XX book US edition and Celestial Mechanic EP release

XX US edition

The US release of Rian Hughes’ debut novel, ‘XX’ happened yesterday, the book, as mentioned before, is a sci-fi epic coupled with graphic design elements throughout. To mark the occasion we have a new 30 minute Celestial Mechanic EP out via Bandcamp with a 17 minute remix of ‘The Signal’ and several piano pieces created for the album but unused in the final mix.
Check it out here https://celestialmechanic.bandcamp.com/album/the-signal-retransmission and if you like it there’s a whole album too, made by myself and Saron Hughes with contributions from Robin The Fog on tapes and Saron’s husband, Peter Harris on guitar.
Rian’s book is out on Overlook Press with a different cover, if you’re in the US you can order it here.
Also, Thursday night, Nov 12th, Rian is doing another web chat with writer Grant Morrison online and it’s free! Log on at 7pm Eastern Time, more details here

US DUSTJACKET AS EP COVER (Black)

New Celestial Mechanic EP

US DUSTJACKET AS EP COVER (Black)To celebrate the US publication of Rian Hughes book, ‘XX, A Novel, Graphic’ on Nov 10, we have a new 30 minute Celestial Mechanic EP out today, including a 17 minute remix of ‘The Signal’ alongside satellite piano variations made during the ‘Citizen Void’ LP.
https://celestialmechanic.bandcamp.com/album/the-signal-retransmission

Celestial Mechanic is a new project I’m part of, directed by Rian Hughes and in collaboration with his sister, pianist Saron Hughes. Rian put us together and commissioned a soundtrack for his book earlier this year. In his novel “XX” he includes a review of a fictional album based on a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin. I and Saron were tasked with the job of taking this review and making the album a reality. In what may be a first, the review actually preceded the music.

“XX” is published by Picador (UK) August 20 2020, Overlook Press (US) November 10 2020.

 

Old Ninja line art

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Searching through old discs for something else I ran across these line-based designs for what became the Ninjatune.net website identity in the 00’s. Old heads will immediately recognise the Ninja Tune forum layout and colours. For a few years, after the mass Warp forum exodus had settled, it became a buzzing hive of creativity and connections in the pre-Myspace and Facebook era of social media. I still have good friends that I made through the forum and much fun was had on it over the years. Sadly, like anything, times change, people come and go and the largely unmoderated board eventually became overrun with trolls and any new blood attempting to join was faced with a barrage of abuse or an inpenetrable wall of in-jokes that would test even the hardened fan.
Anyway – here’s some of the design work, made so that it would be quick and easy to see at different sizes and pixel ratios I seem to remember – at least that’s what I was told to do by the web designer at the time. It all looks a little blurred because it’s been upscaled from Index-colour pngs to RGB jpegs. The bottom image is a flyer for a forum party, something that occasionally happened, self-initiated by users who wanted to meet the faces behind the names.

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Forgotten Graphics Instagram takeover

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All this week I’ll be doing guest posts on the Forgotten Graphics Instagram account with the contents of the cupboards in a chalet I used to holiday in in the Swiss Alps. One year we were rained in all day so I photographed some of the many games, books and toys stuffed in the packed cupboards there. Most had been in the family for decades and were French, German or Swiss in origin from the 60s and 70s so had a period charm I’d never seen before. Take a look over at forgottengraphics and give them a follow as they post beautiful images all the time.

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Rian Hughes’ XX book featured in Electronic Sound

ES XX spread

Very pleased to see Rian Hughes’ new book ‘XX – A Novel, Graphic’ featured so prominently in the new issue of Electronic Sound magazine with a double page of layouts.If you want an idea of what the book’s about then Sci-Fi Now has a very good review.

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The Celestial Mechanic album that I created with Saron Hughes and Robin the Fog soundtrack’s the novel and also gets a mention – you can hear that here https://celestialmechanic.bandcamp.com

Print

 

The Life of Barney Bubbles podcast

IMG_6460 I’ve highlighted The Bureau of Lost Culture podcasts before and in the latest instalment Stephen Coates interviews writer and biographer Paul Gorman about the life of designer Barney Bubbles. Paul wrote the definitive (and only) book about Barney’s work, Reasons To Be Cheerful and recounts his fascinating but ultimately tragic story.

Paul has also recently set up a Barney Bubbles Estate Instagram account where he’s posting examples and rarities from his collection. Even if you’re not familiar with his name, you may well be familiar with his work.
There have recently been a slew of great interviews from The Bureau, focussing on Hawkwind, the history of Goth, Biba, groupies, The UFO club and more. The easiest way to listen to them is via their Soundcloud page

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BT Sport Champions League zoetrope commission


I was commissioned by BT Sport to make a zoetrope for use in a video for the Champions League football final on August 23rd. The video is for a new song from Doves‘ forthcoming album and the zoetrope would be intercut with footage of them performing in front of an old carousel with footage from clips on the discs zooming into full frame. I worked closely with Creative Lead Andrew Maddox to pull together clips and make sure the discs best represented what they needed (I know absolutely nothing about football!).


During the August heatwave weekend I literally sweated over a hot computer and emerged Monday morning with not one but four zoetropes from the footage they’d given me. These were then refined over the next two days and then printed 12″ size before being stuck down to vinyl discs and filmed on a turntable with digital versions animated in After Effects. Sadly they didn’t make the final cut in the end. Gutting, but here they are for you anyway.

I think I’m cursed with zoetropes this year. Despite being asked to do more than ever, the lot I did back in January for an unnamed artist went unused after he wouldn’t pay me. A second (very exciting) one should be happening but stalled when lockdown hit, a third design for Pendulum was passed over as they decided to go with their original design and now this. Two that I did for the group Peninsula‘s album got stalled by the Covid shutdown but are now happening thankfully.


BT Sport did a great job on the final video though

Here are the discs before they spin and animate

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Celestial Mechanic – Citizen Void album

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Released today is a new album of music I’ve been working on over the past few months – ‘Citizen Void’ by Celestial Mechanic. The music is a companion to the debut novel by designer, illustrator and typographer, Rian Hughes, ‘XX – A Novel, Graphic’. The book is released in hardback in the UK today (later this year in the US) by Picador and, as you can see from these photos, it’s a huge, beautifully-designed monster at nearly 1,000 pages.

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This is no ordinary novel, as with everything Rian does, the devil is in the detail and the book is a beautifully designed object in itself, both inside and out. This is also not a graphic novel or a straight prose sci-fi tale as you can see from some of the spreads below. Synopsis from the Picador press release:

‘At Jodrell Bank a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin has been detected. Artificial Intelligence expert Jack Fenwick thinks he can decode it. But when he and his associates at Hoxton tech startup Intelligencia find a way to step into the alien realm the signal encodes, they discover that it’s already occupied – by ghostly entities that may come from our own past.

Have these ‘DMEn’ (Digital Memetic Entities) been created by persons unknown for just such an eventuality? Are they our first line of defence in a coming war, not for territory, but for our minds?

XX presents a compelling vision of humanity’s unique place in the universe, and of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history.

As compelling as it is visually striking, Rian Hughes’ first novel incorporates NASA transcripts, newspaper and magazine articles, fictitious Wikipedia pages, undeciphered alphabets, and ‘Ascension’, a forgotten novelette by 1960s counterculture guru Herschel Teague that mysteriously foreshadows events.

Wrapping stories within stories, Rian Hughes’ XX unleashes the full narrative potential of graphic design. Drawing on Dada, punk and the modernist movements of the twentieth century, it ask us who we think we are – and where we may be headed next.’

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Even if you’re unfamiliar with Rian and his work, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen it at some point over the last 35 years. He wears many hats, from writing and illustrating comics for 2000AD, Escape, and the much-heralded return of Dan Dare for the short-lived Revolver in the early 90s to designing logos for virtually any character and publisher who’s anyone in the comics world. His branding for the Forbidden Planet franchise is still in place over two decades later, he’s authored books about 20th century advertising, the sci-fi artist Chris Foss and published collections of his comic work and burlesque life drawings. He’s also an accomplished typographer having designed hundreds since the 90s, first with the FontFont house and now for his Device Fonts imprint.

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Above are just some of the covers of the book within the book, Herschel Teague‘s ‘Ascension’, which features a certain Celestial Mechanic as its central character.

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So why have I written an album of music to go with a sci-fi novel?

Part of the book features a cover design and review of an album by a fictitious group, Celestial Mechanic, for their album ‘Citizen Void’, created by taking an alien signal from space and working it into musical forms.

Rian commissioned me, along with his sister, classically-trained pianist Saron Hughes, to make this album and it may well be the first album written after the review.

The basis for much of the material was Saron’s solo piano experiments which I then took and reworked, masses of NASA recordings from space, some of which went through generative sound apps that spat them out in a myriad of ways. Tape experiments left over from the forthcoming album by The New Obsolescents that I made with Howlround were also pillaged as were pages from Rian’s book which I fed into an image to sound app to generate original samples. The family connections are strong on this project with Saron’s husband, Pete Harris featuring on guitar on one track and her and Rian’s late father, Alan Hughes reading his poem, The Silent Voice’ throughout. One of my sons even provides treated guitar effects on one track.

As anyone who knows me will appreciate, this is a bit of a dream project – music, sci-fi, design, typography, comics – multiple boxes ticked. Working with Rian and collaborating with Saron has been extremely rewarding and we’ve all learnt lots from the experience so far. It’s also nice to sit back and let someone else handle all the design side for a change and not have to do a thing, knowing that the person in charge is more than capable, with years more experience and their own unique vision.

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You can hear it by using the QR code in the book or above (the card above is from a promo copy of the book) or this link to take you to the Bandcamp page. It was always the intention to have two ‘sides’ to the album with the 20 minute epic, ‘The Signal’ taking up the second half, as per the review in the book. The first side is intended to be listened to merged together and this will be included as a bonus download when you purchase the album from Bandcamp.

There isn’t a physical version at the moment, there may never be, the nature of the way the album came to exist in the book and the zeros and ones of the cover design dictated that it should be digital in form. So the book is the nearest thing you’ll get if you want to buy a copy to put on the shelf and it’s an amazing novel, there’s nothing else like it out there that I know of.

No, there won’t be a vinyl or CD version at the moment, maybe if a label expresses an interest but Bandcamp is the only way to get it right now.

No you don’t get the album for free if you buy the book, likewise the book if you buy the album. They are separate entities but are linked and part of the same release.

Rian will be doing an online Q&A with Grant Morrison via the Forbidden Planet site today, Admission to this event comes FREE with every copy of XX (signed hardcover), which also comes with an exclusive signed art card PLUS an exclusive enamel pin for the first 100 customers – order your copy here. A code to access the talk will be mailed on Wednesday 19th August to all Forbidden Planet customers who have purchased a signed copy of XX.

Look for reviews and interviews appearing all over the place too. There are things still in the pipeline for the US release later this year and talk of an audio book, so who knows what will appear between now and then.

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Floating on my desktop

Vibrations poster

I’m very aware that all I seem to post at the moment is a succession of mixes but there’s actually lots going on that I can’t show yet including two album’s worth of new material and several graphic projects which are creeping along through the manufacturing channels for full reveals soon. The images featured here have been on my desktop or phone for some time, sourced from the web and took my fancy for various inspirational reasons. Above is an original poster that was posted on the Psychedelic Light Show Preservation Society group on Facebook.

Below are two photos of Julio Le Parc reflective sculptures, a typographic detail from The White Noise album back cover and something Ameet Hindocha posted on his Instagram the other week, he’s always doing interesting stuff including incredibly complex folding patterns recently.

There’s a King Kong, All Jazz African Opera LP cover that I spotted in The Book & Record Bar the other week and finally an old poster by Build (aka Michael C. Place) that I pulled out of storage recently.

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Infinite Illectrik featured in the new issue of Electronic Sound magazine

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My customized turntable – the Quadraphon as I sometimes call it – is featured in the opening spread of this month’s Electronic Sound magazine including a piece I wrote about it. Once again, the magazine is full of so much it’s hard to know where to start – Suzanne Ciani, Sonic Boom, a tribute to Florian Schneider and a peek inside Neil Arthur’s memorabilia collection as well as tech news, tons of reviews and an exclusive Suzanne Ciani 7″ if you subscribe to the double bundle each month. It’s also still one of the best designed mags on the shelves.

But with a lot of major newsagents and record shops closed they’re relying on subscriptions and mail order right now so if you’ve been meaning to take out a subscription then now’s the time. There are also plenty of back issues and other vinyl in their online shop but those bundles sell out pretty fast.

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CiS062 – The Isolation Tapes pre-order

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Castles in Space brings you a stunning collection of new music recorded in isolation during the COVID19 lockdown – Released 29th May 2020
A total of 50 tracks across CD//Cassette//Download selected from more than 250 submissions.”
CD Pre-order is up now, all profits go to the Cavell Nurses’ Trust

I’m very pleased to have a track on this, a collaboration with my good friend Robin the Fog aka Howlround that we made whilst in lockdown. In fact there’s a whole album ready to go under the title, ‘The Superceded Sounds of The New Obsolescents’.

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This is a compilation of 3 parts though, a CD, Cassette and Download – all with different tracks on them because of the tidal wave of submissions that flooded into the label. Cassette and DL Pre-order is here

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Detuned vs Touched Music wooden slipcase

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One of the ultra-limited wooden slipcases I helped design for the De:tuned vs Touched Music World Cancer Day sale earlier this year sold this week for a whopping £450! All proceeds go to the Macmillan Cancer Trust so thanks whoever bought it. The box was one of only 15 handmade editions, this one was one of five in walnut wood, assembled and engraved by Nathandavid.design. I’m very pleased to have been involved in this project which has gone far and beyond what any of us thought it would when we started discussing it over two years ago. Stay (de)tuned for the final part of the sage next week…

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Savage Pencil – Rated SavX book

Rated SavX bookSavage Pencil aka Edwin Pouncey has been floating in and out of my life for decades now. Whether through the Wiseblood ‘Motorslug’ 12″ insert, ‘Nyak, Nyak’, the Big Black sleeve for their Headache EP or Blast First‘s compilation cover, ‘Nothing Short of Total War‘. He cropped up in the NME and Sounds, doing spot illustrations for album reviews, The Wire magazine with his Primer feature collages and Trip or Squeek cartoon strip and numerous other leftfield magazines.
There he was in Knockabout Comics‘ anthologies, a page here or there in Weirdo or some long-forgotten independent zine or one-off publication. I used to see his Dead Duck comic on the spinner in Forbidden Planet and his designs for Slam City Skates in Covent Garden before going downstairs to Rough Trade where I would find obscure indie singles with his art on the covers, posters of Godzilla-like monsters behind the counter and his biker movie picture disc compilation, ‘Angel Dust’. In recent years I’d run into him at Orbital Comics, signing copies of the latest Satanic Mojo comic, the memorabilia shop in Cecil Court where he sometimes worked or at record fairs where he’d be either selling behind a stall or perusing the bins with Thurston Moore.
Eventually we met properly when I interviewed him for Rough Trade’s 40th anniversary book in 2016 and again when I spoke to both Edwin and Chris Long about their Battle of the Eyes project with the late Andy Dog in a still-unpublished interview. And now he rears his head again in Strange Attractor Press‘ excellent book of his career, ‘Rated SavX’.
This seems to be the definitive book of his work so far, lots of archive-delving has gone on here and there are many lost or unpublished illustrations from across his life whether it be black metal sleeves, fly illustrations, his punk past or his love of Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth’s monster cars and cartoons. It’s all here in eye-straining detail with enough info to have you wishing you’d picked up that tiny print run publication he released all those years ago. Nevertheless, I zipped through it and now have new items on the wants list – highly recommended. There’s still time to get the limited edition hardback of this with extra (S)crapbook of unpublished roughs and Appreciation Society patch from the publisher’s website. While you’re there check the rest of their inventory, they have some fascinating books about counter culture, music, psychedelia and the occult world.

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Contrøverse – Liquid Love/Solid State EP

Contraverse LP

Love this cover for the Contrøverse – Liquid Love/Solid State EP on InFiné.
“The Barcelona-based producer, former member of the experimental duo Downliners Sekt, is back with a solo project and 2 new deceptively simple tracks made for the dancefloor, stitching together his myriad influences. 
As an appetizer, listen to his Broken Mojo Mixtape taken from his own new material, blending together vintage African and South American patterns and flavours with a touch of haunting full analog synthesizer modules. EP available on all digital platforms now.”

Andy Vella design interview

R-76722-1356639563-9261.jpegA few weeks ago I posted a selection of sleeves from the acid house era of Desire records‘ releases which, for a brief moment, showcased some of the best house music to come out of Chicago. The uncredited designer, Andy Vella, was tasked with wrapping these releases in a distinctive house style and, curious about how they came about and who made them, I did some detective work and tracked him down. He is best known for his work with The Cure for the Fiction label (of which Desire was a subsidiary) and I fired him a few generic questions first, to give context and history:

Where, when and what did you study?
I studied at various places, which to be honest were less than effective, however, luckily I ended up at The Royal College of Art and my creative life started to fly.

What was your first notable design that the public would have seen?
The first bit of work the public would have seen was the 60×40 fly poster for the cure’s ‘Primary’ single (it got to number 44 in the charts 1981), I do remember being 18 and walking down Oxford street thinking, ‘that looks familiar’, then realising I had worked on it.

The Cure Primary poster

How did you come to work with the Cure and Fiction Records?
Pure fluke really….and as luck has it I am still working with them.
(From the biography of Andy’s website: “It all began when Andy, then a teenage student in Worthing, had a chance encounter on a train with Porl Thompson, some-time guitarist in the Cure. The pair would go on to form the Parched Art design company, but not before Andy’s photographs had caught the eye of the Cure’s front man Robert Smith who asked him to design the covers of the album Faith and its single Primary.”

Looking you up on by name on Discogs, there’s a gap between 1981 and 1988 and this seems to be the golden period of your collaborative work with Porl Thompson for the Cure under the ‘Parched Art’ banner. Obviously it’s not a complete list of your work though as you aren’t credited for any Desire sleeves at all. 
I went through a phase of not putting my name on lots as I thought it was uncool.

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Whose decision was it to start releasing dance music on Desire, up until the mid 80s it had been sporadically releasing indie rock I think?
Chris Parry, he was also the manger of The Cure and supremo A&R maestro.

Where you into the music? Did you go clubbing in those days?
I loved it. I used to go and hang out with all the guys in Chicago Trax (Chicago of course), they were great and so accepting of me, Fingers Inc, CAN YOU FEEL IT…Yes, Ben Mays, Bam Bam, Destry, Lil Louis was always hanging about.
I remember Chris gave me £20 and an ecstasy tablet and said go to the Café de Paris and design me an album sleeve (In the Key of E) it was great, changed my whole world, shame as later that night ended up in Harry’s and DJ Fat Tony and his mates esp. some bloke who is now a famous author (I should name him) kept referring to me as a rent boy with total hatred in their eyes. Glad I had had the mitsibushi tab otherwise I probably would have thrown them out of the window, homophobic DJs and posse for you.
The world will come and eat you up boys.

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You used photocopying extensively for those early sleeves, not just for distorting type but also for texture too, What influenced you?
Being experimental was always key in my design, trying things out.

You were working in largely uncharted territory with very little except the smiley logo and the early DJ International graphics from the US as any kind of look for the genre, were you left to interpret the music in your own way?
Always like a challenge, recently I designed a book for Glen Matlock about the Sex Pistols (Filthy Lucre tour) and like then, coming up with design/art that does not follow the cliche known style is what good design should be.

Were you working in isolation or did you have assistants? Were you aware of what other designers were doing in the field like Trevor Jackson at Champion and Gee Street or the Designers Republic at Warp?
At this time just working on me own and the artists in Chicago, they loved this stuff.

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You had a thing for type wrapped around curves, I’m presuming this is was all pre-computer and hand-cut and pasted?
Sure was, its so easy now, every letter cut out and pasted down.

There seem to be several releases that re-use old sleeves folded inside out, was this a money-saving exercise?
It was me being really early into re-cycling, this was in 1989, the printers throw this stuff away, I hated the idea of this, so re-purposed it and used it inside, my fav is ‘In The Key Of E’ printed on the reversed board with the Desire house bag on the inside.

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The Charles B ‘Lack of Love’ release has multiple different covers in different colours, was this to distinguish different versions or because of printing errors?
I can’t remember that, maybe I liked the idea of the sleeve forever changing, I did used to swap the printing plates about.

RMC Humanity

Double Trouble and Rebel MC (both together and separately) were most prominent on the label after ’88 and both hugely successful. The licensed US releases stopped, and your stretch lettering and snakeskin look with them. Why was this?
Not sure, guess it was because it was way more commercial. Later on I designed all the Rebel and his Tribal Bass label and created very nice roots-based paper cut-out graphics, based on African art.

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Did you work for any other labels around this time (aside from Fiction) or do other work for dance music like flyers, posters and T-shirts we wouldn’t have seen?
On the back of working with Rebel MC and creating the drum and bass rootsy style, Island records snapped me up and later I worked with many companies and designed all the paperback book covers for Bloomsbury publishing.

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The rest of your work seems to have been more in the indie rock sector, was Desire a case of being in the right place at the right time?
Just love designing and creating.

Are you aware that some of those early releases are now considered classics of the genre and worth a lot of money?
That’s nice, eh?

Do you have any favourites from this time, both musically and design-wise?
All of them, I had a blast and still am. I guess ‘In The Key of E’, it’s a great compilation too. Roger Dean of Yes fame always loved ‘In The Key of E’ and asked me to send him a signed version of the cover, I was flattered beyond belief as he was the hero of every school kid when I was growing up, so nice!

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Andy’s website is here with an extensive gallery of work, you can see him reference the eye from his ‘In The Key of E’ LP cover above at least twice.

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Zoetrope test designs

#1 in a series of zoetrope* elements I started work on last month for an electronic artist’s album project that didn’t work out. I won’t go into why it didn’t happen but I got burned and these are going to sit on a hard drive forever unless I do something with them. So, in an attempt to salvage something out of the process, I’m going to be posting some of my favourites daily (there are LOADS of variations) in the hope that someone will chance upon them and want something similar done.
These are just animated idea sequences, not the full finished pieces and they work with a turntable and viewer to animate like the clips here when rotated. I’m currently developing another zoetrope release with a major artist for later this year and if you want something similar for yourself, band or label then get in touch.

*technically it’s actually a ‘phenakistoscope’ but people find it easier to say zoetrope and explaining the difference is a bore.

 

Desire Records covers

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The Desire Records sleeves I mentioned Pete Isaac referencing on the new 45 Live release were a brief series at the end of the 80s when the label switched into the dance music genre, most specifically, acid house. Artists like Adonis, Bam Bam, Corporation of One, Fingers Inc.,Charles B and Dolbie D all got the snake skin and twisted Xerox type treatment. Desire was a subdivision of the indie Fiction label, most known for releasing The Cure. The design for these sleeves is uncredited but I believe them to be the work of Andy Vella, at least he did the ‘In The Key Of E’ LP cover and a lot of work for Fiction.

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