The visual focus of the project is a series of photographic portraits by Bloodworth focussing on musicians from four different regions of the world – Glasgow, London, and the east and west coasts of the United States.
Bloodworth and Hammersley (Give Up Art) are best known for their work with Tempa, FWD>> and Rinse FM. After working on portraits of key movers in that London scene, they made a trip to L.A., where they snapped artists and DJs from the Low End Theory Club, Alpha Pup and Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder. The resulting portraits were first presented and exhibited as the L.A. Dope series.
From there, Bleep commissioned the duo to expand the project. They travelled to Glasgow where they focussed on Hudson Mohawke, Rustie and the guys from the Numbers, Wirebock and LuckyMe crews, and then back to the States, this time New York, capturing the likes of Kotchy, Mike Slott and Falty DL. The results were collected in the North/South/East/West, a box set produced by Bleep and featuring photos and packaging from Bloodworth and Hammersley and a CD comprised largely of exclusive tracks by the musicians involved.
Over the next couple of pages we talk to Stuart and Shaun about the project, and their practice at the intersection of art, photography and music.
Please tell us about a bit about your respective careers to date, and how you came to work together….
Shaun Bloodworth: “I’ve worked as a freelance photographer for nearly 20 years, travelling the world, being lucky enough to see some truly amazing things, firstly in magazines – which is where I met Stuart.
“We worked on a food magazine called Restaurant where he was the Art Director -it was tremendous fun, great stories, ideas-led. We hit it off very quickly. Our first music job was a favour for Dubstep Allstars 3, photographing the dubplate machines at Transition. I knew nothing of that world at that time, but grudgingly went to FWD that evening with Stu and have been hooked ever since…”
Stuart Hammersley: “I studied Graphics at the London College of Printing, and have worked professionally for about 14 years, starting in magazines and newspapers. Since I can remember I’ve also always worked evenings or weekends on other types of design projects.
“About eight or nine years ago my friend Neil Jolliffe set up a few small record labels and I started designing for them. One of them he set up with Sarah Lockhart, which was called Tempa. And then they also both set up a small club called FWD, which I also designed for…Oh, and Neil first coined the word Dubstep, for a piece XLR8R did on Horsepower Productions, fact fans!
“Then about three years ago, together with my wife Emma, I formed Give Up Art as a studio in its own right.”
Tell us about the origins of N/S/E/W. Where did the idea come from, and when did it begin to take off?
SB: “The idea came out of the blue during a meeting with Bleep after they had run the LA Dope series on their website. Initially the idea was to make some posters, but an idea was floated of going to Numbers in Glasgow and DubWar in New York to take some portraits package together with a track from each subject. It was as simple as that.
“Of course it’s very much a US/UK affair and we’ve made it clear that it’s not meant to represent a world-view of electronic music, but it is part of a wider document we will continue with.”
SH: “That’s Shaun being a good salesman right there! I suppose going right back, during the music work we had started doing together around 2005 I found we were getting really good opportunities to meet and photograph loads of the key players around the emerging FWD / DMZ scene. I happened to think that it was a really special and important time…amazing music was being made and the people we met were interesting and inspirational. So we decided to try and photograph as many people as possible. With no concrete plan as to what we might use them for…
“A book about FWD was, and still is, a possibility. The LA Dope trip was a progression from there really… with us being spurred into action by a West Coast feature that Mary Anne Hobbs broadcast on her Radio 1 show. And also by Shaun’s uncanny ability of squeezing a small grant out of the UK government.”
“With Tempa, I wanted it to look like the opposite of the kind of bling-y, OTT, shiny chrome style of dance music graphics.”
Your Tempa and FWD work is instantly recognisable and very effective. Were you given an open brief with the design?
SB: “From the photography point of view I think we all wanted a look that wasn’t anywhere else at that time, and Sarah Soulja is very good at seeing that and letting you run with it. We don’t feel that there’s any fixed style and it has to develop if it’s not to get stale. They [Tempa/FWD] are a tremendous client to work with, quite a rare thing.”
SH: “Well, at the beginning with Tempa, I wanted it to look like the opposite of the kind of bling-y, OTT, shiny chrome style of dance music graphics. The client also needed to stand out and be distinctive – especially in record store racks…So it was a merging of those two ideals of design clarity and commerciality. Plus the pared down, stripped back aesthetic seemed to fit well with the music.
“Tempa, FWD, Rinse – those guys as clients have been brilliant – incredibly supportive, willing to go with nearly all of my ideas…very open briefing. But also understanding the value of good design and photography – rather than just seeing it as a cost that needs to kept as low as possible.”
“Memorable shoots? Taking Daedelus to Bel Air in his tailcoat and hi-tops, FaltyDL on the Bowery with a massive bag of cheetos, Hud Mo knee-deep in coffee cups in freezing cold Glasgow…”
Were there any subjects who were particularly easy or difficult to work with? What were the most memorable shoots?
SB: “I can honestly say that we’ve had no problems with anyone. Even if people are tired, they want to help, and hopefully they realise that we try to get the best picture for them that we can.
“There are cultural differences in how shoots are approached. The US beatmakers tend to have a heightened idea of their own self-image and how it works, whereas many UK DJs are reserved off stage…but we like that and it makes for a more interesting world.
“Memorable shoots? Taking Daedelus to Bel Air in his tailcoat and hi-tops, the relief of getting FlyLo at his home (celebratory all-day breakfast after that one) FaltyDL on the Bowery with a massive bag of cheetos, Hud Mo knee-deep in coffee cups in freezing cold Glasgow, Headhunter on a skip…It’s been great fun.”
SH: “Rolling around Croydon one afternoon with Hatcha was also a very good one. And that first Tempa album cover shoot together – Skream at the West Indian centre in Leeds…great fun, pretty full-on and making it up as we went along.”
What’s the relationship between subject and location in each of the photos?
SB: “The only relationship is that the place is somewhere, in so far as it was possible, close to where they [the subject] lives or lived . It appeals to me living in the north of England to know what the East Village, Santa Monica, East End Glasgow or Croydon actually looks like away from the guide books. We tend to then pick locations as we walk around. You just get used to seeing places instantly – it’s just down to knowing what works in your mind.”
SH: “‘Normality’, reality, whatever you want to call it – is interesting to me. Images that quietly reveal details or oddness have greater longevity I feel…A lot of portrait photography that’s too set up, or posed, or too consciously trying to make the subjects look ‘cool’ just doesn’t interest me at all.”
“‘Normality’, reality, whatever you want to call it – is interesting to me. Images that quietly reveal details or oddness have greater longevity…”
What came first, the design concept or the photographs?
SB: “Ask the Art Director! Half of the pictures were shot before the idea came into being so we knew how the pictures would sort of look. You have to pace things in the same way as a set too, so if you have six pictures to shoot then they need to be shot at different distances.”
SH: “The packaging design kind of evolved alongside the shots, as we went along; and through various conversations and exchange of ideas with Dan and Raj at Bleep.”
What did you learn from the experience of creating N/S/E/W?
SB: “Probably that the photographer gets it easy – as my practical work is effectively done as soon as the pics are shot, although there is a great deal of prep and research gone into it before the shoots. It’s been an enjoyable experience and it’s great to be involved throughout which isnt the case usually. These kind of projects can be all-consuming so you have to be careful , but i’d certainly do it again.
SH: “Yes, lots of hard work – especially for the graphic designer! [laughs] “Well yeah, it was a labour of love…but learning that the people we contacted were all so up for it and generous with their time etc was great. Totally want to do more things like this…”
The design is very distinctive, a development of the Tempa aesthetic but with also seemingly a nod to the Warp/Bleep vibe too. What were your aims and influences with the design?
SH: “The aims…Mainly not to overshadow the photography content… but to make a desirable, special object that people would want to own and keep. (With a few interesting little details to pick up on and discover).
Plus, as it was to be the first ever Bleep release I thought it would be fitting to reference their colour palette (in the grey and pale green paper stock) – always liked the Bleep branding. The special modified headline font is based on a ‘+’ symbol (like compass points) as a nod to the title…
“And ultimately to present everything as best we could… to do justice to all the hard work put in by all involved.”
“Record sleeves are the best. It’s why I became a designer in the first place.”
As the digital age charges on and the traditional record sleeve becomes less and less visible, do you expect more and more extensive art+music projects like N/S/E/W to be commissioned? Are there any from the past that you particularly admire?
SB: “Good question. For me personally I like sleeves, it gives you a connection between the sound and artist. There’s something very pleasurable about it. But we have crossed that line now, that we can never go back from, so yes, I hope there will be room for more of these projects, in what form I don’t know.
“When we were in NY we were given a CD called Women Are Beautiful which had a great book of photographs taken by Gary Winogrand in the 60s – smart with double meanings. So , I think as long as photography can be used in an intelligent way like that to add to the finished product rather than just being a ‘nice’ picture, then it has a future certainly.”
SH: “I hope so. Record sleeves are the best. It’s why I became a designer in the first place – 2-Tone, StreetSounds Electro series, Factory. The thrill of buying a new album and geeking out on the sleevenotes whilst listening to it is pretty up there in my list of favourite things…
“As for other art and music projects, Mike Slott did point us in the direction of the PowerShovel guys. A Japanese and US-based company that put out some great artist music and photography work. The recent LoAF series of releases designed by Non Format are pretty wicked – special CD mounted on board with a special art print by different illustrators attached.”
Do you have plans to work together, or with any of the producers featured in N/S/E/W, in the future?
SB: “Theres no ulterior motive on my part, but we would love to be involved with any of the artists we’ve worked with. These kind of projects develop out of nowhere so lets keep our fingers crossed.”
SH: “Well me and Shaun plan to carry on documenting electronic music scenes around the world (we hope!) and have a few ideas for other music, photography, design projects.
“As for the other artists we’ve met…well, that would be brilliant. But we didn’t set out with that as the intended end result of this…It’s just work that we wanted to do to push ourselves and make something more ambitious and better than we’ve done before.”