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Fergadelic: Prog to Pushead

Fergus Purcell (a.k.a. Fergadelic) was born in 1970, and the decade hasn't stopped influencing him since. The iconic, hyper-literal designs and logos he's created for Silas, Hysteric Glamour, X-Girl Japan, and his own Tonite label often combine the stoner aesthetics of prog rock and classic metal with a subversive sense of humor that seems straight from the pages of Robert Crumb and Viz comics. Purcell's signature style is dictated by thematic elements–skulls, sci-fi, skate iconography, music-related graphics–but it isn't dominated by just one technique; pen-and-ink drawings, hard-edged vector graphics, photo-realist airbrushing, and collage all find their way into his work.

Lanky, with a shock of wavy, shoulder-length hesher hair and covered with tattoos (both classic and homemade), 36-year-old Purcell is the physical embodiment of what every 15-year-old skater wants to grow up to be. He lives in London's Kentish Town, where he can often be seen cruising around on his prized possession, a single-speed, steel-frame Condor bike, or searching for records to add to his extensive collection.

Not content to merely drive clothing nerds wild, Purcell also plays music. He's a member of post-acid-house outfit 5 Mic Cluster (alongside esteemed techno producer Mark Broom), a roving participant in "prog-doom-disco collective" Chrome Hoof, and drummer/vocalist for The Changes, an "international art band" with A Bathing Ape designer SK8thing (a.k.a. Shin) and Australian husband-wife design team Perks and Mini (with whom he released Gas Book #17 in 2004).

We found Fergadelic indulging in his favorite daily ritual–morning coffee–and he was kind enough to send us an inspiring email reply, typed entirely in caps, and peppered with exclamation points and his favorite expressions ("Wow!" and "Cosmic").

XLR8R: What were the first graphics you did?

When I was a kid, I drew all the time. I think the first time it became graphics was from reading the 2000 A.D. comic in about 1980, when I was 10. That made me aware of lettering. They had all those great logos for Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog, which I used to copy. Also, my dad was a civil engineer and worked in a big company; he used to bring home the out-of-date Letraset from the technical drawing department for me to play with.

What do you find yourself doodling lately?

New letter forms (always trying to find some new style). An alien alphabet. Logos for imaginary metal bands. Micro-circuits and fractured crystal landscapes (things aren't the same since doing mushrooms in a flotation tank. Wow!)

What are your favorite band t-shirts of all time?

The best metal t-shirt ever is Metallica's "Metal Up Your Ass" graphic. (I'm a big fan of Cliff Burton-era Metallica). It shows a toilet in front of a grid (a brick wall?), an arm is thrust from out of the toilet holding a sword, Excalibur-style. The logo above is chromed. It kind of sums up the gonzoid metal aesthetic: It's gnarly (hard to look at without going "ouch!") but funny and stupid, too. Also, the Cheap Trick European Tour shirt 2001. On the back it has the tour dates–they're all in Germany! I've seen them live a few times and they're still amazing.

What is your favorite t-shirt design you've ever done?

It's called "Last of the Great Romantics" and it has a skull. Even more than my other tees, this one was designed for me to wear. It's aged nicely, too; faded black (my favorite color) and flaking print.

How do your designs for Silas and Tonite differ from each other?

Tonite is all my personal obsessions; it really is my art form. Working for Silas is doing work to a brief and it's as close as I get to doing a graphics job. The two things are totally different in the way I approach them.

What have you got planned for the next season of Tonite?

More skulls! The inspirations are the same as ever. My mind was exploded wide open when I was a teenager by Prince, Van Halen, and then Metallica. At the same time, I was reading Heavy Metal magazine and seeing that second wave of underground comix. Then I discovered skating and that imagery really changed me again and has stayed with me. I guess it had a lot in common with fantasy comic artwork but it was projected into a hip, youth culture context. I was really into Zorlac–the first t-shirt I made was a hand-painted copy of Pushead's Zorlac shrunken skull logo–plus Skull Skates, Santa Cruz, and Vision Street Wear. I tend to draw from the same pool of influences and hope each time to hone what I do into something better. I'm not one of those designers who change their theme and style each season... but next season will be better! Harder, better, faster, stronger!

What do you do when you're lacking inspiration?

This never happens! I am always stoking the fires of my own creativity, constantly consuming images. I love old books and am always buying more. As well as picture books' read novels all the time, mostly sci-fi but the occasional biography, too–Fred Vermorel's Vivienne Westwood: Fashion, Perversity, and the Sixties Laid Bare and Andy Warhol's From A To B & Back Again are a couple of favorites. I read comics and love Elfquest, Akira, anything by Moebius and Richard Corben, Rod Kierkegaard Jr.'s Rock Opera, Jack Kirby's Thor. I go to art galleries and museums (the Victoria & Albert [in London] is my favorite), and walk along the canal and through parks listening to my iPod (good thinking time). Getting stoned is good. I watch movies a lot. Just watched Amadeus again–it rules! I should give special mention to my friends Misha and Shauna who do the label P.A.M. They are amazing and inspirational in all ways and also give me specific recommendations, like the film Holy Mountain, which is still blowing my mind.

Why do you call yourself the "graphic equalizer"?

Do you remember the '80s TV show The Equalizer? It had the most insane and best ever theme tune by Stewart Copeland. The Equalizer was a freelance vigilante who did his small bit to combat the tide of scumbags and snakers. He was tough, with a cynical, world-weary exterior, but was motivated by an interior moral imperative, only getting involved if he felt the cause was just... See what I'm saying?

When did you start giving yourself tattoos?

I started homemade tattooing eight years ago. The first thing I did was a little star on my wrist with a sewing pin. I always like the most recent one best–at the moment it's a What-No on my right wrist. (You've probably seen What-No on school desk graffiti–he's the guy with the big nose who peers over the top of a brick wall). I'm right-handed so it was done with my non-writing hand. It came out quite good in spite of that.

What are you listening to?

Rush's Exit Stage Left, their live album from 1981. It's killer. It's from their best period, when they bolted on a Police-like power-pop/power-trio dynamic to their prog metal sound. Also Magma, Frank Zappa, Amebix, Satyricon, King Crimson, and other intense prog like Van Der Graaf Generator, early Genesis, Gnidrolog.

What do you think will be big in 2007?

Technology! Cheaper and more powerful equipment so people can create on their own terms. I am looking forward to the return of punk-style DIY culture, an explosion of international digital self-expression! Anarchy through technology!

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