I never thought, when I was signing up to buy Guns 'N' Roses' 'Lies' on import at Music Zone as a teenager, that the funny round black spinny things would become a subject of such controversy. All I was bothered about was getting that album before even 'Appetite For Destruction' was out in the UK, and adding it to the stack of other anthems I played on my old Dansette – my refusal to have a midi-hifi as a teen was of great amusement to my friends. But I was the only one who could play hours and hours of music continually. They only had a silly little deck stuck on the top of a fragile plastic radio.
And here-in lies the lesson – vinyl, and the process of getting your hands on it, is ace.
I've kind of started with my conclusion there, but why not start as we mean to go on. The experience is one akin to having a book – a vinyl album is a thing to behold, a product to keep, not just a piece of music. And the experience of using it is one that in a professional capacity is a skill. If you do it properly that is. As wonderful as a record is though, vinyl is certainly not an irreplaceable format, and I am definitely a fan of receiving a download code with your purchase, because in an age where you can download anything you want at the drop of a hat, listen to it through your phone, you can even take along your laptop to a DJ gig and plug in to Serato. But still, kids, there's so much more to life than iTunes.
In the wake of all this vinyl-loving, where even Music Week News are declaring (as with dogs and other small animals on TV ads a few years ago) that vinyl isn't just for a day it's for life, there have been numerous creative pushes jumping on the ever-growing Record Store Day bandwagon; a day set aside where the cult of vinyl lovers across the country come together in a celebration of circular form and musical function. Genres are put aside and it becomes a night where you can't decide which special event to go to because there's so much going on.
And one rather lovely amalgamation of creativity that has actually spread far beyond 21st April is the happening of the Secret 7 project. The project aims to rekindle some of the excitement for vinyl sleeve art in the digital era, by exploring how a track would be interpreted by an array of brilliant artists. That's another thing you don't get to appreciate with downloads – the art work. Handling a beautiful gatefold is just yummy, and you don't have to squint at a screen to see the photos on it either.
The Secret 7 design challenge was originally set last year by a team from Universal Music UK, design agency Music and Teenage Cancer Trust, who offered the choice of seven different singles for which to create a sleeve. Global musical names bought into the idea, their music intended to inspire the illustrators and designers involved, and the chosen tracks are; The Cure’s 'Friday I’m In Love' [released again for its 20th anniversary], Noah & The Whale’s 'Old Joy', Florence + The Machine’s 'Only If For A Night', Ben Howard’s 'Black Flies', DJ Shadow’s 'Come On Riding (Through The Cosmos)', CSS’s 'City Grrrl' and Bombay Bicycle Club’s 'Lights Out, Words Gone (special Dub mix)'. So something for everyone then, and half of this you could've probably bought on vinyl anyway considering the massive resirgence in the last few years, but the point here is that this is something special, and for a different cause. The cause in it's traditional sense being Teenage Cancer Trust, and another of creating yet another platform for people who use the right-side of their brain to use the left and come together doing something differently.
The exhibition at Talenthouse Gallery in uber-cool East London, has “an air of mystery in that no-one will know who designed each sleeve, or which of our seven tracks is housed inside” and no one WILL know until they buy one this weekend. I think that's a great idea – the whole concept gets better and better the more you learn about it. But nevermind the music for a moment - the art in itself is worth paying for, considering that half of the sleeves were designed by emerging and established creatives from around the world. The process of work being submitted via the Talenthouse earlier this year is apparently a process which helped somehow to highlight the importance of the work of Teenage Cancer Trust and more importantly led to each of the seven musicians and groups who provided the tracks to handpick their 45 favourite Talenthouse sleeves to go into the show itself. The seven musicians and groups then actually dug out their pens, pencils and paints to visualise their own song within that 7”x 7” square. Imagine putting your hand in your pocket and getting home to find you'd just bought Robert Smith's artwork for a DJ Shadow track?!
The remainder of the sleeves on show were designed by an array of the most interesting and exciting artists working today. To name just a few: David Shrigley, Michael Spencer Jones (Oasis, Verve), Andy Vella (Mogwai, Pavement and who did the original sleeve for Friday I’m In Love), Central Station (Happy Mondays, Black Grape), Toby Mott (De La Soul), Stylorouge (Blur, The Cure, Morrissey) and Richard Evans (The Who). Contemporary illustrators and artists, as well as youngsters who receive support from TCT, make up the remainder of the creative team supplying the completely unique sleeves, some familiar names being Drew Millward, DR.ME Design and Stan Chow.
At the launch of the exhibition, viewers herded into the main room at Talenthouse to see walls and walls of 7” artworks, with no clue whatsoever as to who had done what. Unless you recognised the style. And Stan Chow's did stand out a mile, so we grabbed him for a natter. “I got wind of the project through Twitter. I'd already heard about it, but my involvement started when one of the organisers started following me on Twitter, that's when I realised this could be a good project to be involved in. I also discovered at the same time that a lot of really well known designers around the world, as well as designers that I knew were submitting pieces, so I thought, right, I'm going to have a submit a piece too. I think the concept is ace... it's a great and clever way of raising money. Art collectors will be spying the ones they want, figuring out which artist did which sleeve, plus others will be having their fingers crossed hoping that they buy the 7" designed by the respective musician. The most difficult part of this project for me was to keep my mouth shut and not tell anyone which one I did! As soon as I finish a piece, I usually blog and tweet about it, but this one I had to keep under wraps until after record store day!”. And he still wouldn't point out which one was his depsite us recognising it a mile off.
So, on Record Store Day itself - 21st April - through to the close of the exhibition on Sunday evening, each seven-inch sleeve will be available for a minimum donation to the charity of £40 on a first come first served basis. Only when you’ve parted with your cash will the secrets be revealed, and as we said earlier every single penny profited from the sale of these exclusive vinyl records is going to Teenage Cancer Trust. So if you don't mind paying £40 for some fabulous art and ending up with Florence Welch screeching out of your player, you're on a winner.
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