I must on some level have found it so unlikely that two successful art directors landing clients like Nike and Puma would be based in their home city of Perth that, when trying to set up an interview with Regan Matthews (aka Ta-ku) and Ben Wright, I suggested an inter-timezone phone call. When we did finally meet in their warehouse turned very 21st century office in a cul de sac in Claisebrook, I realised quickly that the pair buck more trends than just that of leaving. We talked about their friendship, coming up as teenagers discovering vinyl, volunteering for RTRFM and playing gigs at The Bakery, plus their respective international careers, and how it's all converged to produce globally leading creative work back on home turf. This story - featuring Regan's photography - was published by Fabric Quarterly in Issue 6.
In a city where the norm for creatives has long been to leave, it’s encouraging to discover the work of art directors Regan Mathews (aka Ta-ku) and Ben Wright. The pair have known each othersince high school, when they began collecting vinyl and, eventually, exploring beat mixing on their RTRFM slot, All City. After a decade working independently, their creative paths realigned in February 2018, when they executed their first major project together under their then-fledgling creative agency, Pretty Soon – for the Nike Air House in Melbourne, no less. Yet setting the bar high from the outset hasn’t stopped them from continuing to push boundaries; mostly via Pretty Soon’s own clothing label, 823. In both pursuits, Mathews and Wright have a single focus; to do brave work that not only involves Perth’s creative industry, but elevates its profile on an international level.
“We didn’t want to be another part of the creative crew from Perth that are going elsewhere instead of producing work here,” says Mathews, who gained international success as a musician and producer before returning to Perth to explore a newfound passion for photography and art direction. “We want to directly influence our community in a positive way.”
Since its inception, Pretty Soon has produced world-class design, installation and brand activation work for other high-profile clients like Puma, Specialized Bicycles and Red Bull. However, for Mathews and Wright, 823 has been the true creative outlet, and a channel through which they are reconnecting with their local creative community after so much time working on global projects.
Numerically representing the words ‘Thinking Of You’, 823 grew from a personal photography project Mathews started when he was touring in 2015, separated by distance and time from his wife.
“I never really liked the touring aspect of music,” says Mathews. “I had a lot of musician friends that were photographers as well and one of them was Chad Imes [Repeat Pattern], a producer and musician based in Japan and an amazing photographer, who
encouraged me to take a camera around while I was abroad. And so 823 came about, mainly as a way to communicate with my wife. Ben saw the potential in taking a design approach with it and turning it into a legitimate brand, and now we’re able to better communicate the real meaning of the project with our audience.”
823 projects have ranged from recording and record sleeve design for emerging local artists, to the development of various printed matter, objects, accessories and clothing; all of which incorporate original film photography. Since dropping their first clothing capsule – Collection One – in 2017, 823 has released Me & Mine, You & Yours, Out Of Sight, Isolation Collection and, most recently, Time Stands Still, which features two styles of tee, a hooded pullover and one branded vintage Westerstrand wall clock (the clock functions, FYI). The campaign surrounding the recent launch of Time Stands Still culminated in a run of 100 printed journals and doubles as a photographic study of our perception of time.
“Because we’re operating under Pretty Soon, and we’re not trying to compete with other streetwear labels, we don’t really have limitations as a brand,” says Mathews. “We'll always approach it in a highly conceptual, narrative-based way where we engage our audience and show them that they can participate in stuff that we're doing.”
Wright, who has previously worked in art direction and graphic design with Perth branding agency Block, New York agencies Plus and Red Antler, and freelance under his own business, All Caps Yeah, feels the same way.
“823 is about appreciating the little things in your life, sharing with people and being inspired,” he says. “The idea is that we can start a conversation around something creative and then people can go out and contribute, and have an experience. For me, that’s the main aim of 823.”
Perhaps the best example of this concept yet is 823’s most recent photography project: Neighbo(u)r. Mathews and Wright collected and rebranded rolls of expired film, with which their audience was invited to photograph people in their community.
“The thing with using expired film is, you don't know what you're going to get,” says Wright. “So your objective is actually to go and interact with others, rather than to be concerned with the photos themselves, and that's what the feedback has been as well - people have said that the project improved their confidence to make portraits with greater intention. And the idea of Neighbo(u)r is that it’s inclusive. It's not a competition - everything submitted, we’ll share.”
“As creatives, I think we all strive to surround ourselves with sincere people that we can share things with,” says Mathews. “But we don’t always have a space to share creativity that isn’t perfect or curated. 823 is that space, and Neighbo(u)r is a perfect example.”
While details of how the Neighbo(u)r project will culminate are still unfolding, its community focus is starting to drive work at Pretty Soon. Wright and Mathews are looking to move into ‘place-making’, and have design and activation projects in the pipeline with the aim to reanimate public spaces around Perth.
“As Pretty Soon, we want to revitalise underused spaces in Perth in a way that is compatible with how the community actually wants to use those spaces,” says Wright. “But as with all the work we do, it’s also about making Perth a place that people look to for creative work and creative industry.”
In the meantime, 823 is the pair’s artistic lifeblood.
“With 823, it’s the first time in my life, including my music career, where I felt completely satisfied,” says Mathews. “I feel one hundred percent in control and satisfied creatively and I feel satisfied that we've given other people an opportunity to feel creative and in control as well. To me it feels like ultimate freedom.”