Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In a fight between Timmy Burton and these lads...

...I know who'd win. Now, I do love Timmy and his bonkers creations, and I get asked a lot whether I am 'inspired by Tim Burton' and there were the never-ending type comparisons a few years ago. Well, yes, of course I am inspired, but the word 'dark' is so often used to describe his work it makes me feel a bit tired sometimes. It's not 'dark'. Dark became a word as over-used and high-streetified as 'eclectic' did ten years ago (everyone's latest release was bloody 'eclectic') along with words like 'awesome' ('it inspires awe in me') and 'underground'.

So, although there's a fair amount of reduced light levels in there, Tim Burton and his friendly-scary creations are many subterranean levels up from the murk and dinge of these two quiet fellas, the Brothers Quay.

You can Google them of course but there's no website. They don't want one. So thank God for YouTube then and their plentiful supply of films.

Marvel at how one rotating cube and a pile of iron filings become the most unsettling thing you've ever seen. Be sobered for a moment at the way a change in speed makes things less comprehendible, and a simple movement of an inanimate head is so unnatural you can actually feel your own follicles trying to get away. Tiny motions, mute details, claustrophobic viewpoints, lots of chiaroscuro, and beautifully curated sound.

No point me banging on any more, I know what they do for me, but have a look and see for yourself. Sometimes you just have to share.

This is a rejected 1991 ident piece for BBC2, which makes me want to turn back time and go to animation school:

Brothers Quay -1985- The Epic of Gilgamesh
Uploaded by petitlolotechre. - Independent web videos.

and my favourite, 'Stille Nacht I Dramolet':

Monday, March 22, 2010

The shape of things that hum.

I'm in the mood for talking about some things by other people that I like. Talking about your own work gets really boring sometimes!

My friend Kev sent me his new record recently, 'The Shape Of Things That Hum' on Ninja Tune records. Kev is better known as Strictly Kev (I never have found out why), of the DJ Food outfit and I do need to point out we were buying his records long before we started getting free ones! *winking emoticon*.

This one's a bloody corker though. Not that the others haven't been, I play A Recipe for Disaster (listen to it here and/or buy it here) a lot, even though it must be cocking on for 14 years old (my partner prefers Kaleidoscope), it's just that this one comes with exquisite art (Kev is also the Charlie Big Potato designer for Ninja) and we can't stop listening to it. The artwork is jewel-like and very pretty; it looks a bit like a mad man with a healthy dose of OCD has gone into a jeweller's, smashed up all the gems, and calmly re-arranged them all on the big shop windows with glue then shone a light through them.

The line work for the art is by Henry Flint, whose detailed writhing comic book art work you'll have to seek out in a non-web format as he does not have a site of his own. (Strangely refreshing, that). Kev has painstakingly coloured these images retrospectively and 'against all the odds'...

And it's a killer package too - big juicy poster and download and there's a DVD to go with it. But the main thing is that it really sounds like someone who's taken time to ruminate and masticate and all those other things you have to do to stir up a really fresh brew. It takes time. It still sounds like DJ Food, but DJ Food gone away for a bit and had time to fondle some new sounds and play for days on end with robots. Because this does have a robot theme, you see; Kev is a big fan of the mechanical man, and this suits me just fine because if I only ever had to watch Iron Man and Robocop and Terminator and all their sequels for the rest of my cinema-going days, I'd be a happy geek, though not quite as happy a robo-geek as Kev himself:

It hangs together really well and the sound seems, if I may so bold, more fulsome. More reverb and bass. Still very Kev though - narrative vocals, jazzy bits, groovy percussion (groovy in the old-fashioned sense of the word) and ... an element of minor threat lurking beneath. Or at least a warning.

The other thing is the cover / re-invention of one of my favourite artist's tracks, 'Giant' by The The. I put the record on without reading any liner notes (always do, listen first read later) and kept thinking, bloody hell! This is cheeky! But Matt Johnson and Kev have been friends for a long time, so it only made sense that they'd collaborate on something like this eventually. There's a fresh vocal being recorded for it too, which I can't wait to hear. The The was the inspiration behind my 'O' level art exam project (don't laugh) and to this day I go all tingly when I hear the opening notes of 'This Is The Day'.
Cheers Kev for sending it and making it in the first place, and may there be lots more. Kev's studio by the way is one we should all aspire to - tidy, clean and decorated with all things visually delicious and design-tastic - have a look. (Then go and tidy up in an embarrassed frenzy!)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Li(f)e in pictures.

My friend and long-time inspiration, Sage Francis, releases his latest album in May called Li[f]e, named after a line from one of his earlier tunes on what is one of my most-played albums, Personal Journals.

Anyone who's kept an eye on what I've been doing for the last ten years will have an understanding of how important Sage's work has been in developing my own, and Sage's words will need no introduction. But for anyone who isn't aware, it was Sage's music which prompted me to undertake one of the biggest and scariest projects I've ever done, my show 'If A Girl Writes Off The World', in 2006.

Here's a quote take from the website for the show, which you can still visit today:
'I played connect-the-dots with your beauty marks, and ended up with picture-perfect sheet can still hear me humming your nudity under my breath' (Hopeless)

Sage's songs are strewn with tiny linguistic gems and white-hot pin-pricks of personal expression, leaving the hip-poppers littering their charts with fake diamonds and teeth.

And if being reduced to tears or smarting from a sharp political smack round the chops isn't enough to remind you you're alive, his beats'll do it for you.

I wish I had written the words, but I didn't; I can only pick up the crayons and scribble hard at what they's going to take more pictures and more day trips out of the comfort zone before I can say I've done this man's work justice.

The exhibition was a collection of 2- and 3D pieces made as a raw and energetic response to a selection of his words. In contrast to client and professional work, these pieces were imperfect and impulsive, some being sold, some becoming permanent installations with fans around the world, and some making their way to the walls of Sage's home, where I'm proud to say they remain to this day.

A video of the show coming together.

Voxpops of the show with Sage making a cheeky entrance/exit.

When he asked me to produce artwork for his previous album, 'Human The Death Dance' (above), I was awestruck and bloody excited - what's better than being asked to do cover art for your favourite artist? But I was equally excited for to discover Sage's next cover artist is fellow Rhode Islander Shepard Fairey, who's created this beautiful illustration based on an old snapshot of a very caucasian Sage from a time when it wasn't at all cool to be a white rapper. Not one to give in to tired and silly rap preconceptions, Sage stuck his face in all its pasty beardy glory on his album cover, and it became one of his most iconic images.
Having watched Sage's cover art move from hand-drawn covers, photocopied for free at Kinko's, to collaborating with one of our most renowned artists (and fellow Bernstein & Andriulli creative) has been a journey I almost feel a maternal pride in; this is a man who's worked harder than I can describe to get his label to where it is today. Constantly in awe of his vision and commitment, I'm proud to have played just the tiniest part in that!

Congratulations Sage on the beautiful artwork and I cannot WAIT to hear the album.

Sage Francis starts touring in May 2010.

Read about and order the new album here.


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