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Interview: XFEL

Aloof aims to shine a light on the best brands and companies operating in the independent market right now, from all over the world. Those under the radar of the wider consciousness but with great stories to tell and a unique perspective on the nuts and bolts of building a brand.

Aloof sat down with Josh and Mike from Xrayfreeelectronlaser (XFEL) to discuss the world of independent print, making real world connections that last and making mistakes along the way.

Aloof Studio (AS): Could you tell us a bit about what you guys do for XFEL?

Mike (M): Bit of everything really- ideas, logistics, connecting people and keeping the ball rolling.

Josh (J): Same- ideas, design, print, logistics, launches! Although Mike is especially good at the connecting people part! The main thing is keeping XFEL moving.

AS: How did your relationship with the Stussy London store come about and are there any plans for future collaborations with them?

M: We have known quite a few of the team there for a while. Stussy has always had a good history of print related products that we respect, conversations happened naturally around trying out a project together. We also had a little Stussy teaser in our project with the guys at Margate Giftshop last year, which we followed up with the ‘London Stussy Posse’ zine. As for future projects- stay tuned!

AS: Even for something as tangible as a zine, social media and the Internet are massively important in getting product out there. How do you guys build a community online that translates into the real world?

M: I think for us it works the other way around, our physical connections have translated into digital ones. Most often, anyone that is following our work can be traced back to someone or something physical. We are trying to be more conscious now about how we can reach other audiences, especially further around the world, and this will mainly be digital.

J: If someone DM’s us about a zine or wants to buy XFEL bits, our first question is “are you local?”. We have always preferred to drop it off and have a conversation. This has naturally led to conversations online and has helped us build a wider XFEL community. With ‘Employee of the Month’ we have seen those physical relationships drive submissions from other audiences and other places around the world.

AS: With the release of Employee of the Month, we saw an open call that embraced all walks of creativity and no set theme. How hard is it to choose what goes in and what’s left out?

M: We pretty much put in everything that was submitted- I would say one of the only reasons why something wouldn’t make it in is for being discriminatory or offensive.

J: Yeah we wanted to get as much in as possible! Everything that was submitted for Vol. 1 was great and we’re looking forward to seeing what is created for Vol. 2.

AS: Can you recommend some people or companies to look out for, who you think are doing admirable things creatively speaking?

M: There are way too many to mention! We are exposed to a lot of amazing people through our network. I would say looking at everyone who submitted for EOTM is a good start, and with the new submissions for Vol. 2, we're seeing even more amazing creatives. One name I will throw out there is Seth and everyone 502 Bad Gateway (@the502badgateway) related- one of the best menswear mags out there.

J: Seth and the 502 Bad Gateway team, Pablo XFEL (@pablo_xfel) too. I am obsessed with Olga Goose Candles (@goose_hag) and Shimpei (@shimpei_1102), our good friend and long time XFEL team member! There are so many more, check the back of EOTM Vol. 1 for a library of interesting content.

AS: On your web store there’s an apparent spotlight shone on Japan and Japanese culture. Can you speak on the mass appeal of Japan and why it translates so well into print?

M: I think Japan has inspired myself creatively a great deal, especially in printed mediums and how they document culture themselves- from sneakers to kustom car culture. In terms of what we have shared in relation to Japan, I believe it connects with a lot of individuals because on a surface level it feels both very familiar but also very distant, which comes through quite strongly in the imagery.

AS: What are the biggest pitfalls to avoid when starting a zine?

M: I think self-imposed limits, a zine should be the purest form of an idea that you want to share, which can be very raw or very polished. Don’t over think it.

J: There are a few big things but for me- always do a test run! You get so excited by completing a project and order 100 copies straight away. There is nothing worse than seeing a spelling error or a mistake with the layout and you've spent all your cash! We have a lot of experience doing this.

AS: If XFEL worked on a clothing collaboration, what would you all want it to look like?

M: We have a tee coming out with almostfreeservices ( which is amazing- if we work with someone, then the product should be a reflection of both parties, which this is.

J: The tee coming with almostfreeservices is amazing! We have spent a lot of time talking about bags and practical accessories- potentially something for the future.

AS: Finding physical spaces that support independent print can be a big ask, especially outside of large cities. Are there any places you think deserve a special mention for supporting the industry?

M: Good question! DIY Space For London (@diyspaceforlondon) for zine fairs and Books Peckham (@bookspeckham) for everything book/zine related. I’ve not made it down to Photobookcafe (@photobookcafe) but they are doing some great stuff digitally with the current situation. Internationally, Salt and Pepper (@saltandpepper223) is amazing! We are continuously connecting with more stockists so this list will keep growing.

J: All of the above. Oh and Kiosk (@kiosk_n1c) are doing big things!

AS: Finally, what’s next for XFEL?

M: More zines! Publishing tons of great work from some names new to XFEL, Employee of the Month Vol. 2 and hopefully some moments where we can bring all our friends old and new together.

J: All of that! We have been able to use this time to link up with more people remotely and get moving on lots of new projects. We're starting to look at new formats for XFEL and how we can keep growing our network.

Keep up with the latest from XFEL on their Instagram here. Support them and shop directly with them here.


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