Inside The New Shopping Bag – Experimental Jetset

From time to time we ask users of The New Shopping Bag about their life. In the 9th edition we go in depth with Amsterdam design studio Experimental Jetset, who we’ve been friends with since our encounters in the late nineties punk scene. It’s an honour to share some words and insights from these masters of minimal graphic design on our blog.

Describe yourself in three words.
Marieke, Erwin, Danny.

Where are you now?
In Amsterdam, as usual. It’s the city where we studied, where we started our studio, where we work, and where we live. As a studio, we feel deeply rooted in Amsterdam – directly or indirectly, we draw a lot of inspiration from the city’s cultural (and subversive) history, the Provo movement, the squat scene, etc. We can’t imagine being located anywhere else. It’s the city that shaped us, and the city we try to shape in return.

At the same time, we have to admit that we also feel kind of connected to Rotterdam. While Marieke was born in Amsterdam, both Erwin and Danny were born in Rotterdam – in fact, Danny lived there until he was 11 years old. So somehow, Rotterdam is part of our background as well. We really love the sharpness, space, and sheer modernity of that city. Jules Deelder said it best, in his poem ‘Rotown Magic’: “It lies square, high and angular / tilted in the backlight”.

Tell us something about you and The New Shopping Bag.
Maybe we should say something about the print we designed for The New Shopping Bag. In fact, we created the pattern for Susan Bijl already 10 years ago, in 2006 – but for a couple of technical reasons, the actual bag only came out much later, in 2016. In short, it’s a pattern based on the classic ‘Thank You’ print that you can find on these plastic bags that you always get in deli/corner-shops in New York (those ‘Thank You’ bags are probably pretty common all over the US, but for some reason we really associate them with NY).

Because we regard The New Shopping Bag pretty much as an archetypical bag, we thought it needed an archetypical print – that’s why we decided to just take that ‘Thank You’ slogan add the name ‘Susan Bijl’ to it, and turn it into a pattern. It’s of course quite a paradoxical act – stealing the print of a plastic throw-away bag, and putting it on a Susan Bijl bag (which is obviously a more sustainable bag), while thanking Susan Bijl at the same time (for producing these sustainable bags). So although the print itself is quite simple, the gesture is a bit more layered.

And as for that ‘promotional picture’ we made for the ‘Thank You’ bag – it’s just a quick snapshot of us, wearing the bags on our heads. In fact, it sort of refers to the 7-inch sleeve of The Damned’s ’Neat Neat Neat’ (1977). In that sense, it’s somewhat of a homage – not only to The Damned, but also to the late, great Barney Bubbles (1942–1983), the graphic designer of that particular sleeve.

Tell us something about Susan.
Well, we guess we know Susan through the group of people we always ran into when we visited Rotterdam, back in the late ’90s and early ’00s. When we went to concerts at places like De Vlerk, Waterfront, Rotown, etc., we often bumped into artists and designers like 75B, De Humobisten, Nicole Martens, Daniëlle van Ark, Stefan Tijs, Natasa Heydra, etc. – and also some of the guys connected to bands like De Vogels, The New Earth Group, David Gilmour Girls, etc.

On top of that, Danny’s girlfriend, Femke Dekker, used to be a member of a couple of Rotterdam-based, all-female DJ-collectives (Rundfunk, FNNNN) – and because of that connection, we also ended up hanging out in Rotterdam quite often. (As a matter of fact, Femke has collaborated with The New Shopping Bag at quite an early point – introducing the bag to Japanese channels such as Atmosphere Magazine and Gas Store).

And of course, a lot of those Rotterdam people visited Amsterdam as well – we remember we saw Vincent van Duin (co-founder of Susan Bijl) quite often, during shows at places like Vrieshuis Amerika, Paradiso, etc. It was all part of a specific period, a little corner of the Rotterdam/Amsterdam post-hardcore/post-rock scene, we guess…

Anyway – to make a long story short: we know Susan through those people. And when we look at the Susan Bijl website now, we still get that vibe. There’s still the connection to local bands, to local designers, to local artists, etc.

What ecological measures would you take if you ruled the world?
Worldwide, full vegetarianism – now! Obviously, for environmental, ecological, social, ethical, and political reasons – but above all, out of sheer compassion. The unnecessary (and unimaginable) cruelty that we as humans inflict on other animals, day in day out, has got to stop. By any means necessary.

How do you brighten up your existence?
We don’t really know about brightening up our existence – but we do know how to brighten up our day. We walk a lot. Every morning, we walk from our houses to our studio, and at the end of the day, we walk back home again. This stroll, straight through the city, is always an important part of the day. It’s a reflective moment, maybe even a meditative one. But it also keeps us grounded in Amsterdam – it lets us experience the city as a material environment, and also a graphic one. We see the signs in the streets, the posters on the walls, the slogans on the fences, the books in the shop windows, the newspapers in the kiosks… it always makes us realize that graphic design is ultimately rooted in the city, in public spaces like streets and squares. These walks are always the highlights of our day.

How important is colour for you in your work?
We were just reading an old 75B interview posted on the Susan Bijl weblog – and we fully agree with the things they said about color:

“Colour? To be frank: of no importance at all, and completely overrated. Colour should just do its job and stop complaining”…

There’s nothing we could add to that.

Which music have you been listening to recently?
It’s funny – in the studio, we go through phases. There are periods in which we listen to certain bands or genres continuously, sometimes for months on end – periods during which we only listen to The Zombies, or The Kinks, or Lou Reed, or Tropicalia, or reggae, etc.

But lately, our listening habits have been a bit all over the place, actually. From John Cale to Moondog, and from Hüsker Dü to Psychic TV. It’s all bit too scattered right now – like a no-theme discotheque.

Lately, we’ve also been listening a lot to the radio – mostly KXLU, this LA-based college radio station. When we’re working in the studio in Amsterdam, it’s usually in the middle of the night for the DJs over there – so we only hear the weird nightly programs. Stoned college-kids, who make random silly jokes, and are mainly playing contemporary LA punk/wave/garage bands (usually connected to labels such as Burger Records and/or Lolipop Records). It’s a good vibe to have in the studio while working, although a lot of our favorite KXLU-DJs (Mukta, Kid Sister Erica, McAllister, The Crypt Keeper, et.) seem to have disappeared from the schedule – or maybe they just moved to different time slots during the day. Luckily the Zoo Croo are still around.

What is your biggest loss?
Well, on a personal (and more emotional) level – when we think of loss, we first of all think about the family members and friends (and feline friends) that we lost throughout the years. But if we had to answer the question in a more general way – in that case, we would say that we really feel the loss of social democracy. We grew up in a typical ’70s, Dutch, late-modernist, social-democratic environment – and somehow, this memory still lingers on in our minds. So it really feels like a loss to be confronted with fact that our whole cultural and socio-economic infrastructure is currently being dismantled by neoliberal and populist forces.

In our work, we refer a lot to the graphic languages of ’70s late-modernism, and ’80s post-punk – simply because these were our main visual influences during our childhood and teenage years. Somehow, we believe that the manner in which we explore, through our work, these visual references, is our own way of dealing with this sense of loss.

What is your ultimate destination?
Well, as the cliché goes – it’s about the journey, not about the destination. As a studio, we don’t have a specific goal in mind – we just want to keep on keeping on, slowly building on our body of work. As another cliché goes: slow and steady wins the race. And there’s not even a race to win.

Want to find out more about Experimental Jetset?

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