When acid house made its migration from Chicago to the UK in 1988, Stuart Hammersley became instantly immersed in the music and the colours and graphic forms emanating from the scene. While studying graphic design at LCP in the early 90s, he spent as much time DJing and putting on parties as he did on his course. He recalls his first job out of college at Storm Thorgerson’s studio, working on promotional material for Division Bell as bonkers. During a stint art directing a magazine in 2000, he met photographer Shaun Bloodworth. At the same time, his friend Neil Jolliffe was setting up Tempa records. The alliance between the three has become instrumental in figuring the gritty, no-nonsense graphic style of the UK dubstep scene and its many evolutionary electronic offshoots.
The Hunger: You grew up in Essex around the time rave was kicking off.
Stuart Hammersley: Yeah, there were quite a few raves around and we would travel miles to find something new. Locally, we would go to this club called the Braintree Barn – a chicken-in-a-basket club during the week – on a Friday it would be full of people with ponytails wearing Mambo hooded tops and orange dungarees, dancing around to French Kiss. That was all quite an early influence on me.
How did that lead the way to becoming a designer?
For a lot of designers I think music is quite important. It’s why I was drawn to graphics in the first place. I was 17 when acid house started, so that was a big moment in my life. The sleeves of the very early electro records from people like Street Sounds had an incredible pop art influence. Later, in around 2000, I was art directing magazines and my friend Neil Jolliffe, decided to set up a little record label called Tempa. He played me a few tunes and asked me if I fancied doing some sleeve design for it. It was just as a favour for a friend because I really liked the music.
Tempa is now regarded as one of the founding dubstep labels.
Their breakthrough came with the first Skream album, which was made in 2006, and that was quite a big deal. That was the first time I’d worked with my friend, Shaun Bloodworth, who’s a photographer mate I met when I was art directing the food magazine. Skream’s music at the time was reminding me a lot of rave – very energetic, very up – so I had this idea to shoot him as soon as he come off the decks after DJing and bullied Shaun to do the shoot for a next-to-nothing fee. I dragged Shaun down to the West Indian Centre in Chapeltown in Leeds for his first experience of a dubstep night, he’d photograph and I’d try to art direct.
That’s why Skream looks so sweaty on the cover. A bit rabbit in the headlights!
It was absolutely heaving, we couldn’t hear each other speak without yelling. We grabbed Skream as soon as he came off the decks and pushed him into a corner. We could hardly see what we were doing and just snapped away. Luckily, it came out looking pretty wicked.