Flatstock, Or The Music Poster As An Art Form

An interview with Geoff Peveto, director of the “Woodstock of Posters”, before the arrival of the travelling festival within the San Miguel Primavera Sound programme

After a concert - and the consequent translation into various sonic dimensions - what remains are the memories (alongside the occasional bruise) . . . and the official poster. Who has never committed an act of vandalism, pinching a Madonna, Leonard Cohen, or fill-in-the-blank-rock-star poster? An epic concert calls for a legendary poster, and the folks at the American Poster Institute (API) know it. This is why, one fine day, they decided to organise a festival of music posters. It is finally due to arrive in Europe in May, landing first in Hamburg and later in Barcelona, coinciding with the San Miguel Primavera Sound festival (there will be a second round in Hamburg in September). It will be located at the Parc del Fòrum record fair, along with another more museum-like exhibit at Palau de la Virreina, from 15th May to 3rd June.

Flatstock is an initiative started by illustrator and collector Geoff Peveto. The first exhibit was held on 28th September, 2002 at the Cellspace gallery in San Francisco. Since then, it has grown as an initiative bringing together new talents in rock signage; a visual (and ideal) accessory for all music festivals. After the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival in Seattle and the Southwest Music Convention in Austin, the 34th Flatstock festival will open in Barcelona: works by dozens of artists will be on display, among them Weathermaker Press, Clint Prints, Michael Michael Motorcycle, Army Of Cats, Adam Pobiak and Monkey Ink. For this reason, we spoke to Geoff Peveto (who also edited the book “Rock Paper Show: Flatstock Volume One”, published last March by Soundscreen Design, which brings together a wide selection of the first ten years of Flatstock).

Geoff, where are you now and what do you see around you?

I'm in my studio and there is a Jay Ryan art print called "she protects us," a Mike Budai art print of a 1970's playboy centrefold with a little Dracula he drew on it, an Amy Jo rock poster for Thrones, a Lars P Krause poster for Unsane, a Wayne Coyne Flaming Lips poster, two art prints I did with Gary Baseman and Jeremy Fish, an old Breeders poster I made and a Neil Young poster I made. 20 flat files full of posters and prints, two shelves full of Jamungo toys and a couch my grandmother had in the 60's.

So you aren’t at Frank’s, your favourite restaurant, eating a hot dog.

No, I'm at home. If I were at Frank odds are I'd be drinking and maybe eating a dog, but for sure drinking.

Are you listening to music?

Yes, listening to "Sports" by Weekend. Their song "Coma Summer" is my current favourite along with the new Bloodhouse. Rocketsauce and Tater (the dogs) are laying around.

Are your dogs close by?

Yes, Rocketsauce and Tater are laying around.

Some years ago, artists met at galleries, clubs, or comic book shops - but the American Poster Institute (API) team met through the website gigposters.com. How did it happen? The whole project was born from visits to a website?

I'm not sure API or Flatstock would have come to fruition had gigposters.com not existed. That site allowed a lot of artists all over the world to start talking about how we were all doing the same thing, just in different places. That commonality made us want to get together in person and so Flatstock became the place we did that.

What were the next steps in founding Flatstock?

There was a discussion on gigposters.com about how posters were rarely considered for any kind of gallery show. Frank Kozik said "why don't you all quit bitching and organise your own show?" and he got the ball rolling to do that.

Could it have happened anywhere else besides San Francisco?

Yeah, it could have easily been Austin or Seattle or Chicago but Frank lived in San Francisco, so it made sense to hold the first one in his town.

Why did you move to Austin in the 90s? Were you looking for any particular artistic scene?

I've been a music fan my entire life and growing up in Oklahoma we didn't get many shows. While in college I got tired of bands skipping us on their tours, so I wanted to be somewhere that actually had a thriving music scene. At the time I was looking at Lawrence Kansas and Austin. I decided I hated cold weather, so Austin was the choice.

What’s your relationship with Frank Kozik, your partner in the API? How did you meet?

His Butthole Surfers Flaming Lips poster was one of the first ones I ever bought, but I didn't personally know Frank until we started working on the first Flatstock together. I made a trip out to San Francisco a little before the first Flatstock and met him and talked about what was needed to get this first show going.

Why the name “Flatstock”?

“Flatstock” is an industry term for paper. It also sounded like Woodstock, which is arguably the most famous music festival ever. It seemed to fit.

Can you preview some names and examples of the posters we’ll see at the San Miguel Primavera Sound exhibit?

There will be 30 booths with really diverse artistic styles. You will see posters for major acts like Arcade Fire, The Black Keys or Wilco, and truly underground bands that are friends of the poster makers. The split of attending artists is about 50/50 of European and US, so you are going to see plenty of regional bands along side the famous ones. One of the coolest things I've witnessed at Flatstocks, especially in Europe, is people buying the posters even if they didn't know the band. They liked the art that much.

What are the upcoming Flatstock shows in Europe? Will they be considerably different from the one at San Miguel Primavera Sound?

Flatstock will be back in Hamburg, Germany for the Reeperbahn Festival in September. Flatstock in Hamburg is very similar since it is also outside, but the Reepebahn Fest is more like South By Southwest in regards to the bands playing in venues vs. outside.

What posters did you have in your bedroom as a teenager?

My room was covered with posters of every metal band that was in Circus, Kerrang and Hit Parader. Everything from Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to Slayer, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. Really every inch had pictures pinned to the wall.

What makes the perfect poster? In other words, what should a good poster have to capture the real essence of a band, the spirit of a city, or even the zeitgeist of an era?

I like to see the artist actually put some thought into a concept that relates to the band and their fans. If the band or their fans don't understand why you chose the imagery to represent them, you probably missed the mark. I don't have a strong need for the band name to be huge or the information to be 100% immediately clear. I like when you have to dig a little bit to get to the message of the poster, but I think it needs to be relevant to the band, their aesthetic and their music.

What style is most appropriate for a poster? Pop art, comic, expressionism, surrealism…?

It depends on the band and your audience. I wouldn't use anything comic for a High On Fire poster. They have a very distinct vibe. It's heavy and dark. Funny doesn't really fit them. On the other hand you can do that for the Melvins, who are just as heavy, but the band has a really great sense of humour.

Can you identify a poster that you designed for a band and that you feel especially proud of? Where the result was ideal for a client that you particularly admire.

I did a poster for Willie Nelson that came out pretty well. It was printed on metal and aged to look like an old “no trespassing” sign. Willie said, "This is really nice."

I've done a lot of posters for Modest Mouse and The Hold Steady that we are pretty happy with too.

There is a certain trend towards releasing special, limited-edition posters, which end up becoming very big collectors’ items. Are posters the new paintings of the 21st Century?

Silkscreened art has always been a limited edition, and posters aren't treated any differently. There are such things as an "open edition" meaning the poster can be reprinted indefinitely. I think there is a certain integrity to maintain that's been engrained in the practice of making limited-edition prints, so I've never produced a print that way. We are making unique art even if it's a rock poster. People respond to that and appreciate that they have something special that only a few folks share with them.

Are you a collector or accumulator? What is your collection like? Do you do it as a hobby, or is it an obsession?

I do collect posters. I have a handful of pretty valuable things, I suppose, like all the Flaming Lips posters that Wayne Coyne made back in the 90s. It's a casual hobby vs. an obsession, at this point. I've been fortunate enough to become friends with all the poster makers I really admire, so we've swapped a lot of stuff over the years.

What poster would you kill for (or at least fight or pay a lot of money for)?

There is an old Husker Du flyer that I think is awesome. It's just a Xerox, but it's funny as hell and I doubt I'll ever see it in person. I have managed to pick up most of the things I ever looked for over the last ten years.

Have you ever been in Barcelona for Primavera Sound?

I haven't and I am stoked to be there. The fucking Refused are playing! It's going to be a badass mission.

Let’s forget posters for a minute and talk about groups. Who will you be sure not to miss at Primavera?

Refused! Man the line-up is amazing, so many good bands, but I am especially excited to see Afghan Whigs and Archers Of Loaf again. Finally get to see Chavez. Plus Sleep, Mayhem, Mudhoney, Neutral Milk Hotel, Wavves, Girls, The xx, Thee Oh Sees, Yo La Tengo, Beach House, Napalm Death, Melvins. Jeez, Primavera has an awesome line-up this year.

Finish this sentence: “A concert is better with …” (OK, you can clearly say bacon, monkeys, and beer; what are three things that you can’t live without).

Friends. Definitely friends. And bacon, monkeys and beer.

Your life and work are intimately related to music. Do you play any instruments?

I played piano in grade school and drums in high school. Had a crappy band in college for a minute that I sang in. But once I got into design, I focused on that and photography and let my friends who could actually play instruments make music.

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