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Dubdog

After many years of using the Dubdog moniker I have decided to move on and concentrate my efforts elsewhere.

Dubdog was initially coined as an overarching name for my graphic design practice many years ago. But as I have done less and less client work it has become an odd title to continue using. It has also become more difficult to explain what it is all about, and to a large extent, I have become tired of it.

In recent years, in fact ever since I produced my first book, McJunk, in 2011, I have been trying to develop my design writing. And since I jumped ship from Blogger to WordPress in 2012, I have been more discerning about what I post. However, it has now got to a stage where my professional writing doesn’t sit well alongside the more personal items I post on this site.

I have therefore started a blog dedicated to writing about design and visual culture called Field Readings, a subtitle I used here for a while. As a start, I have imported much of the design writing I am proud of from this site into that one, and started blogging afresh. (Check out the results via the link above or clicking on the image below.)

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Whether I continue to post here or not for more personal stuff will remain to be seen, but I suspect this will fall by the wayside as I concentrate on developing my professional writing—there is only so much time after all, and I’m not really sure who is that interested in what I’ve got to say about music and whatnot. My biggest ‘hits’ are without a doubt those centred on graphic design.

Much like Dubdog on Blogger I will keep this site live, as there are still some posts that I haven’t migrated to Field Readings that I am proud of, and who knows, I may come back and write the odd post for things that don’t entirely fit Field Readings. But in the meantime, see you online elsewhere, (the links are still live on the Elsewhere page). Thanks for following what I’ve written here over the years.

Nigel.

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Eardrum Buzz is an irregular Dubdog feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

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Title: The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks
Author: Flux of Pink Indians
Label: Spiderleg Records
UK Release Year: 1984

2016 sees celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the birth of Punk with a very London centric focus. Halfway into the year and only a couple of months into the festivities, I am already sick of the sight of computer generated ransom lettering, dayglo colours and screened images. Don’t get me started on musical anthems from my youth being used in TV adverts—every time I see that McDonald’s / Buzzcocks’ advert I die a little inside.

But I was late to punk as a teenager, that was more my older brother’s era. I grew up with 2-Tone for my teenage rebellion, before getting into punk well after-the-fact. After getting into the first wave of punk bands several years from when they emerged, I fell for anarchopunk, as much for its political stance as its musical output. If I listen to much of that genre’s oeuvre today I find it embarrassing, but musically I still hold Crass and Flux of Pink Indians in high esteem. Both pushed the boundaries of what they did and challenged their fans to embrace more than just a three chord thrash with shouty animal rights lyrics. Their investigation into social and personal politics stretched to their craft—they were progressive, embracing free-jazz, noise, industrial, electronics, and in Flux’s case, dub and funk.

When, in 1985, I returned home after swapping 8 LPs I’d grown tired of at Colchester’s Parrot Records for Flux’s second album, little had prepared me for the assault my ears were about to receive. I assumed, very wrongly, I would be getting more of the same of their first release: Strive To Survive Causing The Least Suffering Possible. That was a concise metallic guitar/feedback thrash through shouty green anarchist lyrics, pithy and earnest with song titles such as: They Lie, We Die; We Don’t Want Your Progress; and Myxomatosis. It was sharp, to the point, aggressive and polemic. But as I had already fallen in love with the uncompromising artwork and title of their second album: The Fucking Pricks Treat Us Like Cunts, The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks; I didn’t want the music to let me down.

My first impression, (after WTF have I swapped 8 LPs for?), was to ask myself whether I had a miss-pressing? The sound was muffled in places; the tracks didn’t seem to end but bled into each other; overdubbed electronic noises burst in and out; music stopped dead, punctuated with samples from different radio stations; the whole thing sounded like a complete racket. Which it is, of course. The first track  starts with feedback, electronic vibrating noises, then what sounds like the band playing live punches in with several people yelping ‘punk punk punk punk punk punk punk punk…’ The music/noise was as uncompromising as the artwork and title.

So in the spirit of these Eardrum Buzz posts, why have I picked this record out as changing my perspective of just what music can be? Firstly because it taught me the value of not rejecting something on first listen—I learned to love this record. Secondly because it was deliberately challenging and it shocked me out of my then musical complacencies. Thirdly because I got into its experimental nature. This, I thought, is what punk should be all about. Not because it is aggressive, but because it is attempting to explore new ground beyond the conventional, and anarcho-punk, like punk rock before it, had become conventional with their rockisms and formulas.

Fucking Pricks… is punk, sure, but it is also noise, industrial, jazz, and Dada. It is also extremely and unapologetically political. Sure, there are moments of pious preaching when the noise abates and you can make out spoken lyrics. This is as only anarchopunk bands can be, and this is what I have come to wince at when listening back to the genre’s cast. In Flux’s case these are the weaker elements against the sonic overload that is the rest of this album, and these wince-inducing parts become inconsequential against the rest of the musical onslaught. But all that that aside, in 1985 the record felt exciting and it got my heart racing.

As it transpires, on looking back, it was an important record for me. Later I would get into Tackhead’s industrial funk and more recently I’ve been listening to a lot of free-jazz, things I’m convinced this record paved the way for my ears to appreciate when the time came for me to discover them. Fucking Pricks… taught me to give things a second listen, it reaffirmed in me that anything can be music, and that the more you become familiar with something that you don’t first understand, the more it can reward your senses as you spend time with it.

What would I make of it today if I heard it for the first time? I don’t know, I expect I would find it sprawling and in need of editing and honing. But I would still recognise its challenging nature, its uncompromising and brave approach, and its sense of perversion. In listening back to it for the first time in years before writing this post, I thought of it in comparison with the Buzzcocks advert and the 40th anniversary of the first wave of punk that McDonald’s have jumped on. In thinking about this, Flux of Pink Indians need high praise indeed for making something that no corporation could ever appropriate.

Other interesting articles on The Fucking Pricks… :
Uncarved
Public Embarrassment Blues

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Graphic Interruptions book, front cover

Graphic Interruptions has reached some sort of a completion, for now, with the production of a one-off hard back book for an assessment of the project for my masters degree. The project will continue in the background and you can follow its Instagram account here.

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Graphic Interruptions, back cover

I would like to have produced more books and sold them, but because of the production values I insisted on, it means each copy would cost upwards of £60 and I just can’t justify selling copies for that price. However, without going into details at the moment, I have been talking to a publisher and if a book proposal I’m writing is accepted, Graphic Interruptions may enter the public realm as part of a wider project.

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Title page

In the latter stages of working on the project, which had been ongoing since October, I fell back on familiar territory, (see McJunk, links on Elsewhere page), as I needed to create a tangible outcome for a looming deadline. This resulted in me jettisoning explorations into maps, autobiographic writing and psychogeography which had all been part of this project at one point or another. My interest in these makes me certain I will return to them in the future but in order to wrap this up for an assessment I went with what I knew I could achieve.

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The essay I wrote as the introduction to the book will see the light of day here in the near future, but for the time being I’m pleased to call some sort of pause to Graphic Interruptions, at least in relation to my MA studies. It has helped shape my thinking for the next stages of my academic research. And more than that, I’m looking forward to blogging about more than Graphic Interruptions here.

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Book jacket proposal (front and back)—work in progress

Graphic Interruptions is reaching some sort of climax as I prepare the final artwork for a one off self-published book to go to print this week. As I near the end of this stage of the project, (i.e., an assessment hand-in for a 40 credit module in mid-May for my masters degree), for no reason what-so-ever other than a little procrastination, I’ve worked out some (sketchy) stats for the project to date:

—55 photographs in book, edited down from 224
—7 short psychogeographic writing trials
—1 long psychogeographic essay with umpteen drafts
—1 introduction essay of over 1300 words, 6 drafts and copious notebook ramblings
—3 book print trials
—7+ layout trials
—untold changes in direction
—7 months reading/researching, photographing, questioning, reflecting
—6 blog posts in duration of MA, (+1 associated)
—One 3 year old blog post, (genesis of project concept)
—3 presentations
—5 critiques
—2 ring binders
—63 plastic wallets
—2 sets of inkjet cartridges
—2 maps
—One 19x25cm Moleskine softcover notebook
—One 14x21cm Leuchtturm1917 softcover notebook
—3 or 4 Lamy rollerball cartridges
—untold visits to the library
—uncountable Google searches, RSS feed follow-ups and Evernote bookmarks
—1 part-related meeting with a publisher
—1 venn diagram

 

 

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For the UCS Graphic Design trip to New York at the beginning of March, Russell set students and staff the challenge of producing a New Yorker cover that responded to their time in the city.

I had made no plans what I was going to do for the project before I went but I started drawing my walks around Manhattan from memory every evening. I didn’t attempt to draw these to any sort of scale, nor did I refer to any map. In creating these drawings it quickly became obvious that these would work for my New Yorker cover submission.

The maps represent all walks I did over the five days, typically two a day; one during the day and the other in the evening. The evening walks tended not to stray very far from the hotel we were staying in on 7th Avenue opposite Madison Square Gardens, (the red dot). The top of the map stops at the Guggenheim and the bottom in SoHo. I resisted including the boat trip around the island I took, as it wasn’t a walk, although there are a couple of bus journeys represented as these were routes to, or back from, walks I did.

Once back home I redrew the separate maps into a single record, and then scanned it and redrew it digitally in Illustrator. I did trial using a different colour for each day, but decided that a singular approach worked better and unified the whole piece. I tried tearing the graph paper to the shape of the island, but felt this gave a scale reference and detracted the emphasis from the memory-map.

This piece now forms part of an exhibition alongside student work at UCS, check out the Graphic Design course Facebook page for photos of other submissions here and here.

Scroll down here to view a couple of posts I’ve written about the trip with accompanying photos, or check out my Flickr site.

 

Eardrum Buzz is an irregular Dubdog feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

Title: Spiral Scratch EP
Author: Buzzcocks
Label: New Hormones
UK Release Year: 1977

With all the talk in the media at the moment about punk’s 40th anniversary and whether Malcolm McLaren’s son will burn his £5m punk collection in protest against the celebrations, you’d have thought that punk only happened in London. Choosing not to mention the stateside influences, and the fact that punk was vital to those living outside of the capital, the London centric aspect of this heritage spectacle is what annoyed me in the first instance when I heard about the forthcoming celebrations.

While I heard much of the original punk shenanigans coming out of my brother’s bedroom door 40 years ago, being only 8 at the time I somewhat missed the (jubilee punk) boat. A few years later when I was living in Mansfield and all my friends were into heavy metal, which I hated, I started investigating punk for myself, despite it being pretty much dead in the water by then. Living in Mansfield with few cultural attractions and a peer group desperate for Americanisms, poodle hair and denim jackets covered in band patches, punk kept me sane, even if at that stage there weren’t really any contemporary bands for me to get into.

I can’t quite remember the order in which I heard things, (tapes from my Sister’s then boyfriend’s record collection muddies the water somewhat), but one week I paid £2.50 of my hard earned paper-round money for a copy of Spiral Scratch EP from a second hand record shop in town. I think by then I had already borrowed The Buzzcocks’ Love Bites from the local library, so I was used to Shelley’s vocals being one of the key features of the band. But Spiral Scratch knocked me for six. I immediately fell in love with Devoto’s voice, who I hadn’t heard up to that point. To this day he is one of my favourite vocalists in all of music’s rich history and I firmly believe he could sing over absolutely anything and make it better.

The music was nervy, uncoordinated, and rudimentary, and to my ears back then, incredibly fast. I don’t think I had ever heard anything so fast before. There was a frantic urgency to the four tracks as if the band were desperate to get through them and didn’t ultimately care about the quality of what they put down. The lyrics that Devoto yelped over the top were very different to Shelley’s which hid stories of homosexual longing and frustration in a overly heterosexual lyrical world. Devoto came across with much more of a sense of distain for sex that made him seem asexual and other-worldly, (that, and the Enoesque hairdo). A sense of nihilism and sarcasm shone through.

For me it captured the spirit of everything I thought that first wave of punk was about, and the Sex Pistols sounded over-produced and over-complicated in comparison, (excepting Lydon’s brilliant vocal delivery—I always thought Devoto and Rotten should compete in a sneer-off). Of the other all-male bands of the time, only Alternative TV came close in contempt for rock musics’ macho formulas and posturing, most other punk bands seemed to allow such vanities within their particular rock schtick. X-Ray Specs and The Slits, by their very nature, eschewed such things, but of the male bands, the aesthetics of sexual politics just wasn’t on their agendas, unlike Buzzcocks and Alternative TV.

The stand out track on Spiral Scratch is, without a doubt, Boredom. This track in itself sums up 1976/77 punk for me—the spirit that spawned it—and all other attempts to encapsulate the feeling of the movement were rendered pointless after this. It is no wonder that Devoto immediately left the band, having laid down the most punk of all records, there was little else to be said and he moved on to even greater things with Magazine. In essence, I suppose he became bored with punk having helped to create one of its masterpieces. He had created Boredom and became bored by it.

And all this from Manchester, not London.

B’dum b’dum.

A selection of New York City Graphic Interruptions, as recorded 01–05 March 2016 on wanderings around the city.

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imageTwo days in to this New York trip with my colleague Russell Walker and UCS graphic design and illustration students and they’ve been busy ones. I can’t even try to imagine how many miles I’ve walked so far.

The journey wasn’t without its problems, which I won’t go into here, but now we’ve settled in and are walking, walking, walking, and filling up memory card after memory card of photos. Here’s a few I’ve taken, with comments, while I manage to jump on Macy’s free wifi from my hotel room.

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The first day I went to The Highline, an overhead deserted rail line that has been converted into a mile and a half long public park. It is absolutely stunning. Luckily the weather was excellent and it was a good choice of activity for the first day. It really helped me to feel embedded within New York as you get a real sense of location walking a few metres above the Avenues and Streets of this city and in amongst apartment blocks.

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I was also very impressed with the honesty of the rubbish bins, labelling landfill waste as just that.

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Other graphics that have impressed included this cycle path road sign with the addition of a cycling helmet. And no trip to New York for a graphic designer would be complete if it didn’t include some vernacular type spotting.

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There have also been a plethora of Graphic Interruptions for me to record, such as this:

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Today I went to The Guggenheim and saw an excellent Fischli & Weiss retrospective titled How To Work Better, and a Photo-poetics exhibition. The F&W exhibition opened my eyes to a lot of their work I hadn’t seen before, and I drew parallels between them and designers like Daniel Eatock, (as well as explaining to a few students I bumped into that the Honda ‘Cog’ ad ripped them off). With the photo exhibition I’ve found a few new names to research for my Masters, such as Erica Baum. Obviously though, it doesn’t really matter what is on at The Guggenheim as the building is stunning in itself and worth the entrance fee just to see the architecture.

I had planned to drop into MoMA on my way back to the hotel after visiting The Guggenheim, but having walked from the bottom of Central Park to the gallery and back, I was exhausted so jumped on a bus back to the hotel for afternoon tea. However, I did manage to get a few tourist shots in Central Park.

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So as I write this I’m sitting in my very basic hotel room with a heater rattling away in the background, which at least helps to drown out the sounds of the street at night. Not that I’m getting much sleep, as while I hit the sack at a reasonable (US) hour, my body & brain seem to be colluding and waking me up in UK time, so sorry if this post is slightly uncoordinated and bitty. But I’m ploughing on regardless, and tomorrow I plan to take a boat trip around Manhatten Island that some of the students have done already and highly recommend. It’s predicted to be colder than today, (snow forecast for Friday), so I’m glad I packed some gloves because the camera will be out all the time.

I’ll leave you with my favourite photo I’ve taken so far, a shrine to rubbish, but expect more to follow on Flickr once I’ve had a chance to go through everything in a few weeks time.

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10 years ago I started blogging, which I guess makes me a blogger, (not a descriptive term I’ve ever considered using for myself before now—not sure why). On 4 April 2006 the photograph above was the first thing I posted over on Blogger.com. It was taken in New York on my first visit to the city a few days beforehand.

In that decade there have been some significant changes to my life. I’ve changed jobs; very nearly moved house; been to lots of exhibitions and seen lots of bands; suffered the loss of some close relatives, friends and pets; stopped making music; stopped smoking; started taking shit loads of photographs; published a book; designed a few things; taught a lot of students; travelled this country much more extensively; been to lots of conferences; read a lot of books; listened to lots of music; become a grandfather; started an MA (ongoing); and written hundreds of blog posts of widely variying qualities. I’ve also managed to stay married to my lovely wife, which in itself is a major achievement considering how much I must annoy her a lot of the time.

The reason for this post is that tomorrow I am off to New York once again, the first time since my previous visit 10 years ago. The fact my blogging and my first visit to NYC coincided are mostly coincidental, although the it could be that the original trip opened up my eyes to a bigger world which made me want to document my part in it.

I’m going for slightly longer this time, but only an extra couple of days, (6 in total), but hope to get as much out of the visit as I did last time. Equally, I hope the students that I am going with will get as much out of the experience as I did on my first visit, and I’m looking forward to spending time with my colleague who has spent a lot of time in the city and claims to know the best bars.

Expect Dubdog: field readings to have a stateside focus over the next week—wifi access dependant—and probably for a while afterwards. Follow Twitter and Instagram updates via the links on the ‘elsewhere’ page.

Find below an essay on civic pride, parks and gentrification, with accompanying map. This essay was initially written as part of a psychogeographic element of my Graphic Interruptions project. 

Psychogeography has been an aspect of my Graphic Interruptions project for a while now. It is a tricky term and there are many ideas about what defines the practice. Purists stick closely by Debord’s drift techniques, while others are happy to stretch the term. I fit the latter camp, and a large inspiration for me has been the book Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography, edited by Tina Richardson. The many different approaches and responses to the subject are documented over 14 essays, and these gave me the courage to experiment with my own personal written response to my walking.

At this stage in my project I am not sure I will continue in this vain as I evaluate the effectiveness of such personal, auto-biographical writing and whether this really sits comfortably with my photography and project intentions. With no pun intended, I am currently at a cross-roads with where I go next. While I am enjoying writing such self-reflective narratives they are becoming more distanced from the critical graphic design discourse I was aiming for in the first place, (as displayed in blog posts I’ve written about Graphic Interruptions in previous posts).

To help move on this internal debate I have decided to post this short piece of writing with a view to drawing a line under such a style. However, I may revisit this under a different banner in the future.

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California, Ipswich—you couldn’t find somewhere less like the West Coast of America.

I’ve spent many years walking to work and exercising the dog along these streets. The journey to work, depending on the route I choose, can take anything from 15–25 minutes, often through a small but perfectly formed park. The local Coop can delay me when there’s cat food or bread to buy. I’ve often wondered about the criteria to work in that most ethical of supermarkets, and from my observations it appears to be the inability to move at anything other than a slow pace, which I quite like as it is representative of the life here. Recently I joked about an item I was buying and I was stared at blankly. (I read somewhere that Mark E Smith said his idea of hell was being stuck in a lift with ‘chatty man’—I fear ‘chatty man’ only slightly less than I fear becoming ‘chatty man’.)

One of the greatest things about Ipswich is its array of parks. The one closest to my home and that I cross on my way to work holds many memories, not least because it is where I first saw my future wife. She was giving a speech prior to an anti-racist demonstration I’d travelled from Colchester to support. Then, as an outsider, Ipswich felt like a hotbed of radicalism in comparison to that virtually all-white garrison town. That was many years ago and the tree she orated under has long since been cut down. I often bring the dog here now and as a result I have become intimately familiar with its plethora of dog-shit bins, screaming at me all bright red with decaying decals. I once pondered on how those in charge of guide-dogs locate these bins before it occurred to me that the pungent smell that surrounds them render visual signifiers superfluous to all but the anosmia inflicted.

I have lived in Ipswich some 18 years. Its people, as is their right, are fiercely critical of the town; yet equally defensive of it if outsiders dare to pass negative comment. This, I suspect, is typical of most small towns. It could be argued that Ipswich is a working-class enclave within a county of great wealth. If you went along with such an argument it could equally be claimed it is ripe for gentrification—the only thing holding such a threat at bay being the dire train service to and from London. A 2015 property feature in The Guardian claimed that Ipswich was ‘up-and-coming’. Brian Eno was quoted in the same edition of the paper stating he thought the best thing to do with Ipswich was to drive through it. Such is the strange duality that hangs over the town.

The town has always been a poor cousin to others within the wider Eastern region, and I think that’s how many of its inhabitants feel: neglected in favour of the money that surrounds it. Like Brian Eno, John Peel lived just outside the town, not actually in it. Other London media notables have bought up cottages in the surrounding luscious countryside and shop in Ipswich’s more middle-class neighbouring towns.

But in the time I’ve lived here I’ve become loyal to this backwater town. I like the fact that local thrash-punk rockers Extreme Noise Terror were invited by arch-situtationists the KLF to perform with them at the Brit Awards in 1992. I’m proud that the once mighty Cowell’s printers developed the craft of fine-illustration printing from the Buttermarket in the town centre, which resulted in Barbar the Elephant being inked here. And my earliest memories of Ipswich are of its vibrant local music scene that I used to travel to from Essex—but now decent mid-sized venues have been turned into theme pubs or car parks. Until recently, on political maps, Ipswich was an island of red in Suffolk’s sea of blue, and that always bought me great pleasure until Gummer Jr halted any such menace.

Local movers and shakers are still hopeful that gentrification is on its way though and Ipswich’s real history is often overlooked by those whose idea of culture is a ‘vintage’ street market a few times a year and a waterfront marina full of yachts that locals can not afford. The heraldic symbols that look distressed on street signs and on rubbish bins around my neighbourhood seem a fitting metaphor for a town that can sometimes appear to be down on its luck but is trying not to admit it. It is difficult to see where this old town may go, and I’ve heard arguments from well meaning colleagues who are hopeful the area is ripe for new money to move in to. Unfortunately they didn’t get my protestations against financial cleansing.

8 years ago there was a spate of graffiti in my neighbourhood from a gang calling itself the Front Line Warriors. There are still a few traces of their visual scenting around the place, where the council have given up redacting all signs of the FLW. They laughingly painted: “welcome to the ghetto” on the side of the local primary school, (2015 Ofsted award: Good). But this area is no more a ghetto than it is anything like its namesake California. Thankfully rather than just paint over this act of self-social deprivation the school got their pupils to create 4 mural pieces for where the graffiti once lurked, ensuring that the local children feel part of their community. I hope it encourages them to believe they can change their own area for themselves rather than either wallowing in its demise or relying on others to march in and mend it for them. I pass these artworks everyday on my way to work and they never fail to make me smile as they reaffirm my belief that civic pride can still have a place in 21st century Britain and that Ipswich’s fighting spirit is still there just below the surface.

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