perfect: dickless world

perfect . Angy and female and speaking truthfulness to power….

Art Chantry (

This is one of those perfect little things. It’s graphic design at it’s most concise and persuasive and exactingly created. It’s absolutely exquisite. What? You think it’s ugly? crude? amateurish? Well, that’s the point, ya dork.

Taken out of it’s cultural context, this looks like noting special at all. In fact, it looks like a million other punk poster/flyers that we’ve all seen on telephone poles for over 30 long years. It’s a cruddy xerox image with some stolen photo and some really crummy hand lettering slapped on the pic. So what? My kid could do that! any kid could do that! you don’t need 8 years of a design education at Yale to do something like this, so it must be no good. I think by any standard definition of what is popularly used to define ‘quality’ graphic design in today’s market, this is still junk.

AC:once you had kathy acker do a performance at coca. you had a young girl do a spoken word piece before ms. acker took the stage. it was a then pre-bikini kill kathleen hanna doing her 'rock star' spoken word piece. it was absolutely astonishing to see - she literally blew kathy acker off the stage. i felt sorry for ms. acker trying to follow kathleen hanna after she finished. man, hanna was awesome (and i never use that word). devastating. i felt so lucky to have seen that.

Taken out of it’s context.

In this case, context is EVERYTHING. In fact, with all graphic design, context is everything. There is no graphic design that stands complete in definition outside of it’s original context. That’s why every graphic design history text book is wrong through and through. The accepted teaching of the history of graphic design – even if they understand it as a language – misses the context. It’s ignored, as if the images stand alone in the universe like a grand master painting. But they don’t and it’s stupid to try to think otherwise.

All graphic design exists within a cultural framework. It’s not the product of a private artist muse taken with a shot of genius inspiration. It’s not art that stands alone or on museum wall, carefully framed with no explanation. Graphic design is primarily FUNCTIONAL art . So, if you don’t know what the function is, you don’t understand it at all. Modern graphic design education misses context entirely, like it isn’t necessary. That’s because it is taught in ‘art’ departments, as if it were ‘art’. Lame.

---featuring an A-side of them covering Bo Diddley's 'I'm A Man' in unique fashion and a B-side, 'Saddletramp', which was later covered by The Supersuckers. Their output was thin - the 12" of this, released on Tupelo Records, featured an extra track, 'Miniskirt Mob', and there was a track on one of the Teriyaki Asthma compilation EPs. There was a CD readied for release in 2006, but does not appear to have made the shops.---click image for more...

This ‘dickless’ image is the cover of home made press kit (you can see the staple in the corner that held all the xeroxes together) for an all female punk band in Seattle in the very late 80’s. To fully appreciate why this thing is so perfect, you need to understand that moment in time in Seattle culture and national underground culture. There isn’t room to do that here. In fact, people constantly write books about that strange intense period of time and constantly get the context wrong. Documenting history is like that. over time, everybody gets it wrong. As later scholars look at all that wrong history, they read between the lines to deduce what is ‘correct’ history. But, of course, that’s impossible. History is about educated guessing. Even eye witness accounts are educated guesses.

Dickless were an extremely aggressive band whose women members had all lived bohemian punk rock lives. There had been many many Seattle bands over the years that had all female lineups. But, dickless sounded , well utterly dickless. Totally FEMALE. aggro ANGRY female. Kelly Canary, the lead singer had a voice like a whiskey rasp gargling with acid mouthwash (and then spitting it in our face). The songs dealt with male issues, father issues and rape and abuse and the anger and alienation women felt everywhere in our world. Listening to them back then was not original, but they were the best at it mos

us had ever heard. Totally mesmerizing and almost unlistenably aggressively pissed-off.

Jana McCall, Kelly Canary, Kerry Green, Lisa Smith Profile: Short-lived early 90s all-female rock band from Seattle. They opened for the likes of Tad and Nirvana. Lead singer Kelly Canary contributed her vocals to some of the records by Earth... click image for more

They were managed by a friend of mine named, “paula the swedish housewife”. She is an impressario working in all different areas of culture, front the fine arts to punk and (nowadays) burlesque. I once asked her who actually designed this little cover. She wasn’t sure anymore, it was so long ago. It may have been herself, or a band member or a friend of the band, or even the amazingly influential (but obscure) designer Lisa Orth, who did a lot of Dickless’s other graphcis at the time (although this looks NOTHING like lisa’s work). The truth is that stuff like this was thrown together and agreed upon quickly and directly. Somebody made it and it FELT right. You ran with it and forgot about it – like it grew on a tree and you simply plucked it because it was ripe. As time went on, the history of this band made this image even more and more exactly perfect, as if the design dictated the direction of the band.

This sort of thing is not at all uncommon is music graphics. Often, working with beginning bands, my design work (if done carefully) would actually help define the band”s ideas and image of themselves TO themselves – their ‘brand’. The language of the design graphics often speaks just as loud to the creativity of the band as it does to it’s audience. You as a designer, become part of the concept and development of that band. it happens all the time – Cal Schenkel’s work for the mothers, Neon Park’s work for little feat, Mouse/Kelly’s work for the Grateful Dead, Jamie Reid’s work for the Sex Pistols, the list is endless.

But the other context that made this perfect prescient image for this band was when and where it was happening. In the late 1980’s in Seattle, several small indie record labels (famously among them was a little label called ‘sub pop’) were putting together records by local bands in an effort to make something (anything) happen. Dickless was a shining star in that world for about six months. They didn’t survive very long. But, during that brief time, they were THE band (outside of mudhoney or soundgarden or tad) that was going to be huge. They were the sounfdof ‘grunge by girls.’ They were included in early Sub Pop showcases like the infamous event at COCA (the center on contemporary arts) that put Sub Pop into the limelight in the creative art world.

Dickless was a group of angry hurt women speaking out and saying their piece – REALLY LOUD. They fell apart and morphed into other groups (the lead singer joined 7 year bitch, for instance). But the magic intensity of Dickless was never again matched by any other women-lead bands out of Seattle or maybe even anywhere else. Like in all culture movements, as soon as money entered the picture, the boys shoved the girls out of the way and took over the stage.

Soon afterwards there was the magic moment of the ‘riot girls’ scene and stuff like that (and never forget the godzilla of courtney love). As powerful as a band like Bikini Kill or Sleater-Kinney could be, they were no match for the full glory of Dickless. There is little to actually listen to out there – I think they managed to release a couple of singles. But, man, what slabs of sound those singles were! I’ve been told the band actually recorded a full lp, but their deal with Sub Pop and other labels all got lost in the mosh of a band breakup and the ensuing tidal wave of sharky professional music people that flooded the city about that time. Besides, the band broke up. Nobody likes to put a record by a band that can’t tour it. That was the ONLY way to have any record sales then and now. So, that Lp’s worth of music still sits out there somewhere in a closet waiting to be rediscovered.

Dickless was everything that this image says they were. And in Seattle, when this band erupted, this was the definitive statement of how women felt in Seattle – ready to lash out.

--- While breaking bands that became internationally known—like Sound Garden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam—Sub Pop, the record label, also developed a graphic design “house style” that unified much of its output. Pavitt and Art Chantry established that style, but designers like Jane Higgens and Lisa Orth were responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of this era. For the sake of brevity, this exhibit features only a few key samples from their portfolios, in particular Orth’s design for Nirvana’s first album “Bleach” (her typographic treatment of the band's name—a stretched Bodoni—became Nirvana’s default logo)--- click image for more...

In the introduction to Charles Peterson’s collection of grunge-era photographs Screaming Life, Michael Azerrad wrote that “the visionary Dickless broke up before the rest of the world had caught up to them.” While I love to think that the world would have embraced Dickless, I doubt that the world agrees. Singer Kelly Canary’s vocals are on, shall we say, the abrasive side. (I mean this in the best possible way: she sings like a wasted hyena.) As you can see from the myspace page, however, many people fondly remember the awesome bludgeoning that Dickless gave them all those years ago.

It used to strike us as silly to see the term “grunge” applied to slick, carefully marketed, radio-ready bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Blind Melon (!), because Dickless embodied grunge better than perhaps any other band from that era, and nobody would consider them slick or ready for radio. Instead, they played a shambolic, fuzzed-out, assertive, and funny rock, and I regret that I never managed to catch them live. For at least a few months, they ruled. Read More:

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