Mike Coles, London
In a few words, who is Mike Coles?
a child of the sixties, born in the fifties, strict catholic upbringing, studied for the priesthood. but it all exploded at 15 on a family trip to lourdes when i realised religion was a total corporate con. always been in love with music, starting with skiffle and rock’n’roll from around the age of 7 or 8 leading on to the pop exlosion of the 60s, then rock, folk and blues in the 60s-70s, punk, reggae, dub and jazz 70s-80s, then dub, dance, electronica and more jazz all peppered throughout since 1979 with a healthy dose of killing joke.
How did you get in photography /graphic design and when did you decide, this is what I want to do?
since i was a teenager i always wanted to do record sleeves and pop posters. i went to art college at 17 but didn’t understand any of it so went on a serious sex, drugs and rock’n’roll trip ending up in london via amsterdam in 1976. i still found it difficult getting design work so i was doing plenty of finished artwork and paste-up (basically getting other people’s designs ready for print). hence the involvement with malicious damage where i could design all the records sleeves/posters/advertising/ t-shirts etc etc. my first camera was a russian zenith E in 1977 and a friend working in a publishing company gave me a set of posters of john heartfield’s work which was a big influence at the time.
You used a lot of analogue technics to alter your images or at least the photographs you used in your collages. How big is the effect of all the digital tools you have at hands nowadays on your work?
i’ve always enjoyed cutting up photos and bits of paper and getting messy with glue but when photoshop came along it opened up a whole new universe, mainly the speed at which i could work. actually before photoshop there was a basic software called “digital darkroom”. also in the early days typesetting was expensive, occassionally i could sneak bits through on a client’s job, but a lot of the time it was done with letraset. the mac changed all that forever, i first saw one in 1988 and bought one in 1989 – it changed everything.
How important is it for you to have listened to an album before you start creating the artwork?
it’s important but not as important as talking to the band/musicians, in fact i think it’s better to discuss it first and then hear the music – that way i’ve already got a direction to move in and i can take the music with me.
You reanimated the legendary record label Malicious Damage in 2003. With all the free media available for everyone at anyplace at anytime, what has changed the most compared to 1979?
there was a time, even as recent as 6 or 7 years ago when i could release music and get back the initial investment fairly quickly but that doesn’t happen any more unless it’s a name band like the orb, or a killing joke related project like transmission even then the return to effort reward is minimal. the fact is that people don’t pay much for music any more. i don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, just the times they have a changed.
A lot of your back catalogue is available at maliciousdamage.biz, the posters are not mass produced and they are signed and stamped by you. How important is this hand made aspect to you?
very important, i still hand-make a lot of special packages like the transit kings early bath and HFB’s lavish tinned edition. i still have a badge machine too, and loads of paper and glue. i collect paper from wherever i go.
Do you still have the original negatives of the photographs you used to records in the late seventies?
yes, most of them, a lot of late 70s early 80s b/w stuff from around covent garden and notting hill plus a lot of stuff from japan. my daughter recently bought me a nice scanner to scan them all but i just can’t find the time… watch this space…