If you’re a devout follower of our scene’s more prominent labels, and the likelihood is that you are, you may have noticed the “aesthetical” makeovers a select few have undergone in the past six months. Beginning with Chestplate, closely followed by Innamind (and subsequently Blacklist), and now Crucial Recordings, these stunning rebrands can be traced back to a single individual whose attempts to conceptualise the music’s visual design is evidently in a league of his own. With a long term profession in this field it may not come as a surprise, yet the challenge of creating a visual identity when designing label artwork is something that not many get right. What does come as a surprise though, is Mesck’s ability to still find the time to build beats, and a lot of them, in between juggling a full time job, label duties, and well, a social life.
His recent Rinse FM mix for N-Type featuring a number of his own dubplates and collaborations with close peers clearly suggest his skills in the studio equally parallel his abilities as a graphic artist. Demand for those skills have certainly proliferated, having already contributed towards Epoch, Oxóssi and Mikael’s projects thus far, which brings me to a recent observation of mine. In a climate of so called vinyl renewal, it is surprising to learn that some labels still struggle to sell 300 units, or break even for that matter. Whether that’s down to the vinyl’s content or not, maximising efforts on the art direction could make all the difference. I admit it’s an extra expense and the returns small, but appreciation for art has changed people’s buying habits. I increasingly see comments about “bagging” a record based on the artwork itself, I for one have done this, as I’m sure many others have.
2016 has already spoiled us with some incredible music, and very occasionally, sleeved alongside equally incredible artwork. The aforementioned cases; Epoch, Oxóssi, Mikael, have been / will be sought after records, and each champion Mesck’s golden touch. From blackbook to blacklist, Mesck is consistently proving that he is a true master of his craft, while adding value to the case in hand: that people buy into the art just as much as the music. Inspired by his work, I got in touch with Zach to ask him a few questions about his art, music, and future projects, and in return, he kindly supplied us with a few photos from his graffiti sketchbooks and let us give “Tripwire“ away as a free download.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, how’s it going?
Been good man, thanks for getting in touch.
I’m glad we’ve managed to make this happen, I’m seeing your artwork everywhere at the moment and it’s absolutely killer. Have you had similar feedback from other people, and the online community in general?
Yeah man definitely, nothing but respect for the TRUSIK gang. As far as design / artwork goes, I’ve actually been doing it for years now but took a bit of a break from doing freelance to concentrate on music for awhile. I just recently started taking on a few projects from some close friends, trying to keep things focused.
Could you tell us a little bit about your journey into the profession, the methodology and techniques you opt for when beginning a project, and lastly, if you can chose one, a piece of work you’re most proud of?
Yeah it’s been a long road that’s for sure. I guess it’s kind of always been in my blood. My mother is a graphic designer / creative director as well with a major in fine arts from Parsons in NYC so naturally it was something I’ve been surrounded with since I was a kid. As far as what kept me on that path, I could credit a college education, or my background in illustration, but in all honesty I think it was graffiti. My early roots in graff writing led me to develop my own take on typography, form and composition. Without having that as a catalyst into the world of music, fine art, or graphic design, I honestly have no idea what I would be doing with myself right now. Graffiti saved my life.
As far as techniques go, I generally try to combine multiple mediums when I work as opposed to just staring at a computer screen for hours on end (not that I don’t do that as well). I’ve found that you end up with a more well-rounded final product when you draw from “analog” methods, it’s the same with music really. A lot of work that’s done strictly in the digital realm doesn’t have the same feel as work done outside the confines of the computer. But that goes both ways.
The recent Blacklist project for Epoch was a fun experiment in working with unconventional process’, mediums, and typography. Another one of my favourites is a piece I did with a good friend of mine Karol Lasia (khomatech) for Quadrant, which actually never got printed. We basically lit a bunch of skulls and books on fire on my back patio and created a mangled flaming photo composite of it all. Avant-garde gutter shit. On the more corporate “day job” in-house tip I got a chance to work on some print and advertising materials for the new X-Files series, so that was pretty amazing as I’ve been a long time fan of the series.
You persuaded Distance to let you design the artwork for your “Dead Language” EP, which was an excellent record by the way. It must have gone down a treat as you also did the artwork for the recent Leon Switch release. How did you approach rebranding the “aesthetics” of an iconic label such as Chestplate?
Glad you enjoyed the record. I’ve always been my own worst critic so yeah… seems well received. The rebranding was a bit daunting and it wasn’t something I really set out to do since everyone is so familiar with the classic Chestplate badge that Tunnidge created years ago (Bigup Tim and the Chestplate gang). I think the rebrand was born more out of necessity since the labels are no longer done in full colour and we needed a way to differentiate each one. Like you said before, it’s become so iconic and straying away from the original badge seems risky, but at the same time we felt like something needed to change. I’ve been doing the labels since my initial “Conquista” release. If you look at the progression, there’s been a very slow and reserved move towards that change, so Greg and I finally decided that it was time to go all in and commit to some sort of updated aesthetic. The general idea was to keep one side free on each release for artwork so each artist can do whatever they want visually, while keeping logos, information, legal etc confined to the flip side. Pretty simple really. Obviously we wanted to maintain a certain level of grit as that’s the Chestplate sound, and it ties in to the type treatment on previous labels. It’s probably going to change even more to be completely honest.
We should probably talk about Innamind and Blacklist too. You’ve developed a great relationship with Jeremy since his move to LA. How did that all begin?
Most of our ideas involve beer, guns, and BBQ. He’s a proper American now, there’s no denying it. All jokes aside though, I’ve known J for awhile now and it’s been inspiring to see him take Innamind to the upper echelon of dubstep labels and beyond. It’s been great to watch the same happen with Blacklist as well. I think my involvement as a part-time visual curator has worked out well for both of us and the label as whole.
Tim Shellekens aka Hekkla did a fantastic job with the iconic geometric designs on the early Innamind releases, his last appearance featuring on Quest’s “Vampires” single. Since his departure, LAS and yourself have taken on artwork duties between you. Could you run us through the creative process behind the designs you cooked up for Ago’s debut and Epoch’s Blacklist album.
Yeah the older Hekkla stuff was great, I even remember the original Innamind logo with the eye of providence, or triangle. So crazy that was over 4 years ago and how much has changed since then. In all honesty, the Ago artwork kind of just happened quickly while working with random photos and scans of handstyles I had done, whereas the Epoch piece was much more of an endeavor from inception to completion. Naturally far more thought goes into a dual 12” package than would go into a simple label. We wanted something that coincides with the Blacklist ethos and brand, so a more rugged, unrefined, slightly experimental look felt appropriate. If you’ve listened to the record then it should make perfect sense. It basically started out as an experiment with layering painted acetate sheets over top of some photography I had done and it just evolved from there. The Epoch logotype was done by covering those same sheets of acetate with black ink and then removing it to create lettering in the negative space. Scan, layer, photograph, rinse and repeat; it’s essentially the visual equivalent of resampling.
Mikael is about to drop his second solo record on Innamind. Previous artworks have featured a moose, a bear and an outlaw. What was the general idea behind the art on this release?
The general idea there was to base the artwork on the track “Lintumies” which translates to bird people or something of the sort. The artwork started out as a fractured bird wing and kind of developed gradually into where it is now. A lot of times I’ll just take a small aspect of the original concept and just go off on a tangent with it which is basically what happened with this one. Sometimes what I see in my head may conflict a bit with the original direction, in which case you have to try and find some sort of middle ground.
You also designed the A-side for Oxossi’s release on Crucial Recordings. Have you decided to work with labels like Chestplate, Innamind, and Crucial because you felt strongly about the music they promote? Would you say your taste in music influences your design work?
Yes definitely. In the past I’ve taken freelance projects from artists and labels simply as design work with no attachment to the music, and it’s something I don’t do anymore. I try to limit my involvement to labels that I work with musically, or have close connections to personally. I think it works out better for everyone that way. I also try not to do too much much at once for any one specific label, gotta keep things moving. You’ll definitely be seeing more of my work on Crucial though for sure.
So moving onto music, you headlined Slow & Low’s one year anniversary down in Atlanta couple months back, how did it go? You tested out some new beats, did they get a nice reaction?
The south in general has a rich musical history that not too many other places can rival, so it was really cool to hang out in ATL for a few days and meet the Slow & Low Crew. It’s always interesting playing new cities because you really never know what to expect. What works in LA might not always work in Denver, and what works in Denver might not work in Atlanta, and so on. There’s this notion that in order to be a great DJ you have to read the crowd which isn’t wrong entirely, but a lot of times people forget that as a DJ and producer it’s also your job to lead the crowd in new directions and expose them to new sounds. “Good DJ’s read the crowd, great DJ’s lead the crowd” – that sounds like some shitty new-age motivational slogan you would see on some poorly drawn Tiesto fan art, but there is a bit of truth to it. To answer your question; yes, it’s a good feeling when you push into unknown territory and the new sounds get a stronger reaction than some of the classics. That’s how you know you’re on the right track.
In your interview with GetDarker, you briefly touched on production, with a focus on your dnb days. I would like to expand on that by looking at how you first got into producing, your preference for darker “aggressive” sounds, and when dubstep entered the equation.
My initial focus was on hip-hop around 2001 or so, when I finally managed to save up enough for an MPC2000 after months of adhering to a strict diet of peanuts and jack in the box tacos. This was before you could set up a gofundme page and have strangers throw their money at whatever your current creative endeavour happens to be at that exact moment. Everything back then was sample based for me, I had no computer, my record crate was my sample library, and my shitty apartment in central LA had no air conditioning and a brown shag carpet. I guess my biggest influences at the time were Company Flow, Def Jux (anything El-P related), Anticon, older Boot Camp, Wu, Living Legends, Project Blowed, Del, DJ Shadow, DJ Krush… the list just keeps going on. I spent so much time digging through local record shop dollar bins and discovered a lot of amazing music along the way which I still reference today.
Fast forward a few years and my focus shifted to dnb from early Noisia, Phace, Virus Recordings, Mindscape, DSCI4, SLR, Subtitles etc… again, it’s a long list. I dabbled in dnb for a few years before I discovered dubstep in the form of early SMOG and Pure Filth shows here in LA (big shout to Sam XL and Drew Best) and it just made sense. It just felt like the perfect balance between what I had been doing earlier on with hip-hop, and what I was trying to do but never quite happy with in dnb. I think both of those influences laid down the framework for where my sound is at right now. Crate digger mentality combined with the sound design process’ and technical knowledge of a dnb nerd. It took me a really long time to be content enough with my music to actually start sending beats out to labels and other producers.
In terms of production, from the hardware you use, to any additional software and plugins you can’t live without alongside your chosen DAW, how do you make the most out of your studio setup when approaching the build of a new beat? How long does it typically take you to finish a tune?
It depends really, there’s no set way I go about making a beat. I just go in whatever direction the inspiration takes me. I take a lot of notes throughout the day while at work and go back to them later on when I get into the studio. For example with “Anti-Social”, I was watching “Style Wars” (I get a lot of ideas from film and television) and there’s a scene in the train yards at night where these orchestral strings and stabs come in. Sample that, flip it around, arrange it with some drums I already had running and then just move on from there. Sometimes it’s a long process where things are constantly reworked and I end up second-guessing everything I’ve done, and then other times it’s quick and relatively effortless. It’s really all about reaching that point where you can successfully get those ideas out of your head and onto paper without too much hassle.
I’ve been working a lot more lately with hardware synths, mostly analog. Just picked up a microbrute and was using a friends eurorack for awhile along with my old virus indigo 2. I’m all about happy accidents and I find myself coming across more interesting accidents when I start out with hardware. The most valuable advice I could probably give is to dedicate studio time to just making and recording off the wall sounds. Just keep trying new methods. No arranging or song writing. Strictly sound design, but not sound design in the sense that you’re just staring at wavetables on a computer all day (again, nothing wrong with that). Record everything. Also, don’t take anything people say online too seriously, do it for you, not them.
There’s a short clip floating around featuring production from yourself, Sleeper and Thelem. Word is, it’s only the beginning of something bigger. Can we talk about that project yet?
You can check out that collab titled ‘Strawberry Cough’ in my recent mix for N-Type’s show on Rinse FM, more info on that real soon. Without giving away too much, I can say that we all have our own side projects that we’re working on developing, which will definitely intersect at various points. Matty has “Chapters” which is going to be huge, and Alex is doing Crucial which is absolutely killing it, and I’ve got something I’m holding close to the chest for the moment. When the time is right you can expect all of these projects to bleed into each other; not limited to BPM’s, genre’s or even music for that matter. In short, we have a few things in the works.
On that note, what else can we expect from you in 2016, is there any other forthcoming material, interesting projects, or up and coming music gigs you can inform the readers on? I heard you might be touring Europe later this year?
Hopefully more beats, more shows, more artwork. I’ve got a few releases in the pipeline but I’m definitely more on the quality over quantity tip. Looking at some late summer business on Gourmet Beats, big shout to Joe Nice on that one. Also, new things on Chestplate soon enough I’m sure, which is nearing it’s 10 year anniversary so HUGE shout to Greg and the Chestplate family on that. Forthcoming collaborative bits with Thelem and Sleeper as well, a few remixes, more details when I figure all that out.
And yes, I’m looking at some European dates for the end of the year. Late September through early October most likely. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and the fact that it’s become a reality hasn’t really hit me yet. Out to Katharina Pristolic at KP Booking on that. Anyone interested can get in touch with her. Also big shout to Carlos Galvan and Nicole from Sub.mission for handling stateside things. Going to be playing the Infrasound Festival this year in June, Soundpieces here in LA with Truth and Thelem, Cognitive Frequencies in San Diego in May, and a few other things here and there.
Tell us about the free track you’re giving away.
So this is a bit that District and myself have been sitting on a for awhile now. Bit of a dungeon thing… ooooh yeah I said it (laughs). DUNGEON. You can call it whatever the fuck you want honestly. I enjoy all styles as long as they’ve got the sound system vibe. Extra nerd points to anyone who can tell me what film was sampled.
Thanks for your time Zach, all the best with the forthcoming projects. Are there any final comments and shout outs you wanna share to wrap things up?
Big shout to all my stateside and EU people; the artists, the labels, the promoters, and most importantly the people who are actively going to shows and buying the music. Seems like everyone these days has some agenda they’re trying to push which is cool and all but the real unsung heroes are the heads who just love the music and aren’t looking for anything in return. Extra big shouts to my Chestplate crew, Gourmet Beats, Crucial, Chapters, B-side, etc.