Turbo Island Post Punk

Naughty but niche: inside Turbo Island

Dealing in daft gags and cult music fandom, the Bristol-based T-shirt and print platform has been making us chuckle for eight years now though still struggles with the concept of being a ‘brand’

Combining a keen eye for visual puns, illustrated one-liners, nerdy-leaning music taste and a predilection for ideas that are a bit, well, daft, Turbo Island is a T-shirt and print brand that’s built up a cult following over its eight-year life.

Turbo Island’s designs are usually simple, bold and cartoonish, belying the serious tones its usually subjects tend to be discussed in: there’s a shirt with minimalist composition pioneer Philip Glass’s name over a pane of glass, carried by two chipper builders; another with John Carpenter as an actual carpenter. Elsewhere, it plays with household name brands or nostalgia: the Debenhams logo reads ‘Debbie Harry’; the Fila wordmark is combined with that of Philadelphia to become a ‘sport cheese’.

John the Carpenter Turbo Island
John the Carpenter

The design that really started Turbo Island was a tribute to the late, great Arthur Russell. The illustration shows a ‘happy cello’ spinning a record (the cello being Russell’s signature instrument, and a nod to his disco legacy). As with much of Turbo Island’s output, the genius lies in the way the image totally subverts expectations: Russell and his legacy is overwhelmingly spoken of in serious, revered tones that celebrate the beauty of his sounds and mourn the tragic elements of his life. You just don’t expect to see cartoon eyeballs, anthropomorphised string instruments or wonky, Play School-leaning letterforms.

“Arthur Russell was my favourite musician at the time and you couldn’t buy Arthur Russell T-shirts, it’s a pretty niche thing,” says Chris Wright, the Bristol-based illustrator who started Turbo Island in 2014. “So I thought I’d make some, and it went down alright.”

SENIOR DESIGNER

MANCHESTER