Ninja Tune XX box set features on Hard Format

I’m very proud to announce my first design entry on the Hardformat blog. Run for three and a half years now, it’s a site dedicated to “reaching for the sublime in music design”, both past and present. One of the first things I think any designer finding the site would think is, “I wonder if I’m on here?”, the second would be, “I want to be featured here”, if they don’t find their work. The site already published the original mock up image of the set a few months back and we entered into a dialogue about it. That turned into me writing up a lengthy piece detailing some of the process involved in realising the gargantuan project.


DJ Shadow Handmade

Most of you will have heard, or at least heard about, the two new DJ Shadow tracks that officially came to light last week via his site, after being out and about, ripped from radio broadcasts for a bit. ‘Def Surrounds Us / I’ve Been Trying’ caused a stir last week which is no mean feat in this day and age from an artist who is approaching 20 years of official releases. In the digital age these things are easy to come by, not so easy is an actual hard copy, pressed onto vinyl, dark blue vinyl to be exact, with a unique handrawn front cover no less.

But they do exist and Shadow has been giving them away to DJs and fans via his site and posts on Twitter. There are rumoured to be only 100 copies at the moment, each with its own unique sleeve design and stamp bearing the legend ‘Handmade, because you’re worth it’ on the back. I was lucky enough to receive a copy earlier this week after a heads up from Joost over at the Sole Sides board and people have begun adding images of their copies to Discogs on the release’s entry page. Here’s mine but I have several other ‘handmade’ Shadow records I’ve collected over the years that I thought I’d share with you.

Def Surrounds UsHandmade stamp

This is my copy of the ‘Enuff (DJ Fresh remix)/This Time’ single, this was a regular white label copy that I’m pretty sure I customised with a sticker from elsewhere. There are 100 copies of a fully sprayed and stencilled Paul Insect version that were sold through DJ but alas I don’t have one of those.

This TimeEnuff label

In Tokyo a few years ago I stumbled across a pile of these in the Shibuya HMV, supposedly a limited edition for Japan with hand silk screened covers and an extended version of ‘Roy’s Theme’ from the KeepinTime compilation.

Roys ThemeRoys detailRoys theme detail 2Roys theme detail 3

Going even further back we have the ‘Monosyllabik’ promo 12″ that was sneaked out before the Private Press hit, confounding everyone. So much so that I found one in the local exchange for £1, some DJs obviously weren’t too hip to what it was or didn’t care and passed it on. I have three different copies of this: one I was sent as a promo, the other I found in the exchange and the third was from eBay. This is the best of the three, including as it does, all 10 stickers on the front (there were said to be 10 different sleeves designs out there at the time).

Mono 1Mono 2Mono 3

… and last but not least, my very own creation, one of five handmade (and mixed) CDRs of the ‘Press Cuttings’ sampler mix I made of selections from the Private Press in 2002. This aired on Solid Steel and I gave Shadow a copy after a gig which he was then kind enough to add to his official discography later. Each disc has a different image on it and the covers are all made up of graphics from old private press record booth sleeves. Hear it at the bottom of the page.
Press cuttingsPress cuttings backPress cuttings disc

Press Cuttings (The Private Press Compacted) by DJ Food

PS: a section of a Quietus interview with Shadow about the making of the Def Surrounds Us sleeve artwork:

“On the 12”s, all of the sleeves are one-offs. When it was conceived, it was the purest way I could think of to let the music out of my hands and into the chance environment of society… in the most pure and unfucked with way. It wasn’t coming from the label, it wasn’t coming laoded with information. And if I’d had my way originally, it wouldn’t even have had my name on it. It would have been totally anonymous… It would have just let time and people’s own research and ideas determine what it was. I guess in a certain sense cooler heads prevailed and it has come out as a compromise where when you first look at it you’re not going to know what it is or who it is by. But for people like you and me who look at records every day you’re just going to stop and go: “What the fuck is this?” Because it’s removing the art from its proper context. In most cases I would have my kids doodle something and then when they got bored with it I would add my own hyper detail to it. I’m not a great illustrator but I like to draw and my dad was a graphic designer. I like spending a lot of time on pointillism and detail. It doesn’t really matter what the image really is and in fact I try and keep myself from representing anything. In some of them I’ve even added a little note that says, “Please add to the artwork before you pass it along.” We’ve added stickers on some. I like the idea that the art is never quite finished. It was inspired by a lot of other covers that I’ve seen. Obviously this kind of thing has been done before in the DIY scene and the minimal synth scene of the early 80s, so I’m not claiming to have invented the process but I intended it as the most honest and pure delivery mechanism that I could think of. “

Posted in Art, Music, Records. | 11 Comments |

Process: The working practices of Barney Bubbles

So, Nigel Peake is in town, fresh from painting a mural and we’re wandering around Pimlico like a couple of tourists. Clutching an A-Z and an iPhone, we’re trying to find the Chelsea Space which is currently hosting the Barney Bubbles exhibition, Process.

Bubbles, born Colin Fulcher, sadly committed suicide in 1983 and has long been an unsung hero of British sleeve design but this has started to change in recent years after Paul Gorman’s book on his work, ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’, was published in 2008. Quickly selling out and starting to command high prices on the web it’s now been updated and expanded in a new edition.

Possibly one of the reasons Bubbles isn’t as widely know as, say, Neville Brody, Malcolm,Garrett, Hipgnosis, Peter Saville or Jamie Reid is because his work spanned both both ends of the seventies and beyond – the hippy / prog / rock and the punk eras –  and never conceded to one house style for anyone. The two things he’s probably most known for – Hawkwind and Stiff Records – couldn’t be much further apart. Looking at one of his Hawkwind sleeves and then an Elvis Costello or Ian Dury from later you’d be hard-pressed to see any sort of stylistic link, yet he did them both.

After walking up and down the street way too many times, asking in the Tate to a bemused attendant and eventually finding the space via a round-the-houses route through the College of Art we realise we’d walked right past it. Failing to notice the sign outside the inconspicuous door set back from the main road, we should have stopped yakking and paid a bit more attention.

Anyway, once inside we were greeted by walls pasted with vintage music paper ads and posters of late 70’s vintage, a couple of old record players sporting various vinyl rarities, badges, stickers and a gorgeous rack of Ian Dury ‘Do It Yourself’ wallpaper-sleeved LPs. Right in, no messing about. Along the bottom of one wall were various publications all sporting BB covers including a John Cooper-Clark ‘Directory 1979’ an issue of the NME, Nova magazine and a Hawkwind programme.

A long, thin, tall corridor then stretches up before turning into the main exhibition room and one wall is covered with posters and record sleeves, the Hawkwind ones unfolded flat to show off their wares. Frustratingly the sharp viewing angle meant that the higher pieces were hard to see properly, further compounded by spot lighting which caused glare on anything in a PVC protective sleeve.

Into the main room, past a giant hanging Chuck Berry sculpture and here’s the good stuff. Cases of artifacts, portraits, sketchbooks, paintings, paste ups, reference books, even materials like Rotring pens he left behind. One wall is covered in original art paste up sheets, tracing paper with notes covering some of them, all hung with big bulldog clips which is a nice touch throughout. Another wall is full of beautifully presented black and white art, logos, layouts – a mixture of paint, pen, Letraset and whiteout – all of which would have blended into one under the camera later.

It must have been a difficult task for the curators to hang the work because it was so random, finding obvious themes and connections is almost impossible with Bubbles because each piece is so different from the next. Sure he has various tricks and techniques that he employs, his mixture of abstract and 3D shapes to make words for instance, but it’s as if he was always starting from scratch with each new piece. His foldout sleeves for Hawkwind and Elvis Costello are placed behind perspex but even they jut out at points, unable to be contained in such a space.

I’m no expert on Bubbles but this looks like a goldmine of his work for anyone remotely interested in him or the groups he designed for. Also this is a great reminder of how things were done decades ago, pre-digital, everything is hand drawn, painted, cut and pasted and it’s beautiful to see, especially all the whited out parts. Although by no means a complete overview – several pieces are conspicuous by their absence – the curators intend this to be more of a stepping stone to bigger things later and the new edition of the book should help this.

The exhibition is on now until October 23rd at Chelsea Space,

16 John Islip Street,

London, Sw1P 4JU
More details here

and visit Paul Gorman’s excellent blog on all things Barney Bubbles

and a good, quick overview of his work at feuilleton

Posted in Art, Books, Design, Event, Music, Records. | 2 Comments |


Interesting image, looks familiar, seen it before somewhere, can’t place it…

hff_main_strip_site_v2TCO A2 poster (promo)

I’m just kidding, go check this out if you’re in London this weekend, a couple of Light Surgeons’ things are playing:

SCHLIMAZELTOV! dir. Christopher Thomas Allen 11m
Documentary short exploring the concept of luck or “mazel” through London’s Jewish Community.
(this is excellent and beautifully shot)

and a live performance of

True Fictions is a live audio-visual spectacle that fuses documentary film making, music, animation and motion graphics with cutting edge digital performance tools. A stunning collage of music and live cinema which explores the themes of truth and myth through a multitude of American and Native American voices; with a original musical score created through the collaborations of 25 New York based musicians and vocal artists.
(you need to see this live, multi-layered screen collage at its best)

More info here

Paris XX

The Paris show on Friday was great fun, packed out, great to see Vadim and Yarah on a Ninja bill again too. During mine and DK’s set someone pulled the fire alarm and all the power went off on stage for more than 5 minutes. Unfortunately we were in the middle of a drum n bass section so that went down like a damp squib. Before the gig I went up to the Galerie Chappe to see the exhibition of Ninja art and sleeve design that had been put on, apparently 1,500 people turned out for the opening! Ping Pong, who have done promotion for Ninja for over a decade now under the leadership of Fred ‘DJ Oof’ Elalouf, did a great job of putting together a show which included original art, paste up sheets, sleeves, huge posters and specially made prints of selected covers. They also made exclusive T-shirts, seats and a huge banner for the gigs which greeted me when I walked into the venue.  See photos from the exhibition here (warning, this is a Facebook photo album), and it’s on until October 2nd. There are 4 more gigs coming up in Paris over the next few weeks including a huge, long sold out line up at La Machine and two gigs at the Pompidou Centre.

XX banner, ParisGalerie Chappe Ninja L'expo

Trax magazine and Paris gig

Trax coverTrax contentsFree CdTomorrow, DK and I do the first of the official Ninja Tune XX gigs in Paris, there’s an exhibition opening tonight with cover art and all sorts of material picked from the archives. I’m looking forward to seeing photos but couldn’t be there myself as we’re gearing up with our live set for the anniversary shows. The 4 deck set with be audio/visual with a heavy bias towards Ninja’s greatest moments from the last two decades.

Also just out in France is music magazine Trax which generously devotes a WHOLE ISSUE to the birthday celebrations and includes a free sampler CD too. Yours truly was interviewed about the artwork side of things and chose my favourite Ninja-related release (the suitably-titled ‘La Prochaine Fois’ seeing as this subject of this post is France). Also there are several of Nigel Peake’s drawings published including his study of the Ninja HQ and a mini version of the family tree poster available with the new box set.

Family TreeVisual Food

Posted in Books, Event, Music, Ninja Tune. | 6 Comments |

Ninja Tune XX boxset is here finally

I was having a shitty day with nothing going right when this was hand-delivered from the Think Tank offices out of the blue this afternoon. Eight months of hard slog, revisions, deadlines, corrections, proofs, more revisions, changed constructions and over 50 GB of information went into this.

A slipcase containing 3 hardback books – ’20 Years of Beats & Pieces’ was actually started back in July 2009 and completed just under a year later with a solid six months spent on it and little else. The other two, containing 6 CDs, 6 45’s, 2 posters, a booklet and a sticker sheet (which should have been straight forward but I had no end of hassle with) took another 2 months at least with meetings and discussions as to how the packaging would work going on since March. I even managed to find time to write a new track to go on the damned thing which is on one of the exclusive CDs.

When I look back at 2010 and think what I did that year, this is what will sum most of it up. If you have one on the way then you’re in for a treat believe me, want one, didn’t get round to buying one yet or were maybe sitting on the fence then there are still some available to buy before the big release day on September 20th.

[singlepic id=2332 w=640 h=480 float=left]

Ninja Exhibition and Pop-up Shop this Saturday in London

Black Dog Publishing open their doors on a Saturday this weekend for people who haven’t been able to make it to the Ninja 20th exhibition in the week. Between 12 and 5pm they will be open and Ninja will have a special pop up shop there selling selected items. I’m not entirely sure what will be available yet but there might be some of the new Ninja Tune XX releases and you will be able to buy the 20 years of Beats & Pieces book for £15 which is a fiver cheaper than the shops. It’s free and at 10a Acton Street, London,WC1X 9NG. This is the last week of the exhibition so it’s now or never…

Pop up shop invite (web)

Super Heroes and furniture

The Dynamic Duo have been on fire of late. Yesterday, on the bus whilst going up into town (dressed as Batman and Spiderman as per the previous post), we were discussing superheroes and their powers. It turns out that A has a made-up hero called ‘Dr Pork Chop’ whose special power is doing absolutely nothing. On being asked if he had a made-up super hero, T gazed out of the window, clearly searching for a quick comeback as he had no such creation himself. We had pulled up at some traffic lights and a bunch of trees hung close to the window of the bus, ‘Leaf Tree’ was his instant creation, with the power to grow leaves on everything.

eames_lounge_chairDSC05663Whilst up in town we passed a shop window with an Eames Lounge chair and Otterman footstool and I casually remarked that this was my favourite chair and that, one day, I would have one of my own hopefully. This morning, as I got up, T rushed up and excitedly said, “Daddy, come and see what I’ve made, it’s in the living room!”. Entering the room I saw this.

Not bad for a nearly 5 year old, now that’s what being a parent is all about. :)

Posted in Oddities. | 1 Comment |

US gigs line up and new early Japan show flyer

Here are the line ups and details for the US gigs, also DK should be joining me on the Japan leg too which should also be taking in Osaka and possibly Kyoto as well as Tokyo (which has two shows). Got a nice hook up with Converse for the US gigs including a free party in San Francisco that they’re sponsoring. For free entry please send an RSVP  here, also XLR8R are doing a big Ninja piece too.
xxflyerNEWYORKfinal_v7xxflyerSANFRANCISCO_v10xxflyerNEWYORKfinal_v7NINJAXX_Toyko early

Ninja Tune XX gigs and events

Back from holiday and ready to kick off the Ninja Tune 20th autumn in fine style. The array of gigs, press, releases and events is staggering, there are now 20 different things happening over the next two or so months and plenty of magazine coverage to come shortly. Be on the look out for a 6 page feature on rare Ninja releases in Record Collector, a 6 page design feature in Blueprint, a 70-odd page tribute issue of Trax magazine from France and an 8 page pull out supplement from Clash magazine amongst many more. The ’20 Years of Beats & Pieces’ book by Stevie Chick is now out, the exhibition in London is on until September 16th and the run of dates in France, organised by Ping Pong, start next Friday, the 10th, in Paris.

Djouls and Grant Phabao – the Paris DJs – have been doing some excellent podcast mixes of rare, remixed and psychedelic Ninja Tunes from the past two decades and have contributed to the Trax magazine articles too, find more info here.

There are gigs being set up in the US and Japan for late October and early November plus a huge line up for the Bristol show on November 13th. This weekend I’ll be doing three shows in Russia, one in St Petersburg and two in Moscow – the Migz festival and a special show after at the Dome Bar between 1 and 3am.

At some point in the next week. the box set should arrive at the Ninja office along with the six 12″s and there’s still a mix CD and DVD to come after that. Keep checking here for more info, shots of the packaging and related material…
PrintFLYER ParisNINJA TUNE XX_ Bristol Ninja WebNINJAXX_Flyer14

Posted in Books, Event, Gigs, Music, Ninja Tune. | 6 Comments |