Left to right: album design for Woman (2016) and On’N’On (2012) by Justice

It’s strange to think that the most recognizable symbol of the last 2,000 years, an object built upon a foundational myth, could be borrowed and re-appropriated so successfully in the 21st century by a banging electro house duo based in Paris. If Roland Barthes was still alive, he may well have written a semiotic discourse about his two hairy fellow countrymen. The cross as symbol has become inextricably linked to Justice, immediately identifiable as their motif, despite all of the religious baggage that usually comes with it. 

Postmodernism is built on appropriation, from Duchamp to Koons by way of Warhol. When I mentioned the latter to Xavier de Rosnay of Justice in an interview from 2016 he said that were Warhol to have used it, he might have subverted it or presented it in a tongue-in-cheek way, “Whereas we use it in a very normal way, and not in a blasphemous way. Most uses of the cross is for provocation… We found it very interesting and amusing to use it in a simple and straight and almost respectful context. It’s just the cross in its normal shape, there’s nothing weird or bad or provocative about it. It became a very important member of Justice, almost like a third member, but it joined almost accidentally.”

We found it very interesting and amusing to use the cross in a simple and straight and almost respectful context—it’s just in its normal shape, there’s nothing weird or bad or provocative about it.”

“I wish I could say it was a conscious idea from the start,” says So Me (Bertrand Lagros de Langeron), the in-house graphic designer for Justice’s record label Ed Banger, over email. “But on the other hand, I also like that it wasn’t that premeditated.” The accident wasn’t so much a big bang as an “organic journey,” according to So Me, who identified the T in the band’s name as a central stem to work from. “Then came the idea of using that t-shaped cross as a logo that could also live on its own without spelling out the band’s name. We were in cool pop territory, since artists such as Madonna, Isaac Hayes and George Michael had all been playing around with the symbol as well.” 

The heavy Latin cross first appeared on the artwork for the EP ‘Waters of Nazareth’ within the band’s name, but when it was lifted out of the picture and used as a white lightbox for the duo’s DJ set at the launch party, it suddenly took on a life of its own. “That was the only source of light during Gaspard [Augé] and Xavier’s set, and it looked pretty chaotic in that all-black club,” recalls So Me. “Really cool. And from that moment the cross definitely stood out as an element that would stay with the band. Around that time it was also their MySpace avatar.” Augé and de Rosnay, both with graphic design backgrounds themselves, completely understood this semiosis, persisting with the imagery as an integral auxiliary member going forward—the final piece of the unholy trinity.

“There was a will to make it a symbol that endures, hence the covers reproducing the same shape in a different context”

So Me took a backseat after the Cross album, with a team of designers working together on future projects, including French New York-based art director Charlotte Delarue, and Adrien Blanchat, doyen of digital painting. Parisian art collective Surface to Air’s founder Jérémie Rozan was often also involved. Was part of the job requirement to continue with the same imagery, or did it just make sense to keep using it? “There was a will to make it a symbol that endures, hence the following covers reproducing the same shape in a different context,” says So Me, “which stems from Chicago covers which we loved. We loved that they stuck to it for so long over so many records. Daft Punk did that too.”

“They came up with the concept of the cross drawn by So Me, but also the concept of no text, just an image,” says Adrien Blanchat. “In my understanding—though you’d have to confirm it with Justice themselves—the cross is a reference to the heavy metal album Master of Puppets by Metallica.” 

Cover design for Cross (2007) by Justice

Justice – Cross (2007)

So Me: “The tilt was a way of making it their cross and not just any Christian cross. So it was not so much them using the symbol of the Church, but their own version of it. The fact that it was angled like a spaceship flying away—think Star Wars opening titles—related the symbol to space, which was quite in-tune with the disco flavours they would claim with their music. The tilt of the cross had been calculated on a computer first, with a little hand from a friend of the band, Breakbot, who wasn’t then an artist on Ed Banger but a 3D animation artist at that time. Then, as with all my artworks, it was designed on a computer, but not using software tricks, just drawing straight onto a tablet. Which could still be considered ‘pure’ drawing.”

Cover design Audio, Video, Disco (2011)
by Justice

Audio, Video, Disco (2011)

Adrien Blanchat: “The overall concept of Audio, Video, Disco across all the releases was to have different artworks as artifacts that would be rediscovered in a far-off future. It plays around with the idea of archeology, but also something futuristic, uncovering ancient disappeared civilizations. This is also the concept of the video for ‘Civilization’.”

Charlotte Delarue: “With the band, we started to talk about the remains of previous civilizations and the mystery around the Nazca Lines, the Pyramids, the Easter Island statues, and so on. We wanted to create a series of visuals with that idea in mind, the cross being a testimony of a previous civilization found inexplicably in different places of the world. We asked a model maker artist to design a miniature concrete cross that we shot for the cover of the album, and then we inserted it digitally into a landscape. Adrien Blanchat worked every tiny detail to create an image that looks real.”

Cover design for On’N’On (2012) by Justice

On’N’On (2012) [12” EP]  

Delarue: “This artwork was inspired by Bruno Schmeltz, a hyperrealistic artist. He is the uncle of my then boss, Jérémie Rozan. We were always fans of his work and we thought that that ’70s or ’80s vibe worked well with the track, which was partly inspired by Led Zeppelin.”

Blanchat: “Jérémie Rozan’s uncle is this amazing painter, Bruno Schmeltz, so this was totally inspired by his paintings. I created it using an old picture that Charlotte found while also reusing the cross from Audio, Video, Disco so we would have the same shape and composition.”

Cover design for Helix (2013)
by Justice

Helix (2013) [12” EP]   

Blanchat: “This was Charlotte’s concept with the same time travel/artifact concept for the stamp. It was actually a tricky one to make; a mix of real stamps, some illustration and some Photoshop. It’s low key, but I like it a lot.”

Delarue: “As stamp imagery often uses monuments, we thought it could be cool to make one that showed the cross. The stamp is graphically interesting in that it was a way to keep our idea of monuments without repeating ourselves.”

Cover design for Woman (2016) by Justice

Woman (2016) 

Blanchat: “That one I’m really happy with. The visual concept came from Xavier eating in an amazing restaurant where the chef was fermenting stuff. He took a picture of that fermentation and then they wanted to have it flowing over the existing cross. Charlotte did a very, very lo-res mockup that looks actually a lot like the final result.” 

Delarue: “The starting point of this artwork was a picture taken by a cook in a Copenhagen kitchen of some kind of oil. The band really liked that image and thought that its organic, sensual qualities visually suited their new album and its name, Woman. Transposing it onto the cross sounds like it would have been an easy task, but it was actually pretty tough to create a movement that works. After many attempts we ended up with an image that was pretty low quality. I gave it to Adrien Blanchat and he pretty much had to repaint everything in Photoshop.”