Modernist Kicks: Swissted’s Mike Joyce Discusses The Inspirations For 10 Of His Gig Poster Makeovers


In 1978, the Sex Pistols would have hocked snot at the idea of being associated with prim layouts and orderly type. Sublime’s signature colors were not purple, pink, red, and gray; The Replacements had no ties to concentric squares. Dr. Know and Gorilla Biscuits never put pinwheels anywhere in their art.

Swissted, however, makes all those alternate realities come true. The project, orchestrated by Mike Joyce, launched in January with a fiendishly simple premise: Joyce combs through flyers of old-school punk, hardcore, and indie rock shows, retains the vital info, and uses that text to create Swiss Modernist-style posters that often incorporate geometric patterns. His work favors minimalism, and his only font is Berthold Akzidenz-Grotesk Medium (lowercase, natch).

The Manhattan-based designer casts Swissted’s net of bands wide; Ramones, Weezer, 45 Grave, Warzone, and Teenage Fanclub are among his hundreds of subjects. Since Joyce prefers to avoid familiar elements (the Black Flag bars being one of the few exceptions), he’s ended up with some compellingly unpredictable images. Currently, 225 posters are housed on Swissted, with several available in physical form through Print-Process.

The strict purposefulness of Swiss Modernist ideals tends to butt heads with the haphazard, defiant personalities and imagery of old punk and hardcore bands, and that clash is exactly what Joyce relishes. “The contrast is exciting,” he says. “If there was a reason at all [for the project], it was to show contrast and that there could be beauty in these horrible names like Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Crucifucks. That was interesting to make them beautiful because I actually think a lot of the music is beautiful.” Ahead, Joyce discusses 10 of Swissted’s most striking works.

Dead Kennedys at WUST Radio Hall, 1985

For me, just as it’s fun to do a semi-conceptual thing as I did with Fang or maybe Circle Jerks, I think it’s also really, really fun to do something that is in complete contrast of the band. With Dead Kennedys, they are such an aggressive, political band, you might not think of magenta, yellow, and blue, and this really fun swirl, star shape kind of thing. One thing that I thought was interesting about that is that after I did it, I noticed there’s actually a DK logo in that design. If you look at it, you’ll see in the pink [something] very close to the DK logo. Little accidents like that are really fun about the project, too.

Gorilla Biscuits at Wally’s Place, 1988

What’s the connection between Gorilla Biscuits and pinwheels? Why give them the pinwheels instead of, say, The Exploited?

That’s a good example of how a lot of [the posters], in a sense, are random. You could take The Exploited and put it in place of Gorilla Biscuits, absolutely. That’s what people either like or maybe even hate from the project, but the quantity gives me license. It’s sort an exercise with grids and shapes and scale and all of those great things I love about Swiss Modernism and graphic design. Sometimes, the band name becomes secondary to me in a sense. As a group, [Swissted] becomes an entire project of an entire scene or genre or something like that. When you have 50 posters from the ’70s, 60 from the ’90s, and 100 from the ’80s, it becomes bigger than one band. That’s another thing I loved about all the original scenes: The D.C. scene to me was bigger than Minor Threat ever was.

Some of [the posters]—I’m looking at The Cult and D.O.A.—could only be The Cult and D.O.A. [with] the way the typefaces are, or Sham 69—that only could work with Sham 69 for the most part because of the way the six and the nine play off each other.

Bikini Kill at Macondo Cultural Center, 1993

All things considered, the Bikini Kill poster is one of the most engaging designs. What gave you the idea for the translucent, overlapping text?

I was psyched how that one came out. I think it’s actually one of the strongest ones, and I’ve got a couple others that are similar. That one was really inspired by Josef Müller-Brockmann and a poster he did. It’s “Der Film.” It doesn’t work obviously the way Bikini Kill works. One thing that’s sort of nerdy about being a designer [is] you get excited when you see words like “bikini” and “kill” together and realize the K and I could overlap and how cool two L’s look overlapped over an N.

There are a few [posters] really taken from the originals. One guy who is not Swiss is a great graphic designer called Massimo Vignelli. He did a poster for the furniture company Knoll, so I thought it would be fun to do something really similar with the band Hole because they rhyme. There’s a few of those inside jokes I think graphic designers are going to get. I did the same thing with Jodie Foster’s Army and a poster from Christof Gassner. It’s very similar to his works: really simple red and white shapes with type on the bottom. Those three are the ones that come to mind when they were inspired. Everything else is inspired by Swiss Modernism but not really taken from a specific poster.

Danzig at First Avenue, 1990

Some unusual shapes appear within your work, like the incomplete square found in both the Danzig and Weezer posters. Does that shape have a name?

I don’t know. With these, it’s really just playing around with a bunch of shapes. That kind of grew out of the Nirvana poster I did where there’s just two L’s almost. There’s these really simple designs, but there’s a challenge in coming up with different shapes. I’ve honestly really grown as a designer doing this stuff because it’s stuff I’ve always admired and enjoyed looking at but never really had an opportunity to do creatively because professionally, this doesn’t fit with a lot of projects people ask for or I’m working on. It’s been interesting to work with these types of designs and shapes and hopefully come up with shapes that aren’t seen that much. That’s also a challenge. I’ll do a poster and realize, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve done that before or I’ve seen that.’ You’d be surprised how difficult that is. But good call on the Weezer. I like that shape a lot, so I did it for Danzig and then took off the 45-degree angle and didn’t crop it, so you caught me cheating there.

Mudhoney at Motorsports Garage, 1990

I love Mudhoney. Grew up listening to ’em. Thought they were going to be bigger than Nirvana. That’s who I picked from that scene.

Did you listen to the bands on these posters while designing or just go with what you knew about them? Also, how wide is the breadth of your knowledge of the bands?

As far as listening to the stuff, absolutely. If anything, I unfortunately don’t know enough about modern music because the music I grew up listening to—the great stuff from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s—I still listen to today. There are definitely bands I don’t know much about at all. For example, UXA. I think UXA was on a bunch of Rodney On The Roq compilations I had growing up. Rodney Bingenheimer put out these albums with Posh Boy, an awesome label [that] had Agent Orange, Social Distortion, Channel 3, Shattered Faith. I don’t really know anything else about UXA. The letterforms are great. Or MC5. Of course, I know who MC5 are and I like MC5 a lot, but their letterforms really were fantastic. The same thing with Bauhaus. The girls I dated were more into Bauhaus than I was, but how cool it is to see “bau” over “hau” [is] where that stuff comes from.

I tried to also have bands like Channel 3, M.I.A., D.I.—great bands that are really underrated. That makes me think of another point of the project I never thought of until I was on maybe my 50th poster. I realized, ‘Ah, maybe there’s something here, and I’ll build a little site for myself to have a database of these things and show my friends.’ A lot of these that were big bands to me nobody talks or cares about anymore. You could even make a case for Jawbreaker. I know they’ve got a cult following, but no one’s playing Jawbreaker on the radio. This is a cool way to revisit the bands for me and for other people, too, that might have been a Jawbreaker fan but never heard of D.I. or a Replacements fan but never got into Crimpshrine.

I got emails from Adam [Pfahler] of Jawbreaker, Hayes [Tom Hazelmyer] from Halo of Flies, some staff members at Sub Pop Records, the staff of Kill Rock Stars. Brett Gurewitz from Bad Religion said, ‘Thanks for the cool design.’ It’s not like those bands need my help by any means, it was just really cool to get that response.

Operation Ivy at Berkeley Square, 1989

What’s going on with the Operation Ivy poster? Those shapes look like windows or have a city feel.

That’s a cool one because to me, it is really different and does sort of have a city window-type feel to it. For that one, there was honestly no connection with Operation Ivy. It was just a band that I loved. With a lot of these bands, too, they brought ska into hardcore into punk. I really loved that [Operation Ivy] album where every song was really different and played around with different genres. Overall, they were really creative: the way Social Distortion would bring in country and rockabilly into punk or Agent Orange would bring surf music into punk. Even though this design doesn’t specifically speak to that exact band conceptually, I really love the idea of mixing different genres together, which I think is the main element that makes Swissted so eye-catching in the first place.

Hüsker Dü at the Backstage, 1982

There was a particularly interesting comment on the Hüsker Dü poster following your Huffington Post interview: “The poster reminds me that there was one straight guy (square), one bisexual guy (circle) and one gay guy (triangle) in the band.” Did this have any bearing in reality when you were making it?

Not at all whatsoever. I mean, it’s a cool comment. I love when people see things [and] read things into it. I’ve always known that Bob Mould is gay, so maybe there is a subconscious thing that kind of played into that, but as far as the other two shapes, no, I didn’t know that. I’m a huge fan of Hüsker Dü, and yet I did not know there was a bisexual member until right now. I always thought the other guys were straight. Is it Grant Hart? I just don’t know. [Note: Probably was Hart.] The pink triangle was kind of a nod to that, but the other two, no, I did not know that whatsoever. The three shapes was a nod to the three guys in the band. I did that [kind of nod] sort of with the Beastie Boys. Someone asked, “Why four shapes”‘ I said, “Well, that’s four with [DJ] Hurricane, come on.” Sometimes, I do things like that.

999 at CBGB, 1985

Are there any posters we have yet to touch on that are interesting in how they relate to the band’s image or have an Easter egg hidden somewhere?
The one that jumps out in my mind of just being sort of an interesting poster graphically and design-wise is the 999 poster—the band from England. I just kind of love how it’s the three nines, but it creates one nine by doing this overlay effect, and that one actually does show some sort of movement and aggression and feels like it could actually be for that band. Every now and then, some of these really do feel like they could be for the band itself. That one jumps out as a favorite of mine.

Sonic Youth at All Souls, 1986

The Sonic Youth poster really evokes movement, too, because the circles look like a speaker reverberating. How intentional was that?

That was totally intentional. You know, it’s funny, I go back and forth. I guess I could be criticized for not being consistent because I definitely didn’t set out to make every poster have a direct concept or a relation to the band. Some do when I feel it’s appropriate or if I find a fun angle to make a nod, but most are just exercises in design. I actually think they’re more interesting when they’re not directly related to the band or the music. The contrast in styles is even greater that way and I like that juxtaposition. The Sonic Youth one was [because of] the idea of “sonic.” How can I portray it in this modernist form? Another one that was much more simple but reminds me of Sonic Youth is Superchunk—the idea of just a huge chunk being white and sort of bleeding off the side like it’s too big for the poster to take. The Superchunk, the Sonic Youth—those have a literal feel to them.

Pearl Jam at Compact Disc World, 1991

Let’s end with the Pearl Jam poster. What do the pink and the blue symbolize?

Absolutely nothing. [Laughs] I’m sorry, I wish I could help you out. I noticed a tweet commenting that the negative space was a pearl, so I thought that was kind of cool, but that once again really wasn’t intentional. When I’m doing Pearl Jam and creating a circular shape, I’m very aware that this could be construed as a modern pearl, but to me, it’s just sort of trying to create tension and interest with shapes.

[There’s] one thing that’s really interesting to me about the poster as well, coming from a fan. I have a line in the Swissted description that says, “All these shows actually happened,” and someone said, “I can’t believe this show actually happened.” These guys now play to sold-out stadiums three nights in a row, and here they are at Menlo Park Mall at Compact Disc World. Even the term Compact Disc World—how great is that? If you Google this instore, you can find it.

I think a lot of these posters are interesting enough in a few different ways, whether you’re into design and modernism and don’t care at all about alternative or punk rock or indie rock or if you’re fans of both. So far, it seems like a 95 percent success rate. I’ve been blown away that, to date now, a hundred and seventy thousand visitors have visited the site, and I’m just psyched that Village Voice is interviewing me, and Huffington Post. There’s definitely been detractors, but they are so small compared to all the great feedback I have.