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Hardcore Creativity

Marc UÅ enters the screen from his apartment in Stockholm, a space filled with colourful illustrations in neat rows corralled around the walls. Before we even exchange ‘hellos,’ he’s holding up a new commission currently underway. Swirls of bold colour fill the canvas, and he explains he’s working on the lines and how this particular piece will be really detailed when it’s complete. He’s a presence for sure, a positive energy, an honest and authentic soul. Born in Umeå in the north of Sweden in ’86, he alludes to the fact that it would always be illustration; “Drawing has always been my main occupation since I was a kid. Every kid lays on their stomach and draws. When I started, I just never stopped! If I’m honest, my style hasn’t really evolved that much since I was a kid!” With a style that blends bold use of colour with pop culture references, intricately drawn characters, and a host of motifs, his work morphs, pops and vibrates with the same energy as the individual who crafts them. We talk about his style and how it’s evolved.
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“I always prefer drawing as big as possible. I started doing everything by hand, but then when I scanned it and people started wanting vectors, it messed everything up. To this day, I’ve resisted going full digital. Most illustrators draw directly into the computer with e-pencils on the screen. But there’s some kind of stubborn pride that I want to do things by hand. This childish, bold, wobbly style benefits from the drawing. The imperfections make things interesting, and you lose that when you draw digitally,” he says. He explains that the process fluctuates on occasion. When it’s something big, he works the colour first and adds outlines at the end, a little like a graffiti artist might. If it’s something that might end up being digitally printed—merch or something printed—he switches tack, doing outlines by hand and adding colour with software to achieve consistency and tonal pop. Marc went to his first hardcore gig at the age of ten. Already a listener of grunge and bands like The Cure, and based in Umeå during its most influential hardcore music era, it was almost inevitable as a transition. “I gravitated towards aggressive, darker music. The hardcore scene up in Umeå is really open and spurs you to do things yourself. The bands I was in all did fanzines, printed shirts, produced 7 inches, and did everything ourselves. When you’re allowed to do that, you reach a high level quickly and can experiment and put your ideas into people’s lines of view to determine their views on your output. I’m still in the scene as much now as I was then. It’s a big part of my life. Today, I juggle music and art, but visual art has always been my number one priority,” he says.
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The subject of Umeå’s role in the punk and hardcore equation has always been a topic of discussion in punk and hardcore fanzines across the globe. The city’s most significant contribution to the genre, Refused, is cited not only as a seminal band by fans of the genre but wider in more mainstream circles as well. As creative musically as it is politically and socially, its emergence from this northern location was and is something of an anomaly for outsiders. Maybe Marc would be able to shed some light on the scene. “I think the reason Umeå is important is that it’s a small city. You don’t get the big bands travelling so far up, so you sort of end up having to make the scene yourself. You have a chance to be at home – to work and develop your creative output. That’s how it felt to me growing up there.” One of Marc’s recent projects is HARDOES-Superheroes of Hardcore. Marc’s way of paying homage to his heroes of the scene, it now numbers around 200 individual illustrations of the bands and artists from the hardcore, punk, metal and pop music scene that he holds so dear. “It’s been a way to give back to the hardcore scene and connect with the bands I really like. I put the images up, and the artists are free to use them however they want. People can enjoy them and have fun with them. I don’t contact them and actively ask them if they want an illustration but I think I’ve done about 200 of them so far. If you, as a fan, want a physical experience, you can buy a print or a book, but it’s important that these are free,” explains Marc. Hardcore music is a small subculture, and like its forefather, Punk, it’s a scene that has always been self-sufficient. “What you learn growing up in a small subculture is that you create stuff just for the cause – to push the culture and support the scene. If the culture feels good, it’s for the benefit of everyone. I never expect anything back from it; hardcore is deep in my soul. I’ll do anything for the scene,” he beams.
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While his passion is the scene, he notes that he doesn’t have a specific audience in mind when creating. Unlike many artists who might sit on their work, Marc finds joy in the sharing and connection between his ideas and the viewer, whomever that may be. “An illustration is meaningless to me unless I share it,” he says. We explore merch and how it slots into scenes like his, bouncing theories about how physical experiences reinforce the scene community. Whether it’s the feel of the limited runs of 7-inch Eps or collecting fanzines, flyers, band pins or badges, the physical connection between the band, fan and the group at large is human to human. The merch is the connection. “I still walk up to every person I see in a hardcore shirt. It happens more often in Stockholm, but there’s a pride in wearing a ‘badge’ that shows this bond within the subculture. The smaller the culture, the more pride you might have,” he says. Marc has recently switched to Creator Studio to bring his merch to life, and it doesn’t take much to get him animated on our take on enabling creativity; “Creator Studio is a dream come true. Not having to send stuff to people. Not having to do bulk. To have some professionals handle everything. No waste. I’ve been searching for this for years. As a creator, I need to create, and I need the pros to handle the rest. So now, I can cook up the design today. And tomorrow, I can get it up in the webshop; it’s perfect! Alongside the new merch from Marc hitting his store, we chat about the forthcoming months and what we can expect from him. He explains that one of his clients is Bastard Burgers, a ‘boutique’ burger chain from northern Sweden. Each time they open a new restaurant, he’s given free rein to create new artwork concepts for the walls and décor. The collaborative creative output doesn’t end at murals, though, and Marc continues to explain their projects as he rummages off-screen for something. Returning with a can of soda in his hand, he tells us more; “A while ago, I made a burger based on a cloudberry soda that I make. It was a limited edition that Bastard Burger occasionally had on its menu. We will bring it back this Autumn: the BBQ burger, release a bunch of shirts, sell the sauce, do a bunch of events, and they’ll sell the soda as well. My art, the merch and the food… Oh, and we’re doing a chill bag that looks like the can!” If we’re honest, a chill bag has never been on our hitlist of must-haves until our interview with Marc UÅ. And now we must have one. Creators like Marc are fresh shots of energy and inspiration – his varied portfolio is a testament to how the subculture DIY ethos instils a unique creative work ethic. There are no obstacles or blocks to how he expresses himself; everything feeds back into the scene he loves, and it’s a joy to experience.
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