V&A Dundee

Crafted in Felt - designing a DIY club scene

When a passion for the ‘danceably alternative’ met ‘Photoshop for Dummies’... DJ and artist David McLeish explores the homespun origins of Dundee indie club Felt and the unique visual identity that grew with it.

Written by: David McLeish

To get a taste of the Felt vibe, you can immerse yourself in an epic Spotify playlist here.

The clubnight Felt was borne mainly of frustration and a need to create something that was missing in the Dundee nightlife scene of the time.

If I’d been cooler, edgier, it might have manifested as frustrated graffiti or a panned-in bus shelter. If I’d been more talented it might have been an awful, no doubt short-lived band. I was neither though, so the way it came out was as a club night – with a truly DIY ethos, and a visual identity that developed alongside it. That’s kind of how things are done in Dundee; if it doesn’t exist yet, love it into existence and you can’t really go wrong.

A flyer design showing the world 'FELT' spelt out in multi-story towerblocks
100% Dundee - the identity of the clubnight and its style were heavily informed by the city

I’d grown up with tales from my older siblings of early Fat Sam’s who hosted the locally legendary indie night Chopper, but in 2003 there was nothing remotely like it. Not even a token 'Britpop - Lads Lads Lads - Cigarettes & Alcohol pointy-plimsoles' kind of thing, let alone a place catering to the indie scene; which always felt a bit conspicuous by its absence.

So what’s an inexperienced, talent-free person to do? Well, anything’s better than nothing. Compose an impassioned email outlining much of the above, get a gig without even an inkling of how to do it, go to Argos, get a set of ‘toy’ CDDJ decks, do some practice, console yourself with the fact that it’s gonna be all about what you play and not how you play it anyway, then put on your saddest jacket and get a full refund at the returns desk.

It could accurately be described as 'someone learning to use the lasso tool in a pirate copy of Photoshop.'

That attitude, that DIY spirit, is probably what would come to influence a lot of the shambolic fun of the club night, its design and branding. I’d extend the initialism to DIYEIYFYNGAIBHNOEI; ‘DO IT YOURSELF EVEN IF YOU FEEL YOU’RE NO GOOD AT IT, BECAUSE HEY NO ONE ELSE IS’, if I could, but I don’t think B&Q would be able to fit it onto their signs.

I will be eternally grateful to The Reading Rooms, for taking such a chance on me in the first place, and on Felt (named partly after the 80s indie-pop band who ironically were never actually played). The name was a lot more versatile, opened itself up to a whole treasure trove of wordplays and puns, was a single syllable and the lower case ‘f’ being an inversion of the lower case ‘t’ just lent the word a real visual appeal. More importantly, I could imagine people saying it, hopefully specifically saying that they were going to it.

'Danceably Alternative' was a kind of subtitle, on the first flyer, to at least give a floor-talc skiffy in the general direction of what the musical direction was, as well as a supporting list of bands.

Club flyers for Felt showing lists of band names and dancing cut-out felt characters
Early flyers for Felt, featuring Fuzzy Felt-esque characters and rudimentary Photoshopping

The first flyer was based on Fuzzy Felt, a much-loved childhood plaything, characters from all walks of life dancing. It could accurately be described as 'someone learning to use the lasso tool in a pirate copy of Photoshop who happened to have a decent resolution image of a felt texture'. At the time, I believed that digital design and professional printing lent a weight of legitimacy to something; this must be a real thing because check this glossy card stock. This attitude didn’t last.

In a pre-social media posting world, I wanted to produce flyers a lot more regularly than every few months, to be able to have a Xerox immediacy and response time to whatever idea I had. I also found that as the club night’s popularity grew, I could be a bit more adventurous with the aesthetic; to show a bit more of what I actually liked, rather than feeling I had to somehow legitimise myself and the club night with “Photoshop for Dummies” showboating.

Of great influence were continuous line drawing exercises that I adored through my multiple stints at Dundee College; Alex Botten, who was a prolific illustrator and gig flyer designer at the time; Daniel Stewart, a musician who was frustratingly good at pretty much everything including drawing and design; the delicate line-work of Natalie Rubczak; psychedelia, nostalgia, and the desire to rail against mass-produced print as much as possible and create flyers where each could be unique.

Flyers featuring line drawings and watercolours of a boy, a woman and a child with an ice-cram
Line drawings and twee watercolours inspired the club's aesthetic as it became more popular

The visual identity came to fit the description of 'badly drawn stuff with nostalgia evoking photographs and barely legible text on it'; you had to work to get the message sometimes, but if you got it, boy you really got it. Not being into symbolism, or secret club inaccessibility, or intellectual snobbery sort of stuff, all the pertinent information was rarely obscured or hard to get - I just thought it was fun, like a puzzle in a book. These were usually inkjet printed or photocopied, and then manually trimmed down to vaguely A6 to dump at Groucho’s or surreptitiously slip into people’s bags in my day job in the Overgate.

That’s kind of how things are done in Dundee; if it doesn’t exist yet, love it into existence and you can’t really go wrong.

I wanted it to feel as accessible as I hoped it was. Someone saying “yeah, but I coulda done that” to me isn’t deserving of the snooty “yeah, well you didn’t” response, but more of a rallying call - “I know right? Piece of piss, eh? Please do!”.

A flyer showing a hand cutting into a badyl designed flyer, with a list of bad design choices
Anatomy of a terrible flyer - all the 'don'ts' of club advertising

Out of everything (as someone who was yet to fail to get into DJCAD for the first time) hearing that people who studied illustration and graphics had the flyers Pritt-stuck to the front of their sketchbooks was the biggest compliment I could have had at the time.

I hope the main 3AM takeaway from this is that it’s important to do things; no matter if it’s with limited means, or if you're from a housing scheme; as long as you believe in it and it had to come out, in whatever form that takes, then you can’t really go wrong.

To quote The Jam’s In The City; “and if it don’t work, at least we still tried”.

For more adventures in design and club culture, visit the Night Fever exhibition.