No Face Studios: Get the Story Behind the West Philly DIY Art & Music Space

Art: Justin Gray

Welcome to second monthly installment of Gritty's Kids, featuring Rachel Lopez of No Face Studios. The story of this West Philly DIY art and music venue (and the Raylo behind it) exemplifies what Gritty’s Kids is all about and March is the one-year anniversary of her doing shows at her screenprinting and design space.  

If you’ve ever been in the “business” of “booking” DIY shows, you may have found yourself appraising abandoned storefronts and warehouses in terms of how sick they’d be as show spaces. “No, no, we could all go in on it! How hard could it be to figure out how to do the wires or whatever?!” and so on. It’s probably best that most of us shook those fancies off, but for nearly 45 years, the shard of punk and hardcore kids who couldn’t have created and sustained the spaces we’ve played (and heroically sat through our friends’ bands) at.

Somehow, these nutters continue to wrangle bands, promote shows, worry about the cops and your lawyer dad when you break your face on a bass drum hoop, and clean up after you varmints week after week. A portion of them (4,739%) even lose money doing it!

Rarer still is the lunatic who loves it. After playing at No Face and chatting with their founder while having shirts made, I knew it would sync it up with this column like Gritty & bloody Zamboni snow. What confluence of factors led to Rachel Lopez becoming someone who is so driven to create and propagate creativity that they’d open their growing business to YOU PEOPLE? Let’s go to the videotape: 

You’re from south Jersey, but I’ve never heard you pronounce wash “warsh” (which is the Ceti eel from Wrath of Khan of pronunciations). You've struck me as having a hybrid of West Coast earnestness and East Coast not-slowing-down-for-shit hunger and drive. Do you feel like the way you came up informed your artistic and community-building endeavors?
Reppin' 856 ‘til the day! I think growing up somewhat near the beach, I've always had this lust for the ocean. It's been super influential to me and my artwork. As far as not-slowing-down, I truly don't know how to relax. I will purposefully take on more than I can handle to make myself struggle and force myself to figure out how to get out of the hole. Growing up, my parents always worked two jobs. Watching them hustle for everything definitely had an impact on me. I started working when I was 14 at a gnarly indoor flea market flipping burgers and making hoagies. I don't think I've been unemployed for longer than a month since then.

We’ve talked about you studying interactive, communication and graphic design at Kutztown University, which is pretty close to Bethlehem, Allentown, and Reading, PA—all towns that are known for the steel, Portland cement, and iron industries (respectively) leaving behind a ton of blight in the Lehigh Valley. What was it like earning your BFA in that setting?

Bonus question: Is interactive design when you charm the kid at Kinkos so you can steal glue sticks, duplicate $100 copy cards, and make cut ‘n paste zines all night? If this is true, I was totally an interactive designer in the '90s!
 Ah, Amish-ville. It took us about 30 minutes to get to the closest Walmart. I guess you could say I was spoiled where I grew up, we probably had 5 Wawa's within a mile radius of my house. Kutztown was pretty surreal. It’s in the middle of nowhere PA with nothing but farms surrounding this little town. I don't think much would be there without the University. The art program at KU was and is really good, and super competitive. I think the acceptance rate when I was there was 24%? We had to take an art test to be accepted into the program and wasn't able to get anything lower that a B- in a class. Haha! Give the counter dude a good wink and he'll take care of ya. 


After interning with much ballyhooed Philly printers, Awesome Dudes, you moved to Austin, where you began your rough-and-tumble journey as a pro printer. Let’s see if I have this whirlwind of chaos and crapola right... You moved to TX to work in a print shop, only to have that shop close barely a month after you arrived. Not to be deterred, you took an assortment of gigs until you found a cool little shop, which you helped grow and nurture, only to be sexually harassed on the job. From there, you continued printing elsewhere while also bartending and serving full time at night. Was this exciting and heartbreaking hustle as unreal to you then as it is to me now?
My whole Austin, TX experience is something that I will never, ever forget. I moved halfway across the country by myself, not knowing anyone, chasing a job that I would lose after barely even getting my footing in the city. Panic was the first thing that came to mind. I had rent, student loans, and bills to pay with zero money to my name. What the fuck did I just get myself into? Because of just how I am, I knew that I had to find work, somewhere, doing something. For the next three years, I worked about 80-90 hours a week. I honestly don't know how I did it. I became this cold-hearted person, a robot who never slept and had zero social life. I was having panic attacks at least twice a week because of how stressed out I was. It was a gnarly, gnarly experience, but I wouldn't trade a minute of it for anything.

I learned so much from the shops that I worked in. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of killer artists, and super cool creatives. Through my poster printing gig at Nakatomi, Inc., I was able to work with some badass clients and see some incredible artwork come through the doors. Nakatomi was a poster printing shop (which is now my favorite thing to print) but while I was there, I realized that I missed printing textiles. At the time, I felt like I needed to keep exploring working with shirts and clothing, so I decided I was going to start my own business out of my house doing just that. I set up shop in a one car garage and when I assembled my press, it went from wall-to-wall. The shop was so tiny. I had to suck in my stomach to get past certain parts. It was hot as hell, there was no ventilation, and my shit was everywhere. No Face was this chaotic, little project and it was all mine. 


Now we’re getting to the intersection of punk and art (which, to my mind, is one of the reasons No Face is such a compelling passion project). Please tell the people about how it started, you force of Plastisol-smeared nature.
While getting my degree, I realized more and more that I did not want to sit behind a computer all day, 5 days a week. Props to those who can do it, but it definitely wasn't for me. I knew I wanted to work with my hands and produce things not only graphically, but physically too. I always had this soft spot for band t-shirts as well as printed posters. I loved the texture of something printed, the grit, the layers, everything about it. I did get this random job while I was at school at a print shop in town. It was… interesting to say the least. Got let go and ended up getting my internship at Awesome Dudes. Those dudes were definitely awesome, as the name will tell you. They were super patient and understanding and answered any and every question that I had. They inspired me in many ways and it only pushed me to learn more.

Rachel Lopez 

No Face has been project of mine for about two and a half years now. I’m slowly growing and getting more projects and jobs, but I could always take on more work. I’m constantly getting asked what ‘No Face’ means, and why the shop is named as such. Well let me just say that I had no idea the movie Spirited Away even existed when I came up with the name. While working in Texas at one of the shops, I did do a lot of the communicating with our clients. I talk like a 16 year old skater boy, and a lot of clients thought I was a man. I’d constantly be told “Thanks, man.” “Cool, brother!” “Thank you, sir”. And when they would show up in person to grab their orders, they’d ask for Raylo, see me, and turn bright red. I always thought that it was so interesting that I’m this unknown figure behind a computer screen. No one knows who I am or who they’re talking to. I’m without a face, No Face. And BOOOOM, killed ‘em with the name.

No Face Studios, as a show space, is endearingly nuts. It's on the 3rd floor of a massive, labyrinthine warehouse and the space itself is a mosaic of murals and kinetic energy. When Grey C.E.L.L. played there, we passed multiple shows, raves, and church services before we even found out there was a 2nd floor, never mind a 3rd one. The organized confusion (shout-out to Organized Konfusion) vibe in the building was contagious, and there seemed to be a Euro squat-style collective acceptance of it all. What motivated you to start doing shows in your studio (I mean, aside from the fact that only having only two full-time jobs is, like, so boooring).
[Laughs] Yes, I live a super boring lifestyle and definitely needed to add more mayhem. Well, to be honest, this is my first time being involved with any type of music scene or DIY scene on this level. When I was in Texas, I went to a show that was in a large garage. I was like, this would be dope to print on one side and host shows on the other. I’ve been going to shows since I was a kid; always hopping on a train into Philly. I always wanted to do something like own a venue space, and I think this is as close as I’m going to get. Since I was moving to Philadelphia from the South, I had no idea what Philly had to offer as far as warehouse spaces and garages.

My sister ended up coming to the warehouse space to check it out for me. I had zero idea what I was getting myself into and the day I showed up in my Uhaul, my eyes bulged out of my head. I was like, what the fuck is this building and what the hell is going on here? I mean, are there enough mattresses in that one storage space or what? (Only the realest know what I mean.) I knew that I wanted to make my space feel like home. I had some people that I knew throw up some murals, and I threw up some pieces of work myself. 

I definitely feel like No Face isn’t just for me. This isn’t just my space. I want it to be a safe space for everyone. I want people to walk in the doors and feel like they’re welcome; like they’re home. I’ve always been one to want to give back to my community. Philadelphia has welcomed me with open arms, and everyone has been so incredible. I feel like it’s the least I can do to show my appreciation for the city.

Oh Jeezus performing at No Face Studios

Art. What is it? (Please pour your response out of molten lava while speaking only in Bjork and Cardi B squeaks 'n squeals.)

Ya know, when I was in school I was definitely an outcast. I never understood why anything needed to have a meaning. "What does this piece mean to you? What message are you trying to convey?" Art to me is something that you feel. You can feel it in your heart and in your fingertips. It’s something that leaves an impression on you; that makes you want to think outside of the box to create something new; that makes you so stoked to wake up in the morning and do what you love. I remember waking up early to print in my garage shop in Texas. I had the garage door open, music playing, the sun was rising and the birds were chirping. I started hysterically crying because I thought it was such a beautiful moment to be working on something that I loved. I’ll forever be humble and grateful to have that opportunity.

Philadelphia. What is it? (I tried to ask the Chamber of Commerce, but was ejected when I referred to the Schuylkill River as "Gritty's Goosecrap Gehenna.") From your vantage point as an artist and show booker, what do you connect with?

Hustle. Work. Strength. From living in the south and living in the northeast, the people are different. People know how to put the work in here. Nothing is ever handed to you in this city, I feel like you have to fight for what’s yours; for respect. I absolutely love that and wouldn’t want to have it any other way. You have to work to get into art shows. You have to work to get your art noticed. There are so many killer artists in this city that you have to do something different to get any sort of attention. I know that I’m not there yet, by any means. But I’m super stoked for the future of Radnines (my personal artwork) and No Face Studios.

As far as booking shows, the amount of bands that are based here or travel through here blow my mind. I never realized how big the scene is. It’s super cool to be able to talk to people and get to know their experiences. I’m learning more and more as time goes on. 


A post shared by R A D N I N E ϟ (@radnines) on

To close this out, I'd love an anecdote or two about especially zany and/or meaningful No Face shows. Thanks, Raylo!
My favorite show thus far, and this is for personal reasons, was back in July. Two of the bands on the bill, Entierralos and To Vanish Tomorrow played their fucking hearts out. All of the members (I’m pretty sure) are Hispanic. They are young, they are vibrant, and they are fucking down for each other. I’ve never seen a bond or brotherhood like that, and it really touched me. I’m a Latina/Female/Business Owner/Screen Printer/Tattoo Apprentice, and these days it’s not the easiest thing to be. It was so awesome to see them root for each other, psych each other up, and just have each other’s backs. It was beautiful, and I was so stoked to have them play at the space.

Thanks Derik, you’re fucking awesome.

No Face Studios and Radnines are located in the Kingsessing neighborhood in West Philly. Hit them up if you’re into having shirts, posters, or graphics made by a fantastic artist and woman-about-town/insane warehouse!


If you're shopping for vinyl, CD, and cassette hardcore titles, head to No Echo's partner store, Reverb LP, to see what they have available. Every purchase you make helps No Echo with site costs.

Tagged: grittys kids