running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Fast Product and Big Gold Dream

Monday, 22 June 2015

A highlight of this year's Edinburgh Film Festival was the world premiere of 'Big Gold Dream', a music documentary, ten years in the making, about Scotland's post-punk era in Edinburgh and Glasgow during the late 70s and early 80s.

The film is actually in two parts, with the first (this release) to be followed later this year by a second part called 'Songs from Northern Britain'.

Big Gold Dream

Directed by Grant McPhee, Big Gold Dream expertly charts the rise and fall of the seminal independent record labels Fast Product and Postcard, which between them released a clutch of influential records by some of the most important British bands of the time, including Gang of Four, Mekons, Human League, Joy Division, Scars, Josef K, the Go-Betweens, Aztec Camera and Orange Juice.

I came into my teens during these years, was familiar with some of the music in the film (and certainly influenced by what followed), so this was a nice piece of cultural nostalgia.  As well as a host of insightful and amusing interviews by the key players of the scene, there was plenty suitably lo-fi grainy concert footage and archive television clips.

But what was I hadn't fully appreciated was how the Fast Product label in particular was the blueprint for the independent labels that would follow, including Rough Trade and Factory (as well as the aforementioned Postcard). The label made its mark discovering original and interesting new acts, usually with a left-field political slant, but it was also an amazing source of some of the best graphic design of its time, which is worth looking at here in more detail.

Fast Product

Fast Product was founded in 1978 by Bob Last and Hilary Morrison, and run from their flat in Edinburgh. The label initially concentrated on releases by bands from the north of England – The Mekons, Gang of Four and Human League, but early in 1979 it released a single by Edinburgh-based band The Scars, and as the film explains, it was this single that sparked the music scene that included the likes of Associates, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, and eventually the Creation-era of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream and beyond to Franz Ferdinand.

Fast Product challenged pop music conventions and promotional sensibilities.  As Last describes in the film, the concept was "about being fast, being intense, and then we're done".  The label was basically an art project coupled with a commercial gamble, modelled somewhat on Andy Warhol's Factory, and inspired by 'Spiral Scratch' - the first ever independent record, released by the Buzzcocks on their self-funded New Hormones label in 1976.

Crucially, Last already had a hand-drawn logo, a rudimentary, squared off, angled 'fast' that captured the concept perfectly, and a manifesto, built around slogans such as 'mutant pop', 'difficult fun' and 'interventions in any media'. In essence he had the beginnings of a brand,  all once he'd signed bands, he had the  'product'.

The design of the record artwork beautifully reflected this idea, blending the DIY immediacy of punk with an art sensibility driven by minimalism and bold typography. In fact, many of the Fast releases featured covers that referenced Swiss Style, Constructivism and the Bauhaus.  The use of bold titles in Futura and Avant Garde, often angled or juxtaposed against a single illustration or cropped photo, was a huge departure from the anti-design punk style that was then in vogue.

The records themselves are highly collectible, and if you are lucky enough to own any of them (I've got a copy of the Gang of Four E.P.) they really are exhilarating documents of an approach to branding and pop culture in graphic design that we take for granted these days.

The Scars - Adult / ery, b/w Horrorshow

Human League - Being Boiled, b/w Circus of Death

The 2.3 - All Time Low, b/w Where To Now

Dead Kennedys - California Uber Alles, b/w The Man With The Dogs

Gang of Four - Damaged Goods E.P - Damaged Goods/Anthrax/Armalite Rifle

Mutant Pop Compilation

Big Gold Dream trailer and premier promo -

Grant McPhee interview - Pitchfork Media
Big Gold Dream on BBC Arts
LouderThanWar - Big Gold Dream (preview)

Never Mind The APR

Friday, 12 June 2015

Jamie Reid's work is graphic design that captured and mythologised a movement in popular culture. His record sleeves and posters for the Sex Pistols are something a design tutor can dine out on in terms of inspiring students, the sort of work that is genuinely original and fresh every time you look at it.  It encourages students to consider the politics and social machinations of their era, to experiment with collage, typography, mixed media, to generally take an original creative path, regardless of what is current, acceptable or even necessary. And to figure out what Letraset is.

So it was a bit depressing to see earlier this week that Virgin announced that their new 'Rebellion' credit cards, featuring the iconic Jamie Reid designs from the Sex Pistols' 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and 'Anarchy In The UK'.  A Sex Pistols Mastercard at 18.9% APR?  Bring a little bit of rebellion to your wallet?  Just choose the rate on each card.

The team responsible clearly had a great time coming up with the creative for this, and I'd be interested to see what research data they assembled and referred to in terms of target audience and so on. I guess they might think I'd be their ideal audience.

But before we all lose heart,  as a reminder about where the original designs came from and to contextualise their importance, here is a short clip about Suburban Press, the anarcho-situationist magazine Jamie Reid founded and worked on in the years leading up to the emergence of punk.