They sold you everything from posters to hi-viz vests, books to kagools and cups to koffins.
We are very pleased to welcome Steve and Sophie from Dead Perch Merch / L-13 Light Industrial Workshop as they share their memories of memorabilia from ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’ with us.
Dead Perch Merch – Interview: Welcome To The Dark Ages
Q1 [WTTDA]: Unlike most merchandise stalls, you opted for a ‘one price fits all approach’ with all items retailing for £20.23 (or in multiples of that amount). Why was that pricing strategy chosen and how was it received?
A1 [Dead Perch Merch]: Dead Perch Merch may appear to be a simple merchandise company formed to serve The JAMs, but our true task is to destroy all hierarchies in the world. Therefore everything had to be the same price no matter what its commonly perceived value might be: by that token everything was either too expensive or too cheap but conceptually sound. 2023 had to be used for obvious reasons, £2023.00 for a mug would have been ridiculous, so it had to be £20.23. Even then, we were concerned that charging that for a paper cup or some Koffin Nails might be too laughable so we developed the packaging to become something of value in itself. Unfortunately we forgot to factor in any economic veracity in terms of controlling costs or efficiency. So even though it looked like we should have made a vast profit from our diligent enterprise and pricing strategy, we took too long in making everything and spent too much money on packaging, labels and labour for any significant monetary success. We’ll do better next time.
Q2 [WTTDA]: As with many events at ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’, your merchandise menu also came with a set of rules. Were any of those rules ever broken and if so, how?
A2 [Dead Perch Merch]: Even though rules are made to be broken, all Dead Perch Merch rules have been followed to the letter without deviation. That said, there are many built-in loopholes that we constantly exploit. So, despite the fact that The JAMs do not make limited editions, nearly everything we have made is. Some things were extremely limited. For example, only 13 Dead Perch Koffins were made and no more will be made because, even though they were a great idea, they were just too annoyingly fiddly and time consuming to make. But then… that does not make them a limited edition, just scarce.
Q3 [WTTDA]: Given how the art and music worlds are, fandom and ‘buy-to-sell’ auction culture, was the pricing of the products and the amounts manufactured influenced by how they may then resell for later?
A3 [Dead Perch Merch]: No. We’ve got too many other things to worry about. Proper, important things. The limited quantities of merch made boils down to the fact that we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives packing up merchandise for The JAMs’ fans. Our business model is to find the quickest route out!
Q4 [WTTDA]: What was the most popular item of merchandise sold?
A4 [Dead Perch Merch]: We sold more T-shirts than anything else which goes to show that fans of The JAMs prefer the practicality and true value of branded clothing over anything that could possibly be conceived of as Art.
Q5 [WTTDA]: You have been kept very busy after ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’ due to the high volume of orders placed via the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop website. It now appears that the majority of the catalogue is SOLD OUT. How did you manage the process of fulfilling orders and what is your relationship like with your local post office? And where in the world were you shipping to?
A5 [Dead Perch Merch]: All we can say is the 23 working days + some were needed to cope with everything. And even then, it was hell. Traumatising is probably the correct word for the experience. If we were Amazaba or another Big Five company maybe we would have had the capacity to cope better, but in fact we had to make do with two L-13 emergency elves (Rachel and Edgeworth) slaving away in convincingly Victorian workhouse conditions packing non-stop for a couple of weeks. We were living in a warren of cardboard boxes by the end.
The local post office staff were remarkably composed when we started stacking boxes high along all four walls of the place with orders going to Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Milton Keynes and Liverpool, but we think they missed a few lunch breaks getting through it all.
Q6 [WTTDA]: What were your favourite pieces of merchandise? What were Bill and Jimmy’s favourite pieces of merchandise?
A6 [Dead Perch Merch]: Bill and Jimmy laughed out loud when they first saw the Starbucks Deluxe Presentation Kit, so they may have liked that. But they were probably most fond of the Koffin Nails as they were one of the first ideas that lead to the birth of Dead Perch Merch. As for us, Dead Perch Merch operatives don’t have favourites… that would be wrong of us. We were once asked in an interview who our favourite artist was and we said “We don’t have favourites. Artists are like children and we love them all, even the ones we hate.” The same applies to the merch. We love and despise it all.
Q7 [WTTDA]: Were they coffee cups or were they works of art?
A7 [Dead Perch Merch]: That’s a very good question. We were going to leave it at that, but can’t resist attempting a proper answer:
It seems to us that for the people who bought a cup of coffee served in the cup, then threw the cup away… or even kept it as a souvenir, the cup is just a coffee cup. Nothing more. For those who stashed stacks of coffee cups from Dead Perch Lounge with the aim of selling them on eBay we would say they are not worth more than a cup of coffee without the all-important Dead Perch Merch packaging! For those that paid £20.23 for the same cup in Dead Perch Merch packaging and are not likely to use it as a drinking vessel have acknowledged its specialness as a fetishized artefact. But that still doesn’t necessarily make it art. For those that paid £60.69 there is an acknowledgement that the cup has potential as an artwork, but the price and context still say it’s more of a comment about art than art itself. Now that the cease and desist letter has been issued, the cup has been withdrawn from sale and people are willing to pay more to get one, and speculate on its true cultural value as art or a comment on art, maybe it is becoming art. So maybe art really is all about how much something costs and the amount of naval gazing that induces. But, in the end, it is still a paper cup. Then again, oil paint is just oil paint and canvas is just canvas. It’s what you do with it that counts.
Q8 [WTTDA]: At one stage, the ‘War Is Over Flat White Starb**ks Cups’ were for sale at £20.23 or multiples of that depending on the display case / packaging, but at the same time, those cups were been used to serve coffee for a couple of quid on the opposite counter, the Dead Perch Cafe. Was this an overstock solution, a generous offering or a body of art in its own right?
A8 [Dead Perch Merch]: Art didn’t come into it, just fairness, commerce and practicality. Once the War is Over logo had been built by The JAMs we needed to have some paper cups to put it on. Then The JAMs decided there should be enough of them so everyone at Welcome to the Dark Ages would have something to drink from. Then Dead Perch Merch decided we should have extras made to sell to those who could not attend the event and make enough money to cover the cost of the free ones.
Q9 [WTTDA]: Cease and Desist… Surely this was not a huge surprise? Since that happened, one of those items has sold on eBay for triple the original RRP. Does that leave a sour taste or do you just accept that those are the market conditions? Do you feel that in the long run, the letter will only serve to assist the legacy of that ‘2023’ story line and the product itself?
A9 [Dead Perch Merch]: Our only surprise was it took Starbucks so long to issue the order, but we have a suspicion they waited until we had stopped selling the cups anyway. L-13 has received a few cease and desist letters in its time working with Jimmy, and this one was fairly lightweight. In their letter they say that parody is not a defence, but they haven’t asked us to destroy the offending article and their list of requests were easy to agree to, so I think they know that parody is a defence. But we’d had our fun so there was no case for us to argue. It’s much better for us to have the letter than not and yes, it definitely helps improve the 2023 legacy. As for the rising price we say bring it on! We have 23 sets hidden in the L-13 vaults as part of the Dead Perch Pension Fund.
Q10 [WTTDA]: Dead Perch Merch appear to not only be an innovative merchandise outlet, you were also part of the narrative as selected items were under embargo until after The Rites Of Mu. Was there any point where it looked like your need for secrecy might be compromised? Did any customers figure out what the embargoed items were prior to them going on sale?
A10 [Dead Perch Merch]: With Dead Perch Menace as The JAMs security for the week, everything was kept secret. No one knew anything. We weren’t even sure we knew ourselves.
Q11 [WTTDA]: For the collectors out there, would it be fair to assume that in terms of rarity, the Dead Perch stamped edition of ‘2023’ is actually more scarce than the stamped editions of the book sold at News From Nowhere on August 23rd, 2017?
A11 [Dead Perch Merch]: Technically yes. We sold about 200 copies of the Dead Perch Merch edition. We don’t know how many copies were sold from NFNW but it was a lot more than that. BUT, as experts on book collecting, we’d still rather have a first printing stamped by The JAMs on the day of publication. Or actually, both. In fact we do have both for the Dead Perch Merch Pension Fund so are very happy.
Q12 [WTTDA]: Can you share any stories from collectors / difficult customers / funny happenings?
A12 [Dead Perch Merch]: One thing that we remember is how the display mug kept getting nicked by some of the more nimble-fingered members of the 400. We decided as a solution we should smash the handle off a mug to make it a useless and therefore less desirable display piece. We took to the task a little too vigorously and smashed the display victim to pieces, but managed to gaffer-tape the remains together. All to no avail – it turns out the fans of The JAMs have an appetite for the aesthetics of destructivism: by the end of the day it was gone.
We also kept a bucket of dead perch under the table and the overpowering smell when we opened the bucket served as a slap in the face and a tonic when we became too disorientated from adding up multiples of 23.
Q13 [WTTDA]: In hindsight, do you wish that you had created a line of Badger Kull t-shirts given the cult status of the band and the sales rush for the clothing that did surface?
A13 [Dead Perch Merch]: Yes, that was an oversight on our part, but we already had our work cut out for us up there and it was great to see others take the initiative. We joined the rush to buy them ourselves! There were some impressive DIY efforts and a stash of rare screen-printed yellow Ts which got handed out to Badger Kull die-hard fans at the Invisible Wind Factory. #BadgerKull 4ever.
Q14 [WTTDA]: Recently, you announced some extra products that were not ready in time for the event but were made available at Cultural Traffic. The Menu also suggests that some items may be reissued. Is there more merchandise in the pipeline?
A14 [Dead Perch Merch]: There is more in the pipeline, but nothing will be reissued. Life is far too short for that. There will be one more item (along with some associated gear ) released this year that relates directly to the book. The ‘one more item’ will involve a piece of vinyl (no it’s not music!), a new screen print poster, a download (no it’s not music!) and some more needless packaging. This will all be launched in true JAMs style before Christmas, so everyone needs to keep a keen ear to the ground. Next year we’ll move on to merch relating to The People’s Pyramid, Mumufication and the Toxteth Day of the Dead.
All Photos courtesy of Dead Perch Merch or L-13 Light Industrial Workshop website except for:
Hooded Merchandise Photo courtesy of: Miss Pokeno @MissPokeno
Menu Photos courtesy of: S. Scanlan