The recent trend of rave-indebted, DIY-style flyer designs for parties has a lot to thank Luca Lozano for. Son of an illustrator and screen-printer and nephew to a food packaging graphic designer gave Lucas a strong foundation in the visual arts. Although blessed with an innate talent he struggled to find his feet in the professional world, until he started doing designs for his own parties in London. Twisting the skills learnt through his photography degree and combining it with interests in skateboarding culture, punk flyers, spray paint and photocopying as a canvas, his own style began to emerge. Now his Planet Luke look is a striking and singular one that makes his design for flyers and his own Klasse Wrecks a cut above the copycats.
Festivals like going toe-to-toe for the best lineup, but few put their design front and centre. This year however, Luca has been appointed as Art Director of Uva Festival in Spain, leading their visual identity across all promotional material. It might seem an odd choice for a festival based in a UNESCO World Heritage site, but matches up perfectly to its adventurous programming. In light of this prestigious appointment, we took a deeper look into Luca’s design work.
How did you first get into graphic design?
My earliest memories of seeing design and being in the space of a design studio were back in the late 80s, I was in my single digits and there was a studio in the basement of the house I lived in. My family shared a large house with another family in New Cross, South London and there was a studio called Archipelago that was used by my father. My dad used to do screen printing, some illustration and was (and still is) a very creative person. All of his friends were hippy types, involved in the CND movement and the left side of creative culture in London during the 80s and 90s. I think being around those people and their work affected me quite deeply.
Also, my uncle who lived in South Africa, was a graphic designer and worked for amongst other companies, a lot of supermarkets. He designed food packaging and I still have vivid memories of seeing the blueprint mock-ups and being enthralled at the ‘secret-behind-the-scenes’ access to something usually so generic and expected.
In 1997, I started a Graphic Design BTEC, which is usually what you do before studying at university. After less that a year I dropped out, disillusioned at the bleak and tired way the syllabus was presented. Everything was built around preparing work for a client, fulfilling a brief and generally working within ’the box’. At the time I knew I was good at design and it came easy to me but I never wanted to put restrictions on what I did and wasn’t too excited at the prospect of just being a tool that fulfils other peoples wishes.
For around 10 years I avoided anything to do with design, I studied photography for seven years and eventually grew tired of that as well. It was in 2004 when I started putting on parties in London that I started to make my own flyers. I can trace everything now back to that exact point. Living in Brixton and making short runs of photocopied flyers, I began to explore some visual identities and started working on my style.
What were some of your major influences as you were developing your eye?
At that time I was borrowing heavily (in fact straight lifting) imagery from Buddy Esq Junior, the king of rap flyers from the 70s and 80s. I was also looking a lot at the style of hardcore punk flyers, homemade imagery that used the photocopier heavily. I had been a skateboarder since my early teens and the visual side of that sub-culture was a huge influence on me. As I was finishing my photography degree I started to move away from conventional photo-taking and started to incorporate spray paint and stencils. There was something about the high contrast of black and white and mono-colour images that intrigued me. I was bound to the simplicity of it all, often getting lost and confused in the complications of the grey area in between.
How would you describe your artistic style and approach to art?
There are a few words that spring to mind when thinking about my work; DIY, outsider, rough, raw, bold…but there is no intent behind any of the stylistic choices I make, I am simply drawn to them naturally and have found a way to let the style flow through the choices I make. My general opinion of ‘art’ is that it is universal and should be accessible to everyone, maybe this is reflected in my work…although its not something I think of when making images. I generally think taste is subjective and that there should be no hierarchy in art, one man’s Phillip Glass is another mans Spice Girls. No-one should dictate or impose their taste or opinion on anyone as better or superior. I’m a huge fan of naive and innocent art, seeing charm in simple and ‘un-informed’ work and often try to approach things in a humble way.
Are there any particular statements you try thread through your work?
I steer clear of any statements, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, people are free to be their own masters. I approach work with the intent to make a striking, simple, effective and sometimes humorous piece of work, if I’ve done those things then I feel I have done my job. My main area of expertise and familiarity is posters and record artwork, it’s not a field of high-art and is rarely conceptual. I grow weary of seeing work that is heavy on the concept and serious in nature, it somehow loses the fun and excitement for me. Making simple and ‘fun’ work is not, however, the same as not taking your work seriously. I take pride in thinking a lot about when an image is finished and when it is ready for public consumption. Theres an incredible amount of middle-of-the-road, rashly executed design out there (particularly in the music world) and I’m keen to ensure only quality comes out. The world definitely doesn’t need anymore rubbish!
How hard is it to reconcile your influences – based in manic, anarchic, highly deregulated spaces and movements – with a contemporary club circuit that is incredibly distant from the contexts out of which these DIY styles arose?
I’m lucky in the fact that with both my DJ and graphic career rarely encounter the ‘mainstream’ you mention. A few years ago I made a conscious decision to avoid dipping my toes back into that world, I had had a taste of it before when working with other projects and I saw huge lack of care and interest taken. I work a lot with very small and very independent record labels, people who do music out of a pure love and passion. I undertake jobs from across the spectrum and mainly enjoy the lower-paid and more ‘underground’ jobs. Often when money becomes a priority, other important aspects take a back seat. I currently work with a strict frame of terms and conditions and make it explicitly clear to the people I work with that I am not in anyway a normal graphic designer. I am not a tool to be used but actually a particular service to be hired. I’m not ruling out the possibilities of working with bigger and more mainstream companies but I am and always will be resistant to compromising on my ethics and beliefs.
In fact, I also think we are in the middle of a time of fantastic D.I.Y culture, people now have the tools and access to make and build whatever they want so in essence I do not feel like the ‘contemporary club circuit’ is so distant from the origins but indeed returning to them. We, as people in this age have endless list of possible avenues to choose from, if we can loosen up on the desperation of ‘making it’ and the compromises that might follow that, we can create some amazing stuff!
Given the amount of time that has passed since the early 90s, for younger people the initial experience of these styles will now be through the work of people such as yourself, filtered through nearly three decades of dance music culture. Do you ever get a sense that these influences lose meaning or pertinence as time goes on? Or do you see your work as a staying reminder?
I often see work very similar to mine (I am by no means alone in this creative corner), hastily assembled without much concern for overall composition and finish and to me it is very obvious that the image is done without real love or interest for the inspirations or origins. Art and design has a great way (which consistently still amazes me) of being very true and transparent, the intent of the artist behind the image is often very obvious. I can see when an image is created by someone wanting ‘something cool and 90s looking’ just because its the flavour of the month. I often get asked for work that looks like another record label, which irks me as I never understand why you would want to emulate someone else’s style…why invest so much time and money in something so it just looks like a lame copy of another already established group of people?
The style and fashion of the present is always on a 20 year cycle, right now we’re hanging out towards the late 90s. I see a lot of bad Designers Republic copying going on and its awkward to see, but for me it doesn’t affect my opinion and respect for the original movement. It has and always will have a very special place in my heart and I move through life with blinkers on, the more ignorant I am of what is happening around me the easier it is to produce material that I’m happy with…it goes for both music and design.
You’ve been put in charge of the visuals at Uva Festival this year (above). Could you give us some insight into how you approached the brief?
I just wanted to create an image that was simple, easy to read and effective. Theres so much visual noise online these days, its important for me that my work stands out and is legible. It must work on both large and small scales and have some continuity to it, it goes towards creating a feeling for the festival so often the first impression must conjure emotions that you might associate with being out in the sun and enjoying music. All these things are considered but most of the time they are considered by my sub-conscious, I will get an immediate feel of the direction of the event by the line up and artists involved and then it moves organically from there.
Other than that I try not to get bogged with the intent to do something in particular, the idea of a ‘brief’ or ‘outline of work needed’ fills me with dread and the energy used to trying to fulfil that is wasted and could be used better elsewhere. When people ask me for work I make it clear to them that they are not to ask me for anything in particular, asking me to include specific elements, colour and fonts will result in me wanting to do the total opposite, I work best when given total freedom.
When conceptualising a commission like this – an outdoor festival on a UNESCO world heritage site, quite the opposite context of the work you’ve been known for in the past/that has influenced you – how much does the environment play a role in the end result?
It wasn’t something I thought about when making the posters for UVA, I could have gone down that route but could imagine it would have resulted in a corny and pretentious image.
Imagine you’re a tour guide in a modern art museum and you come to your piece for Uva. Tell us what you see.
I would imagine I, as the tour guide would stop the tour and radio to my superior, asking them how a flyer for a music festival mysteriously made its way into a modern art museum! My design work is not to be over-conceptualised or talked about in any academic level, its simply there to do its job well and look good.
It’s a real testament to Uva when the artistic direction of the event involves not just the musical programming, but the visuals too. Are you often commissioned for events in this way?
The bulk of my workload is posters and flyers and people mainly contact me because my style will compliment the musical direction, so in a way, all work I get asked to do is the same as the UVA work. The visual side of the music and nightlife scene has always been an equal and important part of it, from the clothes people wore to the way the logos looked on ecstasy tablets. There is a synergy that will always be there.
What have been some of your favourite commissions, or what projects are you most proud of?
The work I am always most happiest with is the work that takes the shortest amount of time, if I’m in the zone and have some nice reference or inspiration material then I can produce work in a few hours. Generally speaking I like the jobs that come quickly and involve little to no changes, I get frustrated when people ask for minor changes but understand its also part of the routine. My favourite stuff is always for my own label, Klasse Wrecks. I can work there with no expectations or deadlines and have the most fun when making design for either me or my close network of friends’ music. My recent contribution to the BLAD series was enjoyable and I was very happy when asked to be part of it, its always fun working with Fett Burger on stuff…we have a similar approach and a similar level of ADHD so rarely get bored or over-work things.
I’m currently working on a few things for some clothing labels and also working on some new designs for our own t-shirts and clothing, its exciting to me as I have to think outside of the usual A4/A3/A2 ratio of paper and think how it would look when worn. I’m looking forward to doing more of this in the future.
Are there any standouts for you in terms of similar projects you may have seen at other festivals?
Casting the net a bit wider, are there any current designers in a music context who you particularly admire?
There are a few other current designers I admire but as mentioned before I try to remain as ignorant as I can when it comes to my contemporary peers. However, some of my favourite artists that work within a similar field include Abdul Haqq aka Third Earth Arts, Junior Tomlin, Designers Republic, Buddy Esq Junior, Futura 2000, Basquiat, Jimbo Phillips and my all-time favourite designer, Omar S.
We’d be amiss to ask while we’re here…what have you got planned for the rest of the year with your solo productions and Klasse Wrecks?
Theres about a million different things I’m working on, for Klasse and our other sub-labels, I’m hesitant to tell you what they are as I’m a big fan of keeping things surprising. There isn’t enough mystery in the music world these days and I prefer to keep thing under wraps until they are out there in the world and ready for people to consume.
Music wise, I’ve just released a double 12”/album on Running Back, theres a record of remixes I made coming out on Rekids and a few things on Klasse, various new series’ and side-projects. Most importantly is the mention of our new website, which will grow this year and be the focus of our output and business. I would urge people to head to klassewrecks.com, sign up and wait for the goodies. 🙂