Against all odds, Fact magazine returns to print

Despite a turbulent landscape for both music and publishing, the magazine has reprised its print format after 12 years, with longevity in mind. We take a closer look at the first issue and its new visual language

Over a decade since its last issue went to press, underground music platform Fact has returned to its roots with the introduction of a biannual print magazine – along with a revised look and feel to boot. Launching its first issue in 12 years for A/W20, the magazine boasts four cover stories – cellist and singer Kelsey Lu, visual and sound artist Ryoji Ikeda, composer Pan Daijing and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph – and leans into a long-form approach that spotlights meaty, visually enticing features.

The move comes after news broke that Fact was slimming down its online output earlier this year to focus on video content, mixes and shorter news stories, which some people in music circles took as a death knell for its written journalism. The reintroduction of the print magazine therefore comes as an unprecedented move that seems quite remarkable given the challenges facing the media landscape and the music industry (particularly in 2020). The struggles in both sectors have intersected to disastrous effect in recent years, seeing off print operations at heritage titles like Q and NME in the last two years alone.

© 2020 Zak Group

“The last year has been a difficult time for many in the creative industries, as elsewhere, and the fallout from Covid will have many as yet unpredictable ramifications,” Fact editor Sean Bidder tells us, “but it’s encouraging to see so many artists produce incredible work both in response to and independently of the events of the past 12 months. None more so, in our opinion, than the new wave of artists, producers and performers operating at the convergence of electronic music and audiovisual art – they are the inspiration for relaunching the magazine.”

The title has rebuilt itself with longevity in mind, which factored into the art direction and renewed visual language led by Zak Group. “Sean Bidder, the editor, came to us with the perfect concept and opportunity: a magazine composed entirely of features,” explains Zak Kyes, director of the studio. “With the art direction of Fact we created an elastic visual language that responds to the diverse output of its artists through generously sized features. In the absence of hard-and-fast style guides we created typographic systems and rule-based layouts that are allowed to run their course, creating collisions of text and image. But this is only issue one, and we’re just getting started.”

Fact magazine print issue
Spreads: © 2020 Prudence Cuming Associates

Kyes wanted to use the “inherent constraints of print to generate friction, surprise and delight”, presenting screen-based media in “densely layered and visually oversaturated pages” or physical performance pieces across page sequences. “In other sections, artists like Kahlil Joseph are given complete autonomy to create ‘page-works’ — a term coined by curator Hamza Walker to describe artworks made for reproduction and distribution in books and magazines,” Kyes adds. “Magazines, at their very best, have always been experimental multimedia objects that go in directions that the content they represent can’t.”

Zak Group also redesigned the visual identity across both print and digital, with a new wordmark featuring “extended letterforms and highly contrasting counter-spaces that are fused into a single graphic element,” Kyes explains.

Drawing inspiration from early crossovers between analogue and digital, the team looked to the work of Aldo Novarese, who designed the future-facing Eurostile typeface at the Nebiolo foundry in the early 1960s. Another reference point was graphic and type designer Wim Crouwel, who Kyes says “defined the zeitgeist as much as he captured it with his work for the Stedelijk Museum”, and whose work has been embraced by music industry creatives in the past – most significantly in the use of Crouwel’s conceptual typeface New Alphabet on Joy Division’s 1988 album Substance.

Fact has historically tended to take a more holistic approach to electronic and underground music culture, however the relaunch of the print issue taps into the continued erosion of boundaries between art and music. “In its early years Fact was very much focused on the intersection of music and art. Our name drew inspiration from both the Saville-era Factory Records and our parent company, the Vinyl Factory,” Bidder says.

“Our first covers were original commissions by artists, graphic designers and musicians. In many ways we’re coming full circle, albeit in a very modern sense,” he adds. “As much as we’ve always championed both producers and multimedia artists, now the perceived distinctions between immersive art and electronic musicians’ audiovisual experiences is primarily their presentational context – whether they take place at Turbine Hall or Berghain.”

Fact magazine print issue
Fact magazine print issue
Spreads: © 2020 Prudence Cuming Associates

The magazine, headquartered in London with additional Stateside outposts, is part of the Vinyl Factory group, spanning the record label, vinyl pressing plant and Soho record store Phonica. The company has also been involved in the curation of a rolling roster of events programmes at 180 The Strand.

The space will play host to two new exhibitions both slated to open in the new year: an immersive AV show by Ikeda and the UK premiere of Joseph’s BLKNWS, before the magazine’s dedicated venue, Fact Space, opens at 180 The Strand later in the year, which Bidder hopes will be “London’s go-to space for showcasing audiovisual art and electronic music – bringing together celebrated artists and emerging talent”.

© 2020 Zak Group

Fact A/W 2020 is out now;