Malcolm Garrett has two major passions in his life: music and technology. Luckily for him, his career has been witness to both the advent of punk and the digital revolution, and the designer and art director has been in the avant garde of both. In 1977, he collaborated with Linder Sterling to design the cover of the Buzzcocks’s single, “Orgasm Addict”. It was a lo-fi affair that – with Sterling’s outstretched nude female figure, contrasted with a yellow matrix background and a clear, futurist typeface – became instantly iconic. Garrett went on to work with, among others, Duran Duran (designing artwork for their first four albums), Simple Minds and Magazine. At 56, it’s technology that excites him now.
The Hunger: So let’s start at the beginning: Manchester Polytechnic, the late 1970s. How did you get there?
Malcolm Garrett: Initially I went to university in Reading to do a typography course, but found it a little bit too academic for my liking. My school friend, Peter Saville had gone to Manchester Polytechnic to do a foundation course, and he seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was. It was a simple decision to transfer.
How old were you when you and Peter met? You were at school with him?
About 13, I think. He was actually in the year above me, but we found ourselves in the same year at sixth form. I think he’d broken his leg. He used to ride a motorbike, believe it or not. You can’t imagine Peter riding a motorbike, but he rode a motorbike and he smashed his leg, so he had quite a lot of time off school. I think he stayed for another year, so by the time we were in the sixth form we were in the same year. I consider him my oldest and dearest friend.
One of the things that really brought you to attention was your design for the cover of Buzzcocks ‘Orgasm Addict’. Were you hanging out on Manchester’s music scene?
I was obsessed with music. I’d go and watch every gig at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, so I saw all those prog rock bands like Genesis and the Van der Graaf Generator, Hawkwind were my favourite band, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple. I missed the Summer of Love and all that hippie thing at the end of the 60s because I was only 11 or 12 years old, but that sort of carried through into the early 70s, and it informed me as a person.
And then came punk.
Finding yourself as a student in Manchester in 1976 just as the Sex Pistols burst on to the scene was in some ways a lucky accident, but also you had to be looking for it, and both Peter and I were very interested in music culture.
How did you get your first job?
Linder Sterling was in the year above me and through her I got to know Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley from The Buzzcocks. It transpired that their manager Richard Boon had been at Reading University when I was there. Our paths hadn’t exactly crossed but we’d been at the same gigs, parties, and we knew a lot of the same people.
I found myself invited to design a poster to advertise gigs, so I designed the poster, designed a logo that they could work with, and printed it out… Basically made myself indispensable.
Read more of our exclusive interview and Visualising Music feature in Issue Two of The Hunger, on sale now.
Look out for more of our Visualising Music interviews, coming soon to hungertv.com
To see more of Malcolm’s work visit his website.