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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Trevor Jackson ‘F O R M A T’ launch

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Thursday night saw the launch of Trevor Jackson‘s first release in 14 years, ‘F O R M A T’, hosted at the Vinyl Factory space under Brewer St. car park on the heart of Soho. The release consists of 12 tracks and is initially being made available on 12 different kinds of media with 1 track per format.

These range from 12″, 10″ and 7″ vinyl, CD and mini CD, DAT, VHS, Cassette, USB card, Minidisc, 8-track cartridge and 1/4″ tape reel. The numbers of the edition drop as the format gets more obscure so while the 12″ is pressed up at 500 copies the 1/4″ reel is in an edition of only 10 available with the complete box set of all 12 formats. Prices start at £10 and slowly creep up as the numbers get more limited until you get to the full box set at an eye-watering £850. There is also a poster of all 12 formats available in an edition of 100 with each piece signed and numbered. See, hear and buy the full line up at www.formatvf.com

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At the opening last Thursday guests were directed into the car park and downstairs to a space with a free bar at one end and a table selling the various formats that make up the album at the other. A second dark, enclosed space housed a wall of 12 huge screens opposite corresponding plinths with two sets of headphones. Each format and track was represented by a different film of it being played on the corresponding equipment, not a one shot YouTube-style video but varying close ups of the act of loading the format as well as associated graphics such as time displays, VU meters, rotating spools and platters etc.

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What’s different about how this album came to be is that Trevor had over 100 tracks that he’d worked on over the past 14 years but only finished last year. This isn’t an album in the conventional sense, none of the tracks were intended to work together, they’ve been cherry-picked from the archive and exist in isolation from each other at the exhibition, preview-able via the headphones. Likewise (at the moment) each track exists in isolation if you buy it physically. Even the spaced letters of the ‘F O R M A T’ title suggest a disengagement from each other or maybe that’s just the graphic designer in me reading more into it. There was no playback of the full record and it will be interesting to see how the tracks hang together when the collection is released in two months time.

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About the music, as it’s not been mentioned as much as the packaging and concept yet: everything I heard was instrumental, electronic, stark, minimal and very brittle sounding. Knowing Trevor’s methods and tastes I’d guess that a lot of this has been made using original kit rather than samples and his ‘Metal Dance’ compilations point the way to the sonic palette he’s using. Baring in mind I’ve only heard approximately two thirds of the record (it was a very busy night with only two heaphone sets per track) my description above may be a little skewed.
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The 7″ track, ‘They Came From NY’ for instance, features an unidentified voice intoning a few lines and the ending disintegrates into random background sounds that slowly coalesce into a mutant jazz ensemble before being abruptly cut off. ‘In Your Hands’ - the VHS format that also includes the video – was my favourite from what I heard, an edit of a 7 minute plus ambient piece with a film of a dancing form that had been forced through some sort of video distortion technique.

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My friend Frode Heieren pointed out that if you added up the 11 separate formats they would cost over £300 and yes, the pricing is crazy if you look at it like that. It aligns the work with the art and fashion worlds rather than the music industry, way out of proportion to the majority of similar objects sold elsewhere. The way each piece is sold is in the same manner as the art world too, these won’t be available in shops, only at the show and online, and each piece comes with a signed, numbered card that states which number you have and there’s the difference.

You’re buying part of an edition and the art world dictates that the lower the edition the higher the price. If you want to get into that side of things then you’ll spend the money – personally I bought a 7″ and cassette as well as a poster, certainly the most I’ve ever spent on either of those formats new. You’re getting 1 track per format and I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that that’s a good deal but you’re buying an artifact here on a format of your choice and it’s more about your preferred media than the track it contains.
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If you don’t want to get into that then the whole album will be released in 2 months on vinyl, CD and download. Realistically very few people are going to be able to play a DAT, tape reel or 8 track cartridge so the editions are low and the prices high. That’s going to frustrate the completists but it’s also a very clever way to stop the album leaking in full as it’s unlikely that anyone is going to buy the box set and stick it online.

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The full box set is inordinately expensive though, I thought it would be £2-300 tops and that’s the only bit where the pricing seemed out of whack to me. It puts it into the realms of the 1% and that’s something I’m personally not a fan of. But then again I have no idea how much it all cost to make, source and produce and the Vinyl Factory have never been known to be cheap which is why they’re one of the best at what they do. Trevor has said that there is no way he’s making a penny from it unless the box sets sell as sourcing things like 1/4″ reels and 8-Track cartridges aren’t exactly cheap or easy. Anyone who has experience of pressing records will also know that the lower the pressing, the higher the cost per item. From my own experience, I made 30 playable postcard records for the launch of the ‘Search Engine’ album exhibition in 2012 and, even selling them at £8 each, I only just broke even. But let’s not get into the crass subject of money and costings…

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Most of all, the whole concept and execution is excellent and has had me thinking about music packaging from a different perspective in the same way that a good exhibition or film leaves you questioning things. I found the most successful presentation of the set was actually a framed version hanging on the wall, displaying each format rather than hiding them away in a box. I’d wager that those who bought items on the night probably acquired them more as artifacts of the show and, after a cursory listen, are more likely to display them than play them, certainly with the limited numbered formats. This has been happening for a while now if you speak to record shop owners who quiz their customers on their buying habits with many physical releases.

It will be interesting to see how much makes its way to the secondary market and how they appreciate in value over time, something I don’t think we can discount in this age of investment buying and flipping. A quick web search shows nothing on eBay or Discogs which is refreshing but will these prices seem like chicken feed in years to come? I know that Trevor’s intention couldn’t have been further from any thoughts of long term fiscal appreciation and would have been focused on the concept and presentation and ‘F O R M A T’ is a love letter to the physical in a time when more and more people are interested in owning a tangible manifestation of what they’re paying for again. In terms of innovative ways to present an album Trevor has broken new ground here and, despite the elitist pricing, I think that makes it a success.

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Early Mo Wax designs by Ian ‘Swifty’ Swift

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I love some of these designs from the first 20 or so releases from Mo Wax by Ian ‘Swifty’ Swift. I’ve purposely excluded the more well known releases like RPM, DJ Shadow, Attica Blues and La Funk Mob that came to characterize the label later and focused on the less well remembered artists. The first 3 releases had stickers like obi-strips on white sleeves and later they were printed on the covers.

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Ian McQue Lander lushness

IMcQ_TowardsToshiStation IMcQ_VTOLIMcQ_ElsonInd_TheGuppyI follow Ian McQue on Twitter and have posted about him a couple of times now, his output and range never ceases to amaze me and he does these in a matter of hours. Here’s a collection of recent vehicles that sees a departure from his tugboat images of old.

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Check his beautiful black & white work below and he does a fine line in scenery and twisted old trees too. Also he put out a new sketchbook last year, the brilliantly titled (or groan-inducing if you hate puns) ‘Mechs & The City’. His online store has just reopened with restocks of prints and two sketchbooks.

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The Rammellzee returns

There’s been something in the air recently concerning (The) Rammellzee, firstly there was the old interview that surfaced, pressed up for last year’s Mo Wax exhibition. Then Rammellzeeappeared on Twitter last month, despite passing away in 2010… most strange. I got word that this was something to do with Gamma Proforma and a forthcoming project was hinted at. Then this morning Dan Lish posted his take on early Wildstyle-era Ramm as part of his Egostrips series…

D_Lish-Rammellzee…pretty great huh? and this is only the black & white version.

Then the bombshell: Gamma announces a new release entitled ‘Brainstorm’ from an unreleased album, ‘Cosmic Flush’, Rammellzee’s magnum opus, recorded before his death. This will be the first part of a set and this edition will consist of vinyl (with a remix by Divine Styler) and a print by Ian Kuali’i, released March 30th. Preorder HERE

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Definitely something in the air.

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“An eye for an eye, a truth for a truth”

Eyes01www-scarfolk-blogspot-comRichard Littler‘s Scarfolk blog just keeps on giving, the latest entry is one of the best, a perfect balance of the horror and dark humour that the site thrives on coupled with excellent graphic creations to match. I can’t recommend the book enough and, if you pop into Forbidden Planet to buy one (in London at least), they also have a fine line in Scarfolk mugs, birthday cards and magnets too.

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uhu02 Sci-Fi paper craft from Japan

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An expert in paper craft from Japan called (I think) uhu02 has made these incredibly detailed ships, droids and weapons from classic sci-fi and fantasy films. His/her uhu02 Paper Craft site “It is a production diary of precision Paper Craft (model) with a focus on items that appeared in the movie” has detailed photos and even downloadable plans to make them. Don’t think this is an easy few hours cutting, folding and gluing though, it’ll take you that long to get through his site.

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There’s is so much to see, the detail on the Lunar Lander is just insane and what’s most impressive is the scale, most of the ships you can easily hold in one hand.
Original link from Sploid via the excellent Ian McQue

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Freehand Food compatibility issues

Recipe_LP_layout_screengrabI’ve been wrestling with old laptops and copies of Freehand all day to try and open the original artwork for the ‘A Recipe For Disaster’ album. I managed to extract the original files from the first ever disc I burned back in 1997 which houses the first work I did for Ninja Tune on it. To think that the first designs were made in 1994 but I didn’t think to archive them until 1997 says a lot about how small the file sizes were back then. The first LP I ever designed for Ninja was 9 Lazy 9‘s ‘Electric Lazyland’ and it all fitted on a 1.4MB floppy disc!

So, ‘Recipe…’ came out in the Autumn of 1995 and I was using Aldus Freehand 3.1 to lay out my designs and deal with type. At the time there were four main programs: the ubiquitous Photoshop, the fiddly Quark Express (good for laying out books and magazines), Illustrator and Freehand. The last two weren’t that dissimilar and were both good at drawing in vectors but you could do decent layouts with them as long as you didn’t want to use reams of text across multiple pages. For some reason I learned Freehand at college instead of Illustrator so that’s what I stuck to, along with Photoshop to manipulate the images, and most Ninja sleeves were done using this in the 90’s and 00’s.

FH9_10Along the way Freehand got bought by Macromedia and made some big jumps between versions which rewrote a lot of the internals apparently whilst still being backwards compatible with older versions. As with any applications, they’re at the mercy of the Operating Systems they’re made to run on and, through the years, Freehand had to make some big changes. It was finally bought by Adobe and then unceremoniously dumped with everything after Mavericks refusing to run the app. But even before this, getting older versions to open on newer Macs was a task and the files I recovered from 1995 just came up with ‘unsupported format’ messages when I tried to open them in Freehand 10, Illustrator and more.

Even on an old laptop running the OS 9 ‘Classic’ environment I had no joy until I remembered that Freehand 5.5 was a big upgrade and should be able to read the older FH3 files. But I couldn’t find a copy anywhere, not on archive discs or the web, the oldest version I had was Freehand 7. As a last resort I booted that up on the old laptop (all 24 MBs of app) and lo and behold, it worked! Here’s the lesson; don’t throw away those old applications that aren’t compatible with current operating systems, you never know when you might need them. What you see at the top is the low res preview of the DJ Food LP cover as it appeared this afternoon. I know it looks crappy but that’s all I need to work with and I’d rather have that than have to remake the whole thing from scratch.

Food Favourites of 2014

This isn’t a ‘best of 2014′ list – just the things that I liked more than most, they’re not definitive or in an order other than the one I thought of them in.

• New Music:
The Soundcarriers – Entropicalia LP (Ghost Box)
Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger – Midnight Sun LP (Chimera)
Jane Weaver – The Silver Globe LP (Bird)
Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles – The Last Transmission LP (Now Again)
Jeremy Schmidt / Sinoia Caves – Beyond The Black Rainbow LP (Death Waltz)
Jokers of the Scene – End Scene LP (Throne of Canada)
Nico Motte – Rheologia EP (Antinote)
An-I – Kino-i 12” (Cititrax)
The Advisory Circle – From Out Here LP (Ghost Box)
Temples – Sun Structures / Sun Restructured LP (Heavenly)
Andy Votel / Doug Shipton – Polivox Orthodox mixtape (Finders Keepers)
Daniel Haaksman – Duck Rock – A Sonic Essay (mixtape)
tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain 7″ (4AD)
Pye Corner Audio – The Black Mist EP (Front &Follow)
Mac McRaw feat. Audessey & Oxygen – B-Boy Bionics / Dust 12″ (Cold Rock Stuff)
Ukkonen – Change Time EP (Uncharted Audio)
Syd Arthur vs The Amorphous Androgynous LP (Monstrous Bubble Records)

2014 Music

• Reissues:
John Carpenter / Alan Howarth – Halloween III (updated version) LP (Death Waltz)
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Inside the Pleasuredome box set (ZTT/USM) (biased obviously)
The The – Soul Mining box set (Sony)
Z – Visions of Dune LP (Infiné)

2014 reissues

• Sleeves / Packaging:
Astralasia – Wind On Water LP (Fruits De Mer)
Jack White – Lazaretto LP (Third Man)
(Not so much for the cover but for the whole package and vinyl cutting extravaganza)
Joe Mansfield – Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession (Gingko Press)
Andrew Lilies – The Equestrian Vortex 10″ (Death Waltz)
Temples – Sun Restructured LP (Lenticular sleeve) (Heavenly)
Various – Wild Style Breakbeats (7″s + book) (Kay-Dee)
Sage Francis, B. Dolan, Buddy Peace – Epic Beard Men 7″ (Blunt Force Trauma)
Rave Wars 3 – The Return of the Old School (7″ + Star Wars figure) (Balkan Vinyl)
Clone – Son of Octabred (Finders Keepers)
Sculpture – Plastic Infinite
The Soundcarriers – Entropicalia LP (Ghost Box)

2014 sleeve art

• Books / Comics:
Prophet – Simon Roy & Brandon Graham / various artists (Image)
B.P.R.D. – Various (Dark Horse)
Punks – The Comic – Joshua Hale Fialkov & Kody Chamberlain (Image)
God Hates Astronauts – Ryan Browne (Image)
Black Science – Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, Dean White (Image)
Hip Hop Family Tree 1&2 – Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
Sandman: Overture – Neil Gaiman & J. H. Williams III (Vertigo)
Discovering Scarfolk – Richard Littler (Ebury Press)
Dust & Grooves – Eilon Paz (self-published)
The Art of Smallfilms – Oliver Postgate, Peter Firmin, Jonny Trunk (Four Corners Books)
Urban Archaeology - 21 Years of Mo Wax – James Lavelle (Rizzoli International)
2000 TC – John Higgs (self-published)
2000ad / Judge Dredd The Megazine – Various (Rebellion)
Moosekid Comics – Various (self-published)
For Whom The Cowbell Tolls – Dan LeRoy (6623) (biased again)

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• Films: (I didn’t watch too much this year sadly)
Blade Runner (finally saw it at the cinema)
Guardians of the Galaxy
Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary with Jodorowsky Q&A
The Cobbler & The Thief with Richard Williams Q&A
Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD documentary with Pat Mills, Kev O’Neill & crew Q&A
The Lego Movie
Ghost Box Night at the ICA
Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys
Jet Propelled CinemaHow Psychedelia Infected Hollywood Sci-Fi at the BFI

2014 films

• Moments:
Touring the 3-Way Mix with Cheeba & Moneyshot
Cosmic Trigger – The Play
Meeting Brian Eno
Kid Koala‘s ‘Nufonia Must Fall’ show at the Roundhouse
Interviewing Matt Johnson at Rough Trade East
Future Shock gig at the Watershed, Bristol with Cheeba & Tom Lumen
Designing for Frankie Goes To Hollywood / ZTT
Space In This Place gig at the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London
Welcome To The Pleasuredome playback at Sarm West Studios
Digital Revolution exhibition at the Barbican with the family
Visiting underground caves in Switzerland
4 deck AV show at Madrid Espacio with DK
One of my sons getting a drawing printed in the Phoenix comic
Ryoji Ikeda‘s ‘Spectra’ installation in the Queen Victoria Park
Adam Ant playing Dirk Wears White Sox at the Hammersmith Odeon
Crazy DJ weekend in Eketerinberg and Samara in Russia
Mike McMahon finally finishing my Dredd commission after 2 years.

2014 moments

• Heros:
Ben Coghill (agent)
DJs Cheeba & Moneyshot
Philip Marshall (designer), Ian Peel (writer) & Steve Bunyan (USM organiser)
Eilon Paz (photographer)
Carlos Ezquerra (artist)
Rob Williams (writer)
Jamie Smart (childen’s comic creator)

• RIP:
Rik Mayall
HR Giger
Robin Williams
Tony Benn
Idris Muhammad
Bob Hoskins
Hope & Greenwood (East Dulwich branch of the sweet shop)

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• Looking forward to:
Renegades of Rhythm tour (DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist)
Mad Max : Fury Road
21st Century Tank Girl book
The Writing On The WallRoger Perry book
John Carpenter – Lost Themes LP
Create A Mess
Trevor JacksonFormat LP
The TheHyena soundtrack
Black Channels
Prophet: Earth War
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Dust & Grooves book 2nd edition + postcard set

D&G_2_postcardsThe 2nd edition of the Dust & Grooves book by Eilon Paz arrived just before Xmas along with a beautiful set of 48 postcards, both in sturdy slipcases. Of course I’m biased but the quality in these are beyond the usual and when I say ‘postcards’ it’s a bit of an understatement because these large format cards are only one step away from an actual print in terms of quality. I’d be splitting up a great set if I ever actually sent any out into the world – you can get a set here along with the 2nd edition of the book (with extra Questlove interview) here.
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