Part graphic designer, part label owner and all-round curator, Sam Gunst (1993) is the Passendale-born, Ghent-based creative force behind graphic design studio 1STE VERDIEP, record label EURO2000 and nomadic artistic platform ENERGIE. We meet on a hot afternoon in his studio space at In De Ruimte to discuss the sound of a new generation, ultra-aesthetics and why energy drinks were the perfect medium for him to exploit both as a graphic designer and label owner.
Can we start off by talking a little bit about your background?
I grew up in Passendale, in West Flanders. After trying my hand at mechanical engineering studies, I decided to enroll in a secondary art academy, followed by a few years in Ghent’s KASK. That’s when I became really obsessed with graphic design as well as with collecting music. I’ve always been passionate about music, but I took it a step further by properly honing in my tastes and combining my preferences. I like to think there are many similarities between music and graphic design: it’s all about structures, patterns and harmony. Anyways, I quit art school because I felt that my artistic vision didn’t match that of the school or my teachers. I found it difficult to put up with my studies simply because I considered a lot of it to be nonsense. It just didn’t feel relevant to me or my work. I know I have a very specific vision when it comes to graphic design.
This is when 1STE VERDIEP, your graphic design practice, first came about?
Yeah, I started 1STE VERDIEP in 2012 while I was still at KASK. Then came the music label EURO2000 in 2015, while ENERGIE was launched last year with record label KERM’s founder Niels Verougstraete and bass enthusiast Arne Decorte, with our first compilation release in the “form” of an energy drink. I also offer printing services as part of the silkscreen studio collective Camping Penrose, which is operated by myself, Markus Aurelius (Chez William) and Liselotte Van Daele (XOX and one half of the duo Other Robots). I mainly work with paper while they focus more on textiles.
How would you describe your visual style, your design aesthetic?
I call it ultra-aesthetics, because it’s an interaction of different styles and particles. We’re now at a point in time where we can create using lots of different elements from the present as well as the past. There’s more knowledge and information, more reproductions. You can make sort of “ultra-combinations” – combinations of different medias – or ultra-aesthetics. A lot of my designs are quite reminiscent of the early digital, rave era of the 90s, with lots of sports, tuning technology and transportation references, but with strong futuristic touches too.
I can see that. Not to sound cliché, but the first word that comes to mind when looking at your designs, whether as 1STE VERDIEP or for EURO2000, is bold.
A lot of people have told me before that they recognised my work, like an event poster, precisely because it was “ugly.” But they’ve also said that the more they studied it, the more they got it. I like to make things complicated, a bit difficult to grasp. Visuals that you won’t understand immediately. Sure, my designs – especially my choices in visual elements – might be a bit weird, but it all makes sense to me.
Right, it’s layered. I see you’ve done design work for Antwerp’s Het Bos as well as for some of KERM’s releases. Do you have any other clients as 1STE VERDIEP?
I’ve had a number, always music-related or cultural, but most of my time is taken up by handling In De Ruimte’s graphic design. We’ve started working on next year’s Biënnale van België, which we came up with a handful of years ago. The third edition will have nomadic pavilions and 40 to 50 participating artists, so we’ve been quite busy with that. Otherwise I also recently worked with Genot Centre, a record label based in Prague.
Oh! It’s funny you say that, I’ve recently started to follow Genot Centre myself and would often “mistake” their visuals for your work when it would show up on my newsfeed. But it turns out that it was you all along. And what about EURO2000 – how do you decide who or what to release on your label?
I do receive a lot of demos, but I’m also constantly searching and browsing for music myself. I’ve got a list of names to book for future events, too. The visual aspect of your label is obviously of utmost importance to you.
It’s the possibility of using everything that’s at hand – old machines combined with new digital parts.
What about the physical form of the releases? For instance, you mainly release on cassette as opposed to the more popular vinyl.
We’re working on vinyls and CDs now, especially after having seen that no one cares about cassettes anymore. I just like the form, it’s a cool object. I’ve found a lot of great, interesting music on tapes, but most people don’t own tape recorders anymore. We also released ENERGIE’s first 16-track compilation as an energy drink with download codes inside the packaging. Energy is power, yet on the flipside there’s also the notion of energy drinks being toxic, chemical-ridden and bad for your health. It just made sense for us to launch our first release as an energy drink. Sure, there are collectors or people who’re just in it for the music, but as a designer I like having the object and not just the digital files.
EURO2000 is described as a “contemporary sound label”. What is contemporary sound to you?
The sound of the new generation. There are so many different sounds available today, everyone has their own version. It’s the new material moving away from the mainstream. Again, it’s ultra-aesthetics. It’s the possibility of using everything that’s at hand – old analog computers combined with new digital parts.
Right, you approach music in the same way as design. What about your tagline “EUROTRASH”? What does that mean to you?
It’s a lifestyle. It’s white trash mixed with a bit of rebellion; it’s anti-establishment. I feel an attachment to dirty aesthetics and anti-stijl, or anti-style. That appears in many of my visual designs and objects: a combination of many colours, images and fonts. My hometown of Passendale doesn’t exactly have a huge design scene, everything’s pretty basic with their “local village” aesthetics. I’m still attracted to it though, applying these “wrong” elements to my designs and making them look right through composition and instinct.
You’ve recently started the EURO2000 show Digital Tourism on The Word Radio, under the moniker DJ Training. Is it fair to assume that this is your DJ name?
Yeah, but it’s actually more of a concept adopted from ENERGIE – it’s just a name. Anyone can be DJ Training. It’s more about the vibe and style of music that DJ Training would play.
How do you operate all your different platforms and roles? Is there some sort of structure to your different work?
It’s difficult to say since they’re all mixed and overlapping, but I’d say that in a nutshell, 1STE VERDIEP is more visual and graphic design-related, EURO2000 is based on my own music tastes and curation while ENERGIE is the main project we’re going to be focussing on now. It’s still a rather nomadic concept, but the idea is for it to be a platform for showcasing and supporting artists. I’m currently working on a second ENERGIE compilation release, which is going to be a post-club, hardcore techno “multi-mix” double CD. There’s this Ghent-based concrete company called Multi-Mix, and I’ll be adopting their layout style for this compilation of 50 artists. We also hosted our first ENERGIE event last February in Ghent’s Minus One, while the second is scheduled for November in Ostend. Our main goal though is to create spaces and opportunities for presenting and recording audio-visual art, like artist residencies, as well as to start a nightclub.
You’ve clearly got lots on your plate right now. Do you have any other future plans?
The EURO2000 compilation cassette Ultra Haram will come out end of September – strictly filthy, hardcore techno music. I’m also interested in starting partnerships with some studios in Europe, it’d be great if 1STE VERDIEP could work with other studios or agencies.