Matt King and Joseph Delaney talk clubbing in the mid-2000s, coining the term 'techno goth' and launching London's most intriguing 'lifestyle' zine
I suppose let’s start at the beginning! How did you meet? How did you start working together?
Joseph Delaney (JD): We actually met through a club, which makes sense, around 2008 or 2009. A club called Trailer Trash. It was back when Shoreditch wasn’t like it is now; not shiny or polished, no shops.
Matt King (MK): It was very ‘Boom Box’ era. It was the end of the nu-rave!
JD: Boom Box ended just as I moved to London. It was super dress-up, loads of famous people used to go, and so much pop culture came out of that night. Kylie Minogue did a whole album based on it, which was weird! All the designers used to go there; it was basically the most Gareth Pugh thing ever. So Trailer Trash was like the antidote for those same people to do something different.
M: It was very dark, very druggy.
JD: You could do anything there, literally. It was the first time I’d been to a club like that. It was super private, even the club photography was very posed, so there was this kind of anonymity to it. But everyone knew everyone else.
MK: We would just go on our own because we knew everyone would be there. I think it’s hard to find something like that now, because London’s so spread out. East London used to be so small but now its gentrified and everything’s moved up to Tottenham and Seven Sisters. But that’s how we met, basically…
JD: In the club there was one room, but there was this alleyway outside where you’d go outside to smoke, and it sort of became this weird cultural hot spot. I’ve met some of my really good friends in that alleyway.
I guess back then you weren’t doing the same things you’re doing now, work-wise?
MK: I had just graduated from Saint Martin’s doing a BA in graphic design. But I didn’t really do graphic design, I did photography. I did that for two years, but when we started an early project, called Stamp, I realised I didn’t want to be a photographer, I wanted to be a stylist. And I suppose that turned into creative direction and that’s led us to where we’re at now.
JD: I was studying Japanese art history. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I sort of found the environment I wanted to be in through that. I do some lecturing and all the kids want to know how you sort of climb your way into the industry, and honestly I can’t remember a single person I didn’t meet through going out. Not in a network-y way but just because everyone in that community was really creative and they’ve gone on to do really interesting things.
Do you think with the club landscape changing that in ten years time people will say to each other, ‘oh we met at that night…’
MK: I like to think so.
JD: I didn’t think so until a couple of years ago. For a while we got so bored because there was nothing on…
MK: But now, you know, we were having a chat the other night to Lee, the guy that runs Chaos, about how many parties are on, every fucking weekend. It’s relentless!
JD: In that specific genre, you know… techno, EBM…
MK: Everyone’s realised it’s become this big thing so everyone’s trying to do their own version of that night. It’s crazy…
JD: But its crazy for something that niche, you know – a very particular type of industrial techno, for a queer crowd – I mean it’s tiny, but it’s become such a big thing.
MK: I like to think that that’s happening all over London in all different genres.
"It’s a very particular type of industrial techno, for a queer crowd, but it’s become such a big thing."
To your point about a niche scene really blowing up, do you think that could be tied into aesthetic in some way? For instance I don’t go to those nights but I’ve still picked up on that scene’s look, its visual code - for want of a better term. There feels like quite a directional aesthetic tie in, how you dress. Obviously the music plays its part as well, with it building a presence on stations like NTS.
JD: That’s interesting. I always thought that because we were in it, but I guess it’s obvious to other people as well. I wonder if there are other scenes doing their thing but I don’t clock it because I’m not part of them…
MK: With Instagram now as well, these things are a lot more visible. We didn’t have that [back then], so how did we find out about stuff? Resident Advisor maybe?
JD: That’s the thing, it did feel a bit more like you’d stumbled on something back then. You’d get a text on a Friday night with an address…
MK: Or BBM. You’d have the Blackberry group!
JD: Yeah the Blackberry group, where every time you’d get a message it’d be a Blackberry pin with an address for a warehouse party.
It sounds like there’s still an element of subculture to it all. Existing behind closed doors, in ways that subcultures have traditionally begun to flourish.
JD: Yeah and I don’t think subcultures will ever not exist. I always disagree when people say, ‘is the internet ruining subculture?’, because I feel like I developed my sense of subculture through the internet. We were the first generation that had proper social media. I found out about most of these clubs through MySpace. About these characters, and where they were. I miss that… I learned so much about music through that as well.
Fast forward a few years from when you met, when did you start working together?
JD: I think it started with the online magazine, Stamp. We’d moved to New York for the summer just to get away, and that was eye opening in a way, but then we came back and wanted to do something. A friend of ours from Australia came up with the idea and we ended up doing that for about two years. It started off being about profiles of people in their spaces but then we started to do more editorial, magazine type content.
MK: That’s when I started styling. Doing that project I realised I didn’t want to do photography anymore.
JD: And that sort of pushed us to start working together for magazines. I was doing art directing and writing for Sang Bleu and Matt was styling, and we ended up contributing quite a lot to that as a duo, and also doing things for other fashion magazines.
MK: But I think we also realised how restricting fashion magazines were. They’re super glossy and we’ve always been into a lo-fi, gritty kind of image. We were really struggling to get anywhere with the fashion magazines. Like we were doing it for OK people but it just wasn’t going anywhere, it seemed very boring. Although… looking back they’re not too far away from what we’re doing now.
JD: You can kind of see how we started; we were trying to force our identity into those magazines, these glossy versions of these kind of subcultural aesthetics.
MK: But that’s why we started SORT. Just to have our own visual language and not have to deal with, like, magazine editors not wanting a certain cast, or for whatever reason. We just wanted to have an honest approach to everything and be super open minded.
JD: We were working with one photographer a lot, and we worked so well together. And this one time we thought let’s just do something together and not think about where it’s going to go, and I think that kind of turned into the zine. It kind of created the content for it.
MK: The idea in the beginning was that SORT was going to be a different photographer every issue. And now it isn’t that but that’s what we did then, we made our own publication and we launched it at a pub down the road and through Sang Bleu, and then issue two and issue three came about, and we’ve just launched issue four.
"We're trying to straddle the line between beauty and ugliness, in the most interesting places."
It sounds like yours was a creative partnership to begin with and SORT was a passion project in order to do the things you wanted to do, but also acted as a shop window into what you could offer to others as a creative partnership?
JD: Yeah, definitely. I feel like people don’t like to say that sometimes, but that was definitely what it was like. Never in a ‘oh now we wanna get an ASOS campaign’ way, it was more just to show people that we could do this kind of stuff without it being a tiny throwaway. That we could make it and scale it up. Throughout history these kinds of [subcultural] things happen on a tiny scale and they get lost because only tiny groups of people get it. Which I love, but I think you can do it on a bigger scale and make more people interested. So it was that, and also us having to communicate something to the world.
So what was the vision you had in mind when you were working on the first issue of SORT?
JD: It was about how everything in fashion was about beauty and gloss, and personally I find that grotesque, in so many ways.
MK: What was our phrase?
JD: ‘Fuck beauty. Stay ugly.’
MK: Haha, yeah! Our slogan that we never really did anything with! An internal slogan.
JD: It was more like a thought in our heads, like trying to straddle the line between beauty and ugliness, in the most interesting places. But looking back I think it was still quite glossy, or parts of it anyway.
I think it feels premium. And it’s interesting because it exists within the canon of zine culture but as a zine SORT is very elevated. But I also like how you’re including tactile elements, like pins and patches and what not. It almost means you have one foot in this punk zine world and one foot in the fashion world.
MK: That’s exactly the point. We’re constantly saying that we do want a ‘throwaway’ element, still. We’ve elevated it a lot but we still want it to feel like it has a foot on both sides.
JD: At the same time we didn’t want to glamourise cheapness. There’s something impersonal about magazines. For me SORT always needs to come back to ephemera, like the ephemera around music; patches, pins, whatever.
I don’t really like to use the word ‘authenticity’ here, but maybe this is where authenticity comes into it. If you’re creating a zine for the right reasons you’re probably active in that world, obsessing over it enough to create a publication about it, essentially.
MK: That’s exactly what it is, a peep into our world. For people who enjoy it, or experience it.
In terms of your roles in SORT, do you see yourselves as the creative directors and everything else comes from a community of collaborators?
MK: Yes and not just in the sense of the zine, but in terms of SORT the brand, the 360º experience. The fact that there’s a zine, and events, and an exhibition, merch, there’s everything. It’s about finding ways to communicate all of this.
In a way it’s like SORT is a lifestyle brand.
Matt: Yeah, I like that idea. At the end of the day we’ve done it because this is what we’re doing anyway and it’s like a little diary.
JD: And it’s personal, in that it’s reflective of all of our interests. We’re documenting all of these people whose work we like, by working with them.
Yes and it’s a window into your world. Which is why I’m interested in the sense of community around you – do you experience this beyond London?
MK: I think it is there but in different ways. London feels authentic whereas certain places simply glamourise it and the message is lost.
JD: Yes there’s a lot of things popping up around the world which seem a bit ‘fake’ in a way. But in terms of community it’s funny because around the world you’ve got all these people who might not have the same look or listen to the same music but you still identify them as part of your little corner of the world. Some of the artists and writers we’ve worked with in the last issue are like that, they’re not super part of the same scene but they feel connected. Which is also why we make sure we ship globally because SORT isn’t primarily for people in the metropolis, it’s for people who need it. That nineteen year old kid in Massachusetts, you know? People have sent us messages like, ‘thanks, I really needed that’.
Well it’s very important to have visual and printed ephemera as so often it’s the glue between specific elements in a scene, capturing the gaps in the experience. It seems you’re filling a gap there in your particular world by documenting it. So what are you working on at the moment?
JD: Well from the last issue and the whole film and event we did around it some other opportunities have come up. We’re doing a couple of music videos — one with Naked who are our most frequent musical collaborators. We’re sort of taking the format of the zine and everything we do around it and applying it to a few other things, starting with Naked’s new single and then for a few other artists, and some brands.
MK: Naked are going to release an EP in the summer which will launch with the SORT music video and some other visuals. We also want to do more art things. I’d like to do another exhibition. We did one in Berlin last summer which again was sort of everything that was a mix of the zine in a physical space.
JD: We had the exhibition in a small gallery space and then the afterparty in a sex club in Kreuzberg, which I also thought of as an exhibition as well. It had a dark room downstairs with all these screens which we played video work through. And it was insane – like one of the best experiences of my life – all these people down there – guests and regulars – just getting wasted in front of people, like, fucking next to them, with artwork playing on screens. I remember thinking this is exactly what I want from an exhibition! So if we can do something like that again then it’s all working.