In today's age of streaming music, whether it be iTunes, Spotify, TIDAL, etc., it's easy for the effort that goes into creating album, EP, or single artwork to go under appreciated. We've all read ad nauseam about the "vinyl boom," but for the majority of the public consuming music on their computers or phones, too often the accompanying images are shrunken down or pixelated from the original version.
Despite this, there are plenty of talented artists worldwide out there still creating covers, working in mediums including animation, digital sculpting, and more. We decided to highlight five of them behind the designs of some of our favorite recent electronic releases by Ash Koosha, Baauer, Fatima Al Qadiri, Kaytranada, Kingdom, and others. From Ricardo Cavolo's colorful illustrations to Babak Radboy's politically-charged images, they may come from different cultural backgrounds, but their work transcends language and geographical boundaries.
Hometown: Barcelona, Spain (originally from Salamanca, Spain)
Selected Work: Kaytranada (99.9%), Macklemore (This Unruly Mess I've Made)
My manager's based in Montreal, so I've gone there several times for projects, including doing work for Cirque Du Soleil and Mural Festival. Kaytranada found my work at some point; he liked it and wanted me to do the art, as simple as that (I had already heard about him, you can't forget that elegant sound). He gave me the concept and after that, huge freedom to work on it as I decided.
My main influence comes from outsider art. I love the way of showing something very complex and deep in a naif way. I get also some ideas from tribal and primitive art. The themes of my work usually are about the B-side of life, nonstandard people, marginal stories...but always trying to give some love to that universe and giving honor to it.
Hometown: New York City, NY (originally from Tehran, Iran)
Selected Work: Fatima Al Qadiri (Asiatisch, Brute), Kanye West ("Power" music video)
I've known Fatima [Al Qadiri] I think before she started really making music and we've collaborated on many things. We did the last cover together [Asiatisch]—I thought it was a big pain in the ass and then when you get the actual vinyl in the mail, it's actually pretty awesome to have this physical thing. It's perfect. I love how the image circulates and becomes iconic, and people listen to the record and look at the picture, and it grows in significance in that experience.
The [Brute] image is of a sculpture by the artist Josh Kline, who's a mutual friend of ours. She knew she wanted to use the sculpture—but on the front of an album it's not a sculpture is it? It's a picture—and as a picture it's really an installation shot. Whatever uncanny feeling you might have being in a room with that piece is lost when what you are looking at is its documentation.
The idea was to make the face come alive and turn it back into a being with presence—take it out of the gallery. I threw a lot of Hollywood at it—broken blood vessels in the cheeks, eyes on the brink of tears, stubble, peach fuzz, freckles. The foggy out-of-focus backgrounds are a combination of the last five years of police riots—from Hong Kong to Ferguson. The scratches on the glass and the gatefold are from prison walls.
I'm a person of color; my interactions with the police have always been very unpleasant. The subtext of police interactions in the US is that they can make you disappear, can do anything they want to you if you say the wrong thing, and this is just while casually passing them on the street.
Hometown: Chicago, IL & Austin, TX
I was in a number of different electronic music scenes myself in Chicago. I was a turntablist, and booking shows at a massive space owned by a painter that I was a protege of, bringing artists including Evian Christ, Teengirl Fantasy, and Mumdance. I was going to art school as a designer and ended up doing promoters and artists' fliers and artwork.
Kingdom has a very strong, particular sense of vision, not just sonically. I had to catch up to him in terms of the number of certain elements that were important to him. A lot of people just tell me "do whatever, make something weird," but we began to harmonize throughout the production process. The EP cover and the videos are just a handful out of the 30 or 40 images we made along the way, I was sculpting and doing all sorts of renders. It was a long process, but it got both of us to a place that I don't think we would've by ourselves, which was kind of refreshing.
Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT (originally from Tehran, Iran)
Living in Turkey was tough; the city of Kayseri where I lived was pretty conservative and predominantly Muslim, lacking any form of "underground" culture, and most disappointingly, very minor knowledge of English among the populace. I had a really hard time communicating and would spend most of my time at home. I had a laptop and started tinkering around Photoshop. At that time, western styles of graffiti were popping and everyone was experimenting. This gave me a solid background to start digitally manipulating Iranian/Arabic typography and calligraphy in Turkey.
Early 2010 while in the US, I decided to send Mahdyar Aghajani a message on Facebook, who I consider to this day to be one of the pioneers of Iranian alternative music, considering how [Iranian rapper] Hichkas and him revolutionized our traditional ideas of what "nationalistic" music should be like. Out of curiosity I ended up downloading [open-source software] Blender and I was immediately enchanted, which expanded my capabilities and shifted my perspective of possibilities and logic of execution.
I don't want to have a statement even though sometimes people force you to come up with one. I've been always fascinated by the ambiguity of Iranian poetry and literature, and its allowance of personal interpretations. Reading some of the commentary by people associated with or observant of my work, it is evident that interpretations are subjective and I take pleasure in seeing that. Rather than diluting audience's perception with some academic thesis, I tend to record my feelings through my work and let the observer decide on their own.
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA (originally from Sydney, Australia)
Selected Work: Baauer (Aa), Mark Pritchard (Under The Sun), Modular Recordings
I did Rustie's first album cover, which was on Warp, and that's how I met Dom [Flannigan] who runs LuckyMe and he reached out to me when Baauer was working on the album. The first stuff I did was the EP with the helmet [2014's ß], that was pretty much free reign, working with a blank slate. Those were my first ideas as well and happily they liked those. For the album itself, I think he and his A&R discussed this idea of the general idea of him being like a mythological beast or entity, so we kind of came up with the idea of these little totems. I did a really early thing that was like a satellite television with a dreamcatcher hanging off it, this idea of combining contemporary stuff and tribal or ancient elements, which stemmed from his approach to the way he was making music and traveling around.
When I worked for [Sydney-based label] Modular as creative director—before the record industry totally collapsed—it was a much more systematic process the way album artwork was commissioned. Generally in those instances, the album would be finished and maybe not mastered, but it'd be pretty tightly done with titles worked out, all that sort of stuff. In the last few years that's completely gone out the window, and people send really early demos without titles, guest vocals, etc., which I find more exciting and interesting in a weird way.
I've thought a lot about what my strategy is to making a great album cover. I used to research well-designed album covers and look at what they did, and my feeling is the trick is to create something that feels representative of the atmosphere or universe that the musician is in. Which can be quite specific and idiosyncratic, but doing that in such a way that people have room for their own interpretations, and be able to add their personal takes into the artwork.
All interviews conducted separately by Max Mertens.