BY BETH ALLEN
I met Mikey through the underground punk rock/metal/rock scene in San Francisco many years ago. Over the years he’s gone from working doors at various clubs to promoting his own shows at local dives. He always has a big hello and bearhug for me. I first became aware of his “artistic” side with a couple of stickers he gave me — a SUICIDAL TENDENCIES that had a Kurt Cobain portrait on it and WWLD? (What Would Lemmy Do?) under Lemmy’s mug. I thought both were brilliant. It’s been fun seeing not just the stickers — but t-shirts and hoodies with said slogans slowly pop up all over the city. I find his tongue-in-cheek witicisms hilarious. And punk as fuck. With a slew of twisted and comical designs now for sale online on his website, SubliminalSF.com, Mikey’s product line is continually growing and forming a solid fanbase. I decided to interview him for DON’T COME KNOCKIN’ to help promote a new line of T-shirts and totes he’s created with local tattoo artist, Sweet Cicely Daniher (who has also been featured on Don’t Come Knockin’ in our Stand By Your Van spotlight on woman vanners). Cicely has seven designs featured on SubliminalSF.com, three of which feature VANS! Pretty cool. Thanks to Mikey for making me laugh over the years with his sense of humor and creating such killer concepts for his swag. Interview with Michael Madfes of SubliminalSF November 2016.
Name, age, where do you live? Did you grow up in SF?
My name is Michael Madfes and I’m a 37 year old SF Native. Growing up here exposed me to a ton of art and culture both high brow (opera, symphony, theater) and low brow (graffiti, street art, murals, etc...).
How long has SubliminalSF been around? Why the name “SubliminalSF”, what does it mean to you? SubliminalSF morphed out of your concert promoting/graphic design work, right?
When I was a teenager and a bit older I became fascinated by the idea of subliminal messages and advertising, and would occasionally tag “subliminal” with black sharpies/markers on black surfaces, so they’d only show up at certain angles of light.
In my late twenties I started promoting local and small touring bands shows in San Francisco under the moniker “PMR Presents” (PMR stood for Pay My Rent, which it rarely ever did), and after taking a prolonged hiatus from promoting I was given the oppourtunity to start up again while working at Bender’s in the Mission, and decided to start fresh and ran with the “subliminal” idea thus creating “SubliminalSF.” I later decided to use the same moniker for my graphic design work as well, putting everything under one name and umbrella, as I was practicing “visual and auditory mind control” it all kinda fit together.
The design work, freelancing mostly making flyers, business cards, and advertising, led to me wanting to do something more creative and I started fucking around and teaching myself how to do new things in the design realm, leading to me fucking around and making stupid stickers with my roommate at the time. One of those stickers is what is now the WWLD (What Would Lemmy Do) design.
I started making the WWLD stickers on clear print your own shipping labels, and slapping them up around town, a few friends had asked if I could print real stickers for them to buy, so I figured that out, they started selling, then there was a demand for shirts, so I figured that out too, and things just kinda took off from there.
Your shirts and stickers are SO good... such great ideas. Got any good stories (I know you do!) about each one? Like, how the idea came to you and anything that has happened since the design came out?
The Suicidal Cobain design actually isn’t mine it was my first collaboration with someone else. It was their reaction to the High On Pryor design when I first posted the artwork. A mutual friend brought it to my attention and after a brief discussion we decided to collaborate on the concept and came up with the final design together. We split what money comes in about 50/50 after costs, and he’s given shirts to Shepherd Fairey, Kool AD, and a few other amazing artists and musicians that he knows, which to me is awesome seeing people I look up to as artists and musicians wearing my/our dumb lowbrow jokes.
HIGH ON PRYOR:
I was having drinks at Bender’s one day with my buddy Damon and we were shooting the shit, and started talking about Richard Pryor somehow and he brought up this time he had a girlfriend who asked if the band High On Fire was named after Pryor. We both laughed and I was inspired to come up with the design as something to accompnay my WWLD sticker which was the only other one out at the time. This design has since become an official tour shirt for the band, and has become one of their best selling shirt designs thus far. I’m ecstatic whenever I see someone wearing one, whether its one of mine or one of the bands, and even more ecstatic to see pictures of people like Slash from Guns and Roses, the singer from Dillinger Escape Plan, members of Mastodon and more repping the shirt both on stage and just day to day.
I know you’re a Juggalo so I’ll tread carefully here, but I look at Juggalos and the Turbojügend both with a sarcastic smile, and don’t see a lot of difference between them in all honesty. I really only came up with this to troll my Jügend friends the same as when I made a “FUCK MOZ” sticker to fuck with my friends that are obsessed with Morrissey regardless of how many times he burned them with show cancellations, his stupid demands while performing, and his general douchebaggery.
I was watching Body Count play at FUN FUN FUN Fest a few years ago and Ice T was on stage talking about how cathartic it was to be able to be on stage in Austin with Body Count again after what happened the first time around when he was dragged off stage and beaten by police for performing “Cop Killer.” The 90s were a little fucked when it came to provocative music. This was the time of NWA, Public Enemy, etc and to have a band outright talk about wanting to kill cops (the irony of him playing one on tv for like the last decade is not lost on me) was too much for some people.
Anyways, Body Count is on stage, Ice T is getting everyone to chant FUCK THE POLICE, and out of nowhere I just shout “WHAT DID STING EVER DO TO YOU?” in between chants and the idea was born. I didnt’ think anyone would get the joke but its fast become my best seller, even with a cease and desist letter from a random lawyer at one point.
This was another partial collaboration. Ref Sanchez (Party Force / Go Time / The Corrupters) is a regular at the bar I work at and plays in a few bands I used to book, and he’s from L.A. and a Dodgers fan. He would often talk about wanting to alter an L.A. Dodgers hat with the SLAYER logo around it, and I kept pestering him to let me make shirts instead. Eventually he gave in and I worked on the design which wasn’t too hard, and we decided well, we gotta do it white on Dodger Blue if we’re gonna do it right... I got a lot of flack from my fellow Giants fans so my cut of the profits all go to the purchase of Giants vs Dodgers tickets and I’ve gone to a few games the last couple years as a result with that money. Knowing King Buzzo and Dale Crover from the Melvins are both huge baseball fans I got shirts to them when playing at the Great American Music Hall when they were touring with Les Butcherettes and Dale has taken to wearing it fairly often which I fucking love.
This was the first design I did. I didnt come up with the expression but was fucking around with Adobe Illustrator and wanted to teach myself how to photo trace so as a fan of Lemmy and Motorhead I just kinda grabbed a cool pic of Lemmy and started there.
I (FIRE) SF / BURNZUM:
Both of these designs were born out of my frustration and anger over the rash of suspicious fires in SF (particularly The Mission where I live) over the last few years as gentrification has taken its hold and terraformed the city. Knowing people that have lost their homes in these fires, and watching as the SFFD didnt even properly fund their Arson Unit I got mad, and well, with my sick and sarcastic sense of humor these two shirts were born as ways for people to wear their frustrations. I’m donating a percentage of the proceeds to the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee and the Mission Tenants Fire Fund. Its not much in the big picture of things, but I know that when you’re down, every bit helps.
So how do you avoid copyright problems?
Anything using an actual trademarked logo has been cleared in advance by the bands (well, not the sLAyer one, to be honest), and all the designs are pretty much covered under the Fair Use Act, as they are parody and thus not techinically infringing on copyright.
I know you have LOTS more ideas... what makes an idea move past your idea list and into print? What’s your best selling SubliminalSF design to date?
I like to quote George Carlin when I get asked this question: “I have lots of ideas. Trouble is, most of them suck.” 90% of the ideas that pop up in my head fail right there, those that make beyond the initial stupid thought then kinda rack around my brain for a while before solidifying, at which point I usually run the idea past friends before starting the actual design. If nobody gets it, or it takes too much explanation, I end up shelving it.
My best seller right now, and as I said, it suprises me, is the FUCK NWA design. However, the S-LA-YER shirt was selling well towards the end of baseball season and into the playoffs and is also available for retail purchase at the Amoeba Music in Hollywood which is cool The HIGH ON PRYOR design has become a top seller for the band which is great as I see random people wearing them that dont even know they’re my design or even know who I am.
So you’ve decided to promote other people’s designs, why not just do your own stuff?
I like working on my own stuff but don’t always have the best ideas to continue and expand the line. I had been wantign to expand beyond my original designs to keep the line fresh and know a ton of talented artists and designers that dont have the time to make and sell shirts, so I figured since I already have the infrastructure, why not share it?
Is Sweet Cicely Daniher your first featured “other” artist? How did you end up partnering with Cicely and promoting her designs?
As far as a featured artist, yeah, she’s the first. Again, it came about organically, she’s a regular at Bender’s and we have a bunch of mutual friends, and she’s an amazing tattoo artist. I’d see her sketches and her tattoo art on instagram and in her sketch book at the bar, and had been formulating the idea of doing a featured artist series and just through circumstance she happened to be the first of what I hope will be many to come.
Her van stuff is cool, do you like vans? Ever thought of getting a SubliminalSF VAN? What would be your dream van, if you could have any van you wanted?
Well, this is a van site after all, I figured we’d talk about vans at some point. I’m fascinated by any kind of subculture that takes the time and patience to make somethign unique and yours, whether its custom classic vans, choppers and rat bikes, or lowrider culture. The attention to detail, the love poured into peoples “babies,” the community and commraderie I find heartwarming.
I don’t own a van, and for a long time didn’t even own a car anymore, but as I’m looking at possibly vending at music festivals next summer I’m probably gonna need one, so if I have to buy a van, I’d rather get one with some style and character (one I can add onto) as opposed to just a plain white panel van. Dont have a dream van per se, other than the A-Team van, but there’s already someone driving one of those out here, so I wouldnt do that.
I do have a name for my van though if/when I get one: “Johnny Cougar MellonCamper Van Beethoven”
Any other teaming up partnering with other artists coming in the future? And how often? Any other product ideas for SubliminalSF besides stickers, shirts, tote bags? Future dreams for SubliminalSF?
Yeah, I look at what Upper Playground has done since starting out and I am in a way trying to emulate their rise. They started out just a couple artists collaborating, and now they have multiple store locations, gallery space, they make furniture, and rep a huge swath of artists from the hip hop, graffitti, and skater scenes. I want to kinda do the same thing but bring in artists from the grittier side of the local scene the metalhead/punk ariststs, tattoo artists, the fucked up stoners that draw fucked up shit, and build our own little corner of the art scene out here. Whether thats shirts, hoodies, and stickers, or more. My business partner that does my printing and I often talk about expanding and doing things other than standard screenprinting, like I really wanna do shower curtains, maybe throw pillows? (I have a couple Upper Playground pillows with cool art on them for example.) I don’t know, I just know one can only own so many black tshirts and as we’re all getting older it would be cool if we could still show our rebellious sides while operating in the shadows of Mainstream Corporate America. What that would be, whether a moleskin notebook with cool metal or punk logos watermarked on the pages, or maybe a mug you use at your desk, I think there’s room to bring that punk/metal/lowbrow art to things other than the tradtional mediums.
Thanks Mikey, and keep the cool shit comin’!
Check out subliminalSF.com buy some stuff and support underground art.
PICTURED ABOVE: (Top to Bottom) SubliminalSF logo; Sweet Cicely Daniher and her Vnicorn; Slash sports a High on Pryor shirt; Mikey; shirt and sticker designs; Dale from the Melvins sports the S-LA-YER shirt; Unicorn Van design by Cicely; L8TR desgin by Cicely; Tiger Van design by Cicely; Mikey quotes.