The Argentinian-born, London-based designer Aitor Throup has had quite a year. His involvement with music seems to be increasing. He continued his work relationship with Damon Albarn as the creative director for his solo album, “Everyday Robots”, by taking care of the artwork and directing the video for the title track. On the other hand, his work with Leicester band Kasabian, took a step further as their new album, “48:13”, just came out. Once again, Throup was involved fully from “Eez-eh” ’s video direction to Glastonbury’s stage design. However, looking back, Throup has also incorporated music in his own work. In “The Funeral of New Orleans” (Part One), he tells the story of a marching band that, in the face of death by Hurricane Katrina, decides to save the instruments they carry so the city’s musical heritage could live on forever. What else can we expect from Aitor Throup’s creative genius this coming year?
The idea behind this conversation is to talk about the space where music and fashion overlap. How these disciplines can work together. I have been really interested in how you do it with Kasabian, Damon Albarn and in your collections, but first why don’t we start with a basic question. Back when you were growing up, before you studied fashion, while you were into Stone Island and C.P. Company, what music did you like and what was the music scene around you?
Well, when I was growing up it was the mid-nineties, when the whole Brit Pop came around. Before that, the first music I was into was house music, quite vocal, a little bit deep house. We were all into DJs rather than musicians, you know. It was a bit later when the whole Brit Pop thing started and there were bands everywhere. I really got into that. I think half of my friends were really into rock and roll and indie music and half of my friends were really into hip-hop, but we all came from house music. I did not get into hip-hop until later on. So, quite a lot of years I was just really into guitar music like Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller, Oasis, The Verve and The Stone Roses, and all of that stuff. So, that introduced me to the sixties stuff like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles but even The Kinks and The Small Faces. After that, I started getting more and more into the experimental forward thinking music but with rock and roll roots, so I started getting into Radiohead but also going back and getting into Pink Floyd.
A few years after that, one of my friends who had always been into hip-hop made me a mix-tape because I was going on holiday. There was a song in there which was by A Tribe Called Quest called Luck of Lucien, and I was like wow, that is an incredible song. I had never really heard anything like it. I got really into A Tribe Called Quest but they were already old news. I also got into De La Soul and then I got into that kind of genres, hip-hop, more gangster rap, just intelligent positive messages and very poetic, like People Under The Stairs and The Pharcyde. I just started discovering this whole different approach to music. It was around that time that Damon started doing Gorillaz. He exemplified the combination of these two worlds, rock and roll, with a more guitar band music sensibility, coming together with the hip-hop world and a little bit of dance mixed in. I was like wow that is incredible. Relatively soon after that, when I started my masters in London in 2004, my taste for music sort of expanded a little bit more, I was into sixties music on one side, but I always had a love for dance music and a bit more electronic music and then there was this whole other hip-hop side. Gorillaz was gluing it all together.
Then, Kasabian came out in 2004 and that was just everything to me. That record was the soundtrack to my work. It had these working-class British roots but it seemed to also understand all of the musical genres. It had some hip-hop beats built in, it had electronica sophistication but it also had this rock and roll psychodelia. It was just so exciting. I just thought it was very forward thinking, very modern. It was what my work sounded like at that time, you know.
A few years later, when you ended up working with Damon Albarn and Kasabian, it must have been pretty big for you.
Yeah, man. It was amazing, truly amazing. I always wanted to work with music because the deeper I got into my work the more music meant something to me. I was always interested in context. In what context can I present my own work? Even when I am looking at my own work, what is the soundtrack? In my studio it is very important that there is always music on. It just contextualizes the situation. It changes everything, you know. The deeper I got into my work the more I started to consider music. I always had huge respect for the medium of music. I still think it is one of the most powerful, probably the most powerful art form in terms of how big an emotion you can get from music. I think you can reach a lot more people, more powerfully through music than through visual art. So, I saw music as a potential partner, as a partner that I should invest in to help my message. I definitely started thinking about my work musically. How can my work sound like? How can I turn the stories in my work through music? But also, what is the feeling of my work? What is the musical aesthetic of my work? When you study, on the final degree show you have to do your catwalk collection. In both my BA degree in Manchester and in my masters degree in London, we were looking if we could choose our own song. It was always very important. Like, what statement am I trying to make? If you were to walk into my store, if I had a store, what music would be on there?
So, when I met Kasabian, I think because their energy and their sensibilities were already built into my work, somehow, we just connected. We were sort of doing the same thing but in different forms. I could see that and they could see that. It was a very interesting creative mutual appreciation. For different reasons as with Damon, because when I met him it was also a very interesting mutual appreciation. I had always appreciated his work and I had always looked up to him, but in a completely different way. In a way, my work splits into two halves. One half is more based on my roots, the energy of my work. There is a multicultural aspect. There are a lot of elements of race and sub-culture. It is a very personal thing, sort of my British upbringing. The Stone Island and C.P. Company informed the direction and aesthetic of how I got into clothing and you can still see that in a more exaggerated way. It is like a futuristic version of those uniforms and I think that is how I can really connect with Kasabian. They are a futuristic version of the music they grew up with, incredibly forward thinking.
How I connect with Damon is not so much in terms of background or subject, but it is more in his approach to his work, it is very similar to mine. We are the kind of people that do not want to be pigeon holed, so we always purposely put ourselves into uncomfortable positions, in order to learn, invent new solutions and come out with something truly new. So, I think in terms of conceptual and artistic approach to our work, Damon and I are very similar. We sort of sensed that straightaway when we first met. At the same time, my approach is the same as Sergio [Pizzorno] as a musician, songwriter and producer. He is taking risks and making experiments. He is aware he has put himself in a position where people and critics are not going to understand certain things but he is a true artist, so he is willing to put himself in that position.
Sergio has done the music in some of the videos for your brand. How did that happen? Does he make the music for the video specifically or do you use some of his existing tracks?
It depends, actually. For example, we did the New Object Research look book where Sergio is the model and he is floating. We used a song called “Trash Can” on it and it is actually a very old Kasabian song. It is the B-side for Club Foot I think. So, I had a rough version of the video already and I was in Sergio’s studio where I show him the edit. It had a piece of music, which he did for one of my shows, but it was not working. It was more an ambient piece and I needed a beat structure so all of the jump cuts could connect, but with an ambient electronic sensibility. He was thinking about it for a while and said, “oh, Trash Can!” He found the track in his archives and we both pressed play at the same time and it just worked perfectly. But not only that, my video and his track finished at exactly the same second and we were like, “what the fuck?” We checked the length of both pieces and they had exactly the same running time. It was crazy.
I think it was the following day when we were talking about running times. He considers the album 48:13 as a piece, and you can really see the logic behind interludes and how you build up to a song and how you allow yourself to rest before something bigger comes in. It is beautifully crafted in that way. He was always talking about the perfect running time for an album, 45 minutes to 50 minutes, no longer than that. He always had a logic about the ultimate listening experience. I began to think, “wow, he is really a craftsman”, it is a rather considered approach, like I do with my own work. I saw myself in his practice.
I always had an issue with an album being called the name of one of the songs. It feels like the album is about that song. I have a problem with that, I guess. I think an album should be called, like all of those songs together. Have a name that is a collective name for all of those songs. When we were talking about the importance of running times I was like: “dude, you should call it the perfect length of the album, so however long the album is, call it that.” It is a mutual, democratic but obvious name. You are just giving it a label, it is not about the album, and you are not trying to glamorize it. It’s like an industrial solution, this is all of those songs together but it really is about the work inside. I said: “for example, if the album is 48 minutes 13 seconds call it 48:13”. I said those actual numbers. He was like, “Yeah, let’s see how long it is.” He went into his computer and added up all of the tracks, at that stage, and it was 48 minutes and 13 seconds, and we were both like, “What the fuck?” That just came out completely guessed. It was kind of a sign. So, by the time it got mastered, he had to make certain decisions and create new solutions to make sure it ended up being 48:13. He believed that something was happening, so it had to be that time because it had just come out naturally. It is interesting that he allowed himself to be put in a box creatively, to create new solutions, which is exactly the way that I work as well. I think you can hear that in the album, it is just like an experimental forward thinking sensibility that is very refreshing, but it is him not overthinking or indulging, just finding solutions.
I haven’t heard the album yet but I’m really looking forward to do it.
You need to listen to it. This album is going to change everything. It is so interesting that so many journalists are choosing not to understand it, I believe it is shaking up everything else that is happening in that industry. It is really one of those moments where almost every band is overthinking everything. Everything seems so pretentious and calculated, you know. Everyone is so interested in being “cool, but people are losing their integrity as a result of it. There is no experimentation, there is no risk being taken. People are beginning to change the way they talk. Their roots are being lost. What are the roots of rock and roll? What are the roots of truly cool? Just not giving a fuck, you know. Not being too afraid that you are going to be judged. I think this album really does that, not overthinking anything.
And Kasabian has always had that attitude, just going for it. Their live shows are just insane.
Absolutely! It is unbelievable and it is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It is undeniable, you know. It pisses critics off because they can’t quite get to them. In any industry, there are people at the top that try to rule it. This is how things are going to roll, people should be saying this and they should be liking that band. It’s like a system. Kasabian has always broken away from that system. The more experimental, forward thinking and empowering they are to their audience, the more critics try to get to them, and talk about them as if they are the new version of x or y band that has nothing to do with them. Every single review of the album mentions the same band as a point of reference and I am just in disbelief because it has nothing to do with that band or any other band, sonically, you know. It’s crazy.
Yeah, I get what you are saying. Critics are just trying to pigeon hole them, instead of actually accepting them as they are.
It’s like lazy journalism. They take what has already been written about them and join that camp and it’s like, “wow, you have actually heard the album? You are crazy.”
You were fully involved in their last album, “Velociraptor! “ Were you as involved in “48:13”?
Yeah, pretty much, particularly with the big moments. So, that includes the artwork, the lead single video for Eez-eh and also the main live shows, particularly the Victoria Park gig in Leicester and the Glastonbury headline, obviously. With those elements, I’m helping them bring to life the message they are trying to put across. We have an amazing team of different specialists and people from lighting designers, animators and stylists, just incredible collaborators that I help to align, to try to make everyone head in the same direction and tell the same message.
How is it different to design your own collections, everything that comprises “New Object Research”, as opposed to doing the stage design for the Pyramid Stage in Glastonbury?
I honestly think it is exactly the same. Even if we are just designing a tee shirt, we are trying to reinvent the tee shirt. We are not trying to design just a nice tee shirt. So, the same principles of innovation apply. In any type of design or art, basically, you start with a problem and try to find a solution. We are really purists in that sense, as designers or artists in my studio. So, whether we are doing the Pyramid Stage or whether we are doing a tee shirt, we start by analyzing what the problem is, what the goal is and what the message is. We are storytellers. We are trying to tell a message. For a stage or for a tee shirt, we are still trying to tell a message. Also, the way in which we work, in terms of intricacy or in terms of accuracy, is constant. We make sure everything is done properly, as it should be. Rather than just let things be, you know. We suit the methodical in any case. So, my work practice is constant. If I have a meeting about a tee shirt or about the Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage design it feels exactly the same. There are different things to resolve and different things to consider but my goal is still the same. Tell a unique and compelling message in a unique and compelling way. Create something no one has ever seen before in an authentic way. I hate the idea of decorating. I don’t want to decorate something. I don’t want to decorate my own work or a band or a musician. I don’t want to glamorize. I don’t want to add glitter to something. I need the solution to reflect the story. Everything must be justified.
You want to go to the core of the solutions. Let them speak for themselves as honestly as they can.
Yes, yes. Exactly. I just hate the idea of like, “lets do the cover.” “Ok, what should we do for the cover?” “Let’s just get you all looking really handsome and cool”, so it appeals to a wide number of people and they can sell you their product. I’m more interested in how can we experiment with this incredible opportunity that we’ve got to put a visual message across? How can we say the creative statement visually? Rather than, “is your leather jacket fitted enough?” You know what I mean? Like all of those things people think about too much. I just want to stay in the way of art and creativity. Of course, if we’ll show a leather jacket and it’s not fitted enough, we’ll get one that is more whatever. We don’t think about it, not even talk about it, that is just boring stuff. So many bands, just… They might as well call their album, how fitted is my leather jacket? It is just boring. There is a lot of boring stuff out there.
I really like that approach, very Dieter Rams’ ten principles to good design.
Absolutely, man. Everything is already there. I believe in anti-design. Our jobs as designers are just to bring the solutions out. The color pink (48:13 album cover) is not there to attract or to shock. It is a distillation of what is already there. There are two points we are trying to make with it. Color pink, really bright fuchsia pink, I strongly believe it’s the distilled most minimal color representation of Kasabian as a band. Think about the psychedelic sixties swirls as a texture, you know what I’m talking about? Experimental, late sixties, psychodelia. That kind of swirly, purpely, little bit lasers and light show, Jimi Hendrix Experience, really colorful. But then, there is this kind of electronica more futuristic aspect of Sergio’s production. They are really forward thinking, direct and modern. When we distill those two aspects, but also add a little bit of a hip-hop sensibility, it just snaps into bright pink for me. It’s just so obvious. Of course you could paint swirls and you could do lasers and you could do whatever, but my own aesthetic is about being as honest, as authentic, as minimal as possible, to not over design. That’s why, in my own work, I use a lot of monochrome, black and white, and splash of red. It allows me to focus on the message so the color doesn’t become the message in itself. So, if you take my modernist, minimalist, form follows function or visual follows reason approach, how does that minimalist artistic filter interprets the swirls, the psychodelia, the futuristic element, the electronica element? They go through my aesthetic translation process as a studio. Kasabian goes into the machine and it comes out as bright pink, it seems very obvious to me. It communicates the textures of the music but at the same time, it is kind of a statement to say, be aware of preconceptions. There are so many journalists that are misinformed. Personally, I think it is such a shame that they are purposely misinformed. Who can use a visual tool, like putting a bright pink cover out, to say you got us all wrong? You think this is like lad rock, or whatever some lazy journalist might call it, and it’s like, well just do the opposite of what the preconception or what lad rock is, pink, that is too feminine, you got it all wrong anyway.
I have been thinking about something similar. I believe that when people have a strong voice they will disregard anything a critic might say because they know better. So, it is really interesting to see how a band like Kasabian with such a mental and sonic strength can just say: “This is us, take us or leave us, we don’t really care”.
Yes, exactly. There are so many bands out there that care too much about what people or critics think about them. Caring too much poisons creativity. Kasabian don’t care. They just care about doing the right thing. Pushing their limits forward sonically, keep evolving. They are doing their own thing. They are not trying to impress anybody. Their attitude has that punk sensibility, we don’t give a fuck. I think that is really inspiring to a generation, rather than having the boring approach.
In this generation, everything is so fast and easy to get to that there is a loss of value in terms of process and time. For example, people are so obsessed with getting so many likes or followers in any social platform, that creativity gets affected.
It changes what they put out there. The reason they put things out is to get a bigger following or something, rather than to do what they believe in. I put a drawing on Instagram this morning. It’s a commentary on that obsession, you know, like portraying yourself in the most appealing way. It’s just a drawing of a guy that is jumping off with a baseball bat, like he’s just hit someone with it. The comment on it is "Shameless Selfie". Most people dress up and put shameless selfies.
I have been thinking about the idea of how much time does it take to become successful. It took you 6 years to perfect your craftsmanship process to construct your clothes. The value of those 6 years is reflected on the final outcome. Today, on the contrary, people want to be famous and successful really fast. I think there has been a loss of appreciation for the process in all disciplines, really.
Yes, exactly. I think that’s why it is important for an artist, designer, musician, or whatever, to accept the responsibility of driving value to the process, as well as the product. The image and product obsessed culture is going to implode and people are going to start to feel very empty and demand content, demand process, demand an understanding, the origin of something. Demand authenticity. And there is going to be a lot of people who are not ready for that demand, who do not have the content. They’re hollow. It will be the people that have substance behind what they do that are going to survive. I’ve always felt that, I’ve always known that, I’ve always been proactive in trying to find my path and my way and doing things that way. There were a lot of times in all those years when I felt anxious and disappointed. I was working so hard to get this thing right and to be true to myself. I could have put out a few things that got press and got more following and the rest of it, because you try to get recognition for your hard work but I couldn’t. I had to stay true to my path. It wasn’t my turn to have recognition so I just kept on working. It’s hard but a lot of people aren’t prepared to suffer that, they want a return already, they want to get something back from doing nothing. The whole thing of doing a lot, not to get something back but to do something right, is just very rare now.
Talking about your process, I am really interested on how did “The Funeral of New Orleans (Part One)” project happened from the music point of view.
Well, it was quite simple. All of the concepts that I work with are constant. I don’t just do a concept and then walk away from it. All of these narratives are kind of like books or big epic movies that I have started, and then, for the rest of my career, I intend to keep working on them, to make them bigger and bigger and create these little worlds. They all come at unexpected times. They all come from somewhere inside, they are all authentic, genuine, and a reaction to something that I feel strongly about, emotionally. I can’t create a new concept and a new narrative unless I truly believe in it, because I want to stay with that concept for the rest of my life. I feel like Tolkien must have felt when he was writing The Lord of The Rings, you know, he was creating a universe that defines him. He becomes part of it. So, I need to really believe in something. I believe that we should use creativity ethically to communicate a message that can be valuable to people rather than create something that is cool. There is racism going on, I want to use an opportunity to let people know about it in a way that makes them think, hopefully. I am too self-conscious.
One of the instances when one of these narratives came up was when Hurricane Katrina happened on New Orleans. I was really affected by it. I remember reading the newspapers the next morning, it was around the time of my birthday, 13 of August. I remember thinking, wow, this country, famously has a lack of culture, relatively, to its size. New Orleans is, arguably, one of the most culturally rich places. So culturally rich that it has created its own visual language, its own aesthetic, its own uniform, you know. The guy in the black suits with the white shirt in the black tie, military hat with the brass instrument in the marching band walking by the street. It has a very strong aesthetic. This place, so culturally rich, just wiped out over night. It is just crazy. I started working on a comic book about it, actually. It was about a group of musicians who basically knew they were going to die and it’s the last moments before they die. They start allucinating while they are drowning. Brass instruments come to life using 1920s, 1930s, 1940s animation aesthetic of bringing to life inanimate objects. Like early Walt Disney stuff where you have like a teapot dancing with a face or something. So, these brass instruments singing and dancing just contrasted humor and a positive message in something terrible and dark, like death.
Then, I won a big award in Italy, around the same time, which meant I had to develop a new collection after I graduated. I had no intention of doing so, but I had to because that was part of the deal with the award. So, this comic book ended up becoming a collection. I started researching the funeral procession tradition of New Orleans. It basically splits into two halves, when they take the body to the cemetery they play this really slow piece of music called the ‘dirge’. It’s very sad and you’d lament the person’s death. Then the funeral takes place and they come back into town. The tone changes, it’s very bright, very colorful, very upbeat, and instead of lamenting the death of the person you start celebrating the life of the person. I really loved this musical positive turn, this contrast. So, I started creating this collection in two parts, The Funeral of New Orleans (Part One) and The Funeral of New Orleans (Part Two), which still hasn’t been finalized and it’s an ongoing project, which will come out, eventually. In part two, it’s basically the positive message of rebirth and it’s all constructed as a symbolic metaphor structure for the death of New Orleans and the rebirth of New Orleans, like the redevelopment of New Orleans as a city, as a metaphorical construct. So, the first part was really the death of the musicians, and the metaphor was that these musicians, with their respective instruments, are faced with the choice of whether protect themselves or protect their instruments before they die. They have these instrument cases that are exact replicas of the surface area of their actual instruments. However, they can also be constructed to protect themselves, and the instrument cases interact with the musicians’ garments to create these hybrid humans. The musicians choose to protect their instruments instead. So, the musicians representing New Orleans die and the instruments that represent the musical heritage of New Orleans live on. So, it basically means that New Orleans may have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina but you can’t ever kill the musical heritage, the music lives on, therefore New Orleans will rebuild itself. That is the concept.
To finalize, I want to ask you for some musical recommendations. What are you listening to now?
I am listening to a lot of Flying Lotus. He is one of the most forward thinking, progressive, experimental and authentic musicians in the world. I actually met him recently and we’ve got a mutual appreciation of each other’s work. I think he is a genius. What else have I been listening to? I have surrounded myself in Kasabian’s 48:13 and also in the Damon’s record. It is beautiful.
And in your studio, who chooses the music?
Sometimes I just let the guys have fun, play whatever they want. But in general, if we have a lot of work to do and we are concentrating we have a set list. It just a soundscape of beautiful electronic music.