Look at Zeke Clough's work. Now try to imagine the kindest Northern English accent that you can, talking about how to depict Satan holding a noose, getting ready to hang himself. These are the contradictions you face when you talk to Clough on the phone. You almost forget that he's responsible for some of electronic music's most shockingly morbid and detailed sleeve art over the past few years through his work for Shackleton and Appleblim's Skull Disco imprint and others.
Unsurprisingly, Clough is inspired by the works of comics in much the same way that R. Crumb took the format and turned it on its head in the '60s and '70s. (He counts Crumb and Zap Comix as influences as well.) He's not necessarily a dark person, however. It's just these dreams he keeps having, he says. In talking to him via e-mail and phone over the past month, we can confidently say that his nightmare is our gain: One such night yielded the poster for our RA X party in New York.
Designing sleeves was something that arose later for me. I didn't do it until Sam (Shackleton) started up the Skull Disco label. My earlier work went between two extremes, cartoon-style paintings with flat colours on one hand and more detailed black and white linework on the other. I really like doing cartoon-styles when I was a teenager, and I still do things like that. I got into having to do black and white work because there was more opportunity to get things printed. I wasn't confident enough with a brush at that time to use the same technique as I did with the color stuff, so I got into the cross-hatching thing. A few years ago I got really into Gary Panter, and I noticed he was doing a lot of cross-hatching, and I got into this psychedelic thing of just jamming as much detail into the page and seeing what happens.
Gary Panter, Zap Comix, even things like The Simpsons or old Disney cartoons are inspirations. I'm not really a dark person. That's kind of the irony of it. I'm quite easygoing. I have vivid dreams, though, which are really dark. Much of my work comes from dreams.
Sam [Shackleton] and I went to school together and I did some work for a fanzine that he produced. Then when he set up Skull Disco some years later, he asked me to do the artwork. Originally he wanted bold and simple designs, and I was experimenting with stencils at the time, I used that approach on the early sleeves. The themes and ideas for the Skull Disco covers originated from Sam and I was given free rein to interpret them in my own way. For example, with the cover for Skull 009, Sam gave me the suggestion of Satan holding a noose, about to hang himself and I illustrated that idea in my own way.
The [increased] detail was just my natural inclination to overwork designs that came out as the series progressed, but it wasn't a preconceived idea to do that. I had absolutely no involvement in the music whatsoever and don't think my art inspired Sam or Appleblim to go in any particular directions, really I kept well out of the music side of things! I just got carried away with the detail. Sam was always pushing for it to be bolder and starker, so we had a bit of a different approach there. [laughs]
The Proto Murk zine was meant to be proto as in a prototype and murk as in a swamp. It's meant to represent where you wring the ideas from. You have this abstract mass, and you develop them. It was a chance to do a comic of my own work, and trying to doing a more narrative thing. I have done comics in the past like Vampire Fruit Machine and Fly Paradiso. Actually drawing it is quite quick, but thinking about how things all fit together takes a lot of time with these types of things. Turning an abstract idea into something that people can follow takes a lot of thought for me.
[I've only done a few posters for events with Shackleton. But] I have no problem with the disposability of posters at all and like the idea of art being functional, something that people can experience in their everyday lives. City walls can be so dull, at least if posters change regularly it can add some interest to boring areas. I chose to do the poster for the New York party and was given free rein with the brief, so did a figure that had been subjected to an "orgassination" or death by orgasm. Its remains are hanging from a fish hook and performing a puppet dance, animated by machines powered by trapped workers in hamster wheels. The figure's brain is replaced by a complex speaker system that blasts out powerful soundwaves into the aether.
As part of the festivities, we've commissioned ten of our favourite designers to make a limited-edition screen-printed poster for one party in the series. With only 75 made available to the public, you can be sure that you're one of the only people on your block with this unique piece of art. Purchase one for the RA X night in New York exclusively via the event listing on RA.
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