For all the faceless MP3's we download on a regular basis, you still can't replace the excitement of great looking album art—even cooler when we've got a freshly pressed vinyl and bespoke booklet to pore over lyrics and liner notes. In our new column Sleeves (an online revitalization of an old FADER magazine column) we'll explore some of the best art and design happening on new releases. For our first installment, William Hunt from London-based art collective Off Modern talks to us about the new, lushly designed 50-page booklet/sleeve for Gabriel Bruce’s single Sleep Paralysis.
First off, what is Off Modern? Off Modern is a collective of creative people with five core members and many collaborators. We began working together on art and music events while at university at Goldsmiths/ Camberwell in London, we wanted to give people a platform to show art, create a discourse as well as showcase our favorite bands and DJs and have a good party. We're now promoting new musicians as we did at our events, but we're doing it in a more tangible way—by releasing their music through Off Modern Records, something a few of us have wanted to set up since we began working together three years ago.
How did you get involved with Gabriel Bruce, and more specifically in putting out the single Sleep Paralysis? Gabriel is someone I've known for many years, he approached me asking if we'd consider releasing a book of his poetry through our publishing arm. Around the same time he played me some of his demos and my head was turned. "Sleep Paralysis" was one of my favorite tracks and also one Gabriel was willing to release as his debut single.
How did you guys make the decision to expand this into a book? What was the collaborative process with Bruce like? It just made sense. We've published journals and zines before, Gabriel was keen to get some written work out there and it was always our intention with Off Modern Records to offer something a bit different in terms of the release package. Sleep paralysis is an interesting subject and, early on in the process, Gabriel and I decided to create a themed artifact rather than coupling a collection of poetry with a track, with the two having nothing in common other than being created by the same person. That's one of many decisions that we took together, and it was great working so closely with Gabriel on the project, he's a really creative person and a true character.
What were some of your visual references for the project? We used Dada as a touchstone in the press release but we don't explicitly cite any Dada artists or people involved with that movement. It could be said that the book falls within the framework of Dada's cut up technique, popularized later by everyone from Burroughs to Bowie; it features cuttings and ephemera of peoples' recollections of sleep paralysis, sourced by Gabriel. I wouldn't call it a factual book though, the technique of cutting the text up, interrupting it and coupling its sequences with design and pictures renders its effect in the realm of the poetic. For example, reading a graphic novel is different to reading a short story; you open the page, your eyes pick up elements of the story from across the page and your brain pieces them together as you read left to right. The book has the same effect, it offers a unique reading experience.
Was there an overarching style/approach to all the visuals for the single? We did try to create an overall aesthetic. The hourglass motif in the video is actually replicated from the book, it's the pattern on the inside cover and also pops up on some of the pages. It's something very personal to Gabriel, and it was a conscious decision to put it in the video. People who buy the book will be able to see some of its themes and motifs in the video but it was never the intention for the release to be a heavily-branded debut xx record style.