Interview w/DJ Food

Last month, RokRiot profiled some stellar special-edition packaging from the recent DJ Food/Ninja Tune release, The Search Engine. We were really struck by the album’s book format, its use of photography and illustration, and, of course, who doesn’t like a transparent vinyl acetate—a brilliant way to highlight a bonus track. DJ Food represents a long lineage of music and musicians first birthed by London’s Ninja Tune label in 1990. What started as a sampler of jazz breaks, loops and samples has morphed into a deft mix of modern electronic beats and samples helmed by musician and designer, Strictly Kev. Strictly Kev was kind enough to respond to an interview request and dive a little deeper into the packaging for the latest incarnation of DJ Food:

What about the format of a book had you saying “Yeah, this fits the album.”?
SK: The comic angle was really foremost in my mind with Henry Flint’s involvement along with a desire to make something stand out on the shelves. As I was using a lot of Henry’s artwork that was in an A3 format to begin with, I had had to make it fit into the square format of a disc (i did fold out poster covers to the 12″ EPs that preceded the album to accommodate).

Rather than crop down his beautiful images I adapted the format of the packaging to fit them instead. A few artists have been releasing their albums as part of a magazine and I like the way that that potentially gets the music to a completely different audience in terms of seeing an album in a magazine rack.

What themes were you trying to reflect with the book’s illustrations and photography?
SK: I had a retro sci-fi thing going on, which Henry had reflected in some of his images, along with various other psychedelic influences. As I was decided on using Henry’s images I didn’t want to go down the literal ‘turn your artwork into a comic’ route with speech bubbles and panel borders although that was a consideration at one point.

The space / sci-fi theme kept resurfacing in samples and influences when I was making the album and when it came to do the press photos I wanted to have fun with it. It was a no-brainer to hire an astronaut suit and shoot something different with it and I was so pleased with the look of the photos that came out that I decided to include them in the book too.

Did you begin the project by gathering a mountain of visual reference, or did you just allow the work of your illustrator and photographer to drive the book’s look and feel?
SK: The images that I discovered from Henry Flint’s personal work (see his recently published book ‘Broadcast’ for the full story) where unknown to the public at large at that time so I had a caché of work by one of my favourite artists to choose from and shape into the artwork.

The final cover image was a commission though as that came near the end of the process with the album 90% complete and this was perfect in hindsight as it tied together the original images with the title and overall look plus my astronaut photos. The photos where an idea I had and put together with Will Cooper-Mitchell who I’d wanted to work with for a while, we worked out a brief where I explained what I was looking for and he added some of his twists on things to get shots that were more arty than press sometimes (which was fine by me). I then took them and did a lot of post-shoot Photoshop work to get the right balance of colour and tone that I wanted.

I love the transparent vinyl acetate created for your bonus track—how did this solution come about?
SK: This was actually always intended to be part of it, as soon as I discovered someone had started making flexi discs again.

The challenge there was to then find a way to include it with the CD of the album, the result was the ‘comic’ book, which fitted the size of the disc, the dimensions of the book were determined by the size of the flexi actually.

How will this special edition version of The Search Engine influence future DJFood packaging?
SK: I want to explore as many physical oddities as I can whilst the medium is still alive, the EPs that preceded the album already had poster covers, there’s a flexi disc with this edition and I made a small run of postcard records for an exhibition in London to accompany the album launch. The next release is a 17 minute remix of ‘The Illectrik Hoax’ by the Amorphous Androgynous that will be released on 12″ in April on either splatter or marbled vinyl. I’m going to the pressing plant in a few weeks to oversee the pressing and we’re going to try and mix several different colours to get new results.

I’m very keen to do a double groove record where you have concentric grooves with different tracks on them that means you can get a different track, depending on where you put the needle on the record. Lock grooves are another thing and I want to find time to make unique customised artwork versions of releases too. I’m always looking to do something away from the normal with packaging or to subvert the format somewhat, I’ve done semi transparent CDs (Quadraplex EP) hidden tracks at the front of CDs (Solid Steel Now, Listen Again) and 7″ serato controller records (promo for Now, Listen Again), if I can do it in the budget I will try something.

I think we’re in a golden age of sleeve design at the moment, possibly one of the last ever, where, to make people actually buy a physical object, bands have to try even harder to make something new and unique. And they are, I regularly see and buy releases by bands because of the packaging or design and it’s not showing any signs of stopping. The only frustrating thing about it is the limited numbers of some of them and the expense, and it’s finding a balance with this that is the key to this medium surviving in a market awash with downloads. Not that I have anything against downloads, I think the area of electronic design is an exciting no mans land at the moment and that will bring its own rewards too.

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To obtain your copy of The Search Engine, click on over to the Ninja Tune shop.

To learn much more about DJ Food (and quality design in general), please check out DJfood.org. Illustrator Henry Flint’s site/blog can be found by clicking here. To experience more of Will Cooper-Mitchell’s photography, check out his portfolio here.

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