Ahh, Punk. Has there ever been a movement so anarchistic, so predicated on burning the whole thing down and starting fresh without actually killing anyone to make that happen? Punk was violence to the status quo, to the false phony appearance-based culture that worshiped respectability politics and markers of status above everything else. Punk recognized the scam for what it was and sought to defy the system by operating independent of it.
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The movement was more than music; it was an attitude and a way of life that elevated an originality and innovation while championing the Do it Yourself aesthetic. It was inherently populist even though it had a distinct appeal and through its aesthetic separated the wheat from the chaff at every turn.
Punk brought together sight and sound into a fusion of pure energy that allowed kids to make art and fulfill their own needs. While new bands were pressing vinyl they brought in friends to design the record sleeves, sparking a revolution in graphic design that still burns with energy. Back in the days, before Photoshop and InDesign, folks were creating original works by the tried and true tools of hand and eye.
These works were made from what was readily available at the time: photographs and drawings, collage and Letraset, copy machines and the magic of pure, unbridled creativity inspired by freedom. The result was unlike anything the world had ever heard or seen, making music scary to squares once again.
In celebration, Unit Editions has published Action Time Vision, a phenomenal compendium of Punk and Post-Punk 7” record sleeves from the collections of Russ Bestley & Tony Brook, as well as interviews with designer Malcolm Garrett, Mute founder Daniel Miller and Sniffin’ Glue editor and musician Mark Perry.
One of the many joys of Action Time Vision is the sheer breadth of the work, revealing the heart of a true collector and mind of an aficionado. The book is made by those in the know, who were there on the scene, picking up the latest single and spinning it over and over again. Frame after frame after frame evokes the sheer pleasure of perusing a record shop or going through your friend’s collections, reminding us of the time when music had a distinctly physical component.
Part of that component was the record sleeve, which lured you in from the jump and kept you company for as long as you were spinning those records. The sleeve was more than marketing: it was a work of art designed to translate the sound into an unforgettable sight. The fun of Punk and Post-Punk music was that it wasn’t there to comfort you; it was designed to tap into all the unpleasant, disturbing realities that society tried to discredit or ignore—and it made you feel like, finally, you weren’t alone in the world. The record sleeves perfectly captured this intensely aggressive yet alienated state, captivating you with their images of life—unpretty yet so damn attractive.
The brilliance of Action Time Vision is that it doesn’t play the greatest hits or the famous names—instead it is much like a trip to the record shop where you make discoveries on every page. And you gently yearn for a time when life was analogue, and you used your hands to cut and paste and draw or drop the needle on your latest score.
All photos: © Unit Editions
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.