Flicking Through the Pages of ‘White Glove Test’
A new book captures the flyer art of Louisville’s vibrant 90s music scene.
In the days before Facebook if you wanted people to know about your punk band’s upcoming show you’d have to grab a sharpie and some paper, design a flyer, and post it around town.
In the early to mid-90s, Louisville, Kentucky was home to a vibrant independent music scene that featured bands such as the Endtables, Kinghorse, Squirrel Bait, Rodan, and Endpoint. It was a time when the city's telephone poles and walls were covered in flyers promoting shows at venues like Tewligans, the Zodiac, and laser tag joint CD Graffiti’s.
Some of the best flyers have been compiled in White Glove Test: Louisville Punk Flyers 1978–1994, a book that has been published by Chicago label Drag City. Steven Driesler is one of six editors of White Glove Test, which takes its name from an Endtables song. He gave us some insight into the book and the Louisville scene of the time.
Noisey: The book documents Louisville but it could be about any smaller regional city that didn't have a Village Voice or Maximum Rock and Roll to help promote shows?
Stephen Driesler: Absolutely. White Glove Test is a universal tale told by specific example. Something similar happened in every city. Even in New York and San Francisco, bands had to clamor to be heard. We always felt that if we could accurately convey the volume and verve of the flyers produced in one midsize (if influential and energetic) city during the period, it would establish just how important the medium was everywhere. Fanzines like Maximum Rock N Roll ran reviews of shows that had already happened. Flyers let kids know the shows were going to happen. It was pre-internet social media.
It's not just sharpies and magazine collage but some of the posters include some early desktop design and publishing that is as just as interesting.
Yes, the aesthetic evolution of flyer design is one of the stories we set out to tell. In the 17 years depicted in the book, you see flyer style change dramatically. The copiers were so shitty in the early days. They seemed to always be out of toner. I feel like bands in the late 70s must have dreamed at night of the rich black inks you see on later flyers. I love the ingenuity those limitations inspired. Color was added with spray paint and stencils, or block prints. With the arrival of desktop publishing, and better copiers, the flyers got graphically bolder. You could read them from across the street.
One of the standouts is the Kinghorse flyer featuring Mickey Mouse blowing his brains out.
The drawing was done by Chad Marquis. He's a talented and twisted dude. His most recent credit is the artwork for the forthcoming Rude Weirdo record, Barnyard Scratch, on Louisville Lip label. The drawing for the back cover is a pig and a monkey in a knife fight. It's messed up. But the Mickey flyer is so iconic. The whole American orgy of violence and consumption is there in that single image—plus the bands on the bill represent three generations of Louisville punk rock royalty.
How did you time frame the book?
Endpoint, an immensely popular local band, played their final show on December 30, 1994, and we saw that as the end of a chapter. It was a perfect place to pause. Of course Louisville's story is still moving forward, but in terms of flyer design I think it's fair to say there hasn't been a major innovation since those early days of computer design. Where to begin was easy. We began at the beginning, with Louisville's first punk band, No Fun.
Often the flyer was the only physical artefacts from these shows. They were used for both communication and memorabilia. Do you think this is a reason why people are so interested in them?
Without question. Flyers and set lists were the only available souvenirs from most of these shows. Even kids that couldn't get in the club could tear a flyer off a phone pole. The flyers functioned almost like a diary, a way to remember. I think the fact that so many flyers have survived for so long speaks volumes about what they meant—and still mean—to the people who saved them.
'White Glove Test: Louisville Punk Flyers 1978–1994' is available now through Drag City.