Rock Paper Show
Monday, November 1st, 2010
“I’m a big music fan and I love art and design,” says Mike Treff, director of Soundscreen Design Company. “I look around my apartment and think ‘What are the things that could enable me, in my home, to have a better experience with my music? Why don’t we make that?’”
Treff admits that the design shop, which specializes in music-inspired books, prints, apparel and housewares, isn’t the first company to market music-related artifacts, but he thinks they have an advantage because, at heart, they are a music company (owned by Warner Media Group’s InSound). “You see boutiques and lifestyle companies making music-inspired apparel and shoes, or LP frames selling at Urban Outfitters, and we said, ‘Well, we’re a music company. What can we be making to enhance people’s lives?’” Enter Rock Paper Show: Flatstock Volume One, a look into the insular world of the traveling rock poster show, Flatstock. The first volume of the oversized tome takes its cues from traditional rock-n-roll art books, but looks to enhance the reader’s experience by recounting the history of the festival through the words of those who helped to create and grow the traveling poster show.
I don’t want to overstate the artists’ passion or anything, but a lot of people will just break even to come out to Flatstock and show their posters. People love being involved with [the community] and don’t see it as this money making venture.
- Jeff Kleinsmith
“Since Flatstock’s inception in 2002, through to where it is today, the world of rock posters has seen a huge resurgence, and diversified significantly and stylistically from its classic illustrative forms with modern designers getting involved,” explains Treff of the poster industry’s proliferation beyond a niche audience. In putting together Rock Paper Show, Treff saw similarities between the poster community and his own past experience in the music industry. “When I first started to meet all the poster makers who would become a part of this book and who would go through this project with me…what struck me was the parallels between my experiences in DIY/hardcore/punk rock scene growing up; the sort of the energy, enthusiasm, integrity and passion of that scene is also in this [rock poster] scene.”
For those involved in Rock Paper Show’s creation, it was important that the book didn’t merely become a form of poster porn. “We knew there were tons of rock poster books out there, but none of them focused on Flatstock itself as a community, and the body of work that is created for each Flatstock event by the attending artists,” says Treff. As Geoff Peveto, the creator of Flatstock, explains: “The key thing I was happy to see was that Mike and Holly [Gressley, of Rumors Studio, who designed the book] were open to how the content of the book would be; that it wouldn’t be page after page of ‘here’s a poster, here’s who did it, here’s a poster, here’s who did it.’ The book is supplemented with process essays: How do you screen print? How do you letterpress? and talks directly to individuals who work in the medium and to collectors on why they like posters, and what the importance of the event is. It was incredibly important to make the book a full spectrum of who is actually involved in the community,” Peveto says.
But before he gave Soundscreen access, Peveto posed an important question to Treff: “Are you really going to do a Flatstock book, or do you just want access to API (American Poster Institute) artists to make another rock book?” To show his commitment to Peveto’s vision, Treff flew to Austin a week later to meet with Peveto and they went through the Flatstock archives from one to 18, and realized there was the potential to make a book. Gressley echoes a similar sentiment, as well. “It was interesting figuring out how to position the book, because in a lot of ways it’s an art book, but we also wanted it to let the personality of all the work and people come forward and have space to breathe.” And for Peveto, the characters and personalities in this book are just as important as the art. “My first goal in creating the anthology was not to exclude anybody. I said to Mike [Treff], ‘If I’ve got to put someone in the book because of their involvement in the community, regardless of what you think of their work, they are going to be in it.”
Perhaps these repeatedly mentioned notions of commitment and passion in the rock poster community are best exemplified through one of the great traditions of the nomadic exhibition. For each event, attending artists create a specially designed Flatstock poster to commemorate the festival, which returned to its San Francisco birthplace for the first time since 2002, as a standalone event to celebrate its 25th gathering in the fall. The dedication of the artists to this tradition can be so great, in fact, that one year an artist who somehow forgot to design a poster for Flatstock drove back to his home hours away from the event, stayed up all night designing a poster, and made it back, poster in tow, in time to display it to music and poster fans the next day. “I don’t want to overstate the artists’ passion or anything, but a lot of people will just break even to come out to Flatstock and show their posters. People love being involved with [the community] and don’t see it as this money making venture,” says Jeff Kleinsmith, art director of Sub Pop Records, andRock Paper Show contributor. “Of course we want to make money, and it’s a lot of work and late nights, screen printing posters and hoping to break even…it’s a tough way to make a living, and the fact that there are so many people doing it and that love doing it, just to break even is a testament to the passion people have for poster design.”
“When you look at a music-lover’s personal identity, the things they put in their lives are very much a part of their psychology; music is such an identifier in group and social dynamics,” Treff observes. “With digital music, there is a void as to how can I live with my music in a tangible way that lets me show my identity, and I think creating a physical product to fill that need is a viable pursuit.” Similarly, there are plenty of burgeoning poster artists who also feel this way. “If there is a veteran who can’t make it to Flatstock, there is always a new artist to fill that seat; the spots are always sold out,” says Peveto. “We’ve watched the evolution of a number of artists, which has been amazing to see. Everybody is very willing to help people along.”
Ultimately, Treff’s goal with Rock Paper Show is one of inspiration. “If one person who has never made a poster before buys this book and gets inspired, that’s wonderful. If someone who hasn’t made posters in years gets inspired again, that’s wonderful, too,” he says. For Peveto, his goal with Rock Paper Show is protecting its integrity, and the integrity of poster making as it gains in popularity. “I want to continue to have Flatstock on a regular basis ; I want us to be smart about how we manage them so that there is always an excitement about them—so the crowds don’t peter out, and so people don’t get tired of posters.”
Stewart Kuhlo is is a Chicago- based attorney, writer and hip-hop obsessive.