“Subcultures are now pop culture, and somehow (mostly ironically) the division between the two is so blurred that younger kids don’t realize their style is an amalgamation of cues from a dozen different movements. Personally I think it’s exciting to see certain underground things get recognition.”
As a designer and art director working for some of the biggest names in music, Hassan Rahim’s understanding of what separates the mainstream from the underground—or rather, what doesn’t—is key to creating work for a vast global audience. In a post-genre age in which audiences consume hip-hop, metal, and pop without any notion of betraying a specific scene, design like Rahim’s has blazed a trail for new aesthetics, and allowed him to collaborate with talents as diverse as Marilyn Manson and Jay-Z in the process.
At once goth and high fashion, Rahim’s output merges polished photography and the highest production values with the kind of Blackletter typography once reserved for scummy heavy metal tour merch. “Ha! I really can’t speak to being goth,” he says, “but I’ve always been interested in subdued and introspective visuals since the beginning.”
The foundations of his relationship with design came in his early teens. As a kid growing up in L.A., Rahim had a penchant for skateboarding, but “despised the aesthetics of most of the popular skateboard brands at the time—minus a few, like Girl and Chocolate, that always kept it tasteful. My older sister had some fashion magazines at the house and I grew attracted to the visual language those used. I would cut them up and make some of my first collages. My mom had a fax machine and I would keep copying the same image as many times as necessary until I liked the texture.”
Rahim had no interest in being a professional designer, and young Hassan would perhaps be disappointed that he hasn’t ended up as a race car driver or a pilot. But an early brush with technology cemented his career path. “I had access to my first computer around 14 or 15 through the group home I was living in. It was there I got obsessed, and would watch tutorials on how to execute different types of design techniques in Adobe programs. I never took it seriously as a job until someone DM’d me on MySpace and asked to buy some graphics for a T-shirt line.”
As his interest in skateboarding subsided, a passion for music became the driving force behind Rahim’s work; now it’s at the core of his practice—whether the client has anything to do with the industry or not. “It’s crucial. I normally can’t get work done without music playing, preferably in isolation with headphones on. Music got me through the hardest times in my life—times so tough I might not be here right now if it weren’t for Broadcast’s Haha Sound or Blonde Redhead’s Misery is a Butterfly. The artists I’m into right now are super vast, but lately I’ve been listening to lots of ambient and noise records, and this winter I find myself revisiting some classics from my teenage years.”
With that in mind, Rahim is careful to work closely with his music clients, taking the time to visit their studios and listen to their work. It seems to foster a better understanding of their ambitions and helps inform Rahim’s decisions about his side of the project.
“Music is so personal to me as a listener that you can only imagine how much more personal it is to the artist. It only makes sense to help communicate the emotion that went into it.”
As a devotee of music, Rahim is nevertheless aware that the industry is “pretty fucked.” He says, “As soon as actual music stopped being a thing people paid for, the literal industry of music became merch.
“I was too young to experience the industry before streaming and downloading hit the scene, but if I had to guess, the projects were likely a lot better funded, allowing you to execute much wilder ideas with the budget—like Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker. But in today’s climate, artists are mostly independent, and through online networks can very easily collaborate with young independent art directors, designers, and directors on a similar level. I don’t believe the importance of the designer’s role has changed—it’s just much less glamorous than the good ol’ days.”
Presumably then, he’d jump at another call from Sean Carter or Brian Warner?
“10 out of 10,” he says. “Would work for both again!”