Zonatape box

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.

Posted in Oddities, Packaging. | 1 Comment |

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.

Soul Food – quizzing Matt Johnson about ‘Soul Mining’

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 Record Store Day releases

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. DW details x2

808 State Cassettes from Artoffact Records


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.

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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.

Epic Beard Men 7″ on Blunt Force Trauma

Those lovely people at Factory Road (purveyors of Solid Eggs, 45 adaptors, gallery spaces, Inkymole illustration etc) also run an occasional record label called Blunt Force Trauma.

Their latest release is in conjunction with Sage Francis, an artist they’ve enjoyed a long association with, providing artwork for several of his releases over the years. Co-released with his Strange Famous label this one consists of a mini Hip Hop supergroup, the Epic Beard Men aka Sage, B. Dolan and the UK’s very own Buddy Peace.

It’s a double A-sided 45 with an ode to black plastic on the A (“Viva La Vinyl‘) and a stomping funk party rap on the flip (‘You Can’t Win‘). As usual they’ve gone the extra mile on the packaging and artwork on this one and the 7″ comes in a 12″ fold out ‘sleeve’ with tear off double-sided art print and custom Factory Road 45 dink in the center.

You can also listen to it and buy direct from them right now, ahead of its April 14th release date HERE. Also, check Sarah (Inkymole) Coleman illustrating some of the work in these two shorts.

Posted in Art, Design, Packaging, Records. | 1 Comment |

Joe Mansfield’s Beat Box Book special edition

I’m featuring this again because I just got the special (Record Store Day 2013) edition and it’s one of the nicest packages I’ve seen in a while. A heavyweight slipcase to house the sumptuous book of drum machine photos which really aren’t done justice on a blog here as they are gorgeous up close in richly printed colour – see more of the inside in my previous post.

But this is all about what’s with the book – namely a cassette and 7″ record housed in the front of the slipcase. The 7″ features a version of the Beasties Boys‘Paul Revere’ remade on the 808 drum machine on side A and the same beat played the original way (ie not reversed) on the flip. In a nice touch, the B side plays from the label outwards towards the edge, backwards rather than forwards. The cassette has samples on it but I can’t listen to then right now as my tape deck broke about a year back. All are done out in the black and white schematic that adorns some of the book, adding to the fitting design aesthetic of the package.


Another nice touch is the inner sleeve for the 45 which opens to reveal a painting of an 808 on one side, and in a nod to the Beasties’ ‘Licensed To Ill’ LP, shows it crunching into a mountainside on the reverse. I’ve placed the two sides together here so you can see how the full image should look as the artist has nicely matched the original style.

You can still pick this version up from Rap & Soul Mail Order in the UK for £50 and it’s worth every penny.

Clone ‘Hallowe’en 1976’ cassette package

Love this oversize clam shell cassette packaging and design from Andy Votel‘s Cache Cache label. The artist is Clone – aka Gary Sloane of last years ‘Harmonitalk’ and this is 26 minutes of electronic jam sessions from 1976 supposedly. Inside each box is a bonus plastic skeleton to keep with the Halloween theme. Still in stock over at Finders Keepers but limited to only 100 copies.

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

Equinox Records: 2002-2013

Genuinely saddened to hear of the demise of Berlin’s Equinox records, the label run by DJ Scientist who we featured with his ‘Soviet Solid Steel’ mix earlier in the year on the radio show. Not only has it produced some great music from the likes of Deckard, David Vangel, DJ Scientist himself and of course 2econd Class Citizen, whom I collaborated with on my last record. But it has consistently gone way above and beyond with the artwork, formats and packaging, creating an instantly recognisable look with heavy use of its signature brown card amongst the mainly black and white design work. I’m a sucker for circular designs and Equinox was the king of the design mandala with always inventive typography treading a perfect line between brand new and vintage.

Always pushing for new formats, they did everything from clear 7″s to etched 12″s, 5″ records and cassette box sets in sometimes miniscule runs. I remember Gunter – the label boss, aka DJ Scientist – being one of the first people to contact me when he learnt that I had found a place to press flexi discs after years of searching. He was also the first person I saw do a postcard record set and I was very proud to have my mix of 2econd Class Citizen’s second album appear as a limited release on the label last year.

I’ve featured several of the releases before on this blog but if you want a refresher of what’s been and gone then go here, here and here. The remaining stock is still for sale on the Equinox website and they recently posted the entire catalogue for free. Scientist has written a long piece about the label and both 2econd Class Citizen and David Vangel have shared reminisces and photos on their sites (Aaron’s  photo is one that I nicked above). David’s album ‘Breadth Control’ is up for free download for another day and all the prices in the Equinox shop have been lowered so grab those last pieces quick.

The final release – ‘Counter Future’, a 3 LP and flexi disc compilation of the label’s roster – is a beauty to behold and listen to with many of the artists presenting original tracks unavailable elsewhere.

The Simonsound – ‘The Beam’ 10″ + live recording

At long last, after featuring it here months ago and then a pressing plant quality control issue meaning that the release was delayed, it’s finally here. The Simonsound‘s new single, ‘The Beam’ in all its 10″ clear vinyl, ‘Pilot Pack’ space age glory. After the wait it more than lives up to the expectation, this is one of the most amazingly packaged records I own, how much it must have cost is beyond me.

Designed by Emily Macaulay at Stanley James Press who has done all the artwork for the band so far, the photos here really don’t do it justice. Firstly – the material the sleeve is made of is a silver textured card with a silky smooth finish, I’ve never seen a record jacket like it. The cover is plain with a high quality sticker wrapped around it and reminds me of an instruction manual from the 60’s, which I’m sure is the intention.

Inside the gatefold you’re treated to several pockets, each holding a different item, before we even get to the vinyl: A NASA-styled Simonsound Transit Authority embroidered patch, a numbered, signed ticket to ride, a double-sided tour map of the Monorail route, a 20 page booklet about the Monorail and, last but not least, a unique tape loop from the project.

The attention to detail here is absolutely stunning and spot on for the subject matter, the blue, white and silver colour scheme is the perfect mix of transport design meets pilot of the future uniform. When we finally get to the 10″ record – extractable via a tasteful thumb cut in the back half of the sleeve – lo and behold, it’s on clear vinyl! A great final touch but one that delayed the original release date because of warped pressings from the original plant tasked with making them.

What about the music though? ‘The Beam’ is a modular trip through different worlds via the Monorail at a fantasy science park, taking in Outer Space, Robot World, Underwater World and more. The tour guide takes you through the different stages and the soundtrack changes to suit (the original idea was to get Ken Nordine to narrate but he wasn’t available). Simon has used the manufacturing delays to recut the vinyl with more material than the original pressing so we get a montage of various sounds and effects he’s generated on the reverse of the disc in addition to the second track.

The B-side is actually my favourite, ‘In The Shadow of the Skylon’, an ode to the iconic structure that was built for the 1951 Festival of Britain on London’s Southbank. This track has shades of Kraftwerk circa Man Machine with a definite feel of ‘Neon Lights’ about it, my only criticism is that it’s too short. It was commissioned for Musicity – a location specific music project featuring tracks inspired by buildings and structures around the World. The track itself is also accessible on the site where the Skylon used to stand, using the free Musicity web app.

You can read more about the release and score yourself a copy (sorry, the Pilot Packs are all gone) on The Simonsound blog and Bandcamp page.

I’d also recommend checking out the video for ‘The Beam’ below as it really fleshes out the concept of the whole thing being that it’s a soundtrack more than a club track.

and there’s more – The Simonsound live at Herstmonceux


A few weeks ago, I journeyed down to St. Leonards-on-Sea for an event called Kosmic Krash at the Herstmonceux Observatory where Simon was playing live inside one of the domes with his new Buchla modular synth. He has kindly put up a 45 minute excerpt of the set on his blog for us all to enjoy, it was the highlight of the evening for me, sitting inside one of the domes next to a giant telescope, listening to this electro musique concrete.

The Simonsound – ‘The Beam’ single on sale now

Want one of these? The new single from The Simonsound in a special 25 copy ‘Pilot Pack’ with 10″ colour vinyl, two sided colour map, sew on ‘The Simonsound Transit Authority’ Pilot patch, 1 of a kind 1/4 inch tape loop, mini booklet, Monorail ticket, all housed in a beautiful letter press printed sleeve? Better be quick – pre-orders happening NOW.

If they’re sold out or your budget doesn’t stretch to business class you can still catch the monorail in a more regular and affordable standard class version. 10″ colour* vinyl of ‘The Beam’, comes with two sided colour map. (*Colour to be confirmed.) Also, if you’ve not tried the debut LP from the group (Simon James and DJ Format) then you could do a lot worse than grab ‘Reverse Engineering’ while you’re there.


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Record Store Day 2013 ‘The Search Engine’ 4×12″ repress

It’s Record Store Day again and Ninja Tune release a four disc vinyl repress of the EPs that made up my album, ‘The Search Engine’. These are straight represses of the original three EPs (One Man’s Weird…, The Shape of Things… and Magpies, Maps & Moons) plus the Amorphous Androgynous remix 12″ from last years’ RSD (on black vinyl this time though).

The first three 12″s have been out of print for some time now and contain extra tracks plus some different mixes to the CD album, with some tracks also being full length versions. If your bought these the first time round there’s nothing new musically here I’m afraid. The poster covers are replaced by an eight panel foldout sleeve though, with remixed artwork of which you can see more images here.

In the spirit of the title, and to add a little something for RSD, I’ve had ten unique pieces of artwork inserted randomly into the first 600 copies of the album. Six high quality prints of zoetropes that I made for the exhibitions last year and four unique collages as seen in this post. All are 12″x12″ in size, signed, stamped and protected by a transparent sleeve.
If any readers of this blog find one, please let me know, I will post a photo of you here with your find and it will be nice to see how far they go out into the world. Everyone going to a store has a chance to find one of the inserts, they’re completely random and could go out to whoever orders them at stores participating in RSD. Even if you manage to get a regular copy I’d appreciate photos and locations and will post the best ones like last year.

The Ninja Tune online shop will have another 400 or so copies for sale the Monday after RSD so don’t worry if you can’t get to a store.

Secret 7″s project for Record Store Day

It’s that time of year again, Record Store Day looms this Saturday and the Secret 7″ project is back for another year. Initiated by Universal Records, it presents artists and designers with the chance to create a one-off cover for one of seven different releases, both old and new.

This year’s artists are Public Enemy, Elton John, Laura Marling, Nas, Haim, Jessie Ware and Nick Drake. Over 700 sleeves have been created and each will be available on April 20th at Mother, 10 Redchurch St, London, E2 7DD at the price of £40 each with the money raised going to the charity Art Against Knives.

You won’t know who has designed which sleeve or what song you’re buying (although you can take an educated guess) until you buy it, when all will be revealed. I bought three last year and it was one of the most exciting purchases I made in recent memory.

The sleeves were on view to the public last weekend and I managed to catch the last few minutes and snap some favourites before they closed the doors, which reopen at 10am on Saturday. I spotted work by Pete Fowler, Jonathan Edwards and Felt Mistress among them but Gilbert & George have contributed this year somewhere too.

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Demdike Stare – Test Pressing #1

The new Demdike Stare 12″ has a nice twist to the packaging and design. It comes in a paper sleeve, housed in a second thin PVC protective cover with an A4 insert and labels that are either black or white for sides A and B. On the front are instructions that customers would see if they had ordered their own set of test pressings to approve before a release.

For those that don’t know, once a record is finished it goes to a cutting house where they make a master ‘lacquer’ of the disc on a large lathe in real time. That lacquer is then sent off to the pressing plant and a small number of ‘test’ pressings are made, usually called ‘white labels’ due to the fact that a white label is pressed onto the centre where the regular label would go. These are then sent to the artist or record label to check that ‘the cut’ was OK and that everything sounds fine before proceeding with the full run of the pressing. It would be foolish to go through such a delicate and variable process without checking a sample copy before pressing hundreds or thousands of discs only for them to all be defective.

The new release is the first in a series of ‘Test Pressings’ by the duo and the cover sets out the various steps you should take when getting such a pressing yourself. Only the catalogue number appears on the front, no titles or even the group’s name (that’s on the insert) and the same thing is repeated in German on the reverse of the sleeve. I think this is their best release in a while, dark and sinister as usual but more beat-orientated this time around, in an industrial meets jungle kind of way.

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