Swiss modernism, a typographic style that originated in the Alpine country in the 1950s, prioritizes cleanliness and order. Punk rock, with its filthy basement shows and gender subversion and studs and spikes and anarchy, did not.
“These two art forms seem at odds with one another in that punk has an anti-establishment ethos and Swiss modernism is very structured,” says graphic designer Mike Joyce, owner of New York’s Stereotype Design.
“At the same time, there’s a common thread. The Swiss modernists purged extraneous decoration to create clear communication, while punk rock took on self-indulgent rock and roll and stripped it to its core.” (For current cultural support for the existence of punk in austere settings, or at least until August 14, look no further than the much-hyped Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Of course, Joyce also happens to love both aesthetics. So in 2011, as a one-off nod to the American punk band Jawbreaker, he created a brightly hued geometric triptych as a Swiss modern complement to one of their concert flyers. He’s since drafted 274 more chaos-into-clean lines interpretations and has just anthologized them in a new book, Swissted. As we know how he feels about anarchy in design, there was a serious organizing principle to Joyce’s prints: His work is always based on actual posters, from actual bands in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
The Swissted collection doesn’t intend to literally explain any band’s sound or look. In honor of Swiss modernist principles, Joyce created abstract expressions instead. “If you look at Josef Muller-Brockmann’s ‘Musica Viva’ series, there’s not a musical instrument or musician to be seen,” Joyce tells Co.Design. “He used shape, structure, motion, color, and typography to evoke the feeling of music.”
But scan the modernized punk prints, and some visualizations jump out, nearly as clear as an alpine lake. The Clash, for instance, is represented by two competing diamonds locked in combat. The Circle Jerks feature multiples of a certain spherical form. And it’s easy to hear fast-paced lines from a Talking Heads song (or seeing talking heads) while looking at their frenetic stacks of yellow-and-orange triangles.
Joyce admits to sneaking in an unapologetic allusion here and there, like in his poster for Fang: “The white triangle can be seen as one razor sharp tooth,” he says. And sometimes it all comes out in the wash: “When it’s blown up, cropped, and put on a 45-degree angle, Raymond Pettibon’s iconic logo for Black Flag is transformed from a legendary hardcore icon to unmistakable Swiss modernism.”
Swissted: Vintage Rock Posters Remixed and Reimagined costs $26, and you can buy it here.