If an artist, in the purest sense, needs to compromise to nobody, but a designer is successful ultimately on the approval of their client, then the duo known as DR.ME can certainly be identified as artists. If only their vocation was actually that easy to describe.
Only recently out of university, the creatives known only to us as Eddy and Ryan, have conjured up one of the most intriguingly fresh creative partnerships to be found in the north west of England. In the first year since their graduation from Manchester Metropolitan University they have found the time to cross the Atlantic to learn from a master, set up their own studio and begin establishing demand for their distinctive art direction and design services.
They are flexing their increasingly influential creative muscle in their adopted hometown of Manchester, where they can be found working in a converted mill in the insalubrious outskirts of the city centre. Eddy sits with a beer on the studio’s sofa and starts the conversation by going back to that start of 2011. Of the studio he says: “We got it in January. We wanted to get a studio and Steve (Hockett – graphic designer and DJ) was looking for a place, so financially it just made sense. Me and Ryan work together and Steve is in here doing his stuff two days a week.”
The drive to set up by yourself so soon after escaping the education system seems like a brave thing to do, but it clearly seemed like the obvious choice for the DR.ME duo. Eddy confirms by saying: “It would have been the easy option, just to take a design job to get a pay cheque, but we know quite a lot of designers and the majority of the time they don’t really enjoy what they do. We see people from Uni and they say ‘You’re living the dream!’ – it is a risk, but if we went 40 years down the line and had just gone off to different agencies rather than doing this then I think we’d regret it”
However, it’s not every graduate that gets the opportunity to go to New York and join Mike Perry Studio as an intern, like the DR.ME boys did in 2010. The Brooklyn-based ‘maker’ (the simplistic job title he gives himself confirmed by Ryan and Eddy) took the two of them under his wing for a journey into creative freedom and the buzz of working in one of the world’s greatest cities. Of the experience, Ryan said: “That’s kind of what made us do this, going over there and seeing the running of a studio and seeing that it was possible.” Eddy continues: “Mike’s not really an artist and he’s not really a designer, he just makes things for the joy of making things.”
Talking to the pair it seems clear that those months spent in the USA, under the tutorship of genuine creative powerhouse from the world, which they also wished to inhabit only provided them with a nudge towards the inevitable move to go it alone. Having their own studio was, in fact, just one achievement on a list they agreed to aim for whilst at University, which also included the accomplishments of a solo exhibition, a music video and an album cover. Eddy reveals: “We’ve done that again this year, written something out with goals to aim for which at the moment seem really far-fetched but at the end of the year will seem stupidly achievable.”
They speak with such conviction about what they do that they surely couldn’t be contained as jobbing graphic designers anyway. So what is it, exactly, that they do? Eddy replies: “This is a conversation we have a lot. We do walk a line between art and design, but we are trained as designers. There are things that people associate with graphic design, like you just work in InDesign putting ads together. Of course, there can be beauty in that and we do those kinds of things too, but DR.ME is a bit more of a creative studio.” Ryan clarifies the point, saying: “We do music video, record sleeves, everything. We don’t want to be pigeonholed. We really enjoy creating exhibitions, doing everything really.”
The way the pair works seems fairly simple. They will take on work that they want to work on, trying to avoid getting into business with people that they couldn’t also count on as friends. Ryan says: “We’re open minded. The only thing we said no to more recently was working with a band called Family. We were going to work with them, but then we realised they were dicks.”
Eddy picks up the point from Ryan, saying: “We tend to always try and meet people face to face, because you can hide quite a lot behind e-mails. When you meet someone face to face it apparently only takes 14 seconds to make a first impression. With clients we always try and sit down face to face because you get more of an idea about what they want and they get more of an idea about you too. You’re not going to be as formal as when you e-mail. It’s better to have friends more than to have clients.”
It seems like a too-good-to-be-true situation for career-starting creative to be picking and choosing work, and Eddy is quick to temper the assumption that people are beating down their door and they don’t have to pitch for work. He says: “It’s 50/50 what comes to us and what we go out for. We’d be lying if we said they all come to us, but we’re always tapping on doors if we see something not being done properly. We’ll always know we can do something better.”
It’s doing something well that has kept some friends returning for their services more than once. The sportswear firm Umbro are just one, asking the pair to create a mural for their Manchester showroom and turn their hand to exclusive t-shirt designs. Of working with the company, Ryan says: “Even with Umbro we just do what we want and what we think will be good. I was working on a recent project with them and I thought ‘no way does that look like an Umbro t-shirt’, but they were just like ‘yeah, that’s great’. Maybe they like it because we don’t come at it from a sports point of view.”
Eddy reflects on that familiar scenario, saying: “It’s always something that reoccurs. When we do work and maybe at first we’ll assume that they will want us to work on it a certain way, and they’ll look at it and they’ll go ‘we’re not really too sure about that’. So we’ll go away and do it again but, completely what we wanted to do, thinking they’ll hate it and they go ‘yeah, that’s just what we wanted.’”
It’s not only international sports fashion brands who have had the benefit of the DR.ME enthusiasm and individual style. Demonstrating versatility, their artwork has provided the visual accompaniments to the music of bands such as Dutch Uncles and more recently helped to provide the visual identity for the Northern Quarter’s independent tea room/coffee shop/independent gallery/arty hangout, North Tea Power. The city and its ability to incubate and share talent seems to have had significant affect on the pair, after Ryan moved to study from Perth in Scotland and Eddy made the short trip from Kendal in the Lake District.
They do remain fiercely independent of any of the city’s other design agencies, preferring not to cross creative paths if at all possible, whilst retaining a distant admiration for the work of their peers. Having studied and lived in Manchester for three years, the lure of London certainly held no attraction for the two, although Eddy was surprised to be told that he should consider heading south by someone he thought should know better.
He recalls: “So many grads get told that they need to move to London to make a success of themselves. When I was in first year I met Peter Saville and he told me I had to move to London. For the Creative Director of Manchester, or whatever his stupid title is, to tell me I had to move to London is sacrilege. We’ve not got anything against London, but I don’t see any reason to have to move away especially when we’re in such an age with things like Skype.” Ryan continues: “We’re lucky with the nature of what we do. People like photographers have to be ‘in it’, but we don’t have to work like that because people come to us.”
To prove the point perfectly, the pair has recently got in touch with one of their heroes, graphic design colossus James Victore, to collaborate on a rolling project that will see the two parties communicate by little more than Twitter. The outcome won’t be clear for some time, but what is plain is that by adding Victore to their list of collaborators, alongside Mike Perry, the two are sending a clear message of intent. They are working hard to get their work noticed and to expand their reach.
Ryan responds to the question of what the future holds by saying: “We’d like to be an agency where people come to us looking for something specific and maybe we don’t have the skills to do that, but was have friends who can answer that brief. Not working for us, but all collectively working together. One of our greatest inspirations is a graphic design company in Berlin called Hort, started by Eike Koenig who realised he couldn’t do all these jobs himself. So, thought why not have other people working with him who can do all these other jobs? We’re not even nearly ready for that yet, but let’s see what happens over the next five years.”
Draining the last mouthful from his can of beer before leaving their sunny studio for the weekend, Eddy sums up where they think they are heading by saying: “We want to grow, but still kind of hold on to our initial ideal of people coming to us because of the way we work.”
Info: DR.ME is the creative partnership of Eddy and Ryan, based in Manchester, England. They have contributed to exhibitions in Manchester, Leeds, Baltimore and New York and have collaborated or created work for Umbro, Memphis Industries, Dutch Uncles, New York Cosmos, The Guardian, Manchester International Festival, Urban Outfitters and Mike Perry Studio.
Images, from top:
1) Designs from the Lyk Wat Kids Do exhibition
2) Cover art for Dutch Uncles, Cadenza
3) Wall mural created for Umbro
4) Design for North Tea Power loyalty card
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