Saturday, 23 July 2011

Interview 27 (Part 1)

Des Behari, Dom Latham and Dan Russell of Manchester Municipal Design Corporation, celebrate the 'post-regeneration city' in their new zine, Things Happen.

Please tell us a little something about yourselves. And, where does the Manchester Municipal Design Corporation (MMDC) fit into this story?

We started working together on a collaborative Design MA at Manchester School of Art in 2009 — the Design LAB. There were seven of us all from different design backgrounds (architecture, product design, fine art, media art, ceramics) and all somewhat disillusioned with our pasts. Our project was "what next for Manchester" and we worked with real clients and on self initiated projects in the city. We invented the MMDC name to appear real, get name badges at events and also allow us to function outside and beyond the university, especially when doing work of dubious legality, such as a guerilla street projection/mass gathering outside an abandoned city centre cinema.
Most of the active MMDC members now work at Ultimate Holding Company on graphic design and social & environmentally engaged art projects, and are involved in the creation of a Design Without Boundaries-esque university/real world conduit space in our Hotspur House home. A magazine — The Hotspur — a contemporary of the Beano and Dandy may or may not have been printed here, so the next issue of Things Happen will be both a homage to that, and a description of our activity and plans here.

Tell us how Things Happen came about, what has inspired you from a design perspective? What do you hope to achieve with the publication?

The mag occurred because of several things. We wanted to document our activity, and that of our growing circle of like-minds. I used to live in Sheffield and remembered a great zine called Go Sheffo and we got one of the guys behind it over to talk to us. We then stole his idea. He had, in turn, stolen the idea from Mercy in Liverpool. We were(and still are) working on things in response to the city's regeneration running out of steam and money, but still wanted to celebrate what we like. There are also a few swipes at the stuff we dislike!
Another reason I value zines is that I play in a DIY trashy pop band, and the international underground that has existed since the 80s is of huge interest to me. The guy that recorded one of our albums in a Leeds basement is friends with Karen Ablaze and it amazes me the people she interviewed for her zine. With design, I'm very keen on DIY and undesigned stuff, so Things Happen Issue One was more my scrappy influence. Oz and the Underground Press Syndicate are amazing (and I inherited a pile of them) as are things like De Stijl, especially at recording a movement and a time & place. Studying architecture I was obsessed with the Bauhaus and Dutch Modernism — the whole package of ethos, design, education and publication. We had a manifesto for MMDC so placing it in the zine seemed natural for readers to understand our angle. Des has had similar exploits in the underground music world promoting DIY gigs in Bristol. I'd simply like the publication to document us, our opinions and our immediate network of collaborators, and act as a method of attracting more people to get in touch if they have similar ideas.

Why have you chosen to move away from the conventions of using a photocopier for producing your zine to using litho printing and a risograph? Do you feel this is indicative of a general shift amongst zine producers today to be more experimental with production techniques?

Risograph is just as cheap as photocopying and there are the joys of colour to work with! We got the litho cover posters done cheaply, too, as the university could print them in house. Although I like the scruffier aesthetic I didn't want Things Happen to look dated, hence the use of different techniques. Stuff like No Zine is great in the use of lithography and colour, as well as the design. I think many people are still photocopying away, but it's no longer the only cheap option. The place we Riso is called MARC, the Manchester Area Resource Centre. Old Man Steptoe and Comic Book Guy work there, and although they are initially rude, they do a good job once you convince them you aren't idiots. They are cheap, and I'm pretty sure stuff like Owt is printed there too.

At the moment Manchester seems to be experiencing a flurry of activity with regards to the fanzine scene. To what do you attribute this resurgence?

Hmm, The Shrieking Violet zine did a feature on why people still publish actual physical things, there were a lot of similar reasons. Mainly the beauty of something you can hold in your hands, something you can stumble across that will last. There's the abstract, pictorial Owt Creative zine that prints stuff from open calls for submissions, the more anecdotal Belle Vue and bunch of others. There's a lot of people just doing stuff, and alongside music, zines are something that are not hard to get out into the world, they have a real grassroots immediacy. There's a zine library in Salford and many self publishing fairs and events, which is great.

What other zines would you recommend us to read, and why?

Manchester's Shrieking Violet — the very prolific editor/author is a collaborator of ours and vice versa. She has published about 10 mags to every one of ours and comes at the city from a similar angle.
I'd also recommend Niche Homo in Leeds. An amazing, thick overview of the DIY music scene complete with amusing/disturbing comics and stories (one of the chaps who does it lives in the same Leeds house mentioned above and has done cassette interviews by post after Karen told him that's how things used to be done). Definitely check out Go Sheffo (all online). It's such an inspiring celebration of how he and his friends saw the city. That guy now does the Sheffield Publicity Department (stolen from the opening to The Full Monty—Sheffield, City on the Move!). He almost saved Sheffield's Cooling Towers from demolition and got them on the Channel 4 Big Art programme. He also suggested Park Hill flats be reused and hey presto, Urban Splash stepped in. Our friends the Manchester Modernist Society are going to be publishing a quarterly on Modernism in the Northwest (and beyond), which we, ahem, have designed. We also just finished a Modern A-Z of Manchester and Salford for them. These are worth looking at as they are down-to-earth and accessible, led by enthusiasts, whereas the subject is often dealt with somewhat snobbishly. Our friend Laura is working on a food and art project that, I think, will be a zine too (Feast. We're not designing that one so no guilt about plugging it!

Thanks a lot!