Even if you’re a bit musically baffled and unaware of Activia Benz’s sound, all you have to do get click happy online and see the labels perfectly polished aesthetic unfold in front of you. There’s a summer-quenching sun lotion and lime still life for label head Slugabed’s ‘Coolest’, a nonchalant cartoon lemon smoking lemon kush and the Mountain Dew green carbonated cool of an immersed credit card on DJ Mastercard’s ‘Virtual Crime’. All stunning and courtesy of Activia Benz’s visual wizard, Steve Smith.
Artwork boss Steve Smith got into art from drawing as a kid, a natural and pure entrance in the age of tumblr re-hashing and touchscreen tablets as big as the moon. However, the drawings had a mind of their own and touched on taboo. “I drew a lot of dinosaurs having sex with each other,” laughs Steve. “I had this great one where it was two brontosaurus making love and kissing, their necks came together and formed a heart. I thought that was really clever.” Dinosaur sex is a deviation from the usual slightly ill-built stick people of the younger years but the start of a burning flame, as Smith progressed his past-time to college, studying animation at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI. After graduating he worked as designer for Conan O'Brien for three years. “All the traditional channels,” Steve jokes.
From this, Smith sparked up a relationship with Activia Benz, sharpening up his perfectly perverse eye to create the label’s artwork and overall aesthetic. The result is a mixture of still-life beyond real-life: schoolbooks and spatulas, a purple drank-esque cocktail that looks like it would catapult you into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory with one sip, spilling strawberry milk as you pack your belongings in a cardboard box. Its a welcome step away from the mundane album cover depicting a sad producer with three nights worth of k-hole benders ruching up under his eyes. The objects Smith chooses are random but calculated. “I avoid just having random floating objects, I always try to give something that's floating some kind of suspension,” Smith explains. “Sometimes you'll have a cinder block that's smaller than a dinner candle, but giving an explanation for how they are placed makes the scale inaccuracies more believable, which in turn creates a more surreal feeling.”
Smith considers his visual output as still life, a surreal vein of the traditional form made relevant for 2k15. “I would call it still life, it's a pretty time honoured thing for an artist to do, I'm just using computers to do it. It let's me mess with reality a bit more.” Smith continues to reveal a niche sector of the retail world as an inspiration. “I really like walking through Home Depot and seeing all of the strange bits and bobs people use for constructing things. It's incredible that there, at some point, was a fella who designed a type of bracket, likely on paper. He then proceeded to fabricate and mass produce it. Some of these things are insanely intricate and well formed, but we don't really consider them that often. I like to pepper things like that that I find into my work. Finding a cool clamp and reconstructing it in digital space is pretty a cathartic task”. The task is overcome by attempting to balance industrial influences with everyday objects and abstract organic form, which sees chunks of pomegranate seeds juice up alongside Home Depot’s best-selling gold screws. Touching on the visually (and nutritiously) rich pomegranate, fruit is also the apple of Smith’s eye. “Fruit is crazy interesting texturally and physically with completely random shapes and colours” says Smith, dipping into an imaginary fruit bowl. “Why try to make something new when the most interesting stuff occurs organically?”
For now, Smith is pretty happy typing dumb shit like ‘Crystal Palace’ into Google Translate to create realms of Japanese writing that make no sense, but he may shift sideways in the future. He’s just bought a Risograph to make books and has also pondered making some furniture or housewares to hustle online, so watch this space. Maybe you’ll be sitting on it soon. And all Steve Smith wants for Christmas? “I want a bloggy as fuck work environment. A loft with concrete floors and wood everything. I feel like I would work well in that generic designer atmosphere”. Keep on truckin’ Steve.