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Technologically, the music business is in flux, with CDs at risk of being supplanted by such amorphous, ephemeral formats as MP3, WMA, and Ogg Vorbis. There’s one form of musical hard copy, however, that seems to be secure: the hand-printed, limited-edition concert poster.
In February, P Street’s Transformer Gallery presented a show of such posters, including some made by D.C.’s Planaria Design. But for an even larger assortment of music placards, check out www.gigposters.com. Included among the site’s thousands of images are about a dozen by a fledgling Arlington firm, Voltage Design Lab, and its two principals, Darren Kipp and Matt Thomas.
“We met in a screen-printing class, and we were kind of doing the same thing,” says Kipp, 37. “Making posters for events that were coming up or we had seen recently. We just had a mutual admiration for each other’s work. We went to a couple shows at Iota and the 9:30 Club together and decided to start this up.”
Unlike such rock-poster booms as San Francisco’s psychedelic era or London’s punk outbreak, today’s trend imposes no overarching style. “It can be based on having seen a concert before and a general feel from that,” Kipp says of Voltage’s approach. “Maybe pull out a word or a line or a thought from any of their songs. Or just a general feel for the whole sound of the band.”
Kipp, a bartender and manager at an Alexandria pub, and Thomas, 25, who works for a D.C. graphic-design company, hope that Voltage will someday be a full-time operation. Most of the posters they’ve designed and silk-screened so far, however, were not commissioned by the performers.
“For a while, we were just making them unsolicited, to take to the bands,” Kipp says. “Kind of, ‘The first one’s for free, and if you like what we do, we’d love to do more for you.’
“At a show in Philadelphia for a band called the Gourds, I took some up there and just wanted to get some signed and get my name out there. Some other people saw me with the posters and I just sold them there and gave half the money to the band—with their permission.”
Kipp made a connection with one group, Wilco, through another of his artistic endeavors, metal sculpture. He designed a mirror piece as a gift for the band’s drummer, Glenn Kotche, which led to the percussionist’s asking him “to make a piece that he could play as a percussion instrument.” Later, Kotche also commissioned a poster design for his side project, On Fillmore. Other acts that have enlisted Voltage to make posters include the local Assrockers and Austin, Texas, folkie Richard Buckner.
Currently, Kipp says, he’s taking a break from metalwork in favor of printing. “There was a little less metal dust to breathe,” he says. He and Thomas work in the basement of the latter’s house, printing up to 100 copies per design. It’s “all water-based inks, so it’s not like we’re trapping ourselves in a room with a bunch of fumes.”
For now, Voltage is concentrating on posters, but if the CD format survives, Kipp wouldn’t mind designing some covers, too. “That’s the next goal,” he says. “We’d love to do that.”