We talk shop with the designer behind one of dance music's most recognisable record sleeves.
Chris Rehberger designs these iconic sleeves. He's the owner and founder of Double Standards, a design studio tucked away in Kreuzberg, Berlin, a short walk from Club Der Visionaere (a venue Perlon has helped soundtrack for more than 15 years). As I found out when I visited his studio earlier this year, Rehberger has a meaningful relationship with every design he sends off to print. It's not just about funky colours and striking compositions—it's about transmitting a personal idea or experience.
Rehberger here talks us through his design style and his ongoing collaboration with Zip and Markus Nikolai.
"It's always more about raising a question than finding an answer. With the Perlon logo, the question was: what would happen if we put a design that reminds us of a construction company's logo on a record sleeve? For me, house music seemed a bit like construction work—in a way, both are repetitive. But I think this type of logo worked. If you put a Perlon record next to some other records, you can recognise it pretty well.
I like to make things more visible, rather than hiding or camouflaging them. I don't like flimsy designs—I like it bold and strong. The colour schemes we're working with at Double Standards are always in-your-face. When there are too many things going on, you lose some of the detail in your work. It's like food or writing—when you put too many ideas in there and try to merge them together, the appeal is lost.
Every colour combination is coming from something that I found inspiring. Some are from the different coloured textiles in a tailor shop's windows. The last uni-sleeve sleeve we had for Perlon—the lilac, orange, yellow-ish one—was from the colours of some fish I saw. Those colours really touched me. This kind of thing is always there. It's personal work, so it's never just some funky colour combination. Every design means something to us, and I think that translates to both record lovers and our clients.
I'm from Stuttgart. I was working there before moving to Frankfurt. From there my wife and I moved to London, and then to Berlin. In Frankfurt I realised that I didn't want to do advertising or editorial design forever. When I worked freelance for eight years by myself, I used to work for a lot of advertising agencies. In those days, it was like the golden years of advertising. They wanted us to create crazy graphics, but that stopped. When you look at advertising now, it's super boring. I'm really happy now that we're able to do lots of stuff here at Double Standards.
I'd been freelancing since about '93 or '94. Double Standards just kind of happened. It started around 2000 when we first moved to Berlin. I was working by myself for the first year, then I had an assistant. That poor girl. She'd been a designer for eight years before working for me, but it was very difficult for me to share work with her. So, after sitting around doing nothing for three months, she finally got mad at me and said, "If you don't give me some work today, I'm leaving!" So then I really had to learn how to share thoughts and ideas.
I have a fetish for objects. It's not only the sound of vinyl, but also the object that people really admire. It presents someone's ideas a lot more effectively if they're bound into an object rather than just existing digitally. When you're going through a digital track list, the artwork doesn't look as good. It doesn't feel right. It's like books. Having a bookshelf stacked with books is a completely different thing than strumming through a list of e-books.
On a screen, everything looks the same. It has a shiny surface, and you can't judge things properly. But when a design is out there in the real world, then you can judge whether it works or not.
If something only exists online, I don't know how much impact it will have. Say something just exists on our website. It might be shared by someone on Facbeook or something, but it's not going to have the same affect as something physical. Being only digital is like putting a cocoon around your work, and protecting it from outside influence.
The production process is interesting when we twist it a little. Sometimes we might use certain machines the wrong way. Or maybe we screen print something ourselves so we can print over the edges, for example. We did a whole poster series for a client in Barcelona with, I think, 30 different artworks. We did live design under the screen printing machine, so none of the 500 posters were the same. But the design still kept its promise to the client, which was a point I was trying to prove. Even if you have 500 posters looking completely different—with different imagery and different composition—it still looked like it was from this company.
Of course, I still have all the Perlon records. Sometimes when I go through them, I can't believe we've been doing this for almost 20 years. It's always been spontaneous. Sometimes it still feels like we're 26 years old. Nothing's changed, really. I think we've always just kept doing what we thought was right. And we've never tried to make money. Only one of us, Thomas [Franzmann, AKA Zip], is a full-time musician. Markus has his optician's shop in Frankfurt, and I'm doing my thing, which means only one of us has to survive on music. This has been really important, I think. Look at what happened to so many other record labels from that period when we started—they became too big too quickly, or disappeared after the whole vinyl market went down.
The represses we've been doing are like bootlegs, you know? I want to make sure that they're distinguishable from the originals. Every repress is coming in those photocopied black and white sleeves, and so is the label on the record—like it's a bootleg. It's like we're bootlegging ourselves. It's still the same music from the very same father plate, but we wanted to make sure that everybody knows who has the originals and who has the repress. It should be acknowledged that these people either bought it back then, or spent a hell of a lot of money on it afterwards.
Designing for music and designing for clients is the same thing for me. I don't differentiate between the two. It's equally important to do the right design for Fumiya Tanaka's record, for example, as it is for some kind of design for an exhibition. It's the same work and the same approach. You need to have an idea for both—if there's no idea, there's no design. You can't just be like, "Oh, now I'll change this colour and put this typeface on it and stretch it and think, 'Cool, this looks funky.'" That's too easy, I think.
You get in trouble when you're too fashionable, so you always should be aware of what's going on around you. When you really pay attention, you'll notice trends—people using certain typefaces and arranging them a certain way. Of course, as a young designer I was following trends. But then, at a certain point, you realise it's pointless to do this all the time. So you sit down and think, "OK, what does it mean to design, and what does design mean?" If you're only following other trends, you'll never be able to create your own style.