Wallpaper* unplugged: rocking out with Rough and celebrating our 200th edition

Wallpaper* unplugged: rocking out with Rough and celebrating our 200th edition

Last month found us celebrating our 200th issue, so it was an appropriate period to be putting together our latest issue, our annual fun-and-feasting-filled entertaining special. Combining work and play has always been a Wallpaper* speciality. The main event during the month-long celebrations to mark our double centenary was a cocktail bash with Tom Dixon at his pop-up emporium, Multiplex, a wildly inventive takeover of the vast Selfridges Hotel space. It was a sophisticated riot of an evening that saw me fulfill a lifetime’s ambition – to play guitar live in a rock group. A chance to have my Spinal Tap moment and crank my amp up to 11!

Those of you who know your design and your popular music will know that Tom is an accomplished bass player and was part of 1980s funk combo Funkapolitan. After many years talking about it, Tom has got a band together again – comprised of design industry folk and appropriately named Rough – which made its debut at Salone del Mobile in April. As I’d no doubt let slip/exaggerated in the past that I was quite handy on guitar, I was invited to be part of the inaugural Rough performance, but work commitments, a lack of rehearsal time and a distinct lack of talent gave me ample excuses to spare my blushes.

But a London gig, at an event co-hosted by Wallpaper*, offered me no escape clause. So with only one hour’s band practice the evening before, I found myself in my office, on the day of the big event, holding meetings while trying to master chord changes. ‘Tony, do you think we should give an extra page to the Studio Job story?’ ‘Eeerm, hang on a minute, I’m just trying to work out C minor.’ ‘Tony, the cover has to go to print in half an hour.’ ‘OK, calm down, I just need to get the rhythm right on this Kylie Minogue riff.’ I did all I could in the time available, and squeezed in a bit more practice during the sound check, but I was quaking in my boots as I joined the band on stage.

Thankfully, Tom had hired two ace session musicians and a guest vocalist – the legendary electro chanteuse Billie Ray Martin – so their slick professionalism could mask my ineptitude. I felt confident with four of my numbers – they were relatively simple chord sequences and I’d had time to master them (the cover had to go late) – but Tom had slipped in an extra tune at the last minute: Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real). A thumping crowd-pleaser, of course, but one I just couldn’t get to grips with. I was terrified I’d mess the whole evening up. However, a few words of sage advice from Phil, our (real) lead guitarist, gave me confidence and all went smoothly. In fact, friends in the audience said that number was the one where I looked the best, a real natural, all swinging power chords and intricate finger work. During the other tunes I looked more cautious and deep in concentration. So what were Phil’s words of wisdom that had such a revelatory effect on my playing style? Simple – he said if I wasn’t sure of the chords, instead of turning my amp up to 11, just sneakily turn it off and play what the hell I want. He’d cover me. It dawned on me later that this is kind of what editing a magazine is like – as long as you surround yourself with a brilliant team of professionals, the editor can turn off his amp and do what the hell he likes. So while I’ve spent the month swanning around having a whale of a time, the real pros at Wallpaper* HQ have stealthily produced this rockin’ issue for your entertainment.

As originally featured in the December 2015 issue of Wallpaper* (W*201)

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