Def Club: Branding and Community in Liverpool


By Edward Little – Student Writer

It was December 12th 2012. Countless sources claimed that this was The End of the World, as prophesized by the Mayans…they were wrong – but Def Club was born.

Def Club’s website claim to be a clothing company inspired by horror and VHS, but my experience is much more than that. Being an acne ridden eighteen-year-old only left me one option socially, and that was Liverpool’s underground punk gigs, where, you’ve guessed it, Def Club’s goblin-esk logo peeked out of the shadows of mosh-pits, and was sown into the seams of denim jackets. It wasn’t until much later that I realised that Def Club was a company that made and printed clothes for artists and bands, and I was left to think the adult world was like this, scary logos on pierced bodies. Yet that begs the question. What is a logo? And can it be a part of the creative culture?

I’m here to answer that – I think it can.

Liverpool is swimming with punk, rock, and progressive bands performing in your venues, pounding on your ear drums, and rifling the final packet of ready-salted crisps behind your bars. But amongst this character soup, you want to retain your individuality, whilst being able to be the stranger who’s not with ‘the band,’ who still feels like they belong. I believe companies like Def Club fill that gap. Starting in the labyrinth that is Grand Central, Def Club began by bringing you some of the ugliest, needle injecting characters you would see on a t-shirt.

Def Club felt it was harder and harder to find a t-shirt that actually said something, that ‘all the cool tees were just stolen by aliens over night!’ So this was born, and bands flocked down the winding staircase to the fiery pit of Billy’s shop (the creator of Def Club) to print their merchandise and take it to gigs. Bands such as Elmo and the Styx, Dead Class, Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies, and many more started wearing the merch as they played, yet this couldn’t have happened if it weren’t for what Liverpool is, and how Billy Kelly made it his own.

Sailing away from Ireland one stormy Liverpool night, Billy had daydreams of pretty people wearing grotesque tees, but not before he made best friends with security at the docks…then half of Liverpool. Like for any budding creative, it’s important to network, and Def Club had the perfect agent. It didn’t take long for Billy to start collaborating, and the first photo I’ve shown you is a collaboration with Trash Box Art. Them being one of the many connections made, as Billy went from band to band (one example being The Vagabonds), Def Club managed to become a point of reference for gig goes who wanted to be part of the scene.

There’s something about Liverpool that allows someone to show up on its doorstep with ideas of organised mayhem that is playfully accommodating. We want to enjoy the music when seeing bands, but it’s being part of a culture that gives us that communal thrill. We want to see shirtless drummers smashing away on their drum kits, but knowing the bassist is wearing a Creepo hoodie from the same place you bought yours, that’s a personal kind of special. And it isn’t just in the pit of the gig you get to enjoy this, as movements like Def Club spread throughout the city and its streets. Paste ups and stickering is a huge part of this, with artists all of Liverpool spreading each other’s logo in back alleys, behind toilets, and even on passing tourists.

My acne faded, I moved away to Chester for five years, but on my return Def Club still greets me with half-torn stickers on lampposts. It’s seeing things like this on Mathew Street, all the way to The Baltic Triangle, that I know there’s a community in Liverpool with an unspoken language. You go to a gig. You listen to the music. You nod across the mosh-pit to a stranger wearing the same tank-top as you.