Station To Station 002: Give Up Art Special
For this fortnight’s edition of Station To Station we’re switching things up a bit and talking in-depth to Stuart Hammersley of Give Up Art. Even if you don’t recognise the name of the design studio straight away it’s more than likely you’ll know of their work; apart from being responsible for the now somewhat iconic Tempa style Give Up Art have also provided visuals for Rinse FM, Katy B, Apple Pips Records, Bloc, Roska Presents and most recently Bleep’s 10 year anniversary celebrations.
(Above) The Apple Pips 12″ vinyl sleeve and one of the Bleep “Green” series.
We’ll start with the obvious one; how did you first get involved with doing the design work for Tempa?
Tempa was set up by Sarah Lockhart, who was working for EMI at the time and she knew Neil Jollife who was working for… some vinyl distribution company. I can’t remember who, they were doing a lot of drum & bass and garage at the time, Neil was a friend anyway, so I did it the Tempa logo and first set of vinyl for about twenty five quid or something. I spent about four weeks coming up with logo ideas. Neil said they were starting up this label and were going to see how it goes and we agreed he’d just bung me a bit of dosh every once in a while, which was fine by me. It really started quite informally because Neil was a friend of course. It simply started as a case of him playing me these Horsepower Production tunes and they just blew me away. It was just great and I knew I’d like to do something for it. Neil had had a couple of ideas about it visually but nothing in particular; that was great for me because it meant I could essentially do what I wanted with the label’s look.
This was early 2000’s wasn’t it?
Yeah I think it was year 2000. At that time I was art directing magazines, I had a full time job at this point, so all the Tempa stuff was done in the spare room back at my place in the evenings. For quite a while that was how it ran. My wife and I set up Give Up Art properly at the end of 2006.
I thought you’d been running a lot longer than that as a studio.
Yeah I was still doing stuff, but was just using a bloody hotmail email address back in those days. The name came about through an old mate of mine at college; Andy, we used to go out raving together and he had a badge saying “Give Up Art” which I thought was quite funny and that was it. We were searching around for names when we started the studio and it all got a bit “what the hell” so we decided to use the old email and call it Give Up Art.
I think it’s fantastic. For such playful design there’s a lovely bit of apathy in there.
Haha. Yeah it gets you on top of the Google rankings I suppose… The actual badge that Andy had; he bought it in some sort of eighties Anarchist book shop in Camden. It was an artistic statement from this guy who had done some sort of art strike, it was a conceptual thing, but I quite liked it and at the time I was having a lot of discussion with friends, who were fine artists, about “oh graphics isn’t art.”
So you trained as a graphic designer and not a fine artist then?
Yep I went to the London College Of Printing at Elephant & Castle, or LCC as it is now. That was where I met Andy, so it all just started out as this jokey little thing. A few years ago he gave me the actual badge that he’d been wearing from college, which was quite nice too.
So where did the initial idea for A-side of the Tempa labels originate? It’s such a simple idea but some of those images are just beautifully funny.
The whole Tempa visual identity started… being friends with Neil Joliffe we bonded over a shared love of house music; we’d always be going out to different places, Neil worked at this distributors and I was DJ’ing a bit at the time so Neil would bring me bits of vinyl and give me free tunes. We both really got into that… I suppose you’d call it the dark garage stuff in the really early days. Tempa started and almost immediately after that Neil and Sarah decided to start FWD>> and they asked if I could do the logo for that too. We used to go to places like The Bugbar in Brixton and people like Kode9 would be in there playing this sort of ravey, breakbeat garage kind of stuff, so all this was sort of the roots of Tempa… Anyway the rambling roundabout point of all this is that Neil used to half jokingly call Croydon the Detroit of the UK; it was a joke at the time but if you stop and think about it now. Is Detroit a bit of a forgotten city? Is Croydon a bit of a forgotten city suburb? So that was Neil’s only real direction at the time; he wanted Tempa to look like an old Detroit 12” and at the time there were a lot of garage related graphics, and dance music graphics in general which were just… horrible. So it was a real reaction to that, you know? We tried to do the polar opposite. We felt it suited the music and the ideas Neil gave me. As it was called Tempa the initial idea for the first few images was it would be someone looking angry.
The logo itself has become fairly iconic too; I always think it takes quite a bold step to go with something so simple. What was the process in deciding on that particular image?
The Tempa logo… I remember I did that in about ten minutes then spent the next… three of four weeks maybe? I spent ages just saying “no that’s no good” and kept trying all these late nineties style things that were just rubbish. It ended up we kept going back to that initial design. At first I kept dismissing it as too simple but I suppose the simplicity of it is the beauty in a way.
That minimalism is really where the sound of the label is at currently too, so it still feels perfectly appropriate.
Yeah that’s interesting, of course all the early ones were Horsepower Productions and Benny Ill; that sound, you know? I could hear the garage influence in there and I could hear the dub influence but at the time nobody knew what to call it. I knew that Horsepower had those Detroit influences and they liked Underground Resistance and all that old Chicago house. I think its Tempa three, the pink one with a girl holding a balloon; there are real old-school Chicago house cow bells and that sort of stuff in there. It was just that fantastic, very spacious sound so, design-wise, we stripped it all right back.
The other thing was Tempa didn’t have a lot of money so they could only afford to print two colours which was great for the overall style. I personally really like having those constraints, there’s nothing worse than when you are given a job and someone says “oh just do what the hell you want” and you spend the next two weeks pondering where to start so it was really nice just to be told it had to be two colour to keep it cheap. The first few didn’t even have the Tempa sleeves, they were just generic black bags then they said they wanted to do a house bag, still using the cheapest stock they could find, so we had this white board. The back of it was grey which we thought would be a bit more interesting so we just flipped it inside out. Those budgetary necessities drove us to what became quite a nice little solution really. The restrictions helped to make us think a bit smarter.
Which of the Tempa designs would you say is your personal favourite?
Oh, erm… Tempa 004, Dub War; a good friend of mine Stevie D, the centre image is a picture of his wife Ange as a very young child just having a temper tantrum basically. It’s printed on an orange label and she’s just screaming her head off. That’s lovely. There’s been so many… I did a Benga one; Crunked Up and we were thinking about pictures of Lil Jon and pimp cups and all the obvious things then James Brown died just around that time and we found a great photo of him. James Brown was always very fond of getting crunked up himself so it seemed like a fitting homage.
(Above) Grizzly youngster turned cover girl for Dub War – Murderous Style b/w Generation [Tempa 004]
It’s funny you should mention Crunked Up. My mum sometimes used to put my records on when she did the ironing and I came home once, bizarrely, to find her listening to that Benga 12”. I got upstairs and mum turned to me and said “this James Brown record is a bit weird, when did he release this?” It took me a moment, then I realised she’d seen the picture of James Brown on the front and assumed it was his record… I think she quite liked the Benga stuff in the end.
Haha oh that’s fantastic. Your mum shocking out whilst doing the ironing to Benga! What was the tune on the other side of that release? Skunk Tip: I think that’s my all-time favourite Benga tune actually, that and one of the ones on Big Apple.
I ended up doing the art work for Big Apple too actually, again through Neil. When he started Ammunition they were managing a few little labels and artists, I think Arthur (Artwork) had the idea for the logo and I drew it up the labels to go with it. I remember the first Benga tune Skank, that came on blue vinyl… we were sitting late in the office one night and Neil put on a CD-r and just kept grinning saying “This kid’s thirteen! The kid’s thirteen! It’s another one off Arthur!” He’d played me Red before, by Arthur, which I thought was amazing, but then he put on Skank by Benga and again it really just blew me away because it was just so crisp and clean, the way the rhythm just stops dead, and these are thirteen year old kids you know?
That was the nice thing back then, when I used to go and see Neil or we’d go down to early FWD>> nights: things just seemed to keep coming out of nowhere. Every few weeks or so there’d be another tune or something else new, it was really exciting. I know it sounds sort of… I know everyone has already said it but it really was such an exciting, creative time. I’m quite a bit older than a lot of those people, I’d come of age when acid house was kicking in so I went to a lot of raves then, that was a phenomenally exciting time and seeing people like Youngsta and Hatcha DJ’ing; it felt like acid house all over again: a little, almost purely English scene with no name, all sorts of different people with all sorts of styles… musically, anything went. That’s been the other really nice thing for me; to have been there and seen things evolve from what was essentially fifty odd people in a room, half of who vaguely knew each other, to what it has eventually become. It had a bit of time I suppose, just as internet things were kicking off, before the idea of being able to share music instantly, it had that little bit of time to gestate. It was definitely a nuts kind of time in terms of development, going to FWD>> all of that. That was the first time I’d been to a rave and really enjoyed it having emcees. I grew up in Essex and you go to some raves and it’s just… appalling. You just want them to shut up but then you see people like Crazy D, Heartless Crew or Slaughter Mob and they’d just raise the levels so much, really compliment it.
In genres like grime too at that time it had all become a bit of an arms race type mentality, with every emcee just trying to out-do and one-up everyone else and get their spot. Dubstep emceeing came from a much less selfish place.
Yeah exactly it was just about people vibing to the music. It wasn’t all aggy and confrontational, more for the sake of the party than battling.
On the flipside to the early Tempa days you’ve just finished the art campaign for Katy B’s new album Little Red, in terms of approach do you still start a project of that nature in the same way?
Well it’s been great having the chance to do different things. Obviously there’s still that link with Rinse, we’ve worked with Rinse since 2006 when we sort of rebranded their identity for them.
Did the Rinse thing come off the back of the work for Tempa then?
Yeah I’d met Geeneus at a few events and FWD>> before Sarah Lockhart introduced us, so there was still that sort of family connection. It’s been really nice watching how they and Katy have grown over the years. After the success of On A Mission, her first album, it’s a change of dynamic. You’re dealing with major labels so the process is different. We pitched for that job against an international roster of other agencies which was nice for us because it meant we got it on our own merit. I knew the follow up would be important to them because there’s a different audience to the first record. From a design perspective that was great because obviously you are designing for a whole different audience too. There was a brief from the label and how they’d like to present Katy this time, not losing her roots in underground music and club land but a more mature style.
The visual approach of this project is a lot more glamorous than On A Mission. The photography on that record was much rawer where as this one has an almost disco vibe to it. Not the cheesy wedding disco thing but that old school diva feel.
Yeah definitely, much like yourself I’m a massive disco fan so I know exactly the style you mean. We had a few different concepts in the original pitch but the one they went with was the sort of dancefloor glamour vibe. That was the key point of our initial concept; the lights flares and this vibrant sense of movement within them and having Katy as the focal point within all of that. So yeah the approach was different, Emma my partner in Give Up Art came from working in an ad agency background so was used to dealing with lots and lots of different photographers and that was really how we won the pitch; through being able to source loads and loads of different photographers to answer this brief. We then chose the six or eight approaches we could best accommodate. They were all very photographically based so that was great too. A lot of Give Up Art work is very typography based but that all took a back seat to the Katy and this specific type of imagery we really wanted to capture.
(Above) Big budget manoeuvres with Katy B’s Little Red
Of course with it being Katy there was a bit more of a budget for us to play with, which meant we got to work with a world renowned fashion and beauty photographer in Simon Emmett who’d shot people like Rihanna, Adele, Beyoncé and numerous Hollywood people, so that was a really big opportunity. He really liked Katy too so it all just came together so nicely. It was an interesting experience because obviously you have the photographers, Katy and her management who are Rinse, the record label; all of these people have their opinions to contribute so it’s an entirely different process to work through. I’m so pleased with how it all came together; it’s great to be a part of what is just brilliant British pop music with a dance sensibility.
I’m a big fan of the record; it feels honest. It isn’t trying to be “underground” or any such crap, but at the same time she retains that credibility from an underground music perspective.
I think that’s directly from Katy, there’s an authenticity about her. That was captured on her first album you know? Tunes like Light’s On, where she’d be the last girl on the floor dancing, she was in the midst of that. She said to me recently she doesn’t get the opportunity to go out as much as she’d like anymore but you can tell that’s still what she loves and where she’s from and it’s really easy to work with, as it just doesn’t feel forced or posed like a lot of the self proclaimed “street” stuff you see. I’ve never really been into all that anyway. I think a lot of that feeds back into the photographic work we’ve done, like, for example the Dubstep Allstars compilations: It was always fairly normal people doing really interesting stuff so we’d literally just turn up and shoot them. If you try to prop it and style it, it just feels stupid you know? At the time there was a lot of this pseudo glamorous indie music around which was just awful; I remember we did the N-Type one in 2007 and said “where are you from and what’s interesting to you?” It ended up we went to Reigate with a white van.
(Above) Original wheel & deal Reigate native N-Type.
Shaun (Bloodworth) who I work with a lot for my photography trained, I think, at Gwent, which had a lot of emphasis on the documentary style of photography, I think Martin Parr was one of his tutors, so Shaun really comes from that documentary reportage. He doesn’t use much kit either so we could just rock up on the day, I’d hold the tripod or the light and it would all be really quick and unfussed and it works wonderfully with these DJ’s who are basically just regular dudes. In the early days we’d come with these ideas or props and it just ended up feeling silly, it’s just far more interesting for us to turn up and say let’s see what we can get, just do it on the fly. We’re not trying to over egg it and be all “yeah, look how gritty and authentic we can be!” but N-Type grew up near Reigate so let’s get a lovely shot near Reigate.
I like it too because there’s something very… I don’t know, British, about the whole feel?
People have asked me about this before and it’s something Shaun and I have spoken about at length. It kind of goes back to when I first used to buy records. I grew up on what I suppose you’d call first wave hip-hop; Eric B, Public Enemy etc. I’d go out to buy the record, come home on the train and read all the production notes, all the packaging and what was interesting to me, I know when you look at it now the photography looks pretty bad, but I’d sit and think “wow there’s this guy sat on an American car in the middle of Long Island!” As Shaun pointed out to me if someone who is from Japan buys the record it’s that same sort of thing; that same sense of place, when they see N-Type stood by his van in Reigate. It’s really nice too because over time they just become more interesting, it’s a snap shot of that person in that specific place at that specific time.
Do you enjoy working with the design side of music the most?
Most of the stuff I was doing when I was freelance was music based yes, mainly around Tempa. They’d just released the Skream album; that was 2006 I believe. The music was starting to get really popular, they had a much bigger release schedule so I had all their work and a couple of other clients doing editorial: my working background is in editorial design. I left printing college, couldn’t get a job for a year then fell into a job at a newspaper… No, no I worked for a teen magazine. I thought I was working for Smash Hits, I had a mate who said he knew someone at Smash Hits, but it turned out to be a completely different magazine; that was what I came up through. I worked my way through that then ended up becoming an art director on various magazines; a snowboarding mag, an industry food and travel mag, things like that. I always took on freelance work just because it was stuff I was interested in and music is a big love of mine. I’m sure like many designers that’s sort of what drew me to design in the first place; buying records, studying the records and understanding that there was somebody who put all that together. Music is our main thing I suppose but we do all sorts: web design, motion graphics. We do the motion graphics and stage graphics for Roska, things like that, so lots of different styles.
I like to buy a record I’ve never heard of every so often purely because I like the sleeve art, sort of like a lucky dip. I think one of the first records I ever picked up like that was Horsepower’s To The Rescue LP. I think it’s still my favourite Tempa design.
Oh excellent yes. Horsepower will always have a special place in my heart, Benny and Matty. Just brilliant music, really interesting… He always writes the world’s longest sleeve notes Benny! They’d not made a tune for quite a while and then they bought out… I think it was Kingstep, and Benny had this huge list of shoutouts; I had someone in working as an intern when we were doing that, Phoebe; she was a brilliantly talented illustrator but at the time we just had a lot of type based work, so I said here’s your job for the day: make all these shouts fit on one side of a twelve inch. She managed it too. To The Rescue is a really nice package though yes.
(Above) Keeping things clinical on Horsepower Production’s To The Rescue.
I love how clean it is with just those little first aid signs instead of track numbers. I actually really liked the design on the extended version of Outside The Box by Skream; with the chevron square and turquoise block covering his face.
Physical packaging is always great, it gives you loads to play around and interact with. That’s always been the best thing about working with Tempa: as they’ve grown and Give Up Art has expanded it’s been a great way for us to experiment and have fun. I’ve always wanted the design to do a real justice to the music that it’s teamed with and all credit to Sarah and Neil at Tempa and G over at Rinse because they’ve always backed that and understood the value of the design and packaging of their music. With the Outside The Box project for Skream… yeah it was tricky to come up with that in the end. For the first record (Skream!) we just went to the West Indian Centre in Leeds where Skream was DJ’ing, I’d seen him play at FWD>> before and his sound was really up and energetic, it reminded me of those early acid house raving days (which is where the yellow and black colour scheme came from) and I thought it would be great just to get a really normal, almost snap shot of when he’d just come off the decks or something. I travelled up to Leeds and met Shaun (Bloodworth) who’d travelled over from Sheffield, Shaun literally just had a ring flash and his camera, we met at the venue which had an Iration Steppas sound system inside so we couldn’t hear a single thing as we were trying to shout to each other so we just grabbed Skream and said as soon as you come off the decks we just want a single photo of you.
(Above) From sweaty basement club photography to globe trotting superstar.
It was really chaotic and unplanned, there were people constantly walking in front of the camera and everything but Shaun got the shot. That cover photo is just great; there’s just all that vibe in the one image. Leading back to the design for Outside The Box, it had been a while coming and Sarah had told us that the Skream! sleeve was her favourite cover we’d ever done so there was no pressure there, plus the music had blown up massively since the first LP and Skream had become a household name so we knew a lot of people would really be looking at us. Shaun and I were having various discussions and ideas, Tempa are lovely because they really trust us to go off and do what we want but yeah, Outside The Box was definitely one of our more stressful projects. The photo shoot for the album was great though; we just had Oliver sat on a stool in a spare room at Ammunition against a white wall. I remember Oli jokingly complaining, because he was quite successful by this point, saying “shouldn’t we be in a studio with some beers laid on or something?” so we just gave him a couple of tins of Stella we had laying about the place haha.
To round things up then what are a few records that you love the design of? What albums do you look at and think “I wish I could have done that”
The stuff I always tend to really like is the stuff I know I’d never be able to do. There’s a guy called Schoolly D who’s a really early Philly rapper and he used to do all his own art work; it’s this really badly drawn graffiti and scratchy little comic strips and I’d never be able to do that sort of stuff plus it’s clearly very personal to him. I like a lot of the old reggae LPs too where they are clearly not… quote unquote “super professional”. They are always put together really honestly and feel sort of improvised, using loads of rubdown Letraset or quickly shot photos. Dr Alimontado’s Best Dressed Chicken In Town is, to me, just brilliant. That crazy photo and the bold typeface and that sort of documentary snapshot.
(Above) GUA loves DIY
I suppose that is what was so nice about the dubstep genre. It just feels non-posed, you’re not trying to construct this sort of idolised or idealised image of cool like a lot of other indie music and dance music is doing. A lot of the early hip-hop stuff, 85/86 era is the same; a lot of the pictures on those records are fairly terrible to look at but they feel honest and real and I really like that. Ultramagnetic MCs album Critical Beatdown is a great example, they’re just standing in this pile of rubble in, I don’t know, The Bronx possibly or wherever they’re from and they’ve got these gold tracksuits on and there’s Kool Keith and Ced Gee’s got these peg trousers on. It’s just ridiculous. That’s stuff that I cannot do. There’s a part of me now that almost knows too much really: I’d love to be able to go back to that time where you don’t really know much as a designer and you end up breaking the rules. That stuff always feels more exciting.
(Above) Minimalism is not needed when you own a gold tracksuit.
As for stuff that’s around now… I don’t know really. I can’t think what I’ve seen recently that’s really grabbed me. Stuff that got me into definitely would have been the Streets Sounds Electro compilations. My cousin Nicholas gave me a tape when I was about thirteen or fourteen full of people like The Johnson Crew and tunes like I’m The Packman. The vinyl were these really bold, massive, massive graphics and there was a series of them that ran up to about 23 volumes. Quite eighties design, with massive Franklin Gothic fonts and huge great numbers for each release. Maybe the New Order stuff too, a bit later once I’d got to art college I had a bit more appreciation for that sort of thing, but mainly I was buying that hip-hop stuff and I liked graffiti. Through that I discovered people like Keith Haring and I really liked Pop Art so people like Warhol and Lichtenstein, that kind of stuff, particularly for the use of colour. I was very into i-D Magazine around the late eighties, very early nineties where again they were using lots of Letraset fonts and lots of colour. It had that DIY hand-made kind of aesthetic, nothing too slick or polished. A lot of stuff that’s too slick or polished turns me off a little bit, feels a little bit soulless. I like when you can see the mistaskes, well they’re not even mistakes to me a lot of the time they’re just necessities as a result of either time or budget. Ultimately it’s about the idea. Start with a good idea on a bit of paper and everything else goes from there.
You can keep up to date with Give Up Art on Twitter @GiveUpArt or via their website www.giveupart.com
You can pick up some rather spiffy Give Up Art designed music and clothing over at www.Bleep.com
You can probably see some of their design on work almost anywhere in the world that knows anything about decent music.