Print music: Inside NYC’s LQQK Studio

By in Features

A clubhouse for print-makers, record collectors and DJs, LQQK Studio has evolved into a community that merges the worlds of art, fashion and music.

“In New York, everyone has such a wide range of interests,” says founder Alex Dondero. “We have a passion for making clothing, we have a passion for music, all this other stuff beyond screen printing alone.”

Starting life as a logical bridge between merch and the independent music industry, making t-shirts for friends’ bands, LQQK has evolved into a brand in its own right, with a range of products that now extends way beyond tees. Ask nicely and they might let you touch the fabled ‘money pillow.’

Beside the objects they create, and the vast collection of records and screen-prints that seem to mirror one another across the studio space, LQQK is also about something a little less tangible.

What started as a safe space for friends to share music, ideas and inspiration has grown into a collective that now hosts parties, bi-weekly radio shows and a record label, live and direct from the studio. In a city where space is at a premium, it’s that freedom to exist, create and just hang out that makes LQQK feel unique.

Alex, let’s start with the basics. What is LQQK?

LQQK Studio is primarily a print studio, and secondarily it’s kind of like a clubhouse. It has a lot of people that are affiliated or make work here, or just generally share interests, whether that be in music, design, or print.

When did it start? Who did it start with?

I’d say around 2009/2010 I made the decision to make screen printing a full time thing in New York. I started out in a studio that was much smaller than this, that I shared with three other people. Then after I outgrew it we moved into this bigger space. It started off more as a communal shared space thing. Then the LQQK identity grew and we just kind of held onto the space. The original crew was Martin Davis, Max Feuer, Paul Bryant, Emily Johnson, Mike Cherman, Corey Rubin, and so many more. At some point we just started printing our own merch with LQQK on it… So it evolved into a brand as well, and that’s something that’s ever evolving.

So it just randomly became a brand?

I recently came to the realisation that what we make isn’t like a brand as much as it is merch. Going to a show and buying a shirt from a band – it’s the same idea. The people that tend to buy what we make would be the same kind of people that would want to support their local band and buy their shirt at the show.

That’s the most refreshing brand bio I’ve heard in years.

That’s the one thing about LQQK. Beyond the fact that we offer a screen printing and design service, it’s really coming from a cultural standpoint of having multiple interests beyond a single dimension. In New York, everyone has such a wide range of interests, everyone seeks something a little more elevated, and we’re no different to that. We have a passion for making clothing, we have a passion for music, all this other stuff beyond screen printing alone. So having an outlet for that is just an added extension to our interests.

Has music always been an interest?

Conveniently screen printing and music are like siblings, in the sense that the band shirt has to get printed somewhere. So since high school I’ve always been involved in a music scene in some shape or form. Once I started printing for bands, I realised I liked it because it kept me involved. I’m a shit musician and I’m not going to play in a band, but I have a passion for music and for records.

One of my fondest memories was when I was living in Baltimore. These dudes I really looked up to had a band called Double Dagger – they were brilliant graphic designers and had this beautiful side project, and they were screen printing all their own stuff. And I saw all of them and just said “Can I help? I need to help… you have to let me help you!” So I remember helping them print, and they gave me one of their records when it was done. And I was like, ‘damn you can be DIY and super polished at the same time.’ You can literally do everything yourself and have it be a quality product.

That definitely emanates with what you do at LQQK. So when did you start collecting records?

My dad actually used to run a hi-fi store in Philly when I was growing up. I grew up with records in the house. That appreciation for music and record collecting has always been there. I grew up thinking vinyl was really cool. The tangible – I’ve always loved that, and it stuck with me.

Did DJing come once you moved to NYC?

No, I DJ’d in high school. I sucked, but it was just so fun. It’s always been the type of thing where DJing has justified buying records – like I can buy this because I’m going to play it out for people. It’s kind of a shit excuse, but it’s true.

I don’t know if you can see it, but there aresty some strong collector themes going on in here between the screens and the records…

Haha, that’s funny. You’re the first person that’s actually drawn that connection, but yeah you’re totally right. It’s subconscious for me, but literally in front of us.

What collection is in better order?

Joe Garvey (member): The records!

Yeah I’d definitely say the records.

Is there anything that you gravitate towards in your collection?

I’m always looking for contemporary dance tracks. There aree styles I like, and certain labels where I’m almost guaranteed to buy everything they put out.

Such as…

Trilogy Tapes, Exotic Dance Records, Proibito, Broken Call, Bank Records, Let’s Play House, Arcane, – all those are homies. That’s the thing, a lot of homies put out records too. Everyone’s putting out super exciting music now, so it’s not hard to support and get good music at the same time.

You have your own label too right?

Yeah LQQK started putting out records under the alias 369 Records. We just wanted to contribute.

It’s funny because I feel like I heard of LQQK through music and listening to your radio show, before knowing that it was predominately print and clothing. How did the radio show come about?

No shit. Yeah a lot of that started early on with Max, who helped with what LQQK is known for. We would be printing and playing music, feeding off each others’ energy of what we were listening to. To the point of realising, “oh, we have a similar taste, we should just start playing out more.”

We had a few regular nights here and there, but kept it pretty loose. The odd residency. And I guess that’s where broadcasting from the studio took over. We had the physical space, so hosting shows here just became so much more fun. Get friends to come and hang, BYO drinks, it’s more fun this way. Most of the places you go in New York to hear this style of music are surviving off their liquor licenses, and not from people coming to hear your music.

That vibe has somewhat evolved into a motto of LQQK, hasn’t it?

“We don’t really need a crowd to have a party.” It’s true. We print it on a bunch of the tags. But honestly, what would you rather do? Hang out with 20 of your best friends, or 200 people you don’t know? It’s just so obvious.

When can people tune in? Is there a set time or you still keeping it loose?

We’ll post about it on our Instagram if it’s going down. If not, we got a bunch up on the website. We’ve been putting more energy into the shows, like if Max or Paul can’t DJ, we’ll aim to get a good guest in.

I have to ask about those record weights. How did they come about?

It had been an idea for quite a while, but I didn’t really know what to make them with. One day my friend Eric was showing me this project where he made candle holders from marble, so I was like, “yo, give me your marble connect!” He connected me with this Italian marble mill – it’s a collective of quarries that pool together their specialty marbles and shop them around to get fabricated. So I picked out the marble and designed a CAD file with my friend Jeff, and created a completely original record weight.

Any left for the readers at home?

Yeah I held onto a few. It’s worth an inquiry if someone’s serious… It’s definitely one of those cool projects where it’s more than just screen printing. Super nerdy.

And the money pillow… What’s that about? Where did you get the money?

The US Treasury will sell you de-circulated bills that are shredded. So I hit them up saying I’m going to need 500 pounds of shredded money to fill up some fucking pillows…

Haha. And how did that go down?

I’m sure I’m on a watchlist or something! I ordered so much shredded money from them, and we sold out of the pillows quick, so I called them to get more, and they were like “sure”. I asked if they needed my info and they were like, “yeah, we know who you are…”

No shit! Do they charge a lot for it?

It’s funny because it’s money that they’ve pulled, are shredding and selling back. They’re making money on their own money! But now I’m selling it too… It’s on some whole Fight Club soap deal – selling rich people back their own lypo-suction fat.

That’s so good. So what’s next then? Or is this some first rule of Fight Club situation…

We have multiple collaborations with brands coming up that I’m fucking stoked on. One I can say is with Vans. That’s the big thing on the horizon. That’s been a dream since forever, I’ve always wanted to do that.

Can you say what are you doing with them?

It’s a full line through their Vault collection. Two styles of shoe, three colourways for each shoe. Jackets, shirts, shorts… the full kit. It comes out in April.

Nice. And music?

369 Records. Big things in 2018!