Interview Christoph Pracht

SPEX designer and co-founder Christoph Pracht, Cologne in ’85

The following is (a finally translated) interview I made back in 2009 for a small publication on the early days of german music and culture magazine SPEX. I talked with three foundation members — one of them, and the first one in these series for the blog, is designer Christoph Pracht. Enjoy.

Christoph, what’s the story behind the foundation of SPEX?

Everything was started with an initiative of Gerald Hündgen and Peter Bömmels. Back in the days there were a lot of fanzines, small photocopied magazines created by fans who wrote about concerts, the scene, the music. They were roughly bound together and had this specific extreme black and white aesthetics and the bad quality of images printed with a copy machine. Peter and Gerald wanted to do something like that, too. I got to know Peter in the Kurfürstenhof which was a punk bar at the time. He asked me if I wanted to take part in it.
Then we had our first meeting: Peter and Gerald, Wilfried Rütten, the photographers Bernhard Schaub and Wolfgang Burat, Clara Drechsler and a few others. Quickly it became quite clear that we didn’t want to make a fanzine but rather a real magazine. So we needed money. Everyone of us then put 50 Mark in a hat and we started working. Bernhard knew a printer in the Sauerland who printed the first number.

What about the name?

This was quite a long journey. Peter wanted a rather pragmatic title, I wanted something short. We then decided on SPEX — Musik zur Zeit. SPEX comes from spectacles – there was also was a band called X-Ray-Spex at the time.

How was the process designing a SPEX issue back in those days?

There has so much changed technologically the last 30 years that you could write a book about it …

Well, we prepared artworks of every page. Everything which was to be published in the magazine had to be set and drawn and produced reprographically. Then it was glued on carton to get photographed. The pictures were made separately, rastered and then copied onto film. This was a very exhausting and expensive process. Only the costs for the textsetting made 20% of the overall expenses. The lithography was expensive too, colour was not affordable. Back in the days a four-colour print in A4 was ca. 400 DM, so around 800 EUR. A cover with special font, logo etc. would cost you from 1000 DM. Of course all this had a huge impact on the design. A lot of things you wanted to design were just not affordable. At the same time the design was on a whole different level — simply because everything was so expensive. Only with the introduction of cheaper photo-set-machines you could layout more liberately.

How did a typical workday look like?

The work was structured totally different then today. Everything had to be made by hand. The production of the magazine with 48 pages took 10–12 days. I remember that the last five days we worked 16 hours and shortly before the deadline of the artworks last changes had to be made.

The procedure: at first you read the texts and looked at the pictures. Regarding the length of the text you could count the height of the set (amount of lines). Then you made a first layout sketch, a rough layout. Then the text would be drawn out, properties of font size, set width, bold and italic fonts — all that would be written in the manuscript so that the typesetter had the right properties.

A messenger then brought all this stuff to the typesetter. The photos were marked too (size, crop, …). The next day the entire set came as a huge “flag” from the typesetter and had to be corrected and eventually be given away again. Regarding the little amount of intern memory of the set-machines, only the lines were corrected were the mistake was. These were to be replaced in the artwork again.

Are you looking back happily on the 80s? How was that time?

Beautiful and scary. It was exciting to try out new things. Everything was great fun but you had money problems and everything had to stay on a low level. It took another 2–3 years until everything became more professional.

Additionally I opened my own studio in 1983 and had additional commissions. It then evolved slowly. In the middle of the 80s there was a technical evolution with better machines for the typing, fax-machines, repro-cameras, copy-machines with zoom function. We were one of the firsts to have bought a DTP station. The Apple with a printer and scanner costed 60.000 Mark but it would be amortized in six months. I still have an early Macintosh at home with a 20 MB harddrive and 512 KB RAM.

In the 80s Cologne apparently became the mecca of the contemporary art, design and the music scene. How was the energy in the city? How was it really?

In the beginning of the 80s the scene was rather small and straightforward. There were ca. ten meeting points where you could meet everyone. Out of this melting pot there were formed interesting constellations. When you were there in the centre … but it was exciting and had a great energy so that were always new people coming in and the whole grew further. It was a thrilling time when Cologne was suddenly mutating to an art metropole.

How was it like — also in regard to today — to publish your own magazine? The good sides, the bad sides?

Looking back I have to admit that it we were lucky that we could make it so long. Of course this is also due to the 80s and the difficult circumstances back then. And there wasn’t so much competition, also because of the fact that is was hard to make money with a magazine.

How did you manage it financially?

We worked partly without being paid or for a very small fee. Today I wouldn’t publish a printed magazine anymore but only in the internet. It’s senseless to pay for paper. What’s going to stay important: to deliver good content visually. For this design is important. But design with weak content is just embarrasing.

How old have you been when you founded the SPEX? And how did you came to do it? What did you do before that?

I was 22 years old and had just finished my civil service. I began studying architecture. While doing the civil service I worked for a magazine which was published by the Jugendfilmclub in Cologne and which presented films for young people. So I already had a certain experience in editorial work. But I still was an amateur. My brother was a trained typesetter and we sometimes collaborated — he showed me the most important technical stuff.

What are your favourite musicians and LP’s from back in the days?

Fehlfarben — Es geht voran
Gang Of Four — Entertainment
Also: Clash, ABC, Siouxsie, Neubauten, etc. …

Thank you!