I’m very pleased to announce that the Frankie Goes To Hollywood box set I co-designed last year with Philip Marshall and Ian Peel for Union Square Music has just been nominated for an award in the ‘SPECIAL CATALOGUE RELEASE OF THE YEAR’ category in the AIM (Association of Independent Music) awards. We’re up against Oasis, Bjork, Imogen Heap, The Pretty Things and the Cities of Darkscorch boardgame – fingers crossed. Regardless of whether we win or not it’s also been announced the Ninja Tune HAVE won the ‘Innovator Award’ so well done Matt, Jon, Peter and everyone involved in the label.
Here’s a late 80s oddity that I was turned onto recently by Steve Cook – he of Secret Oranges fame. A 1988 Acid House 12″ made by the late, great Brett Ewins among others that comes with an 8pg B&W ‘lyric sheet’ featuring the art of Brendan McCarthy, Steve Dillon, Jamie Hewlett, Shaky Kane, Philip Bond, Jamie Hewlett and more.
The tracks themselves are primitive attempts to make Acid House (without the aid of the all-important Roland 303 by the sound of it) but have a period charm to them. Brett intones creepily over the top of the A side sounding like a riled up Timothy Leary on speed. The B side houses two instrumental cuts with ‘The Church of Acid’ coming on like Bam Bam with a sledgehammer and there IS a snatch of 303 but it sounds sampled and slightly out of time.
‘Dr. Microdot’ is a shorter version of same with the addition of an unidentified voice asking you to relax (we’ve all been there) and both tracks suffer from a lack of a decent arrangement, stumbling along with samples and effects being randomly thrown in and out of the mix. I’m being unkind but it’s fair to say they haven’t aged well although the fact that they were made in the middle of the second summer of love gives them a certain kudos. I’m wondering if the Ken Thomas credited with producing this fascinating artifact is the same one who has worked with everyone from Queen to the Cocteau‘s?
The artwork is the gold here and the free comic is basically of lot of the early gang of artists responsible for Deadline taking a page each and letting rip with whatever they feel is appropriate. Brendan, Philip and Shaky come up with some crackers but I’m not sure where Jamie’s contribution is exactly unless he collaborated with someone and isn’t credited. Ron Merlin, an early Deadline character, makes an appearance but it’s not clear if he is supposed to be the voice on the A side. There’s very little about it on the web but I love these musical comic crossovers (the Madness off-shoot ‘Mutants of Mega City One’ is another) even if the sounds often play second fiddle to the artwork.
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.
RIP Shusei Nagaoka – not a name I was familiar with but all of us must know at least a handful of these album covers? ELO, Earth Wind & Fire, Maze, Deep Purple, Boston and more. Big respect.
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’.
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.
The Moomin 7″ from Finders Keepers was certainly one of the most popular releases of RSD 2015 in the UK and it’s an item of beauty, both musically and sleeve-wise. The cover is made of felt, hand-stitched and colour printed, I’ve never seen anything like it (there are also two different cover images to collect). The music is pure analogue electronics, being the UK-specific soundtrack by Graeme Miller and Steve Shill.
Happily for those that didn’t score a copy on RSD and now that the fuss has died down, Finders Keepers are allowed to sell it on their site. So don’t feed the flippers on eBay, pay the label direct. Whilst you’re there you could do worse than also pick up Bruce Ditmas‘ ‘Yellow Dust’ album – I did, he plays a Moog Drum and it’s mental in the best possible way.
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.
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).
The 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 www.openmindesign.uk – 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…
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).
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.
Received a vinyl copy of this wonderful album over the weekend from InFiné Records (thanks!) Beautiful packaging with debossing on silver card + insert and inner sleeve, rounding off an excellent record perfectly. Pretty sure this will be in the end of year top 10 album chart for 2014 for me, not a duff track on it. Get it here.
UPDATE: Finders Keepers have just put an exclusive cassette version on sale referencing the original artwork.
I found this lovely little Zonatape box at Spitalfields market last Thursday, great colours and design. It housed, not a reel of tape but some home made date calculators with odd painted patterns on the back. Later the same day I found this op-art plate in a charity shop, I like the way the turntable poster from the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal magazine looks like it’s exploding out from it.
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.
On Monday evening I joined Matt Johnson of The The on stage at Rough Trade East in London for a two hr Q&A about his ‘debut’ album, ‘Soul Mining’. It was a great evening with plenty to talk about and 200 eager fans there to listen and ask questions before queuing half way down the shop floor for autographs.
One fan even had the original art for the ‘Soul Mining’ cassette with him, complete with pasted up overlay. Matt recorded it all via clip on mics and I believe someone was video taping as well. I should be editing the audio sometime next week for a podcast. (Top photos by Nancy Brown and Adam James Seth-Ward, photo below posted on Twitter, thank you , please let me know who you are so I can credit you).
The recently released box set is something to cherish with lots of quirks courtesy of Matt’s designer Cally at Antar. Upon lifting the lid you’re greeted with a huge scan of one of the original master tapes on the underside and a 24″ x 36″ foldout containing images and liner notes. The download card is a large replica of a 1/4 inch reel to reel tape and I was thrilled to have a thank you on the reverse for providing images from my archive to the project.
The bonus disc of remixes and B-sides is probably the jewel in the crown as it arrives in a full colour gatefold plastered with Andy DOG Johnson‘s classic imagery. Finally we come to the original LP which is a faithful recreation with an inner sleeve showing the original labels barely visible printed straight on to the paper. Cally tells me he had to fight hard to present details like this and more as part of the package as Sony wanted it all cleaned up but to me these are the details that make it unique, showing off the artifact. More master tape scans finish the experience on the box bottom and the quality is top notch, it all feels as if a lot of care and attention has been taken to put this together.
The audio really doesn’t need rhapsodising over but the bonus Recollected disc contains alternate 12″ and early versions of Uncertain Smile, Perfect, This Is The Day and I’ve Been Waiting For Tomorrow (all of my life) from the album and period B side Fruit of the Heart. The remaster has been very sympathetic to the original and with a lack of outtakes or demos the quality of the songs never dips or falters. You can order a copy direct here and there are several articles doing the rounds on the web at the moment, one of the best being John Doran‘s piece on the Quietus and check the latest issue of Mojo for 6 pages of Soul Mining.
Also I should point out that the box set is (intentionally) large enough to easily fit the dual 12″ of Matt and mine’s versions of ‘GIANT’ that was released for Record Store Day. This was always intended and nicely completes the set of Andy Dog cover art from that era whilst adding a touch of my own take on his work.
Death Waltz Recording Company releases for Record Store Day 2014 (only 2 of the 4). Each album has a splattered colour vinyl disc, a huge 36″x36″ poster, a 12″x12″ card print of the poster plus sleeve notes, a housebag that’s both embossed and debossed and a paper wraparound with release details.
These retail at an average of £20 each – incredible when you see the prices of other releases only offering half that. Plus Spencer Hickman, the label owner, is a straight up dude, one of the soundest people I’ve come across in the music industry.
These beautiful objects are soon to be available from Canadian label Artoffact Records. 808 State’s classic turn of the decade albums, ’90’ and ‘Ex:el’ have been made in 8 different colours on cassette at the very reasonable price of CAN $9.98 each.
For the completists out there they are also selling a bundle of all 8 tape colours for CAN$74.98. View all the different colours and buy here.