Nick Cave. New Order. Trent Reznor. These are just a handful of the globally recognised artists signed to Mute Records. The label has maintained an eclectic roster since its foundations back in the late 1970s. From 1980s techno to today’s hybrid electronic artists, the label has continually spanned genres and pushed boundaries. With a simple and striking aesthetic beloved by its audience, it’s no surprise Mute need a robust but flexible model to supply its customers with branded clothing. We chatted with Paul A. Taylor about the label’s history and its future.
What's the story behind Mute?
Mute was set up by Daniel Miller in 1978 in order to release his own single – The Normal’s Warm Leatherette/T.V.O.D. – embracing the DIY ethic that followed the punk movement and was started by Howard Devoto and Buzzcocks when they released Spiral Scratch by themselves.
As was the way in those days, Daniel took his 7” that he pressed to the independent record stores to see if they would buy some off him. Rough Trade Shop really liked it, and offered to distribute it for him. They gave him a desk in the back of the shop to use. John Peel started playing it. Journalists started writing about it. And he’d suddenly sold 10,000 7” singles.
Daniel put his address on the back of the sleeve and people assumed Mute was a record label, which was never his intention. He subsequently got flooded with demos. But it wasn’t until he was introduced to Frank Tovey (aka Fad Gadget) by Edwin Pouncey (aka Savage Pencil) that he heard anything he liked. That’s really when Mute was born as a record label – when he decided to release Frank’s Fad Gadget records.
From that meeting and partnership with Frank, Daniel saw Depeche Mode supporting Fad Gadget. He loved them, and asked them if they wanted to release a single with him. The rest is history.
In addition to Mute, there are a few other indie record labels with cool branding, like Fool's Gold and Warp. Whose look do you admire?
Warp have a great brand and are a great label. They really push art within their structure as a record label. Raster Noton have a great aesthetic, as does Julian House’s Ghost Box label. And, of course, where do you start and end with Factory and Peter Saville?
Where does Mute's Walking Man logo come from?
The walking man was taken from the legendary Letraset that was used by architects and planners. Daniel loved Letraset and felt it was a good fit. Graphic designer Malcolm Garrett and Daniel have a friendly dispute about who was the first to use Letraset on a record sleeve.
How important is identity to your brand?
It’s important. But it was never a central point. The Mute brand became important to people and identifiable by accident. It has always been very clear that Mute’s releases were about the music and the artist, not the label. The record label’s visibility always took a back seat. I feel that playing it down led to the visual presence being important. Mute as a label ended up being important to people, as a sign of a certain type of quality and aesthetic. It’s hard to push a brand and be successful. It’s even harder to not try too hard and be successful, unless you really mean it and have patience. Art takes time. Art takes patience.
How does that translate to clothing?
By default Daniel created an iconic brand. The simplicity of that logo, the interpretations it has had over the years, and the fact that Mute’s musical output is built on Daniel’s taste and honesty, means people are interested in the label and its designs. That has helped us build a trust between the label and audience. The logo is simple, it translates, simplicity is genius, honesty is transparent.
You've done two designs with Everpress so far. Why did you use Everpress?
We liked the idea of offering people a wide variety of clothing design options over a period of time, rather than ordering one shirt in bulk and flogging the stock for the next two years. It felt like an exciting proposition for us and the public who are interested in Mute – both its music and aesthetic. We like the spontaneity of it, too. Being able to have an idea and execute it within hours is fun. And it’s good to have fun, right?
And you're planning to do a series?
Yes, we’ve done three so far. There will be more Mute shirts in the new year.