For TISSUE N°5, we are blessed to present a conversation with the mastermind behind 032c, Joerg Koch. With a strong background in DIY culture, Koch inspires to just go for it rather than passively ruminating a possible formula for success. His stimulating observations about business seem to be on a meta-level, but only at a first glance. A closer look shows conclusions which can be applied to general aspects of throughout life. Enjoy!
Uwe Jens Bermeitinger in conversation with Joerg Koch as published in TISSUE N°5 October 2014:
INTERVIEW: UWE JENS BERMEITINGER
ILLUSTRATION: ALEX SOLMAN
PHOTOGRAPHY: JONAS LINDSTROEM
Sitting between several piles of magazines behind the eight meter Konstantin Grcic vitrine, we start our conversation in the 032c workshop in Berlin with our friend, mentor, and supporter, Joerg Koch. Two editors, loads of printed matter, and cutting right to the chase.
So, you’re coming from the Hardcore scene. Are you still straight edge, or what?
I turned straight edge—and that means not drinking, etc.—when I was around 14 or 15, and stayed abstinent until I turned 30, when my daughter was born. Somehow they were connected with each other. But I’ve never been a part of a scene, so to speak. The reason to turn straight edge was that it was the most rebellious thing to do at that time. There was actually—and we’re talking at the very sub- sub- sub-level—people in the straight edge scene in Europe who were very left wing, very political. So it was like a complete package. You were socialist straight edge. And now you can imagine that you’re then the complete outsider of everything. Everything that defines youth culture, you’re at odds with. It was a very interesting life experience.
Okay. And what about sex?
No, we were not that dogmatic. [laughs]
You probably get asked this a lot, but why 032c? What’s the story behind the name?
When we started the magazine, we really wanted to link ourselves to early German modernism of the 1950s. You know, like Ulmer Hochschule für Gestaltung, and then later on Dieter Rams at Braun, and so on—that kind of really forward thinking aspect of German design. They had these product codes, for instance, and it wasn’t branding, it was a systematic approach to life, culture and design. So that was one thing, atmospherically speaking. And then we realized that the Pantone colour system is actually quite beautiful as a system of understanding. It’s an abstract number code, but with a very specific meaning. A graphic designer in Japan, or a product designer in America, or I, we all know exactly what colour is referenced. It was a very international system that we wanted to tap into. We wanted to be international, and yet have a relation to where we are published. It was a very abstract motivation from our side.
Did anyone ask this question before?
I think everybody asks that question.
Is the answer always the same?
It varies in length. But it’s funny, because commercially speaking, it’s an extremely stupid decision. When people see 032c in France or America, they of course use the pronunciation of their mother tongue to say it. So when you meet people, they never get what you’re talking about. There’s always this awkward one- to two-minute confusion until everyone is synchronized that we are actually publishing the magazine 032c.
Did you ever get in trouble with Pantone?
Not even the lacquer for the printing?
What’s the everyday struggle of being editor-in-chief of 032c?
I think I wouldn’t use terms like ”struggle.” It’s a very privileged, fun thing to do. I really see it as a privilege, because it enables you to do exactly what you want to do, and you can work with good people, and you get paid for it. I think we have a fantastic team here in the office now. So it’s a big pleasure. Of course, there are all these politics now involved with the magazine—advertisement, working with photographers, working with fashion brands, etc.—but, at the end of the day, we can come up with anything and start producing, and that’s quite wonderful.
That’s what the term “freedom” stands for in your
The magazine propagates a sense of freedom in that we have a very big “we don’t give a fuck” attitude. Not “we don’t give a fuck” in the sense of being assholes, but in the sense that if we’re really into something, we just do it.
From 2000 until now, from issue 1 to issue 26, what
I think it changed a lot. The first three issues were a very classical fanzine: newsprint, limited edition. I don’t know if you recall, but there was this electro-clash music movement at the time, and those people were really into the magazine, and people really loved the newspaper version of it. But for us, it felt strange. So we did this big change where we went into glossy and did big photography stories, and we had this real separation between text and image. This was the phase where we did the design with Petra Langhammer. It was basic-ally a deconstruction of the magazine. It was a very puritan, very hardcore version. The minute you separate text and image, it already feels very different. Then we had another relaunch, where we started the collaboration with Mike Meiré and Tim Giesen, when it suddenly morphed into a magazine—like, a proper magazine. Now I think we’re in the phase where it’s very fine-tuned, with clearly identified magazine sections. We of course play around with the parameters, but it’s a structure that anybody can get into. It’s not self-referential, or anything like that. So there are all these different incarnations of 032c. The second it starts to feel stale, we change the parameters, and then it suddenly feels fresh to us again. The trick is to know when to make changes. You tend to want to be too early with doing the changes, before people have actually caught on with what you’re saying or doing with the magazine, because by then they’re already bored by that. I think the more mature you are with your work, the more you realize when you have to move on a little bit.
How did the internet affect the rise of 032c?
When I moved to Berlin in 1995, I did an internship with this premiere multi-media agency here. I was already on the net, on CompuServe, etc., and we started doing web magazines. I was really in the new economy before I dropped out. So when we started the magazine, I was really deeply involved with the internet already. For me, 032c was always like a post-digital publication. When we started the magazine, we wanted to have a website. It wasn’t a print nostalgia thing. The methods of working are still the same. It wasn’t like going from a typewriter to a computer. Everything was already digital; everything was already produced and organized over the internet.
You once said in an interview that you wanted to create a magazine that was sexy and gefährlich, (German: dangerous). What do you mean by dangerous?
Dangerous in the sense of something that refers to the idea of freedom, that there is a certain recklessness, a certain sense of dangerous ideas being propagated. Not for the sense of provocation or anything like that, but just putting it out there and being there and doing it.
What are the most important things you’ve learned
thus far as editor-in-chief of 032c?
I think the most important thing is to really learn how to say “no.” It’s more important to say “no” than “yes,” and doing that in a polite way. I think it’s important to have a very clear identity and understanding of your work. When you’re tempted to do so many things, on so many levels, it’s quite important to be aware of what your limits are. Editing is like a sequence of yes, no, yes, no. It’s a very binary thing.
How long does it take to create each issue of 032c? What are the main stages you go through in the creative process?
We don’t really have a formula. A certain rhythm is dictated now by producing fashion stories, and there you’re extremely dependent on schedules, on availabilities, on politics, on negotiations, on budgets, etc. It’s endless. So this is one defining element. Content-wise, we have a 30 – 40 page dossier in the magazine, where we explore one idea, or one person’s work very in-depth. We commission essays, photo stories, produce art for it. That’s probably the most difficult thing to set up. Once we have figured that out, what the theme is, we’re kind of relaxed. We can produce normal, big features very much on auto-pilot by now, meaning that we definitely know what to do, whom to commission, how to shape things. It can happen that three weeks before we go to print, we suddenly realize, “Oh, this feature would be amazing.” And then we can produce something super fast, super quick. Then we’ll work on other features, or cover stories, for two years. For instance, we had a big cover dossier on Nicolas Ghesquière of Louis Vuitton, and I think we worked on that story for almost two years. We flew out our editor to Paris from New York. Nicolas was still at Balenciaga then. The meeting didn’t work out, and then he flew back. Then one year later, once he stopped at Balenciaga, he reached out to us for that story, and suddenly it worked out. There’s a sense of being in different time zones. Sometimes it’s very long-term oriented, and sometimes it’s boom, boom, boom.
What motivates you to work on stories like this for two years?
It’s about making sure 032c maintains its quality—its edge, its surprise—and not turn into something average, something where you know what to expect. I think that motivates everybody here in the office. We definitely want to have that aesthetic and intellectual surprise factor in the magazine.
In issue 26 you state that “information is really hot right now.” Where do you get your information?
From everywhere! One of the things, for instance, is that I can’t throw away an unread newspaper. So, much to the dismay of my wife, I keep them. My holidays have been spent reading news-papers from a year ago, like the art section and stuff like that. The consumption is indiscriminate—like books, magazines, anything. It’s like a whale with plankton. You eat thousands of tons of fucking plankton, and then there’s like one titbit or two that could catapult us into a story idea. It’s a very inefficient system. It’s a lot about wasting time and resources.
It’s a miracle to me how you create the “best magazine in the world” as the New York Times once called it. What’s the secret?
There’s no secret, it’s very transparent. What you see is what you get. But let’s boil it down now: It’s important to go step by step and focus on quality. Great contributors attract other great contributors so never lower your expectations or ambitions.
Exactly, never downgrade. And, of course, pay attention to the economics, to the business. In a sense, it’s the biggest achievement of 032c to have an economical foundation that works. Because when you look at almost any other independent culture magazine, it’s completely underfunded. Of course we could have more, but we have fantastic advertisements. We get fantastic support from the industry, so that’s important. When we started, we were happy to break even with one advertisement. When we started doing advertisements, I thought it was the coolest thing to have Helmut Lang, Dior Homme, and Commes des Garçons in the magazine, and I didn’t want more. Here in Berlin you’re isolated, you’re not embedded in the industry, so it takes a while. You have to understand that the more advertisements you have, the more advertisements you get. If you have advertisements, you have more freedom to do things, or you’re less pressured. It’s counterintuitive, but that’s my lesson. Berlin gave us the space and the time to let it grow, completely unrestrained from commercial realities. With my experience now, of course, I would do it completely different. You can’t go back to that state of naïveté, but it really helped 032c in the long run.
What do you mean by counterintuitive?
Counterintuitive in the sense that, for us, it was interesting that the magazine got more radical in its ambition, its outlook and production of stories with the more advertisement it got. Because you’re less dependent on one, or two, or three, or four, or five specific people or brands.
You always helped in supporting TISSUE Magazine. Even before, you supported us for Nude Paper.
I can always ask you for advice if I have a problem, and you invite us to present our magazine at the Societé de 032c, you sell our magazine in your store. I think that’s unusual within the magazine business. Magazines helping other magazines,
I haven’t seen that before. How come?
As I said earlier, I think 032c is truly a do-it-yourself publication. One of the most important things I’ve learned, much more important than spending time in university, is the idea of do-it-yourself. That’s the punk influence. The idea that you simply start your own fanzine, you start your own record label, and you can do it. You don’t need an MBA, you don’t need to ask anyone for permission, you don’t need to have a job to do it, you just do it. That’s an incredible power, or confidence. When we see that element with other people, of course we’re happy to help. We were helped, or supported, by other people. I remember when we did the first issue of 032c, the first people who brought press and supported us by selling was Visionaire, in New York. They were very supportive. Or Tara and Tricia Jones of i-D, they were very close friends back then. It helped. I think when you start doing something, you always look for some sort of recognition from your peers, and it’s really helpful when you get that.
Who are your mentors or role models?
Unfortunately, I never really had a role model or a mentor. I’m saying “unfortunately” because it would have sped things up a lot more. With 032c, we had to do everything by ourselves, or make everything ourselves with connections, with understanding or learning the trades of the industry. Of course, there are people you can chat up once in a while, but there was never a systematic approach of being groomed into something, or being supported on a bigger scale.
No philosophers or anything?
Architecture was always a big influence, because you could always see it as a discipline that has to work with commercial restraints, so it’s not completely unrestricted. I always found it interesting to see certain architects, like Rem Koolhaas, pushing theory within commercial realities, within commercial restraints. So that’s very interesting.
You’re currently producing issue 27, what can you already tell us about it?
Like with most other things, we’re still in production, but the cover dossier will be about the menswear designer Raf Simons. His label will have its 20th anniversary next year, so it will be right on time.
Please say something about the digital platform you launched last year, when you started this “content non-stop” thing.
The execution took a long, long, long time, for various reasons. For us, digital has so many interesting challenges, but we’re really into it. We don’t really have to think, “Oh, this has to be digital, digital, digital.” We’re more relaxed about it. If it works for print, we do print. If it works as an exhibition, we do an exhibition. But of course digital is like the engine that makes everything possible—communication, organization. We also see that we can scale 032c massively within the digital world. We’ve set everything in motion, and slowly but surely everything goes together now. It will be synchronized: the exhibitions, the magazine, the store, the website. When it’s completely synchronized, it will become a very powerful thing, I believe.
With your new online appearance you have one story each day. How does that feel? Is it stressful?
It dictates another speed within the office. But it’s also good training for us to think about how to package ideas, how to do wordings, how to entice people to read it. Right now it’s still a challenge for us to become more efficient.
So you’re sharpening your weapons right now?
Yeah, and then boom! We’re out there.
Well, world domination is much easier digitally than with print.
How do you see the future of 032c?
The idea with 032c is that it’s a lifestyle proposal. The wonderful thing is that “lifestyle” is such a dirty word that it really turns us on to use it. It’s definitely a proposal that works beyond the print magazine. So, soon we’ll be offering clothes, we’ll have a store. It could also be about real estate development, or a renovation within a building. Or it could be a political campaign for something—it doesn’t have to be commercial all the time, of course. That’s the kind of scope of what’s possible with 032c, and that’s what we have always said, and it sounded completely crazy. For me, the period is now defining 032c, and that comes back to the whole notion of being sexy and dangerous.
Thank you very much. We’ve learned a lot.
CENTERFOLD TISSUE N°5 / DECODING 032C
Get on, get off: You can use this issue’s centerfold in two ways – either you get off on the hot picture of 032c’s first issue shot by Jonas Lindstroem or you get on with 032c’s essential (independent publishing) life hacks.