5 Questions: BRLSQ designer Wes Winship talks Dre Day 2010

Wes Winship (right) with 2009 Dre Day host Espada

Wes Winship (right) with 2009 Dre Day host Espada

Every February 18 since 2003, the Minneapolis graphic design collective BRLSQ (pronounced "burlesque") Of North America staff, along with a few other collaborators, throw what is sure to kick Valentine's Day square in the crotch as the best made-up holiday in the new millennium: Dre Day, an irony-free, malt-liquor soaked celebration of the famed hip-hop producer/rapper's birthday. Dre Day comes complete with DJs, games, and whatever inspired trouble the minds of Wes Winship, Mike Davis, and the rest of the BRLSQ crew can brew up and the Triple Rock Social Club can contain within the concrete walls of its show room.

That isn't the only thing they do, however. BRLSQ and its seminal predecessor, the graffiti/hip-hop magazine Life Sucks Die, have been redefining graphic design and visual art in the Twin Cities for over a decade. In that time it's grown from a small crew of cynics, artists, and music fans, into a full-fledged business, record label (BRLSQTHEQUE), and art gallery (First Amendment Arts). Their client roster includes mainstays in the hip-hop and indie rock scenes--Rhymesayers, Arcade Fire, and the Melvins, to name a few--as well as several clothing companies. They've also had the great pleasure of watching Dre Day turn into an annual holiday party celebrated in 10 different cities. All this, while still keeping it collective.

Wes took some time away from stressing about bass cabinets and screenprints to talk to Gimme Noise about Dre (the Dr. and the Day), art, and the wisdom of men with the last name Dogg.

Gimme Noise: Where were you the first time you heard "Dre Day?" Did you know then that one day you'd be celebrating the man's birthday every year with a few hundred of your closest friends?

Wes Winship: Here's what I remember about when that album dropped: I was a recent Twin Cities transplant and my new best friend Dan May was way into the record and played it for me. We both listened to a lot of hip-hop and would trade tapes a lot. He was really struck by Snoop Dogg and was even more pumped for Doggy Style to come out. A whole package tour with Dre and Snoop and other Death Row artists were set to hit Roy Wilkins and we were getting tickets to go but then it was canceled. My mind would have surely been completely blown had it happened.

A few years later, The Chronic had become a favorite of the Life Sucks Die staff due mainly to George Thompson keeping it in heavy rotation. He started putting in references to it being the greatest album of all time in the pages of LSD. One day, Andrew Broder, LSD staffer and maker of tons of criminally underrated music, was talking to me on the way out the door and said something about making up holidays in reference to his Fog song "What-A-Day Day". I think it was like, " know like ____ Day, or Dre Day." "Whoa, Dre Day, what if that was an actual day..." I responded. He took off and that was his last involvement in the idea. I went upstairs, told the idea to George and we looked up when his birthday was. It was in the middle of winter but we said fuck it, let's throw a party for him. That's all it took.

GN: It seems like more and more visual art/graphic design intersects with music in a much more significant way than in the past, especially with hip-hop. Why do you think this is? What music do you feel you connect to most?

WW: It's become way easier to make a nice looking product on the cheap with more and more personal computers, then laptops, available to everybody. Visual art and design has always been tightly knit with music, there just used to be more of a disconnect where the people making the music couldn't be a part of the visual identity put on that music to house it and to market it. That's where technical hurdles like the need for darkrooms and processes that required schooling or apprenticing to master. Now you can run pirated recording software, pirated design software, burn CDs, print covers, upload your tracks to blogs and rapidshare and jerk off to porn you weren't even looking for all from the same MacBook. Plus, hip-hop is a newer genre than, say, rock. It just had to go through the growing pains of just putting a mediocre photo of themselves on the cover, get to the point where things had already been done in the genre for the people putting out the music to push for something more innovative.

As far as what I connect with most, it's a lot of stuff with good bass. Right now I'm listening to Burning Witch, on the way in, it was E-40's "U and Dat." I have too many records, discs and hard drives to count so it's safe to say I like plenty of music a lot.

GN: BRLSQ is definitely a business, but it also seems like a group of like-minded individuals working together. Does everything you do creatively connect back to BRLSQ, or are there things you do where you say, "This is mine all my own, not BRLSQ's?"

WW: On the collective end, the satellite members like George and Todd Bratrud act like independent contractors. When we work together, it's a BRLSQ project. As for Mike and I, we own and operate the business here in the Twin Cities. BRLSQ features heavily in what we do outside the shop, on regular events like Triple Double, Bomp, and Street Sounds, as well as art shows and installations. But you have to have some separation sometimes.

GN: Do you feel like each Dre Day has to top the one before? Do you see a point where it will have run its course, where you won't do it anymore?

WW: We want each one to be different for sure. There are running themes that feature every year but we've had many different performers. We have tried going the bigger route in the past, trying the Mainroom at First Ave and the Varsity. But we've had the most fun at the Triple Rock so doing it there this year feels right. Even if Mike or I gets burnt, we want to see Dre Day continue. From the very beginning, the feeling was "Why can't this be a real holiday, maybe a day to take off work even--possibly the day after more than the day of--just like a day like St. Patrick's Day or New Years Eve?" We have an event, but I'd be the most happy to see it start popping up on calendars or better yet- have Google change their header for the day to a Dre Day theme. It feels like it's heading that way. There's nearly ten major cities that each have their own parties happening this year that we have very little to do with besides some flyer design and our thumbs up.

GN: If you had to drop everything you do right now and pick anything else to do, what would it be? Why?

WW: Go on an international tour with a large act that has a big stage production with a chance to apprentice in every area of the production. Visuals, stage craft, lights, sound, rigging. Preferably with one of the groups that we already work with and like. It's an area we already do some design for and I'd like to understand what goes into it so I could then do entire set designs and multimedia shows and installations. It would be a chance to nerd out.

Or, as Nate Dogg said: "HeyyyeyyyeEYEYyyyEYYYY.... smoke weed everyday!"

Dre Day goes down tonight at the Triple Rock Social Club, 9:00 PM, 21+, $10.00.