In the salad days of the internet, an oft-recurring image on countless websites was the “Under Construction” sign. Usually appearing in the form of an animated GIF, its suggestion that the contents displayed before you were in a state of perpetual flux was a novel idea in an era when most content was unchanging and static.
Today we take that idea for granted. Everything is always “Under Construction.” And while it’s easy to presume that the work of Michael Faso, a.k.a. Deconstrct, is somehow indebted either to Derrida or demolition derbies, his aesthetic is much more closely related to this early age of the internet.
Our creative director Debra Scherer checked in with Michael out in Los Angeles while he was in the process of shooting his first feature for the Culture Crush, a story inspired by the Heaven’s Gate cult. Together they discussed his interest in visual cultures and talked about his many influences, from CD booklets to skateshop ephemera, Valley culture and online sneaker forums.
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Debra Scherer: So Michael, you’re up to so many things. You work with brands, you do art direction for your own ‘zine, which is incredible, which you’re showing to me now, called Deconstrct. I want to hear all about that, because we still love magazines at the Culture Crush. Tell us a little bit about how you got into this world, and where the sort of creative side was born.
Michael Faso: My mom has worked at a skate shop since I was five, a skate shop in the Valley called Val Surf. It’s been there since 1962, so it’s pretty legendary. So when I was little, that was the skateboarding heyday, like in the mid-1990’s. She used to be there all the time, so I guess that was the first introduction to visuals, whether it was clothes or skate videos. And then that was magazine heyday and also CD heyday, so CD booklets are like the coolest thing in the world to me.
DS: So what year was this? Last year?
MF: Basically, yeah! Somewhere between ‘95 and 2000.
DS: So, to you, 1995 was like the heyday of magazines. Yeah, yeah, you’re right. It’s true!
MF: That was like, Tower Records! Tower Records was the coolest thing. Every birthday, all I wanted was a $20 gift card to Tower Records.
DS: Well, I was at Italian Vogue in those days, and that’s when that magazine was in what we called “The Golden Years.”
MF: I wasn’t looking at Vogue then. (laughs)
DS: Right. (laughs)
MF: I was definitely looking at all kinds of stuff, posters and Rolling Stone or whatever. Just tangible visuals.
DS: What was the coolest ‘zine then? What were you like, “Oh my god, the new one!” I remember in those days, the new one came out, I’d have to see it. What was that for you?
MF: I had a subscription to Rolling Stone, and I had Mad Magazine. But CD booklets were my ‘zine. Because it was so specific. At that point, I’d judge a CD based off of what it looked like. Obviously, I’d hear about bands, but I’m an only child, so I didn’t have a direct influence.
DS: You didn’t have an older brother?
MF: No, no cousins, nothing. So I’d have to go off whatever I saw on the internet, which at that point was the site Artistdirect, which would show, “related bands!” So if you like one band, find it, look it up, see all this other stuff, and then just judge it off the CD cover and then the booklet.
DS: Oh right. The CDs had those booklets, because they were trying to make up for missing liner notes, which were lost from the vinyl age. I had a similar experience. I started seriously collecting records because I was inspired by Blue Note album cover design and Reid Miles. And it really took me a while to be like, “Why don’t I open one of these and listen to it?” I mean, I still had my personal record collection from when I was a kid. That shape and whatever, it’s funny – now there’s Instagram which is basically like that same exact...
MF: Square! Square! (laughs)
DS: Yeah. But there was that whole world, and we’re all wondering, what’s going to take it’s place? And I think people are still trying to figure it out. Like what’s the full and total music experience, y’know?
MF: In middle school, I found this website called DeviantArt, which was an early social network. It had weird subcultures within it. There’d be like, anime people, and vector illustration people, and 3D abstract work. So I got obsessed with that website. I was mostly into weird 3D abstract pieces. Kind of like an abstract painting. There was a site called Depthcore, that was an Australian site. They’d do these packs. They’d have all of these artists, and they’d release thirty different images from these weird people across the world. A lot of them were Australian, a lot of them were European – very few were American. I used to talk to them on MSN Messenger, and IRC chats, and weird stuff. So that’s when I really got into Photoshop. With that, and like – games. Online games like Counterstrike. Making websites for a Counterstrike clan, or team, or whatever. So that’s where I got the name Deconstrct. It was like 2005.
DS: So how did that come about?
MF: I liked this one guy that was named Struct, and I liked this other dude’s art – he was named Defect. I was 14 at the time, so I was just copying shit. It was this sort of a weird in-between. So I did that, and then that was my screenname, and that was my gmail, and it just stuck ever since.
DS: You stuck to it.
MF: Exactly. So I did all of that, and then I started taking photos. I really got into shoes – sneakers, sneaker culture and then I started posting on forums, message boards, whatever. There are sneaker ones – NikeTalk and Sole Collector – those are the two main ones. And between just taking photos, I learned really quickly that the nicer the photo you take of a shoe, the more money you can get selling it. Like, if you have a shitty photo, it’s whatever. If you have a nice photo, you can get $100 more. So I always liked photos, my mom took photos. Photos were just cool. But that’s when I realized, “Oh, there’s a power to it.”
DS: So you mean, you could sell the picture for more? Or you could sell the sneaker for more?
MF: You had little sections of the site where you could sell your shoes. And if you had better pictures, they’d sell faster and for more money, even though it’s the same product. But a lot of these shoes are used, so at that time I was going to thrift stores a lot and finding these shoes at Buffalo Exchange and stuff.
DS: So what you’re trying to say is that was when you really started to think about photography, and the power of it, and how you can manipulate the objects to try to say something more about them than just, “Here’s a picture of the shoe.”
MF: Or, just kind of in a fucked-up capitalist way, a better picture, you get more money.
DS: Right, (laughs) I was trying to make it sound more artsy.
MF: Yeah, but no, that’s the reality of it. On the artsier side of it, there was a whole thread called, “What did you wear today?” Which is now an Instagram hashtag, #outfitoftheday. It would basically be this thread, and you would post your outfit.
DS: What was the name of this forum?
MF: There were four main forums. There was NikeTalk, there was ISS which is Sole Collector, there was Superfuture which is more like, fashion/European. That’s where I first found out about Rick Owens and all that stuff – those weirdo Euros, pretty much.
DS: Weirdo Euros! (laughs) You know Rick Owens is from LA?
MF: Yeah. (laughs) His store is right next to my house now!
DS: But he’s such a weirdo he had to go to Europe!
MF: At that point, it was such a specific person. Now it’s all rappers and this-and-that, but it was a very specific type of person that was wearing that. And then there was another forum called Fifth Dimension, which was the coolest one to me. It was very small, but it was all Japanese-influenced. All the garments were Japanese, which was just copying American stuff better than the Americans did it.
So, between all these forums, I would kind of lurk on all of them, and I’d see all these different styles that people from around the world were wearing. Because obviously, I was fuckin’ fourteen in the valley – you see the same thing everyday. Then you see – oh this dude in Australia! This dude in Tokyo! This dude in Belgium! So it all really started from those threads.
But it was still weird. I’d go to school and come home, and I’d be on this little forum, and it’d be like, okay cool, what are you doing?
DS: Talking to kids in Japan about sneakers?
MF: Yeah, just internet friends! Just like, straight internet friends. Some I ended up meeting in real life, and it was cool. My roommate is an internet kid too, which is funny. He didn’t live in LA but I knew of him.
DS: So you guys knew of each other? From the sites?
MF: I definitely knew of him. He had, “e-Fame,” which is what we’d call it back in the day. He was early. At this point, being cool on the internet is just being weird on the internet. Saying outlandish shit that you would never say to someone in real life, like, “I like this porno, or this weird stuff.” He was always on that, so he was always notable, I guess. He had notoriety.
DS: He always saw the absurdist side of things, it sounds like.
MF: Yeah. Or just didn’t care what anyone thought. And was down to post it all. He gained a little personality from it.
DS: So how did you start with your own ‘zines?
MF: I started really making ‘zines and taking photos in San Francisco. (Where I went to school) I always took photos, but then in San Francisco I started really shooting film again. I shot film when I was little, when there was just film and digital was rare. I played with digital cameras, but when I was eighteen I took my mom’s old film camera and started doing a lot. And then I just had so many photos I made a ‘zine.
DS: So why did you say, “I’m going to make my own ‘zine?”
MF: I always liked CD booklets. I always had an affinity for prints. My room was just covered in magazine tear-outs and posters and books and photobooks. And then, as I mentioned, my mom worked at a skateshop, which was eventually my first job, so I was just around a lot of visuals. And then one time I was driving up to San Francisco with my old roommate and his brother, Tim Butcher, and he was like a punk, hardcore guy, which was very intertwined with ‘zines. So he was making ‘zines and on our drive up, we had to stop at Kinko’s because he was getting his ‘zine printed from this guy John.
DS: Kinko’s! What would we all have done without Kinko’s?
MF: John was, like, super punk rock! He basically worked at Kinko’s, but if you gave him a ‘zine he’d just print it for you and you’d just give him cash. Like, whatever, I don’t know, give him $100. It should cost $2000 at Kinko’s. But he was like, “Fuck it.”
DS: It’s not punk to spend thousands.
MF: Yeah! So that’s when I was like, “Oh shit, here’s a guy that can print it!” So my friend’s brother was giving us ‘zines, and he said, “You can make this, just give it to John. He’ll do it for you.” So I printed the first three or four ‘zines with this guy John at Kinko’s.
DS: So how basic was it? Was it like, Photoshop? How did you put it all together? What did you say, I’m going to make a ‘zine about what?
MF: Well, at this point, I just collected a lot of photos. I had photos, and I would just put them on Tumblr; I’d put them on Facebook. I was just sharing them. And then I was like, “Fuck that, I want to print them.” They were very Xerox-ey visuals. I was like, “I have photos! I can do it!” I don’t even remember how I figured out you have to do it in InDesign. It was probably Tim who showed me – I really don’t even know.
So I’d just put together these photos, and at this point, I’d already had a lot of graphic design experience. Like, very minimal, but enough where I could make shit. So I was like, here’s a cover, here’s this, here’s that. So after the first one, I learned where the layout really works, and “Oh, this is the back of this page!” And like, oh a double-spread may get cut in the middle.
The first one was basically just all old photos that I had. And the second one was half old photos, and then I took a few more photos specifically in mind, like, “I’m gonna make a ‘zine! I’m gonna make a ‘zine!” So they were a little more photoshoot-y. Because before that, I’d be riding my bike, take a photo; I’m skating around, take a photo. It was like street snappy. And then I thought, oh, here’s my friend Kyle. Wear these crazy clothes, and let’s go to my friend’s prop shop and hold all of these AK-47s that are rubber but look real.
DS: Right, just to be provocative.
MF: Yeah, or just something.
DS: You just wanted to fuck with shit.
MF: Yeah, exactly. It was just an outlet. Using what’s around me. So that’s how they started.
DS: So right now, you’re the art director of communications for Undefeated. Tell us about that.
MF: Yeah, well, for the marketing side. I do all the photos of the presentation of the products we make, essentially. Undefeated is a store I used to take the bus to, back in 2005. Back to the sneaker forums! It was one of the few stores in LA at that point that I thought, “That’s a cool store!” There was Undefeated, Stüssy, Union and Supreme. That was it.
DS: So what do you do for them? Campaigns, photos, websites?
MF: Yeah, I do all of their social media. I do all the campaigns, all the PR outreach, and then the person-to-person sort of in-the-field kind of stuff.
DS: Relationships and things like that.
MF: Yeah, but it’s all very natural. Because it’s such a scene still, and I’m really in it.
DS: So tell me about the scene! What’s the scene?
MF: LA streetwear! Which is now Instagram streetwear scene. So there are different sects of it. But it’s just very natural. It’s like friends of friends who do this, work there, and do that, and do these photos, and oh, I made this t-shirt! You made that t-shirt! Oh, there’s an event at this store, let’s go to that store! It’s very natural, very organic. And that’s just, like, who I hang out with. It’s like, “Oh yeah, Undefeated. Why don’t you throw this party? Or why don’t you do that?”
DS: So let’s jump to now. I’m so excited that you’re doing this story for the next issue, and we were introduced by Ms. Tierney Finster...
MF: The legend!
DS: ...who starred in Issue Five! (laughs) And she’s writing for us as well, which I’m also really excited about. So we spoke, and I remember getting an email, and you said, “I have this idea, and it might be crazy, so if it’s too crazy, we don’t have to do it, but…” So tell us about the idea. Because you’re in the midst of doing it right now. The story’s not finished; we’re not there yet. So it’s great to have this opportunity to talk to you in the middle of it, you know? So tell us about it.
MF: So I’ve been interested in the whole Heaven’s Gate cult situation, which happened in the mid-late ‘90’s. Typical weirdo cult. But they had a very interesting way they all killed themselves.
DS: Right, it was a suicide cult.
MF: Yeah, it was a mass-suicide cult.
DS: Because they believed that they were being rescued.
MF: Yeah, they were leaving this universe. They all had a duffel bag and $5.33 in their pocket to get through the heaven toll. I don’t really know the specifics, but it was more the visuals of that that really got to me.
DS: Right, because they have that website and someone still keeps up that website.
MF: The website is up. But also they all wore the same outfit in their suicide, which was sweatpants and a pair of Nike Decades. Which then probably looked a little weird. But now it’s fashion, like baggy sweatpants and new Nikes, you know?
DS: Right, today it could be Vetements for all we know.
MF: Exactly. And they had a shiny purple shroud over all of them and there were bunk beds in a weird San Diego house. So that was crazy just visually. It’s fucked up, but they don’t even look like they are dead. Because all you see is legs. And it just looks comfortable.
DS: And it looks very styled to our eyes now.
MF: Exactly, all black with a purple shine, sweatpants that are baggy, and Nikes that are brand new. So that was strange. And the website is also really strange. The fact that it’s still up. I mean, there’s definitely a fascination in my generation with Internet 1.0. And they’re for sure Internet 1.0, you know? It reminds me of when I first built websites. It was like, Geocities and Angelfire and these weird templates. You could get this subdomain, you have a little pop-up, but you can have a website, which is very iframe with the links that turn blue once you click it. So the whole thing about it was just so strange to me.
MF: But the purple is cool. I like the purple.
DS: So this is your inspiration, so where are you taking us? What journey are we going on with you on this story?
MF: Well, I’ve always wanted to just flip it, because it’s so funny to me how “fashion” it is. Even though that was not on their radar at all. But at this point, it’s so fashion. So I wanted to make an extreme version of that. Like, oh you want fashion? It’s super glammed out.
DS: Right, so if you were going to do it now, what would it look like?
MF: Right. And then I also wanted to play on LA. I’m from here, I’m from the valley, and a lot of LA stuff is really funny to me. I participate in it, but it’s like, the juices and the Urth Café, the Erewhon and the beach and the Taco Truck. It’s crazy! Especially if you’re kind of from here, and you see the people that aren’t who come and want to go, it’s like such a stereotype. It’s fun to participate. But it’s also fun to make fun of it.
DS: We can't wait to see it through your eyes!
To listen to the the entire conversation, click below: