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“Making noise when everyone is quiet”: Jonny Banger and Gareth McConnell present ‘The People Deserve Beauty’, their anti-establishment fashion zine

We spoke to the two artists about their craft, collaboration and what it takes to create art that has an impact on others. 

During the summer of 2021, London-based multi-hyphenate artist and founder of Sports Banger Jonny Banger took over the streets of London with Billboards stating ‘ILLEGAL RAVES ARE NOW ILLEGAL’. Now, two years later the London-based multi-hyphenate artist has once again partnered with BUILDHOLLYWOOD for a second offering of his UK street takeover. This time, however, the collaboration is also courtesy of photographer Gareth McConnell and features imagery from the two artists’ latest project – a dreamy, psychedelic-style zine.


Words by Habi Diallo

Gareth McConnell
Jonny Banger

With his diverse range of interests that translate into intricate, unique and thoughtful pieces of work, Gareth’s artistic approach is one that aligns with Jonny and his brand. The two first got in touch in 2020, during the height of the pandemic. “Gareth sent me a print during lockdown from his ‘Night Flowers’ series. It was a gift of solidarity as we were both fundraising independently for our local communities. I’ve got all his books and I find his work fascinating,” Jonny explained, speaking on how the two first came into contact. With a mutual dedication to creating art which touches upon social, political and cultural issues, their collaboration feels match-made in heaven. “I saw what Jon was doing and it blew me away,” Gareth told us. “I consider him a kind of ‘rave Renaissance man’ and I just wanted to reach out with a gift to say ‘I hear ya brother and I love it’.”  

Night Flowers

Launched at Donlon Books at Broadway Market, the zine brings to life Jonny’s AW22 collection, The People Deserve Beauty in a way he has never done before. The collection, which debuted in February of last year at an unofficial LFW show, featured a range of true-to-Sports Banger-style eclectic garments full of personality. With looks including a detailed Chanel bootlegged couture dress and a series of pieces with ‘ABSOLUT BANGER’ printed on them, it’s possible to imagine translating the collection into still images would be a difficult task, yet Jonny and Gareth’s zine perfectly manages to capture the essence and character of the pieces. Published by Jamie Allen Shaw as the latest issue of the independent magazine Enlarge Your Memories, which sees a new artist take over every issue, the zine is entitled ‘The People Deserve Beauty’. Over the past decade, Jonny has continuously used his brand to shed light on anti-establishment politics and bring together different communities, this zine is no different. “Sports Banger is never really about the clothes, it’s about the people that bring them to life and our relationships with each other. It’s something that Gareth really understands about us.”

AW22 Collection / The People Deserve Beauty

Subsequent to the launch of the zine at Donlon Books, we spoke to Jonny Banger and Gareth McConnell about their collaboration, creative processes and how they got to creating the zine.

Please could you tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in creative industries? 

Jon: I used to sell counterfeit sportswear at car boots and markets with my dad when I was young and that was very creative. I did work experience in a record shop at age 15, that’s where I got exposed to DIY and community. It transformed my life. Sports Banger just received a letter requesting to do work experience and it was our duty to say yes. We have a kid starting at the end of the month. I didn’t study art or fashion, I just ran around with people who made noise. My t-shirts all started life in the rave and then worked their way upwards into pop culture, politics and fashion. 

Gareth: My mum went to a photography night class in the late 80s and met a guy who tried to teach me the guitar, he also happened to be in Stiff Little Fingers, so thus inspired I wanted to be in a band but lacking any musical skill or commitment I got into taking pictures as a creative act. A bit later in 1991, I went to art college in Belfast just as David Holmes and Ian McCready were hosting the seminal Sugar Sweet parties in the student union, so I met a lot of interesting people from a lot of different backgrounds, art and raving became everything to me. Then to another art college in England and started working on commercial commissions while I was studying for my degree. I also started exhibiting and self-publishing at about the same time.

What inspired you to make the publication, what was the starting point?  

Jon: Sports Banger has never been asked to do an editorial or anything so we asked our favourite photographer Gareth McConnell to collaborate and made our own. Over recent years Gareth has fully stepped away from fashion to develop his experimental practice, and so that made even more sense to us. His work with the camera is very physical, repetitive and hypnotic. I was exhausted after the two-day shoot. To see our recent fashion show ‘The People Deserve Beauty’ through Gareth’s artistic lens is quite a dream. 

Gareth: We been talking for a while and then the idea developed and solidified in a very serendipitous and fluid way. It was an honour to be asked… and one I jumped at

Why did you choose a printed magazine as the medium for your collaboration? 

Jon: ’The People Deserve Beauty’ was a special show and we wanted to have a moment with it outside of the 40-minute chaos on the runway. Everything has become a lot more throwaway with the number of shows and collections everyone hammers out. When you slow things down you can think. Presenting the final act as a printed publication is something that everyone can take home and lose themselves in. Put everything down and just sit with these 54 pages. We worked collaboratively with our friend and independent publisher Jamie Allen Shaw at EYM (Enlarge Your Memories) to release the publication itself.  

Gareth: This kind of printed ephemera has a certain magic for me, I love the idea of a torn page of it blowing down the street in 50 years’ time… scene from film… cut to – ‘small boy with grubby face picks up a blown-out picture of a girl dressed as a Chanel toilet bride clutching a rose made from security fence inscribed with the legend HERAS…’ 

What is your favourite editorial/image from the series? 

Jon: That’s hard, there’s something about Eloise Smyth in the ‘whistleblower’ dress holding hands with the whistle head by Esther Dillner that takes me to the opera or a 1920s Parisian ballet, but in Tottenham. I love the repetition in the work, it runs parallel to the kick drums in my head. 

Gareth: I would agree with the above and add that for me the figures are reminiscent of some kind of allegorical deities… perhaps residents in Mu Mu Land… and waiting for the KLF to arrive in an ice cream van… that with a bit of Fischli/Weiss ‘Rat and Bear’ thrown in… I kinda want to see a film of them out shopping in Lidl or trekking across a glacier… 

Tell us more about the artwork you have chosen for the BUILDHOLLYWOOD billboards/posters. 

Jon: It’s uplifting and hopeful. Seeing the image huge, hands raised up to the sky excites me. Alice Doig wears our patchwork dress cut from deadstock Sports Banger logo t-shirts, shoes for the shoot were provided courtesy of the Vivienne Westwood archive. The Broadway Market location was chosen because it’s about 5 metres from Donlon Books where we are launching the work. The billboard is massive, it makes me think ‘Attack Of The 50ft Woman’. 

Gareth: I have employed the hands-raised motif in my work for a number of years for its multiple readings – including but not limited to – it’s a classic rave pose (of course), it has various mystical, religious and art historical associations, on a darker level, it’s a stress position used in interrogation by oppressors globally, but most of all for this poster it’s a powerful positive energy channelling pose… the bastards may be strong but we are stronger…  

Jon, this is not your first collaboration with BUILDHOLLYWOOD, how different has this partnership been from the first one? 

I bootlegged a few of BUILDHOLLYWOODs billboards previously and they were kind enough to donate 55 nationwide spots to us. It was at the time the government were introducing new laws to crack down on free party raves so we rolled out a load of billboards nationwide with ‘ILLEGAL RAVES ARE NOW ILLEGAL’, which was a phrase coined by my mate friend from Odyssey Soundsystem.

What was translating your AW22 collection The People Deserve Beauty from a runway to a printed publication like for you? 

Jon: For the shoot, we had a huge backdrop sewn using a mix of both our images. Afterwards, we cut it back up and made a shirt and a dress. The shirt is based on a short-sleeved Dries Van Noten cut and renamed Denise Van Noten for our collection. Sports Banger is never really about the clothes, it’s about the people that bring them to life and our relationships with each other. It’s something that Gareth really understands about us. His work is largely based on outsiders, existing on the fringes and the beauty that comes out of that. I think Gareth’s work is full of relentless optimism and in that way we are very similar. 

Gareth: Not sure this is a question for me but I had a great time, it was everything a good collaboration should be, ideas batted back and forth. The styling, casting and art production was really inspirational, and I enjoyed shooting it in the way you might enjoy a good hard spar in the boxing ring or running a race or solving a puzzle… you know frustrating and exhilarating, slow and fast… all of that.

Gareth, you work across many different mediums, how would you describe your artistic style? 

I would consider myself at least part Debrist (as per Scott King’s manifesto of the same name). In the sense that I try and embrace failure and the excitement and potential that can generate. 

You both have been involved in grassroots commitments and used your work to shine a light on social-political issues, what would be your advice for young creatives wanting to use to their craft to make changes in society? 

Jon: Make noise when everyone is quiet. Kick the institutions off their pedal stools and kick the tories back to hell.  

Gareth: I try not to give advice. But for arguments sake, some themes I try and live by that I have found to be useful… The personal is political. Be as kind and generous as you can be. Do it yourself. Don’t wait to be asked. Find your people. Cultivate an open mind. Believe in your own inner and outer resources. JUST DO IT! 

Sports Banger Bootlegged Garms

What do you hope people take away from seeing the billboard on the street? 

Jon: Hopefully they take a look up to the sky, that’s where the hands are gesturing and that’s where pigeons fly. 

Gareth: A strange archetypal recollection just outside the field of vision. That and an urge to google my name.

What is next for you both, do you have any upcoming projects or plans? 

Jon: There’s a load of music coming out on our record label HERAS and a new Rinse FM residency show. We have the Sports Banger book, called ’Lifestyles of the Poor, Rich and Famous’ commissioned by Thames & Hudson. It comes out in October and is a DIY cookbook we hope will inspire. 

Gareth: A psychedelic nature magic book called ‘The Horses’ and a book of ‘Details of Sectarian Murals’ photographed in N Ireland in the late 1990s, both published by my imprint SORIKA. Some commercial commissions to pay for the aforementioned… 

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