Rock ‘n’ roll’s always had posters advertising its concerts. And like the music, the posters have evolved over the years. KERA’s Stephen Becker talked with some north Texans who are among more than 100 of the world’s top poster makers attending the Flatstock poster show at the South by Southwest music conference:
KERA radio story:
Expanded online version:
South by Southwest alums the Black Keys are a favorite of critics and music fans. They’d probably say the band sounds like stripped down rock and blues.
But what would the Black Keys music look like? At the Flatstock poster show in Austin, one artist depicted two bulls hurdling into flames. Another worked the band’s name into a rooster’s feathers. And Robert Lee of Atlanta drew two six-shooters with their barrels woven together.
“The two guns, of course, there’s two members in the band,” he said. “And also, it kind of forms a heart, and the album is called Brothers, so it’s kinda like these two guns are brothers.”
But the artists all have their own way of marrying image and sound.
“We listen to the album and try and get an idea of what the album sounds like and make that up artistically as an image,” says Connor Hill. “And sometimes we like to do crazy stuff. Whatever fits.”
Hill and his creative partner, Matt Brinker, have day jobs as graphic designers at Dallas design firms. But at night they gather in Brinker’s East Dallas home and become Magnificent Beard.
That’s the design collective they started about a year ago to pursue their true passion – making music posters.
MATT: “It’s really cool to be involved in a way that we know how since we’re not musicians. So I think this is kind of a way to be rock stars outside of ….”
CONNOR: “It’s as close as we can get to being in the band.”
Matt and Connor are attending Flatstock for the first time. For four days, music fans can sip beer and wander row after row of booths displaying posters. Many bring their own cardboard tubes to safely store their newly purchased treasures in. And while the shoppers get to take home a frameable work of art, the artists get to show off their work, hopefully make a little money and check out what their peers are up to.
Nevada Hill has been making posters in Denton for seven or eight years. While Matt and Connor’s posters have the clean, sharp lines you might expect from commercial designers, Nevada’s work is more abstract and muddy. He even describes it as messy.
“I try to give bands their own unique identity,” he says. “Early on, people were worried about, ‘Well, I don’t want to hire him because he’s already doing stuff for these guys. I want my band to have a unique look.’ And that’s really helped me out because that’s made me be more creative.”
When Hill started making posters, he was already playing in bands in Denton. He said he was surprised to find out there weren’t more people making posters in a city full of bands needing to advertise. Other cities with established music scenes like Austin, Chicago and Seattle are known as being hotspots of postermaking.
At this point, though, it doesn’t really matter where you live if you want to be a poster artist. One thing the poster makers here have in common with many of their musician brethren is a DIY spirit. A lot of the bands playing South by Southwest this week write and record their music in home studios. And Clay Hayes says home is still the studio of choice for most postermakers.
“Lots of these people actually print in their kitchen or garage. The work that comes out looks like it’s super professionally done, but in fact they’re screening these prints by hand and hanging them up on clothes hangers,” he said from his booth at Flatstock. “The finished product is what matters, and they’re really good at what they do.”
Hayes founded gigposters.com, where designers can show off their work and interact with one another. A browse through the site, and a walk through Flatstock, shows music posters have come a long way from the days when most featured a Xeroxed photo of the band and very little artistry.
“Um, I got an utmost epic Human Centipede poster,” Rachael Fullerton said as she browsed the showroom floor. “And some basic art and then I think I got a couple of gig posters for like Neil Hamburger and stuff.”
She, like many of the people walking the show floor at Flatsock, is both a poster collector and an obsessive music fan. People like her share credit with the artists for keeping the art form alive and thriving. Concert posters were originally intended to advertise concerts. But seeing them all displayed together, they take on the same role as a bootleg tape or a snippet of a show put up on YouTube.
“You have pictures and everything, but it’s nice to have a work of art to commemorate what you went to,” she said.
And that same desire to freeze a moment in time keeps Hill cranking out the posters.
“There was no visual representation of it. And I have those documents because I created those documents. I have those posters that say this happened at this time, and hopefully they’ll be around for a long time.”