Thirty Thousand Streets

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I read today, via a link from the man like Ade,(and as reported by Creative Review) that Sheffield based exponents of all things vector The Designer's Republic offically went bump, sometime in mid-January of this year (shows how up-to-date I am).

It sounds like they encountered a 'perfect storm' of mishaps, such as the loss of a couple of accounts and non-payment by another large, as-yet-unnamed company, which combined to render the good ship DR financially non-viable as an ongoing concern.

The web is already seeing an outpouring of dismay from assorted designers across the board, tinted largely with a flush of roseate nostalgia for TDR's heyday of the 90s, which is, I suspect, part of the problem. Sad as it is, I can't say I'm incredibly surprised TDR went under, as though it's maybe heretical to say it, every dog has its day, and theirs was around 10 years ago.

The Designer's republic, to me, always had a fairly strong 'house style'. They were your go-to designers for a certain icon-rich, vector-y cool, that was, to be sure, oft imitated – the most obvious exponents of this type of design that come to mind now, being Japan's Power Graphixx (which is sort of an irony in itself, given how much TDR 'borrowed' Japanese pop iconography, at least in their early days).

It was undeniably, pretty dammned cool. The kind of stuff that launched a thousand design consultancies, and inspired tens of thousands of students to pick up pen and mouse.

Unfortunately, that which is radical today is often the cliche of tomorrow. The last couple of visits I paid to their erstwhile website (admittedly years ago) it was starting to look a little tired and perhaps even slightly irritating in its ADHD flickery-ness. Harsh? I hope not. TDR were the dogs bollocks, for long enough, but their aforementioned trademark style did leave them open to the vagaries of changing trends and fashion. They were very good at what they did, but the world moved on – and for me, The Designer's Republic connoted the 90s stylistic zeitgeist as much as Mo Wax records and combat pants.

For the problem with cool, is that all too often it gets co-opted by large quote-unquote EVIL corporations (eg: the makers of a certain ubiquitous brown, fizzy drink) and broadcasted back to fast moving consumer groups (FMCGs). The problem here being that these people are so fast-moving, that the product (or rather the wrapper itself, in this case) has a shortened shelf life.

Nowadays of course, it's all about artsy Non Format style art direction, all neo-modernist/brutalist typefaces with the kind of florid augmentation last seen on Herb Lubalin's blotter pad in the 70s, in New York, and to be honest, even this is starting to look a little faded. (If I seen another fancy-nancy type treatment with swirly stuff wibbling out of gothic typefaces with all the holes filled in and a ten point stroke on them, so help me god, my brain will probably shut down to save my sanity.) I wonder what's next?

But as Creative review reports, founder Ian Anderson intends to reboot his baby, and take it back-to-basics with the original ethos he set out with in the mid-eighties, as opposed to the more identifiably 'formal' agency it reportedly became. Let's hope that if TDR does return, it'll be with a spirit of reinvention.

For now though, my personal footnote?

TDR: It was fun while it lasted.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Been hunting for some of these 'for a minute'... my last pair are wearing through at the heels.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bus route flashback

Ever wonder what London's bus routes looked like in 1933?

I know I have.

Well wonder no longer, friends.

All is revealed,



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Square to be hip

An interesting article on the hipster 'phonemenon' which the author cites as evidence of 'The Dead End of Western Civilisation'.

The guy who wrote it gets lambasted a bit in the comments for being a crusty old timer, deriding the kids for having fun, but I think he's got some valid points – in effect, that 'the cool' comb through subcultures of the past and appropriate cultural signifiers, effectively robbing them of meaning and rendering them as banal, disposable fashion. (though maybe I'm saying that cause I'm a crusty old timer now? entirely possible).

I'm not entirely sure it's not part of a wider malaise though. A lot of design, art and fashion is unbelievably lazy in its gnawing at the bones of the past (here! here's an old image I found on google! I'll distress it and stick it on a t-shirt! yawn, etc. etc), or its sheer incestuous 'me-tooness', in the everlasting quest to remain 'on trend' – the imperative scouting for anything that appears even vaguely new, its appropriation, repackaging, and regurgitation onto the high street, for us to consume at cost.

Still, perhaps it was ever thus? Answers on a postcard please to the usual address...

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Went to Benji B's Deviation night at Gramophone on Commercial Street in Shoreditch, for my mate Al's birthday last night.

I really like this night. I've been once before, for the birthday shindig, when you couldn't really move, or dance particularly. This time it was a bit less packed, but still fairly lively.

The guest DJ was Kode9, who was dropping dubstep stuff, which I caught a bit of. I like some Dubstep, some tracks I've heard by Martyn especially, but often find it can retard actual dancing somewhat, the music seeming to be lacking a kick drum somewhere, to anchor you in the goove – the Dubstep room at the last night I went to at Corsica studios was a mass of unsyncopated flailing limbs, like octopi drifting in space.

Benji B's sets seem to be reliably good, though I'd be hard pressed to pigeonhole his sound, apart from the fact that it seems to represent the new generation of producers who eschew predominantly sampled motifs in favour of a new, more electronic flavour of beatmaking – more specifically the kind of glitchy laptop aesthetic that dudes such as Flying Lotus create (and some of whose tracks off the excellent Los Angeles got an airing last night).

There was also some heavy rotation of tracks by the late hip hop pioneer Jay Dee, his having passed away almost exactly two years ago on the tenth of February. And in truth, echoes of his warm, slightly off-kilter sound could be heard in a lot of the newer music being played. The bouncy, James Brown sampling I don't Know and lolloping uptempo drums of Fuck the Police eliciting excited whoops from the crowd.

In general, the beats are loose limbed staccato funk. The vibe excited, friendly, warm; the crowd a mix of all shapes, sizes, etc. And though there was the usual contingent of cool kids, looking all nonchalant as they danced, there was a distinct lack of attitude in the sense of moodiness and general sub-gangster (or actual gangster) posturing I recall from jungle nights way back last decade.

Indeed, as the old guard of hip hop and drum and bass producers continue to lick their wounds and dream of those halcyon dog days of the mid-90s, it's heartening to go somewhere like this and bear witness to forward thinking (if not quite avant guard) music of (whispers it) black origin with a left-of-field lean. I'll be going back soon I think – I'm just gutted I missed the lesser-spotted Moodymann, whom the webbernets tells me played there in December last year. Dayum.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Every roleplaying character I've ever played, er, 4?

Part four in this increasingly infrequent series is an elf I played in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game run by Matt Hyde, some of whose online creations for Chaosium's Elric! system – set in Moorcock's Young Kingdoms – can be found here and here, if anyone's interested. But I digress.

WFRP was a pretty interesting gaming system, really. The world, which was developed when Games Workshop weren't soley predicated to the merchandising of tabletop wargames (I said soley) was a gritty one, reminiscent of our own Europe circa the 1700s (The Old World), except with the addition of marauding beastmen, trolls, orcs and the like. Principally set in a Germanic Empire, one of the things which helped set the slightly mordant gothic tone (aside from the political intrigue, and incursions of a mutative sorcerous blight known as Chaos, from the wastelands of the north) was the game system itself – which based character progression around a series of career paths – and the combat rules therein, which were realistically perilous, and came complete with a gruesome 'critical hit table' to determine injuries if a foe landed a particularly telling blow.

So to cut it short (literally), this chap here had his right leg lopped off after being on the receiving end of one such injury, probably at the hand/claw/tentacle of one the ubiquitous beastmen, I think, whilst on a boat. Having sorcerously healed the wound, he set about carving himself a peg leg, scrimshaw style, from some Ivory that happened to be lying about. This was probably highly impractical, given that Ivory is probably softer, more expensive, and more attractive to your average passing vagabond than wood, but what the hell.

He later got a magic sword, and a magical amulet thingy that Matt informed me had been stolen between gaming sessions. Matt! no fair!

His name was Tanis, also the name of the half-elven guy out of Dragonlance, but shucks, I didn't know that then.