Ninja Cuts: ‘Funkjazztical Tricknology’ 20 years old

zen CD15 cover (72dpi)
Apparently this was released 20 years ago this week – how time flies. Above is my computer file for the Black print that went to the printer before the silver was applied. Below is what it came back looking like if you can imagine the grey as being silver. It didn’t come back with exactly the look I was hoping for in terms of a silver-toned image but back then I was learning the print side of things as I went along.

Below is an alternate version of the turntables featured on the cover in colour at last. These were my decks and mixer and the photos weren’t actually Polaroids, just normal photos made to look like it by adding a white border. To the left you can see the back of the Jungle Brothers‘ first album with NWA‘s second just peeking out and on the left deck is a Steroid Maximus LP – already subliminally flaunting my love of Foetus‘ music back in 1995.

On the wall are a collection of flyers from the day, the Brain, Passion, Talkin’ Loud and the edge of an Archaos poster on the right. This was only my second ever sleeve design for Ninja, not a design classic by any means but an album that many people hold dear it seems. You can still buy it in digital form online from the Ninja shop too.


Long Distance Dan ‘The Other Side of the Sky’ EP

LDD coverspec
Long Distance Dan releases a new EP today, ‘The Other Side Of The Sky’, seven tracks of raw, funky, psychedelic beats on Dusted Industries. Dan has previous form, compiling the ‘Twisting The Frame’ and ‘Cosmic Dust Agenda’ compilations. It’s a digital only release via Bandcamp available as a Name Your Price with an exclusive 45 minute DJ mix to download for buyers who do pay for it.
Here’s a sampler of the EP or you can listen in full on the site.

I provided the artwork for this release because I liked it so much.

LDDcover back spec

Mixmaster Morris @ Telepathic Fish 2, May 2nd 1993

Mixmaster Morris – Ambient Tea Party Vol. 3 mix – Brixton 02.05.1993 from Fiasko One on Vimeo.

Here’s a bit of musical history I just found online, Mixmaster Morris DJing at the second Telepathic Fish party that I hosted with David Vallade, Mario Aguera and Chantal Passamonte aka Mira Calix back in 1993. This is volume 3 and I should have the other 2 volumes somewhere in the archive, one with Aphex Twin playing I think as well as my own efforts. Check the cassette inlay for some ‘of its time’ design by my own hand.

For those that aren’t familiar with it, Telepathic Fish was the name my then housemates and I gave to a series of Ambient parties that we staged in London in the early to mid 90’s. They started on a Sunday afternoon and went through to the early hours and the emphasis was on chilling out rather than dancing (although that did happen too sometimes). At some point I’m going to compile the whole Telepathic Fish experience into a series of blog posts or a small book as it was quite a formative time for me as well as the rest of the crew. For more mixes from Morris, who was a guiding light for me back then, you can now check out his brand new website here.

Posted in Music, Openmind designs. | 1 Comment |

New Solid Steel logo / identity

Keen-eyed listeners to the Solid Steel weekly radio show may have noticed a logo makeover last week. A new, slimline logo has taken place of the previous single ‘S’ one as we continue to streamline the show for online consumption. The logo comes in white on black circle but can be reversed and I designed it in three weights with the heaviest being for small usage where the centre circle is offset with the outer circle also in box form. Expect a new responsive website redesign in April too. SS_SSpacek_Kutmak_BlkSS_logo_small_square_2015

New Openmind website & Super Deluxe Ed. interview

A couple of big design-related things happened this week – I’ve now finessed a site for the best of my design work over the last 20 years under the Openmind alias. You can check it out at – it’s not exhaustive and doesn’t contains all the extra info I provide in the design section of this site (look, it’s up there ^) but it offers a quick overview of some of the things I’ve done. Who knows, maybe you might even want my design work to grace your own objects?

Speaking of this site, it’s been undergoing a redesign, spring clean and update over the last few months as well as being made responsive so as to work better on mobiles, tablets and desktops. This has all been happening on a server elsewhere but should go live before Xmas. Don’t worry, everything will still be here (mostly) in the same place, it will just be easier to use, view and the Design and Discog sections will be fully up to date. It’s been 5 years since this version debuted and it’s never had an overhaul save for a couple of back end updates.

The other big design thing is the first part of an interview about the making of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood ‘Inside The Pleasuredome’ box set over on the Super Deluxe Editon website. Curator Ian Peel, co-designer Philip Marshall, Steve Bunyan from Union Sq Music and myself all discuss aspects of the thinking and approach to making the set with part two set to appear next week…

Inside The Pleasuredome – the Sarm Studio visit video

Here’s a short film of what went on at the Sarm Studios playback event of ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’.
For people who didn’t get a copy of the box set or were restricted by territory (N. America and Japan were excluded because of licensing laws) you can now order it through Am*z*n and elsewhere (although beware, some places are taking the p*ss with prices).

‘Inside The Pleasuredome’ – released this week

At long last, after 8 months of work (off and on) the Frankie Goes To Hollywood box set ‘Inside The Pleasuredome’ was released on Wednesday 29th – 30 years to the day from its original debut. Back in November 2013 I was asked if I’d be part of the team that would put together the 30th anniversary set of Frankie’s ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ album, for release in Autumn 2014 and this is what writer Ian Peel, designer Philip Marshall and myself came up with.

To put this is context, this was a big deal, a very big deal indeed. Frankie and by extension Zang Tuum Tumb records were a massive formative influence on me in my early to mid teens. The band and label created a phenomena in 1984 which I’ve still not seen the likes of again and, alongside Trevor Horn and his team, the group made some of my favourite pop songs ever.

The album was the most eagerly anticipated of the year and, while being uneven, contains possibly the greatest side A of music ever issued in the 17 minute long title track. The design of the label greatly influenced my own aesthetic for record sleeve graphics although I didn’t realise this until years later and I started the Art of ZTT website as an online archive of the old material which I feel has been neglected in the history of music design.

This set is officially sold out now as it was a Pledgemusic production but I’m told a quantity have been kept back of the 2000 made (never to be repressed) and will be available from some distributors to those who couldn’t pledge due to the restrictions of licensing territories.

Unboxing the Pleasuredome

Here’s the unboxing of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood ‘Inside The Pleasuredome’ set I co-designed with Philip Marshall for Universal Music / ZTT. The 30th anniversary of its release is next week and these will ship out to pledgers on the 28th.
There is still time to pre-order one but they’re down to the last 30 of 2000 now it seems. A series of full, in-depth blog posts will follow soon detailing the various aspects of the designs which have been on-going since January this year.

Frankie flick book image restoration

It’s been a bit quiet on here of late because I’ve been very busy tying up the last pieces of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood box set with Philip Marshall and the deadline is this weekend with the book still to finish. We’ve had some 11th hour changes due to the USM legal dept. getting cold feet over the cassette front cover (there’ll be a lengthy blog post about the cassette one day) but also some higher res images arrived today of one of the Lo Cole gatefold prelims for the interior of the book. These were courtesy of a German fan who went out of his way to get a decent copy of the image from someone who had bought the rough draft painting when it was sold years ago. Now we can have a much larger version of the image rather than the low grade jpegs we’ve had for years.

But the subject of this post is about the Flick book* – maybe considered a throw away item to some, certainly the runt of the litter but getting as much love as the rest in its construction. The book features scenes from the TV advert that briefly aired around the time of the album launch in November ’84 with imagery based on Lo Cole’s paintings – a brief 40 second rampage into the Pleasuredome by the band accompanied by assorted mythical beasts. As pages are limited in the book the original film was broken down into an image sequence – 25 frames per second x 40 to nearly 1000 frames – which were then stripped down to essential frames and made into .gif files to see which few seconds of animation would work best.

*( this is a provisional cover design – it’s changed a bit since this version)

Luckily we can print on both sides of the page with this book so you can view two separate animations depending on which way round you hold the book. In an effort to get the best possible image quality for the book we went back to the sole surviving master copy, a U-Matic tape, and pulled the frames we needed. These were still fairly grubby looking with a dark caste over most, dull colours and lots of ‘noise’ across the image. In Photoshop I set up a series of image filters to find out how best to lighten the images and bring out the vibrancy of the colours without it looking too forced. It turned out that different scenes needed different amounts of filtering as the saturation kept changing so there was no chance to automate the process.

When I was satisfied I’d got the best colour and light balance there was still the subject of the noise and how to remove it, this is when you can see a texture like a grain across an image, usually caused by light or introduced by generations of copies. I use a great Photoshop plug in caused Neat Image (yes, terrible name but amazing results) to remove this. It takes a digital fingerprint of the image and then smooths out all the bumps without blurring the image, something some similar plug ins tend to do. See the process below, at the top is the original as it came to me, then the filtered version with enhanced colours and any dark cast taken away. Finally there’s the denoised version that will end up in the book.

Pleasuredome artwork scanning A/B comparisons

I’ve been scanning the original Welcome To The Pleasuredome artwork by Lo Cole this week and, comparing it to the existing scans I was working with, there’s quite a bit of difference. It’s tempting with Photoshop to put images through all sorts of filters and processes to make the image ‘pop’, much like compression and limiting on audio files. After a while you can lose sight of the original but having the original paintings to hand I could check on screen that they were as accurate reproductions as possible. Certain colours didn’t initially scan exactly so I made sure that I corrected them to as near as possible with the colours of origin.

It’s actually hard to tell but the lower left of the moon is a subtlely different shade to the rest. The background is a more yellow/grey tone of blue.

This is a little like remastering from the original master tapes, cleaning up any stray dust or hair particles that have got on to the surface in the process. The blurrier, more saturated images here are the working files I’ve had and the subtler, sharper ones are the new scans that will be seen on the forthcoming box set. If you get the prints from the box, rest assured that the colours on them will be as accurate as possible to the original source (as long as the printer doesn’t mess things up) and if you display them they will nearly pass for originals.

As you can see with this comparison, there’s a bit more of the image on the top and the blues are more grey/yellow.

Byte Digging – exhuming the Openmind archive

I’ve just been combing old discs for archived artwork for various Beat Delete reissues, forget vinyl, this is the new digging – byte digging. The first Herbaliser LP sleeve (‘Remedies’, 1995) and labels takes up just 5.4 MB of space, madness.

Above and to the right are unused designs for the first Cinematic Orchestra album and singles. Neither are for anything in particular, more playing around with the typeface I had created for the band and exploring different textures.

The top version was done by colour copying the logo at different sizes onto sheets of tracing paper which were then ripped, crumpled and overlaid under a scanner. The bright light of the scanner shone through the layers and the resulting scan had various filters applied to bring out the colours in the paper. No Photoshop layers there though, real layers of paper in one scan.

To the right is more playing with letter forms than anything else. The image behind the type is one of the photos from the Colourscape that later got used on my ‘Kaleidoscope’ LP. Below is a typeface I designed in college – check me out with my Fuse fonts, must have thought I was Neville Brody or something…

The Herbaliser – There Were Seven Remixes

TW7Remixes coverThe Herbaliser finally release the remix companion album to their ‘There Were Seven’ LP with a cover remix by yours truly. ‘There Were Seven Remixes’ actually contains 16 of the buggers and a host of instrumentals if you get the digital version.

Unfortunately the original idea of having seven 7″s in a box has gone by the wayside because there is so much material and now they have a handy catch-all CD coming out on June 30th via their Dept. H label.

Remixes come courtesy of Gigabeatz Bonson, Coleman Brothers, Soundsci, Jenome and more. Pick of the bunch for me are the 2econd Class Citizen, No Sleep Nigel and the excellent Lopez remix, the latter of which you can hear below after the T-Power mix.

Custom 12″ picture disc 3-Way mix Serato controllers

These Serato controller discs just arrived from 12inchSkinz in the US. They are clear 12″ discs with custom-made graphic pictures on the underside and a label over the top.

They are sanctioned by Serato but only playable on one side because of the image underneath. Expensive but well worth it as they are objects of beauty.

12inchSkinz also do stickers for your laptop and mixer and I highly recommend them as I’ve got stickers for both of those as well and they’re very high quality.

FGTH ‘Inside The Pleasuredome’ deluxe box set

This is what the last post was all about, a project I’ve been working on for the last few months but feels like I’ve been working towards for over a decade. 10 years ago I actively started contacting and interviewing the people involved in the creation of the ZTT label’s artwork, starting with Paul Morley who I collaborated with on ‘Raiding the 20th Century’. Through the years after I met designers, illustrators and photographers who had all had hands in the late 80’s output of the label whilst collecting promo posters, magazine ads and in some cases original artwork and photos.

After starting my ArtofZTT site early last year and having been in contact with Ian Peel, responsible for the ongoing reissue series at the label, I was asked to collaborate with resident designer Philip Marshall on what would become the 30th anniversary of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’.

Now re-titled ‘Inside The Pleasuredome’ this deluxe box set is available to pre-order via Pledge Music and will be released on the anniversary later this year at the end of October. The set will contain:
Re-mastered and redesigned original LP,
3 x 10″s of remixes, demos and alt. takes
a hardback Art of FGTH book with sleeve art, adverts, ultra rare promo posters, LP prelims and making of interviews
a cassette of multiple ‘Relax’ remixes with new artwork inside a card slipcase
a DVD with videos plus 5.1 audio from various singles and album tracks
3 x Prints of the original Lo Cole album artwork (with uncensored back cover image)
a digital only EP of instrumentals
a Pleasuredome TV ad flick book
a Tumbometer (fans will know what this is)
6 x cards with download codes for the remastered LP, the 3 10″s, the cassette and the digital EP

I’ll be sharing photos here during the pledge period of 65 days, I’d love to post it all now but there will be a slow roll out as items are unveiled to people who pre-order . Once the order / pledge period is up no more orders will be taken and once /if the target it reached that will be the extent of the number of sets made. Of the 10 ‘elements’ contained inside the box, half of them will be exclusive including the art book and 10″ featuring ‘Slave…’ It has already made a quarter of the target less than a day after going online but there’s still a way to go. You can pre-order here but once that window is closed that will be your only chance, the box set won’t be sold in shops.

Cover art process for the RSD ‘Giant’ 12″

I was pretty excited when Matt Johnson got in touch to ask about the possibility of licensing my version of ‘GIANT’ for a The The vs DJ Food double A side 12″ on Record Store Day. Not only because my version would be paired with his original on vinyl (the only track from the album not to make it to vinyl in last years repress of the original EPs as his vocal didn’t make the deadline when those were pressed) but because he wanted me to design one side of the sleeve too.

The brief was simple, the front was his brother, Andy ‘Dog’ Johnson‘s shouting face image from the cover of the American issue of the ‘Soul Mining’ LP and I was to do my interpretation for the reverse. OK, so a shouting face, fairly obviously Matt’s, to compliment Andy’s vision, how best to go about this? I didn’t want to ape his style as that would be pointless but there had to be some visual connection so I decide to use the same colour palette.

I’d remembered an image of Matt shouting/singing from the Infected video that was featured in the The The songbook as a still, taken straight from the TV by the looks of it and so scanned that as the basis of my version. The head was facing the opposite direction from Andy’s so this was a good start and I took the idea of the arrows he would add to some of his images and redrew the face, now made from a warren of intertwined arrows. This was supposed to represent the confusion in the character but also served to create a dynamic image with movement without copying the blizzard of detail that gives Andy’s art such a visual buzz.

After inking the pencil tracing I scanned it and cleaned up edges to get a clear B&W version before adding a limited colour palette that would mimic the lighting of the original photo. The background I’d decided would be black rather than white to counterbalance the other side and I added some distorted TV feedback I’d taken years before to reference the texture of the original photo. It was looking a little clean for my taste so a layer of grain was added across the face just to give it some ‘glue’ to pull the flat face together with the background and a tiny amount of spin blurring to the black outlines to blend it further.

I then experimented with adding a section of the Robosunburst from the background of the ‘Search Engine’ LP cover to reference that release but, while it added an extra level of dynamism to the image. I felt it was too busy although I did submit a couple of versions to Matt for a second opinion and my feeling was Matt’s too and he went with the simpler image.

I also felt that my colour choice was a bit on the dark side so a re-balancing of the browns for redder tones evened things out and bought it a little closer to Andy’s colourful original.


All that remained then was to add the titles and I wanted my clean DJ Food logo to reflect Fiona Skinner‘s original choppy The The logo design. For this I imported the Food one into Illustrator and used the tracing tool too create a rougher outline as it can never trace exactly, especially at small sizes.

This was then further roughed up on the edges in Photoshop and the words ‘featuring Matt Johnson’ and ‘GIANT’ were taken from the back of the ‘Soul Mining’ LP cover. Actually I think I had to cobble the ‘featuring’ together from several different words…

After this I wanted a copy of the arrow Andy had pointing toward the nose of the face to tie our designs together and form an anchor point to align the titles with.

Luckily Matt and the people at Sony loved what I had done and it was all sent off to have barcodes and other text added by Matt’s manager Cally at Antar (a fascinating character with many tales to tell if you ever run into him). The hardest thing then was the wait as this was finished back in January and I wasn’t allowed to announce anything about it until the end of March when all I wanted to do was scream about it from the rooftops. The finished copies arrived a couple of weeks before RSD and that was a day to remember I can tell you.

It’s impossible to convey how much Matt’s music has meant to me since I first heard it in college in the 80’s when a classmate taped ‘Soul Mining’ and ‘Infected’ back to back on a C90 cassette for me, instantly turning me into a fan who hunted down everything else he had recorded. To meet him for the first time, over ten years ago now, was a big enough deal but to then record and be a part of an official The The release is something I never thought would happen in a million years. As another friend of mine named Matt would say, “living the dream”

Three helpings of DJ Food for Record Store Day 2014

As readers of this blog will know, I’ve been lucky enough to have records release on Record Store Day for the last two years and 2014 will be no exception. The difference will be that I’ll be involved in three different releases this year with only two of them being on vinyl.

Firstly there will some new music from me in the form of a remix I’ve done for The Amorphous Androgynous called ‘Tunnel Sequence’ from their spy-funk psychesploitation albums, ‘The Cartel’.

The two CDs are getting the remix treatment in vinyl form on April 19th in a nice reciprocal gesture as it was they who remixed me for my first RSD release back in 2012.

Secondly, more music but you might know this one. My version of The The‘s ‘GIANT’ with vocals by Matt Johnson himself is the only track from 2012’s ‘The Search Engine’ not to be released on vinyl (last year’s quadruple LP version only had the instrumental).

Now my version has been paired with the original on what’s being billed as the ‘GIANT2FACED12INCH’ – a double A-sided release via Sony. Not only do I provide music but I’ve also designed one side of the sleeve which is paired up with an original Andy Dog painting for the cover, see a preview above for the origin of the ‘2-faced’ title.

Thirdly, the non-musical release will be the Dust & Grooves book by Eilon Paz which I’m both featured in photographically and in the guise of writer/interviewer for a huge article about Four Tet‘s collecting habits. ‘Adventures In Record Collecting’ has been on-going for some years now and I got involved about 11 months ago when Eilon visited my studio for a mammoth photo session and Q&A which will see the light of day on his site at some stage.

There’s a strong Ninja Tune presence in the book with an interview with The Gaslamp Killer, photos of Ollie Teeba from The Herbaliser/Soundsci and Mr Scruff who actually makes the cover photo, (I also did an extensive interview with Scruff which didn’t make the deadline, maybe next time).

By a weird coincidence one of the photos shows me doing a sleeve face pose with the very same The The sleeve that features on the ‘GIANT’ 12″ cover, and by the same I mean, the very same. When Matt was putting together the sleeve for ‘GIANT’ he wanted to use the US version of the ‘Soul Mining’ LP sleeve but didn’t have a copy himself so I scanned my copy, the same one in the photo in Eilon’s book.

All three of these releases are a very big deal for me, being asked to contribute to releases by FSOL and The The, two of my all time favourite groups, is pretty special. Being involved in just a small part of Eilon’s book plus the on-going work we’ll be doing after it’s published is new and exciting too, I’ve seen the layouts of the book and it’s stunning.