Clear Direction

Record label Where To Now? caught our eye with its instantly recognisable aesthetic. Grafik caught up with co-founder James Hines from Studio Of The Immaculate Heart to discuss its pared-back look.

Tell us a little a bit about Where To Now? and some of the artists you put out.
WTN? started as a bar night in the Penthouse, Brighton. It was a music-nut kind of place above a venue called the Freebutt – the sort of place you could go any night of the week and hear new stuff either in the Penthouse (where everyone in Brighton seemed to have a night) or in the venue below. Myself, Matt, and later James, would spin mostly new wave, minimal synth, no-wave and neo dub stuff. We’d sit around talking about our latest 7" hauls, dancing sometimes, and we used to make compilation CDs to give away. We did this for maybe a couple of years before progressing to a radio show on Totally Radio. Around 2009-2010 we started putting out tapes on a very casual basis, firstly by Moon Gangs, who is a good friend of ours, then PDP, who I was at college with, then Weak Notes, Chevalier Avant Garde, and so on. Slowly but surely we added more and more releases, in a very organic way. There wasn’t a grand scheme. However, we were noticeably moving towards a more experimental electronic sort of world, and as we started getting deeper into it, we thought we could maybe take this a bit more seriously and that's how the WANDA GROUP 12" came about. Matt knew Lou [Johnstone, who records as WANDA GROUP], so we reached out with a proposal.

What did you want to achieve with the label’s visual aesthetic?
I'm not sure what I wanted to achieve personally. It's certainly an important creative outlet for me – a place to muck about with type, layout and occasionally illustration. I'm not with an agency, and I hardly ever get commissions, so I do WTN? instead. In terms of goals for the label, I was just trying to make objects that people would desire, and want to collect. I've always been drawn to labels that seek to cultivate a strong visual identity. From the start we were certain that we wanted to create a sort of house style, but it's tricky thing to traverse. On the one hand I want to create something that would be instantly identifiable as a WTN? release, and on the other I don't want to be too prescriptive so as to alienate people. We still want the visual element of each release to feel unique.

We have always used riso. It is quite simply the easiest and cheapest printing method that we have access to. There really isn't much more to it than that. In a lot of ways we think about what we do with great intensity (and thousands of Facebook messages), and in other ways it just happens to be the way that it is just because that is simplest solution. I also work so finding time to design is very hard and; riso's built-in limitations mean that a lot of things that could make the design process a long one simply aren’t there.

Was it difficult to find a style all-encompassing enough to take in quite a varied group of artists?
Honestly, I didn't find it particularly difficult. A single sleeve can be very difficult, and I sometimes run up to ten separate treatments, but as for the general look and style of the releases, it all came about quite easily. The style we arrived at is as much a product of the method as it is a product of my own ideas about how it should look. Riso is a limiting process if you are working to a tight budget, but I wanted to create simple and bold designs, so it worked. I'm not particularly seduced by fine detail or intricacy, so I'm always trying to communicate things with as few elements as possible. There is a freedom in this sort of minimal approach, and I think it provides a lot of room to express the varied musical output.

You collaborate with the musicians in creating artwork for their releases, can you tell me a little bit about this process.
We collaborate in a way. The musicians choose the image for inside of the tapes, but for the front of tape and vinyl sleeves, it's more of a back and forth exchange of ideas. I send some options, I get feedback, and we fine tune things until everyone is happy. It can be a very long process, but I think it's important that the musicians feel like they are exerting control despite the label's stylistic guidelines. More recently, as the workload has increased, I have started to take a more art-directional approach with certain sleeves by commissioning illustrators such as WALLDDIZZY, Celéstin Krier (Back To The Cave), and Martin Groch. We do this by suggesting some options to the musicians, and reaching out to the people that float their boat. I have a big wishlist of people that I hope to work with. I'm hoping that we can build a similarly strong visual identity with our WHEREIIDANCE vinyl output as with WTN?. I think it will take a while before it really coheres though.

Do you find it challenging to work within the parameters of such a rigid format as tape? How do you make each release feel individual with such a strong style? Or do you feel the releases are part of a series?
The J-card provides plenty of room for design, and it is only rigid if you stick to the prescribed design spaces (front, back, spine etc), so I do try to break away from these sometimes. Obviously scale is an issue, but we rarely have to include a lot of text with our releases, so even that obstacle is removed. I just try and address each release as I would any new brief. I forget about what I've done before and just tackle the concerns of that release. The process (and the ever present budget) is always there to bring it in line with the wider whole.

How does the work you do as Studio Of The Immaculate Heart differ to your art practice? Do they feed into each other at all?
My current art practice is at a very embryonic stage. I had been making collages for a very long time, before taking a break from them, and deleting my portfolio in the process. I am only just now going back to it with a new approach. I'm trying things out, seeing if I can offer up anything new. The pieces on my portfolio site feel like sketches working their way towards something. I'm not quite sure what that will be yet. There is a ‘playing-around-with-type’ thing in both the studio work and the personal work, and also my natural inclination toward randomness and intuition, but I think the two practices divide from there. I'm trying to achieve very different things with each.

What’s next?
We'll just carry on putting out stuff for as long as people are interested. I have a long-term goal to make WTN? a full-time gig and out of the realms of bedroom hobbyism, but it will require a lot of work and I expect a lot of good luck. I think it's probably very unlikely, but you’ve got to have goals right? We also hope to do more nights, and expand into as yet unknown territories. I'd like to publish some books, and curate art shows under the WTN? banner, so maybe we'll find time for that too.

In terms of specific releases we have some things we are very excited about. The Perfume Advert 12" is just out, followed closely by the Eugene Ward LP, and tapes from GDL and baba. After that we have records and tapes coming from Roman Nails, Freejack, Lutto Lento, Space Afrika, Beatrice Dillon, Manta, Shep Tamma, NMO, hold/mc, IXTAB, Moon Wheel, and tons more, but people will only see these if they buy our stuff, so snap it all up.