Gamma Proforma – Rammellzee, Futura, She One and more…

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OK, so – Gamma Proforma – UK label dealing in music, art, books and apparel (T-shirts to you and me). I’ve mentioned them before, most notably with the recent Divine Styler album that blew my socks off in January but also with the ReWire kickstarter of last year and the Futurism 2.0 exhibition they put on a couple of years back. Their ‘roster’ – if you can call it that as they seem to deal in a project by project way – is full of name familiar to this blog both new and old: She One, Augustine Kofie, Divine Styler, Futura 2000, Will Barras, Remi/Rough, Delta, Rammellzee, Syd Mead and Ian ‘Swifty’ Swift among many more. If that isn’t enough to get your interest then you may as well stop reading now. I just want to highlight some of the currents releases coming out of this great label who seem to have tapped into my mind at times and assembled items that tick multiple boxes to an extent where it’s just getting silly now.
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Their current big project is a multi-part release of The Rammellzee‘s final album, ‘Cosmic Flush’, incomplete at the time of his death but now finished by producer Jonah Mociun whom he worked on it with. Each track is being released on a single 12″ backed with a remix + instrumentals with a different artist chosen to provide the cover which is also included as a signed print.
Above and below are the first two singles, ‘Brainstorm’ and How’s My Girlfriends’ with art by Futura 2000 and Ramm acolyte Ian Kuali’i and remixes by Divine Styler and Mr Len (ex-Co. Flow). The third 12″ – released next month – will be ‘Crazay’ with art by Delta and Mike Ladd on remix duties. Each 12″ is a pressing of 500 with half of these adding the print, these versions aren’t cheap and the Futura one is already sold out but the quality is top notch. Eventually all the releases will form the album proper although I’m not sure whether that will be collected into a box of some sort or issued on CD.
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As you can see, there’s a heavy emphasis on the more leftfield, abstract side of graffiti on these releases and that’s carried over into the books and T-shirts too. The She One book with 7″ picure disc below is a heavy slab of goodness chock full of James Choules’ flaming brushstroke camouflage styles from close ups to sketch book scraps and a beautiful collection presented without all the usual clichés of the genre.

Shebook & disc2 She Book&disc1 PhilAshcroft&printSimilarly Phil Ashcrofts angular spikes take on a more ‘futuristic’ tone in his book of dystopian visions and sci-fi seems the be at the heart of what Gamma produce with Syd Mead T-shirts being an early release. There’s also a shirt series underway too with Kofie supplying the first example on a white shirt below and Will Barras depicting a menacing Rammellzee in his signature style for the second.

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All the pieces mentioned here are immaculately laid out and design forms the subject of another forthcoming book – a retrospective of Ian ‘Swifty’ Swift‘s career titled ‘Full Circle’, due in the autumn but you can pre-order it now. I daren’t even mention the Will Barras book arriving shortly, the prints, magazines, original art or the digital freebies available if you peruse the Gamma site at length…

PS: in a weird act of synchronicity the Has It Leaked site just put up a look at the label too with quotes from me included – read it here and find out even more…

Sephora ad campaign

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I came across these at the weekend in a window of a shop in Lyon, they were so striking I had to take a photo. A quick google reveals they’re for a campaign for Sephora makeup from a few years back and there are more in the series. A great example of how a simple visual idea can attract the attention & subvert the usual clichés.

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The The ‘Hyena’ soundtrack on Death Waltz

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A new The The record is always cause for celebration and the first on vinyl for over 15 years (not counting reissues) is an even bigger one. That this beauty appears on Death Waltz in a leather effect gatefold sleeve with 12×12″ booklet, obi strip, lobby card, coloured and etched vinyl is more than anyone could have hoped for. The icing on the cake for me here is that I introduced Matt Johnson to Spencer from Death Waltz, suggesting that he would be the best man to put his music on vinyl and release it to the world. He’s more than outdone himself and the soundtrack is a perfect fit for DW’s style and ethos. You can order it now from Mondo and listen below.

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Preview the whole soundtrack here:

The NME goes free

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After the news that the NME was going to be free as of September yesterday I dug out these old covers from over 30 years ago. I never read it until the late 80s and 90s but have since gone back and waded through years of issues for various research purposes and the breath of subjects covered, the writing, the photography and even the design sometimes, was taken for granted on a weekly basis. Barney Bubbles designed the logo seen on these covers too. Check the Sly & Robbie feature below for the skewed design and the Frank Sinatra wraparound cover which seems apt after the news.
Along with the Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror (four weekly music mags!) it was the only one to survive, having weathered the storm since 1952. This latest move – this ‘last throw of the dice’ as someone called it – seems to indicate that we’re another step down the road, another nail in the coffin, where the worth of others’ creativity is reduced to practically zero. Rockin’ in the Free World.

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Sly & Robbie NME feature '81 Girlschool NME cover '81 Sinatra, NME Jan '85

Posted in Design, Magazines, Music. | 2 Comments |

Jaga Jazzist ‘Starfire’ / ‘Oban’

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This is the stunning new album from Jaga Jazzist, not only contender for cover design of 2015 by a very long margin but also heading for top 10 album of the year status too. It’s taken a while for me to fully appreciate Jaga but with each album they’ve crept further into my orbit so that now each release has to be checked out. ‘Starfire’, after only a few listens, I can quite confidently say, is my favourite so far and it sees a slightly more electronic mission statement than before whilst still retaining the uber-tight Zappa-like syncopation of previous work.

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The design on the sleeve is magnificent here as well and really compliments the futuristic feel of the music perfectly. Browsing the new releases in Fopp the other day I was struck by how little of the current crop of album designs stood out, possessed any kind of classic iconography or would make me want to look at them twice. So much of the ‘style’ of the last few years of the kind of music that racks up kudos from the critics seems to be about minimal, safe, almost nonchalant anti-design, designers afraid to go all out and make a statement or content to reference past styles.
The Jaga sleeve, besides being striking yet minimal, has a clever trick up its sleeve – or should that be on it?. It comes in a screen printed transparent outer cover of evenly spaced vertical lines that animate keys graphics underneath on both front and back as you slowly pull the inner cover out. This effect is being billed as ‘anamorphic’ in the press releases but that’s more about stretching an image, this process is closer to the ‘moire effect’ that tricks the eye into believing that objects are moving as the black and white lines move past each other, much like a TV screen flicker.

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Aside from the outer cover gimmick, the typography on it is stunning, look at those titles above, that must be a custom made face that works with just the right dose of sci-fi and heavy metal styling to make it unique. The labels and second inner sleeve work beautifully to counterpoint the blackness of the outer as well, as does the companion single, ‘Oban’.

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Coming from the Bridget Riley school of Op-Art the single’s sleeve is right in your face, begging you to pick it up. I take my hat off to Martin Kvamme who is credited with the design just for the elegant graphic solution to the 33 rpm speed text on the label, so few designers would bother devising something different these days.
Both releases are out now on Ninja Tune – go and grab them, music that needs to be held as much as heard.

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Soulwax ‘Any Minute Now’ 7″ promo stickers

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I found this in an East London record store about a month back, it looks like Soulwax‘s ‘Any Minute Now’ but it doesn’t come with a 7″ record inside the sleeve. Designed by Trevor Jackson, and part of one of his most iconic series of designs, it’s a promo pack of four stickers with his striking op-art graphics from the campaign he designed around their album ‘Any Minute Now’.

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Speaking of Trevor, he’s just released the regular vinyl and CD editions of his own album, ‘Format’ via The Vinyl Factory. There’s a great interview here where he speaks about his career and the new record with Gilles Peterson.

Mega Mad Max vehicle round up

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I’m still buzzing about seeing Mad Max this past weekend (I went a second time on Sunday evening) and the web seems to be aglow with positive reviews and articles on everything from Dayna Grant, Charlize Theron‘s stunt double, to how they realised the bungee hanging guitarist in the red onesie. I want to focus on the vehicles and concept designs that led to them in this post and you’ll see how closely they were followed and realised in the final film.
Above we see a mock up – by comic illustrator and concept artist Brendan McCarthy, also co-writer of the film – of a proposed graphic novel for Fury Road, the fourth installment of the Mad Max saga. Below are designs for vehicles and characters that he worked on, amazingly dating from 1997! Brendan has a new website that these were taken from that includes tons of his other comic and film work, he’s the master of psychedelic imagery, few can portray altered states as he can so make a note of anything you missed if you take a look. Incidentally, there’s an official comic debuting this week, published by Vertigo, DC‘s more indie offshoot, that digs into some of the character’s back stories.

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Tony ‘Riot’ Wright, an associate and sometime collaborator of McCarthy’s, was also invited to Australia to provide storyboards for the film in 1999 but ended up doing concept designs. He posted these images and more on his blog with some background to his involvement.

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The task of realising these images in the flesh (or should that be metal?) was down to production design, Colin Gibson and I managed to snag this extensive interview with him from the film’s press people late last week. *WARNING – possible spoilers in the text but Colin does have a very poetic turn of phrase*

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On Mad Max: Fury Road, you were faced with the task of making vehicles that look cool but that are also sturdy enough to survive the rigors of filming in the Namibian desert. That has to create a ton of difficulties, marrying the machine to the role.

COLIN GIBSON: They had to perform, and, like any other character, had a part to play in fleshing out the story and making believable the world they inhabit. Technically, the desert terrain and climate made for logistic problems (overheating, wear on suspension, clogged aspirators, etc), but those very antagonisms added to the beauty and sheer physics of the action with swirling dust, spat sand and airborne vehicles. We design to the story and react to the reality, and each adds truth to the other. Further, we designed the design process to resemble as much as possible the HOW of the Warboys: scavenge, assemble, increase grunt, weaponize, increase grunt, add cup-holder, set off to war with v8 roar…

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There’s a classiness to the muscle cars and some of the older models that makes them timeless, but also kind of harkens back to a time when you actually drove a car.

COLIN GIBSON: Well, that was part of the ethos. There’s the double helix of film design, one strand the requirements and logistics of the film-making, one the truth and logic of the story and the world we are in. Mad Max was set at the end of the ‘70s, and we wanted to use that as a starting point, yet now it’s far further into a future in freefall toward feudalism. So, why are we still using these cars? How do we justify this look? We have basically three fantastic reasons…

Number one, if you’re going to go to war you want heavy Detroit steel rather than carbon fiber. Number two: the analog/digital divide…You also want something you can fix yourself that has balls and grunt, but that is also mechanical, as opposed to computer chipped and plugged in. Number three, in a world of scarce resources and lost beauty, I can’t see anybody schlepping a Corolla halfway across the wasteland to save.

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Tell us about the rolling nightmare called the People Eater? It looks like it’s got a Mercedes chassis to it.

COLIN GIBSON: Yeah. In [director] George [Miller]’s mind, the People Eater truck was always representative of the corporate industrial military complex. A horizontal cracking tower on wheels, refining fuels from oil even as it hurtled across the desert. The head of Gas Town is pretty much large, bald, and be-suited—a bean counter who drives to kill and kills to acquire; he’s all about bartering fuel for water and munitions, so the story required his vehicle to be huge, corporate, military …and it was fated to explode in a massive climax. With the People Eater chassis, I was lucky enough that a wedding company closed down and their pair of old Mercedes stretch limos were up for sale, cheap. So, they became him. And then we did a little lattice cut-out instead of windows, as glass was rare and because he always struck me as Sydney Greenstreet in a Casablanca Café—a large, corpulent man counting coins in the back of a casbah.

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There’s a Volkswagen Bug that we used for one of the Gas Town vehicles and we decided to make it the vehicle that tracked with him, like the fish that track with sharks to eat the parasites, the remora. (We were desperate to use a Volkswagen, and the lead Imperator of Gas Town has a domed bald head, is quite round and corpulent, so the Beetle became the perfect choice). It was beaten back to bare metal because it gave us the shiny, chrome dome; we aped the piping, drums, coils and condensation vats in shape and color to mimic the larger unit and viola, the beetle is reimagined, recycled and reborn.

Did you apply that same logic to each vehicle?
COLIN GIBSON: To each vehicle. We built close to 150 vehicles total but there were eighty-eight set characters.

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The Mad Max Interceptor is very iconic in signature, but you’re not overly bound to expectations. Did you feel you had something of a blank canvas to adapt it for this story?

COLIN GIBSON: A blank canvas that absolutely must be filled with ‘Interceptor.’ We open with Max’s car as the last remaining beat of the Mad Max world, last gasp of a legend lost to fight or flight, running on fumes, rolling on rags, rust to dust… We pass the baton, we hand the dim memory of myth to the new Max, and we wipe it out in the opening scenes of the film. It’s there and then it’s not. And a little later, we do as the Wasteland does, what man is forced to do—salvage and recycle—and the Interceptor returns, ground bare and rebuilt, jacked up and juiced, four-wheel drived and double aspirated, weaponized to wreak havoc in an ever more brutal future. Max must do battle with his own past.

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Does Immortan Joe have two cars in the film?

COLIN GIBSON: The Immortan Joe really owns all the vehicles in the Wasteland, his fiefdom, his armada, all the steering wheels his, the vehicles gifted to the Warboys only to further his ambitions. The Immortan takes over a monster truck at one stage to navigate an avalanche-strewn canyon and jockey his son to battle, but his real vehicle—the Giga-Horse—is probably my favorite because it was built from the ground up. Deep in the dim, dark Rev-Head past, the glory of a Cadillac’s tail fin still haunts the imagination. The glory days before the Fall, a snatch of song tugging at the heart, the gas-guzzling joy of once having been able to put one arm out the window and your other arm around the girl, hit the accelerator and live, be someone … a luxury long lost.

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So, in a world where there is barely one of anything, only the Master may have a pair. We took great delight in taking a couple of 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Villes, tail fins akimbo and red rocket brake lights glowing, cutting them down the center, mounting them one atop the other in flagrante delicto, tipped at a rakish angle over a pair of giant blown V8s, slaved through a custom transmission to harmonize in a deep bass rumble and drive two-meter-high double rear wheels into the Wasteland.

madmax_doofwagon In the trailer, we see a vehicle with a rocker swinging from it while shredding on his guitar as this armada storms into the Wasteland. What can you tell us about that?

COLIN GIBSON: The Doof Wagon. This is an army scavenging across the Wasteland for what’s left, fighting over the scraps, and every army needs a Little Drummer Boy. George imagined one bigger and louder than ever seen before, something raw and raucous to drive the troops on to glory or to death. So, the kid with a drum became Spinal Tap on wheels, a high-speed, high volume wailing rock concert hurtling across the bloodied terrain, Taiko drummers strapped to repurposed metal ducting beating a brutal rhythm for Coma the guitarist, blind and bungee-slung, before the last Marshall stack in existence in the moshpit at the end of the world.

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Can you talk about the Bullet Farmer vehicle, what it is and what it does? That’s an inspired look.

COLIN GIBSON: Yeah, but that was inspired by the story. When you’re in a long and constant chase, you need to come up with punctuation, and George, in his storytelling, had some great punctuation—beats that vary the speed and flow of story, let you catch your breath and expand your sense of the personal dramas unfolding. The toxic storm, the endless dunes…

Another of the main punctuation points is the Night Bog, which stops a lot of the vehicles because it’s basically a huge, endless bog. And what can go through a bog but a tank?

So, we needed a tank, heavily armed, that could do over 60 kilometers-an-hour, keep up with the progress of the other vehicles, and be ready to be unleashed at this point. There’s a company in the States that builds tanks for mining and also for the U.S. military, and we were lucky enough to have them customize a ‘Ripsaw’ for the film. We adapted one of those, exchanged their diesel engines with a water-cooled Merlin V8, then gave it a brassy muscle car body, aviation parts styling, a shark mouth finish of bullets as teeth … and an enormous armory.

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The motorcycles of the Vuvalini are some impressive machines.

COLIN GIBSON: For the Vuvalini’s bikes, we wrapped some feminine detail and nomadic styling around the leather seat of a repurposed Harley or BMW to give you the last thrill of your last ride before these lovely old bikie chicks took you out with a single shot. Heavy touring motorbikes are not necessarily built for swinging around sand dunes at high speeds with an 80 year-old woman on board, but our bike mechanics and [second unit director / supervising stunt coordinator] Guy Norris and his team did a fantastic job making them do things that we tried to pretend we had designed them for.

There are a lot of motorbikes, and, again, for punctuation and for momentum, there are specific stunts asked of particular tribes. One of the splinter groups that lurks in the canyons, the Rock Riders, are basically hyenas on motorbikes: attack units working almost vertically over rocky terrain. Trail and Trial bikes alike were redesigned and rebuilt for the fantastic riders filling these roles.

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You’ve been working on this project for over a decade in one form or another?

COLIN GIBSON: On and off. I went out looking for locations after George offered me the film in 2000, and had a fantastic time traveling the world visiting all the places no one wanted to go. As it turned out, they all had different flavors of the epic and fantastic, but very few of them had more than one or two, and very few satisfied the logistics of a large crew and a difficult schedule. We were generally missing the huge, rocky canyons in most of the places, because they just didn’t seem to abut a beautiful desert.

Namibia was a great choice because it had the advantage of having four or five different looks. I came back convinced that it was the spot because It had many flavors of desert (sand dune, gibber plain, salt lake and rocky riverbed) and yet, at the end of the day, there were two little seaside towns—one of German and one of English extraction, but all African—where you could have a beer and watch the sun go down and eat German pork knuckle. And then the next day you could be out surrounded by a 360-degree view of absolutely nothing.

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On such a nomadic production, does that present new challenges to your gig in terms of not having the kind of control over everything you’d have in a studio shoot?

COLIN GIBSON: No, I think it’s a great thing. I don’t want control over everything. The director does. You know what directors are like—they can’t keep their sticky fingers off every pixel. [Laughs] We desperately embrace all that comes our way, just the same as with the design process. If you’re going to build from salvage then you can only build from what you can find, and that arm tied behind your back forces ever more creative solutions.

The War Rig looks the way it looks partly because [concept artist] Peter Pound did such a great job imagining it through the original storyboard process, but also because I had to build four of them and therefore needed eight of a particular vehicle from the ‘40s or ‘50s to give me a hot rod look that I could actually find for real. Enter the Chev Fleetmaster, a ubiquitous hulk rusting in paddocks all across our wide, brown land.

This design ethic allowed us to be true to the philosophy our Warboys also had to follow: dream what might have been, salvage what you may, build to do battle and make a fetish of your love and lust. I think that’s what gives us an internal logic and a truth, that we build the machines and pit them against each other and the elements, mankind struggling as ever against itself and against physics. What goes up, comes down; what goes fast, stops hard. History.

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So, there’s a certain element of jazz with the unreliable terrain and atmosphere?

COLIN GIBSON: Oh, it’s an undeniably necessary component. I use the jazz riff concept when you’re working within the trope of post-apocalypse, which has been beaten to death by a whole bunch of B-grade knuckleheads who think welding some barbed wire to a Camaro gives you the future of civilization. Really it’s coming up with a weirder instrument and playing in a different place, and yet still catching bits of old standards. So it really is jazz. You’ve hit the nail on the head. And jazz works better. There’s nothing better than hearing a little Charlie Mingus over the roar of a V8 in an ever widening desert…

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If, after a post as relentless as the film, you’re still fiending for more there’s an article with Jacinta Leong about the actual building of the cars here with detailed plans of some of the main vehicles.

AIAIAI TM-2 Modular headphones

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I don’t often feature tech stuff but I have to share these headphones as much for the packaging as the hardware. Beautifully presented in a box that seals itself with two indented buttons these AIAIAI TM-2 headphones come as a modular system that you build and can easily change to suit your needs. They even have a very nice ‘configurator’ on their site to build your own virtually.

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I started using the TM-1s in the studio a couple of years back after having Sennheiser‘s for an age and the difference is stark. I’m using the S03 drivers in mine – titled ‘Warm’ – and the sound is indeed rich, warm and deep, lots of clarity, kind of like bathing your ears in molten chocolate. The headphone cup is perfect on the ear for long hours too, the tension on the headband just enough not to get uncomfortable and you can forget you have them on (my studio is next door to my kids’ bedroom so I work a lot in headphones in the evenings).

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AIAIAIbags AIAIAIbagsbackThe new modular range consists of 18 different parts (not all contained in the box) including four different drivers, five different ear pads, six cable and three headbands variations. There are studio and DJ set ups and they have a neat locking action on the mini jacks that can be set to pull out if the cable is snagged so that you don’t damage the lead or connection. Any additions or upgrades to the line will presumably be compatible and any damaged parts can easily be exchanged. They’re not cheap but my god they are worth it and beautifully thought out.
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Ninja Tune 25 Expo, Charleville-Mezieres, France

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I keep forgetting to post this – there’s a Ninja Tune 25 Year retrospective currently showing at the Médiathèque Voyelles, 2 Place Jacques Félix, 08000 Charleville-Mézières in France. It’s been curated by Jais Elalouf aka DJ Oof (that’s him below, at the opening night) from his own personal collection and some of my archive. It features many record sleeves, promo posters, proofs and some original artwork and finishes on April 30th so if you’re in the area check it out.

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Secret 7″ 2015

S715EyesIt’s that time of the year again when Secret 7″ rolls around and shows off its wares to the public before sale day. You know the deal by now, seven bands or recording artists provide a track pressed onto a seven inch record. Hundreds of artists are invited to design sleeves for one of the acts but aren’t allowed any titles on the image.

The records are housed inside their respective sleeves, all one-offs, and the public are allowed to buy them at £50 each, the proceeds of which then goes to charity. You have to second guess the covers if you want a particular song which can be tricky but some are more obvious than others. The two sleeves at the top of the post were lenticular so moved when viewed at different angles.

The venture has expanded this year and moved venues to Somerset House where they have seven prints to add to the occasion now. Another addition is a vinyl cutting booth where you can go and make your own one-off 7″ on the spot, you have 15 minutes to record something and £50 gets your song, message or performance on a unique piece of vinyl. Looking round the designs I saw several that I could quite happily own and there seemed to be different themes recurring: lots of Op Art, many more 3D works, flower skulls popped up at least three times and eyes were prominent. I’ve divided my own snaps into lots: graphic, illustration, Op Art and 3D work.

 

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Cavern of Anti-Matter

COAMfrontSometimes you take a punt on a record and it works out even better than you could have hoped. Perusing the racks of Casbah Records in Greenwich a few weeks ago I chanced upon a 7″ with a Julian House-designed sleeve that looked rather fetching. The band was one I hadn’t heard of – Cavern of Anti-Matter – but a quick glance at the credits on the reverse told me that ex-Stereolab leader Tim Gane was involved so I took a gamble and shelled out for the 45.

I liked what I heard upon dropping the needle when I returned home, an instrumental mixture of drums, electronics and guitar with a motorik groove and just enough of that melody that the ‘Lab made their own to lift it. Next port of call was the web to find more of course and I’d missed two 12″s and an album, all on different labels, over the past two years. The LP, ‘Blood Drums’, is available to listen to from Grautag Records but the vinyl isn’t available for love nor money anywhere on the web it seems, please let me know if you find one because it’s even better than the single. I can’t even find anywhere to buy it digitally! A mail to the label has resulted in nothing and their online shop just has a (soon) sign. I guess they aren’t that fussed about selling once the physical product has run out.

An initial ultra limited 12″ that predates the album is also long gone but available from iTunes and features three tracks from the LP (inexplicably listed separately) in different versions – also essential. There’s also another 12″ with two side-long improvisations although this seems to be sold out in most places or expensive on the secondary market. I look forward to hearing more.

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Retro Synth Ads highlights

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Trawling through the Retro Synth Ads site, looking for info on the Arp Omni flexi disc I posted in the Flexibition, I found all manner of great adverts from the 70’s, a time when designers played with the format a bit more. Here are my pick of the ones I came across although there’s over 5 years worth of posts to go through so I probably missed some. The Arp poster above is my favourite, would love one of those framed, there’s also some beautiful typefaces on display too.

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