Back in 2005, Chuck Anderson and Ben Gott, like many creative friends, were seeking a public outlet for their collaborative ideas. They emailed a lot. They thought: Hey, we should have a place where we publish these emails. Thus, The Brilliance! was born. Later, Virgil Abloh came on board and the cipher was complete.
In those days, the Internet’s culture of cool was still coming of age. Hypebeast launched in 2005, Cool Hunting was just hitting its stride, and personal blogs like A Silent Flute were setting the tone for the deluge that was soon to come. Even for that era, The Brilliance! was startlingly spare in design—black font on white background, yellow highlights, 100x100 pixel images, and lots of exclamation marks. Posts were credited to CHUCK, BENJAMIN, or VIRGIL. Reading it felt like being part of a conversation with three sharp, informed, and hilarious dudes. The Brilliance! was hugely influential to me as a just-out-of-college wannabe writer/editor/blogger/thinker.
After a five-year run, life got complicated and The Brilliance! took a hiatus. In January 2010 BENJAMIN posted for the last time, and the site went quiet.
Last week, after a three-year vacation, the site came back to life and the first post in three years delivered a simple message: "THE BRILLIANCE! “We’re a web page & we’re back!!”" I was stoked. I hollered to a few of my younger colleagues that my favorite website from my early years as an Internet person was back. They all looked at me with that confused millennial stare. I know there are many people out there who, like me, and excited about the return, and there are many others have no idea what The Brilliance! is.
Nonetheless, I hope that young people out there with creative aspirations can read this interview with Chuck and Ben and find something that will inspire them to rethink the game the way The Brilliance! did.
Interview by Noah Johnson (@noahvjohnson)
What has happened since the hiatus? Not for you personally, but for the culture as it was when you left it in 2010? And for those who don't know, what IS The Brilliance!?
BEN: We actually talked a bunch about this. Tumblr was around in 2010, but it wasn't as crazy as its been in the past couple years. Editorial blogs like us (we use that loosely, ha) are just not as common. Madbury Club is like the best—then there are the big ones like Nowness, etc. I really like The Talks too.
I feel like there was/is just this empty space where kids are actually writing more than 140 characters or just posting pictures, on pictures, on pictures. We came back because it's fun, you know, but also because we all genuinely wanted an outlet to talk about culture, products, etc.
The Brilliance! is literally Chuck, myself, and Virgil hanging out with the Internet. Like, if you were at a club, these are the topics, jokes, products, places, etc. we would be talking about in real life.
"It's not endless, mindless scrolling and eye candy. You have to actually read it."
CHUCK: Man, so much has changed in the last 3 years since we stopped in 2010. Twitter has taken over everything. I remember us posting about Twitter when it first came out and we were like... uh... yeah I don't know about this. Ha! Same with Tumblr. It's its own culture, its own lifestyle for people now.
The Brilliance! has always been sort of a break from that stuff. It's not endless, mindless scrolling and eye candy. You have to actually read it, but not in the way that you read Twitter where its so quick, or the way you view images on Tumblr...we've always had something to say and I think after fully absorbing all these new Internet 'toys' over the year (Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram/etc.) we had the itch to bring back a more thought-out format, I suppose.
CHUCK: Ben and I met in high school. I was like 13 and he was 15 when we first met which is crazy to think about. Been friends a long time. We started discussing the concept of doing a blog together around January 2005. Virgil used to hit us up when we started The Brilliance! because he liked what we were doing. We'd get emails from all sorts of people but Virgil always stuck out to us as someone who truly got and understood what we were doing. So, eventually we asked if he'd come on board.
Here's why I think The Brilliance! is important and was way ahead of it's time: Voice. The site was driven by personality, not just taste and access to cool shit. Agree? How has voice played a part in the universe of the Brilliance? How was/is that different than other sites?
CHUCK: Totally agree. We never did and will never have an interest in being a 'promo' kind of site, where its like, "Hey check out this product we got emailed about!" No. The Internet is an immense clutter of that already. We always wanted to be a breath of fresh air, something just different and personable and very genuine.
The fact that we have a 'voice' is a very intentional, very natural thing. We're just talking about what we'd talk about with each other, like Ben said. And all we can do is hope others enjoy reading it.
We always wanted to be a breath of fresh air, something just different and personable and very genuine.
BEN: I love that even when it was just Chuck and I there were too distinct voices, two lifestyles. Then it was three with Virgil. But we've always been fairly different in personalities from each other which is what makes it interesting I think.
I remember, and still stoked on it, Bobby Hundreds emailing us and being like: "I love that you guys have a personality and are not just posting product" This was in like 2005-2006 or something. It was a nice because a lot of people were like: "So, what is your focus?" Ha! There is none!
Other sites seem to have found success without a distinct voice (Hypebeast, Highsnobiety, etc.), but I sense that the appetite for personality/voice in web writing has grown tremendously. Blame twitter? How will The Brilliance! and the voice you developed years ago fit into the current climate of the Internet?
BEN: I don't know really, we didn't know when we started either. Maybe it won't fit cause we're not
just images, I mean the whole 100x100 pixel photo thing is super funny in this current environment to me. Who knows. We're just having fun with it.
CHUCK: Hypebeast, Highsnobiety, all those sites are great because they know exactly who they are and what they're doing. Those two and a few others are the cream of the crop of that brand of site. I feel like, as I said earlier, the voice we have is simply three friends talking about whatever three friends would talk about who are interested in art, culture, the Internet, whatever.
The key—and I feel like this can't be overstated—is never taking it too seriously. I mean, just look at what I've been doing on @THEBRILLIANCE Twitter so far. Photoshopped fake Drudge Report headlines and #THEBRILLIANCE trending worldwide on Twitter. It's funny, it's stupid, it's "whatever", and I think people enjoy that.
With The Brilliance! we're still all about irreverence—doing whatever, no cares, no rules, super Internet.
You all have been enjoying some exceptional success over the years since The Brilliance! went silence, how might it be different now that you're back? What drew you back in? Did you feel that part of the conversation was missing?
CHUCK: We all have gained a lot of experience in life with work and travel and all sorts of random subcultural things and just in the last three years I think each of us have snowballed with those things in our own ways. Virgil with PYREX and DONDA stuff, Benjamin with Boxed Water and his fashion label, me with NoPattern. Its just been a wild buildup over the last few years and now we just have a lot we want to talk about beyond 140 characters and beyond any sort of typical blog.
BEN: Honestly, that's like the crazy part to me. We're all actually doing something super interesting in life—trips me out. Honor to have these guys as friends. We've all seen a lot more, done a lot more, maybe traveled a lot more (Virgil!), grown up a bit. But yeah, the tone in posts will probably show that. With The Brilliance! we're still all about irreverence—doing whatever, no cares, no rules, super Internet.
BEN: None! Man, we almost brought it back like 3-4 times over the years, timing was never right. We even played with a format that used tumblr. The layout is iconic to us, no interest in changing it. And yeah, I think its super important—when we launched back in the day people used to hit us like: "Hey, you guys write about cool stuff. Can help on your website design though, I think we can fix it." Ha!
Find me another site that's so instantly recognizable and feels like it has heritage!
CHUCK: Simple answer: No. The layout/design of the site is crucial. It's come to feel iconic to us, which I think is a hard thing to achieve on the Internet. Sites constantly change, evolve, get slicker and smoother.
I sometimes miss "the old internet" and the site just is the perfect on-the-fence of old and new Internet age to me. Like Ben said, people will email like "Love the site but you guys could use an overhaul with the design let me make it better!" And its like, no! Find me another site on the Internet that's so instantly recognizable and feels like it has "heritage"!
When you write for the site (now, or back in the day), who do you imagine you're writing to? Did you/do you ever consider the kids who might discover the site for the first time?
CHUCK: We don't really picture an audience because I think as soon as we do that we become self-conscious. We just write what pleases us and what we think each other would enjoy learning and reading about. And I think when you do something completely for yourself out of passion, other people latch on and can appreciate that.
As for kids discovering it and having it really affect their lives, that's icing on the cake. That's never something we'd expected to happen but something we've heard from people. Its pretty cool and quite an honor.
When you do something completely for yourself out of passion, other people latch on and can appreciate that.
BEN: Honestly to a certain extent I'm writing to Chuck and Virgil. Cause that's how it started, Chuck and I just emailing each other so much back in 2003-2004. I mean I know there are kids out there reading, but Virgil always called it a time capsule, so maybe its like a diary?
Last one, what can we expect to see on the site now that you're back? What won't we see?
CHUCK: Saying "more of the same" sounds boring, but "more of the same" on The Brilliance! is a good thing. More interesting interviews, more interesting writing, now doing the Twitter thing and having fun with that. I think, also, we're trying to get some stuff out to people, get The Brilliance! aesthetic on tangible objects. Something to keep an eye on!
BEN: I hope we all post regularly! Ha! Hard to keep up with sometimes. More interviews and not just famous people or big names. Still want to feature the random kids on the come-up. We're even thinking about doing a little web store concept we've had in mind for some time, keep throwing ideas around. I want to start doing car reviews. We did one on the Tesla when it came out, would love to do more.
We're so random, so no idea what you won't see. I don't know, probably won't ever see ads! Who knows though.