, sometimes we’d get in, sometimes we wouldn’t.

There was a club in Braintree near us called the Braintree Barn, I think it was a crappy old chicken-in-a-basket nightclub for most nights – but once a week they had a night playing Acid House. The night was called ‘Mangled’. There was a hand painted banner that said “Balearia – it’s catching!” or something like that. Lots of dungarees and pony tails in effect

Sunrise or Energy would’ve been sort of ’89. It was one of the M25 raves that happened somewhere, kind of like a little convoy of people all going up there, I think it was in Guilford in Surrey. I can’t remember any of the DJ’s that would have been playing, but that kind of thing wasn’t that important. It was just the fact – it sounds kind of cheesy – but being around all these like-minded people, it felt like something was really happening back then. These were the first ones, the criminal justice bill was a couple years years away still. It was just the fact that you could go somewhere and dance all night and listen to amazing tunes with people that were there just to have fun. Coming from a smaller village as well, there were a few outlandish looking people, some loons and some cool looking people. It didn’t feel anti-establishment in that sense.

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At Energy or Sunrise, when the sun was coming up the DJ would be playing ‘Strings Of Life’, ‘Rock Your Body’, ‘French Kiss’, Chicago and Detroit stuff. Then you’d get Big Daddy Kane and Public Enemy played as well, so it wasn’t that narrow at the time. That was really good.

Funnily enough after this party – we’d stayed all night – we drove back the next morning. We pulled over at the petrol station to get something to drink and fill up the car and the party that we’d been to the night before was front page news in The Sun. The Sun had obviously been there and they had this big headline, ‘25,000 Go Wild On Acid‘. Then you read about it and it was completely mis-representing where you’d been, just completely sensationalist nonsense. Then it was quite funny, you know, people are making this out to be more frightening than it is. Just classic media scare stories that tend to come around every 10 years or so about something.

Inspiration form the Rave era

Not from the rave flyers. The records that I was buying in Groove around that time, and that kind of Hip-Hop/Graffiti aesthetic was something that really attracted me. That was how I discovered about graphic design anyway, even though I had no idea when I was buying the records. Through that and through Graffiti, I discovered a bit more about Pop Art and someone like Keith Keith Haring , that I really, really like – the guy that did the radiating babies.

Music got me in to finding about people designing sleeves and that being a thing that you could do. The rave aesthetic? Probably no. I wore horrible clothes but so did everyone at the time. It was quite funny, lots of 3rd eyes and things like that, that didn’t. The music initially just got me interested in discovering graphic design and finding a way into doing something creative, ‘cos I can’t paint or draw very well.

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FWD, Rinse and Tempa

I met Sarah Lockhart through my friend Neil Jolliffe in about 1999 or 2000. It was Neil who, together with Sarah, started Tempa and FWD>>. Sarah was working at EMI at the time I think, and Neil was at Vinyl Distribution. I then met Gee (Geeneus) via Sarah and Neil again, through going to FWD>> – that would be around 2003 or 2004? With Tempa & FWD>>, which we worked on first, we just wanted to make something that wasn’t like most of the other poor dance music design out there at the time really. A bit of a classic Detroit label influence, minimal design, no fuss. Budgets needed to be kept low for Tempa, so we printed with just 2 colours – and time  was an issue for me because it was an evening and weekend thing as I was working full-time back then. By the time we were approached by Gee and Sarah to create a new identity for Rinse, at the end of 2006, Give Up Art was a full time thing for us. This was a different proposition. They really wanted a strong identity to begin to establish Rinse FM as a brand in its own right. So we had in mind more of a classic corporate identity from the outset, with the custom logo wordmark, and the ‘R’ symbol. We’ve kept quite tight control over most of their visual output in the years since then.

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Advice for budding Designers 

I think at the start of your career you should focus on developing skills that are going to land you a job and paid work. Lots of people can make beautiful posters, stamps or whatever, but the reality of studio life is that there’s a much broader range of work that needs to get done on a day to day basis. So whatever job you end up with, even if it’s not your dream job, always try and be positive and learn something from it to take with you when you move on. Even if the work itself doesn’t look that great, its not really that important – if it shows that you can handle, I don’t know, tabular text information in Indesign, or running jobs through to print properly, things like that – that’s great.

Then just go out and try and find jobs for yourself that you can do in your spare time that demonstrate what you really want to express creatively, and you can build a folio of great work, but still hone your skills.

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Meeting and working with Shaun Bloodworth

I think it was around 2002. I was Art Director on a couple of magazines – food, restaurant, hotel mags – and one day Shaun came in with his portfolio. His work was great, portraits and travel, reportage stuff – no music industry work really – so I started commissioning him for the magazine. Shaun was always really flexible and understanding in terms of the budgets we had to work with, but would still always deliver great work. So we became mates and I immediately began to take advantage of his good nature by roping him in to shoot a freelance design job for me, the Kode 9 & SpaceApe ‘Dubstep Allstars: Vol. 03’ cover. I dragged him down from Sheffield to deepest South London to shoot the dublplate cutting lathe at Transition Studios. The day after that I took him to his first FWD>>, and the next job we did together was the first Skream album.

I love working with him because asides from being a talented photographer, he’s unpretentious, very easygoing, never get’s stroppy, and is always open to ideas, as well as having loads of good ones himself. At the same time he’s still serious and committed to getting the job done.Together we arrive at something that neither of us would get if we approached things separately I think – that’s the joy of collaboration.

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For more on Give Up Art check out their website here – or connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.

Words & PhotographyJosh Thomas