Dave 1 and P-Thugg of Chromeo, the guys behind Juliet Records, love typefaces so much they commissioned their own. Juliet Grotesk, the label’s new official typeface, is a Swiss/German face designed by Matter Of. The typeface embodies the traits that gives the style its reputation: efficient, versatile, straightforward. It features a playful approach to weight distribution, bowl shapes, tail endings, and joint connections. It even comes with its own corporate manual.
But why did a funk duo decide to create a Swiss typeface and corporate manual in the first place? Why not a flashy experimental display? Juliet Grotesk instead reacts against the expected. The Swiss/German roots automatically ground Juliet Grotesk as credible and legible. The typeface helps communicate how serious they treat the artists on their label and the work they are doing. It doesn’t shout for attention, but rather brings the room to order with its confident presence. It supports the wild treatment of accompanying visuals, like album art or the shiny, retro label logo designed by Charlotte Delarue, by adhering to tried and true type rules. This contrast of corporate and crazy is what makes it dazzle. The duo sincerely use design and type to support their vision. Last year, they launched Ya Habibi Market, a collective of Middle East and North Africa creatives selling products that are aimed at giving back to their communities.
The working relationship between musician and designer has long been an open and fruitful one, and I am excited to see more relationships between musicians and type designers, like this one, unfold. “Design can make music look good,” John L. Walter wrote in Eye 76. “But when they really work together you have magic.” The space for a musician-led foundry has never felt more promising. Or weird.
Why were you interested in creating a custom typeface? Can you talk about how Juliet Grotesk came about?
Dave 1: From the onset I felt that we needed our very own “corporate font.” It was the first thing on my list after Charlotte Delarue completed our logo. I wanted to establish the most rigorous identity system for Juliet from the ground up, and the typeface is the building block for that. It was a challenge: the font had to be versatile enough to accompany all of our different release artworks and retro enough to work with the logo (not to mention Chromeo’s penchant for all things retro).
Adrian Riemann (Matter Of): Juliet Grotesk is in the style of classic Swiss/German sans-serif typefaces like Akzidenz-Grotesk and Univers, but also draws inspiration from geometrical headline fonts like Avant Garde. We created variations for different applications, a regular version for smaller texts, an alternative version for headlines and a display version for very large sizes.
What drew you to Matter Of for collaboration?
Dave 1: The internet! I was looking for different design studios to collaborate with, fell upon Matter Of and liked their work: they combine a Swiss/German rigor with a hip hop sensibility and some humor, too. They were familiar with our music, seemed keen to work with us and when we Skyped, we clicked. Over one year later, we still haven’t met in person.
You mentioned there was a lot of back and forth on the design and that you, Dave 1, were involved in every step, from gathering references to getting the glyph points just right. Tell me more about that process, especially any unexpected places of learning.
Dave 1: It wasn’t as tedious as I thought it would be. I feel like Marcel and Adrian nailed it pretty quickly. I remember seeing the capital R glyph and being like “okay, this works. This is just retro enough.” But what’s cool is that they kept building on top of it. They came up with an Alt version, which is rounder and more buoyant. And then as we were working on the website, some of my notes led the guys to design a Display version, which stems from the Alt version and incorporates ink traps. So I’d say the most interesting aspect of this process is that it hasn’t been unidirectional, as in design a font, then apply it to something. Instead, we had an initial idea and its applications forced us to rethink and refine it.
Matter Of developed Juliet Grotesk through a grid system inspired by Swiss and German CI-manuals. What are those CI manuals and how do they relate to the Juliet brand identity?
Adrian Riemann: While developing the design for Juliet we looked a lot at graphics created by the members of the International Typographic Style, a graphic design style that was defined in the 1950s by designers in Switzerland and Germany. The characteristics of this style are asymmetric layouts, the use of a strict grid and sans-serif typefaces and an emphasis on cleanliness, legibility and practicality. The movement had a big influence on architecture and art, but also on designers like Otl Aicher and Paul Rand, who basically invented the idea of corporate identities for companies.
Aicher, for example, created many Corporate Identity Manuals, or CI-manuals, for Lufthansa and the Olympic Games in Munich that we used as an inspiration for the Juliet Communications Manual. At a first glance, the dry and rigid and sometimes strict Swiss design look seems to clash with the colorful music that Juliet releases. A 1950s corporation is the opposite of a funk label, but that contrast is what makes it interesting to us.
Dave 1: And obviously I fetishize the Typographische Monatsblätter. And then on the other end of the spectrum I love Jean Larcher’s calligraphy and Fantastic Alphabets. I’d say the Juliet brand identity is a balancing act between these two sensibilities.
How do you see Juliet Grotesk being used across the label’s branding? Will the font be available for purchase as well?
Dave 1: The font will be used for the entire website, all internal communications, all document templates and even our merch. We have a generic 12″ sleeve that we use for remixes and the font appears on that as well. Our artists all have distinct aesthetics and they’re in control of their artwork, so Juliet Grotesk doesn’t necessarily figure on their record covers. But we’re working on an annual Juliet compilation and since that’s all in-house, the corporate font will be all over it. As soon as we introduced the typeface on social media, we got DMs asking if it was available for purchase. And now with the Alt and the Display, there’s three versions. I think we’ll have them up for sale once the website is done. I told Marcel and Adrian that we should keep it going and basically start a foundry.
Speaking of starting a type foundry, you’re clearly self-professed ‘type nerds.’ What drew you to type and design?
Dave 1: It’s actually a story that’s very personal and dear to my heart. I own another record label with my brother DJ A-Trak called Fool’s Gold. Our co-founder and in-house creative director was an incredible artist named Dust LaRock. He passed away in 2015. He’s the one who, over ten years ago, first introduced me to Graphis Annual and Letraset—he had a bunch of volumes in his collection that I inherited. Then in 2016, I was working on a new visual identity for A-Trak and I wanted all of his live show visuals to be type-based. I approached DIA Studio—who were still in New York at the time—and they developed an aestheticized kinetic typography universe that has since become one of their trademarks. It was Mitch from DIA who put me on to Typographische Monatsblätter, which led me to really nerd out over this Swiss design tradition.
P-Thugg: For me it all started with what graffiti/tags taught me. Dave and I met in high school and we connected over funk music and hip hop culture, which laid the foundation for everything from dressing, to humor, to design. I personally owe it all to hip hop culture. I was by no means a good or prolific writer, but studying the hand styles, the way graf writers respect, manipulate and also defy the roman script was absolutely fascinating to me and gave me the tools to appreciate the more rigid world of type where movements are subtle and the wildest ideas and improvements are measured in ångström. After that I started obsessively memorizing the best and worst typefaces out there. Fun fact, on my first date with my wife, I went on a 30 minute tangent pointing at fonts on storefronts as we’re walking around London’s east end and she later told me I had her heart at: “This kebab shop sign is the “Papyrus” font with a 40% horizontal stretch.”
Lastly, I have to ask: what does the name Juliet mean?
Dave 1: My dad came up with the name. It’s a (dad) pun: (Ch)romeo and Juliet.