Free From the Gravity That Holds the Mind: Playskool’s Star Rider

As part of this year’s holiday “festivities,” my fellow US-based Mutants have mockingly given me a couple of the toy pages from a 1979 American catalog to look at in the hope of stimulating some idiosyncratic British take on the very different world of US toys, and possibly provoking a bit of retrospective seasonal gift envy. I can almost hear them now, chortling away mirthlessly in their La-Z-Boy recliners in their respective dens, or wherever the fuck it is that North Americans go to chortle. But they won’t break me; I’m made of sterner stuff…

Too Many Braincells Drowning in Inkwells: The Artwork of Nick Blinko

Thanks to the record covers he drew for Rudimentary Peni, the band for which he was vocalist and guitarist, artist Nick Blinko’s initial audience was mainly confined to the members of the thriving British anarcho-punk scene of the early 1980s. Despite apparently operating in the same aggressive idiom as their peers, however, it was immediately clear that the Peni were unique…

Earth Visitor’s Passport: ‘Tour of the Universe’, 1980

A collision of imperial phase-Young Artists—the London-based illustration agency whose imagery would dominate and define British science fiction and fantasy art throughout the 1970s and ’80s—and an attention to graphic design detail that bordered on the unhinged, Tour of the Universe was a bold attempt to create an immersive world of science fiction art and prose that still looks as wildly ambitious today…

The Cyber Baroque World of Italy’s Rondò Veneziano

Positing a fantasy world where Renaissance and Enlightenment values co-existed with the joys and preoccupations of the coming technological age, the Rondo Veneziano orchestra was the brainchild of Italian record label owner Freddy Naggiar, who noticed the lack of Italian instrumental music on the international scene and charged orchestra director and arranger/composer Gian Piero Reverberi to come up with someone or something to fill the gap…

Death at the Fair: Britain’s Ghost Trains

By Richard McKenna

The itinerant fun fairs that stalked the British Isles, descending at regular intervals upon some desolate local field like shoddy Fortean dream cities, were once a major part of the informal national calendar. As a child growing up in the hinterland of the world’s most beautiful town—the gleaming futurist metropolis known as Doncaster, South Yorkshire—I was lucky enough to live near a fuck-off massive one…

A Future with Nobody Inside: Chrome’s ‘Red Exposure’

By Richard McKenna

Though sometimes dismissed as a disappointing compromise between the two phases of Chrome’s musical output—the delirious, expressionist SF punk cut-ups of Alien Soundtracks (1977) and Half Machine Lip Moves (1979) and the more “traditional” LPs that followed, like Blood on the Moon (1981) and 3rd From the Sun (1982)—Chrome’s fourth LP, 1980’s Red Exposure, could scarcely sound more uncompromising…

No Powerful Idea Lasts Long: The Memphis Group and the Look of the ’80s

By Richard McKenna

Of the many cultural tributaries that flowed together into what we now think of as the visual aesthetic of the 1980s, one of the most prominent must be the Memphis Group. Convened in 1981 by Austrian-born architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, Memphis was a collective that—incongruously, for something that seems so violently of its times—took its name from the lyric of a Bob Dylan song…

One Sheet Terrors: Enzo Sciotti Film Posters, 1980 – 1990

The promotional artwork used on genre film posters, and later on VHS packaging, was often more important for establishing a foothold in the popular imagination than the films themselves. This was especially true in the Italy of the 1980s, where a thriving and competitive cinema industry was increasingly looking to the opportunities offered by foreign markets and the burgeoning home video trade…