The London-based designer is poised to launch his second ‘Samizdat’ collection, and to host a series of musical performances at Selfridges
When you think of fictional bands you tend to think of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Jem and the Holograms, or Spinal Tap; you think of films or cartoons, for that’s the realm in which they tend to exist. You don’t think of fashion bands, and you definitely don’t think of fashion brands as bands. But that’s about to change with Samizdat, the latest brainchild of London-based designer Yang Li and his and his numerous contributors Federico Capalbo, Jamie Andrew Reid, Chris Blohm and more.
Not that Samizdat is a fictional band, it’s more of an expression of music fandom for an imagined entity, inspired, according to Li, by “the delineated visual imagery and obsessive nature of noise, industrial, experimental music”. The name, Samizdat, stems from the Russian term for the undeground creation and dissemination of literature, art and music banned by the communist state. And it’s this idea of an underground community, a tribe if you will, which is at the heart of what Li and Capalbo are doing; for them it’s a way to, “promote what would normally be outside of the fashion scope, but important is to us culturally.”
This is why, instead of creating another ‘fashion’ brand, the pair want to build a platform to “interact creatively with and promote musicians in a more direct and immediate way” and, with that, allow other people to connect with one another based on a shared visual code bourne out the tradition of music merchandise. Everyone remembers going to their first concert, buying the t-shirt and then running into someone else and starting up a conversation because they had the same one. Prior to the internet, you couldn’t just buy one on eBay and fake it. You had to be there.
Li and Capalbo want to recreate the pre-internet attitude to subculture, where once you had discovered your tribe it became an all-consuming passion, which is something they themselves still fall prey to. “The obsessive nature of collecting rare and limited items is also part of what attracts us to certain subcultures,” they explain over email. “EP sleeves made out of metal in limited run, like a Ramleh one we had recently acquired, cassette tapes in unconventional sleeves and packaging like Gerogerigegege early releases…”
The backbone of the Samizdat experience is their series of Sonic Discipline events, where they bring together a group of bands that have in someway influenced them for a series of performances over a couple of days. This in turn inspires the backbone of their ‘merchandise’, as these bands are the ones they have designed their ‘imagined merchandise’ for. The second Sonic Discipline event, taking place in London’s Selfridges this weekend correlates to their second collection which was inspired by Japanese noise music.
“We had collaborated with Japanese underground artist Keichi Ohta who supplied some of his artworks for our graphics,” say Li and Capalbo. They reimagined most of his work as cover art for the fictional Samizdat band’s Japanese tour. There are plenty of other references mixed into the graphics, or as Li likes to call them, ‘Easter eggs’, Hijokaidan and Hanatarash to name two, creating in a way an almost Japanese supergroup that exists only in t-shirt form.
The event, headlined by legends Ramleh, JK Flesh, Keiji Haino and KK Null for them is, “the coronation of our project”. The cross pollination of ideas continues with a series of early noise music mixtapes (packaged in a hollowed-out Yukio Mishima book, see below) put together by their frequent collaborator Chris Blohm, who they are flying out to DJ at this weekend’s event. The question is though, now that they’ve created the merchandise for the band they wished to belong to, will they take the next step and simply create their own Samizdat band? “Reverse engineering of a group will be the ultimate”.