Gamma Proforma: Audio Futurism

London has been home to many legendary labels: MoWax, Ninja Tune and Warp just to name a few. But apart from the heavy hitters many small independent labels keep pushing the envelope too. One of these labels is Gamma Proforma. Mixing art, design and music Gamma Proforma can be seen as a continuation of labels like MoWax where the design of the record sleeve is as important as the beats pressed on wax. With their 15th anniversary last year it’s about time to catch up with Rob Swain, creative director and label owner of Gamma Proforma, to shed a little light on the story so far. 

Hi Rob! Happy 15th anniversary! Tell me a little about yourself and the birth of the label. 

Things evolved from a group of artists and musicians (wasters), originally in Edinburgh where I lived at the time. There was never much of a master plan, we made music, art, ran events, it made sense to give it a difficult to say name and develop it. I’m an annoying, opinionated bloke who has ideas above his station.

You are the curator of the Gamma output: Picking artists, releasing albums and designing the art books. How do you manage to wear so many hats at the same time? I guess you are not getting a lot of sleep…

As with all things you enjoy, it’s never really work. Projects develop at their own pace, there are always a lot of creative hands in the mix. It’s not like we’re rushing around, pushing all the time. It happens in a more laid back, bit by bit way. Deadlines come and go, but we always get there in the end.

I guess the learning curve was pretty steep or did you have previous publishing experience before launching the label?

I’d previously ran a label, been in bands and had a shop, when Gamma kicked off it was more about doing things right, based on all the things i’d previously done wrong.

Gamma Proforma is quite a strange name, can you explain a little the meaning behind it?

Gamma represents 3 (Third letter in Greek Alphabet), it’s the 3 elements of what we do, Art, Music & Design. Proforma is a word i’ve always liked, it means ‘for forms sake’, in a working relationship, about being upfront and direct, the wordplay on ‘forms sake’ also appealed to me. It was 2000, that was the only domain name we could get.

The artist roster of the label is pretty impressive: You work together with some of the biggest names of the urban art scene like Will Barras, sheOne, Phil Ashcroft, Delta etc. How do you approach artists you like to work with?

A lot of the time we’ve met and discussed an idea, you meet one artist, then another. Most of the work happens in the pub, now and then if there’s someone who’s a good fit for a project or who has done something that’s impressed me, i’ll do what anyone would do, drop them a message or give them a call, send them some expensive biscuits.

Let’s talk Rammellzee: You dedicated a whole art project to him and curated an exhibition at Magda Danysz gallery in London. What does Rammellzee mean to you?

There aren’t many people from hip-hop’s inception who achieved what Rammellzee achieved in his short life, he was a legendary MC, inspiring the likes of the Beastie Boys. His art was ahead of it’s time, like Futura he moved beyond letter-forms before most of the world even knew what writing (graffiti) was. He created a complex world of characters and mythology, building costumes and sculptures from garbage, all backed up by a movement on his theories on control through written language, Gothic Futurism.

Can you name anyone who’s even achieved half of that? He’s Hip Hop’s Sun Ra, a cult figure who’s influence has yet to be fully realised.

You had Futura contributing a canvas for the Rammellzee show that was used for one of the 12″ releases as well. That must have been pretty special regarding his legendary status! Can you talk a little bit more about how that collaboration came about?

The Rammellzee project, Cosmic Flush, was about celebrating the life of a legend. When you’re talking Rammellzee, you can’t throw many names alongside his. Futura was a contemporary and friend of Ramm’s, he dubbed Futura ‘The Master Mapper’. It was fitting to have him involved, he’s part of the same story. Ian Kuali’i, who worked tirelessly alongside me on the project hooked up with Futura and made it happen, he was a gent throughout.

You are coming from a Graphic Design background, can you tell me a little bit about your sources of inspiration? Futurism seems to play quite a big role…

I’ve been into Design since I was a kid, the only thing I ever liked about Star Wars was the design, the story is generally rubbish. My thing, for the most part is modern art, Futurism is a fairly loose term. It’s constantly evolving, as we can never really live in the future, it’s always just ahead of us, and as such, each generations view of it is different.

As a child of the 70’s/80’s i’ll always be drawn to the Futuristic vision of my youth, the Delorean DMC 12 was built in the city i grew up in, vector graphics were new, computers were in their infancy.

I draw a lot on the period from my formative years, as it was a time when the tools were just getting exciting, but you really needed to be creative to achieve anything with them as they were still quite limited in what they could achieve. I subscribe to the ‘less is more’ philosophy, it’s healthy to be restricted, you’re forced to approach things differently.

For the Rewire project you had electronic artists like Cristian Vogel, Divine Styler, Luke Vibert and Andrea Parker contribute music… was it hard to get them all onboard?

I worked on that with Andrea Parker, Vogel and Vibert came from her relationships. Divine Styler is a solid member of the Gamma team, he embodies a lot of what we’re about. On the project in general, if you have a good idea and treat people with respect, in most cases they are happy to be involved. I have no desire to persuade people to do things they have no interest in, it’s worthless unless they actually want to be a part of it.

Running such a varied operation like GP must involve a lot of paperwork as well. With so many different artists involved, is it hard to sort out all royalties and rights and legal stuff?

Not really, most of the music we promote is available for free, we have very little paperwork, if a contract is required it’s usually very simple. We aren’t interested in tying people down or enforcing restrictions, for the most part, that’s what contracts do. A lot of the time we just shake hands and get to work.

With Banksy being at an all time high hype-wise and people like RnB singer Chris Brown trying his hand at street art, how do you feel about the urban art scene at the moment?

I don’t really pay any attention, I don’t even know who one of those guys is. It’s interesting how these generic labels bundle people together, I get why they are necessary, humans need labels to describe things, but just saying Urban Art or Street Art doesn’t really say much other than, someone painted something in the city, or here’s where the cool kids hang out. I’m not actually interested in these groups across the board, it’s like saying I like ‘Canvas Art’, I’m interested in art and artists, great painters, people of vision. 

Getting back to your question, at present we live in a very noisy world, in the 90’s you’d be hard pushed to meet anyone who called themselves an ‘artist’, these days I hear it daily. It’s like the Xmas pressie went from guitars to turntables to paint, in some respects it’s great that so many people are pushing their creativity, a lot are just having fun, i’d say 5% have something to say. Gamma isn’t part of the scene, we get lumped in as a generalisation in the same way people throw independent record labels in the same pot.

GP pushes a lot of experimental music. Any artists not on GP you are currently excited about?

I find it quite difficult to find new music these days, I spent a few hours going through new releases on Bleep the other day, nothing jumped out. ‘Current’ artists that I have playing in the office today are Bad Bad Not Good, Dead Rider, Juice Aleem, Mr Len, Beak, Clint Mansell…

You are releasing a book about the legendary UK designer and artist Swifty soon. How did this come about?

After a few beers, a lot of the time it’s a case of ‘why has this not happened already?’ There’s no denying Swifty’s credentials as a leading figure in Graphic Design, his record sleeves alone could fill two books. It’s a real honour to be working with him, people like Gilles Peterson and James Lavelle owe him a lot, I personally bought their early records because of Swifty’s sleeve art, it was a seal of approval.

Images via

Vinyl is back with a vengeance but smaller labels complain about big labels blocking the pressing plants with their mainstream releases. Did you guys have an issues with that? What are your thoughts?

What you say is true, there’s a rich fat bloke with a big arse and he’s hogging all the room with his RSD fodder. Until he fucks off we’ll all have to just wait in line.

You did what many designers dream of: Run your own show. Any advice for any striving art entrepreneurs?

Have a back up plan or side job. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years, financial security is not on the horizon. If you’re the sort of person who strikes out on your own or makes things happen you don’t need advice, you’ll do it no matter what people tell you. It’s like design, you can’t really teach it, it’s who you are.

Any final shout outs and announcements?

A massive shout out to you Solaris, and the other 12 guys that buy our stuff!

Gamma Proforma is hosting a night at The Social on 22.4.2016. Don’t miss it!  More info here

Check out Gamma Proforma online:

Swifty Typografix:

Thanks to DJ Food for addtional images:

Their 7″ vinyl weights a ton: Secret 7s 2016

That London hosts amazing exhibitions is no secret, but this exhibition hold some secrets itself! Kickstarted in 2012, Secret 7s picks 7 tracks and releases them on 7″ vinyl. Then selected artists, designers and illustrators create unique covers for the song of their choice.

The catch: The artist, the designer and the track stay anonymous so each visitor has to guess which creative messed around with which song!

Especially when it comes to the infamous sale day where all the sleeves get sold off for charity, having the right hunch can bag the vinyl lover an original artwork by a world famous artists for the price of £50!

The list of contributors is as eclectic as the selection of songs for the 7 inch vinyl: From total newcomers to big artists, Secret 7s prides itself to be open and accessible which I think is great. And not just because I managed to get to submit an artwork to the show 😉 

So many different approaches to customizing a 7″ cover! Trying to figure out the songs as a visitor is as much fun as designing a sleeve as an artist: It’s all about dropping enough hints to make the cover relevant to the song, but not too many that it’s too obvious. 

Name-dropping all of the artists featured would be impossible. The whole list can be seen here. Needless to say it’s great to share the exhibition space with friends like Daniel Clarke, Patrick Hanke, Mark James and Stevie Gee and personal heroes of mine like Pete Fowler and Swifty, just to name a few.  

As all monies will be donated to Amnesty International there is  no need to cling onto your cash: Get yourself a piece of affordable art and support a great cause! 

Wonder which songs are on offer? Tracks featured on vinyl this year: Chvrches / Clearest Blue, Etta James / At Last, Jack Garratt / Worry, The Jam / Art School, John Lennon / Imagine, Max Richter / Dream 3 and Tame Impala / The Less I Know The Better. Quite a range of musical styles!

To create the right vibe for the private view at creative space Sonos Studio featured artist and vinyl lover Pete Fowler and friends provided the soundtrack to the kick off of this years show with their 7″ vinyl  only selection while ice cold craft beers made the rounds. Cheers! Now I really have to get that amazing Turkish Funk record he played…

So head down to Secret 7s in Shoreditch and go on your own musical expedition into the unknown… and discover more than one visual treasure!

The exhibition runs from 8th of April till 1st of May 2016 with the Sale Day being on 2nd May! Open Tuesday till Sunday, 10AM – 6.30PM at Sonos Studio, 21 Club Row, Shoreditch.

Before I am off to the record store, let me say that Secret 7s is not the only project worth mentioning when it comes to fusing art and music on 7″ vinyl…

1) Waiwiya

I came across these great designed 7″ records during the Independent Label Market this year. Apparently Waiwiya is a singles club where a subscription gives you access to seven vinyl singles designed by seven amazing artists. What a fun concept! Check out their Facebook to find out more. 


2) 45/7 Vinyl Club

Hailing from Hamburg / Germany, the aim of the 45/7 Vinyl Club is to connect 7″ vinyl lovers and present new eclectic 7″ mixes on a monthly basis via their Soundcloud. Every contributing DJ gets a unique hand painted 7″ sleeve by Secret 7s artist Patrick Hanke and they just celebrated their first limited release on vinyl:  A limited promotional only pressing of their “45/7 Theme” which already has a special place in my record collection!


3) Mondo Tees |

The illustration heavy hitters from Austin / Texas don’t only deliver when it comes to amazing and limited screenprinted posters, no they go all out too for their vinyl releases! These Batman and Superman 7″ vinyls are just a thing of beauty. Catch them if you can!

KAWS Mania: Making moves with Brian Donnelly

Uniqlo dropped the bomb this week and revealed the pieces of their upcoming collaboration with pop artist KAWS! I am very, very happy about what I see, not only because the bags and shirts look great and are affordable but because it’s funny to see how I am growing up alongside my heroes of the past. Time to reminisce about the rise of KAWS and my favorite pieces and collaborations that explain how Brian Donnelly made the leap from painting panels at Disney to the top of the art food chain in 2016.

1997 – Bus shelter interventions

Let’s start with the KAWS bus shelters: What a great idea defacing ads with your own brand! KAWS clean style fused perfectly with the beautifully shot adverts, raising his art in the process. Instead of destroying the ad this could be seen as his first ( illegal ) collaborations with high value brands as the slick visuals of the source material were always preserved if not enhanced by KAWS colourful and witty style.

Funnily enough the toys Medicom created based on the bus shelters are the cheapest and most readily available toys in his catalogue. Weird as I think they are a lot of fun and the concept is great!

  via JeremyRiad
via JeremyRiad

14 years later and the collaborations became a bit more official! Again I really think this is because of KAWS ability to create graphics which are so crisp and clean that they don’t feel out of place connected to high fashion and lifestyle brands. I wonder when he creates his first capsule collection with LV!

1999 – The birth of designer toys

Covered this part of his contribution to the Urban Toy phenomenon in my blogpost about Designer Toys here. Still it’s worth mentioning them again as they represent the first of many collaborations KAWS created in Japan where the scene embraced him first. I doubt he would be as popular and well known as he is now without the fandom of NIGO of BAPE fame and the support of the emerging street fashion Harajuku scene consisting of brands like BxH, Neighbourhood and Undercover. I am still loving the idea that a brand can embrace fashion, art and toys in one go.

2005 – Big in Japan

It’s good to have people who believe in you and push your career forward. Being one of the favorite artists of a mega rich Japanese streetwear mongul certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world! Nigo didn’t only commission a lot of pieces for his private art collection, but had KAWS create a whole season for his mega hype fashion brand BAPE. This didn’t just include pieces for the clothes line but artwork for his music label Bapesounds and covering his Bape Cafe in Tokyo with artwork as well.

  via Hypebeast
via Hypebeast

Some of my favorite pieces from the BAPE x KAWS era are the early toys and the CD cover for Japanese singer Cherie. I was lucky enough to pick some of these items up on my trip to Japan in 2007… 

A honorable mention goes out to ex Deee-Lite member Towa Tei who was one of the first people ( apart from Nigo ) who commissioned KAWS to do some artwork for him… Japanese people just have great taste!

2006 – Original Fake

Next step in the quest for world domination was opening his own store in Japan together with toy company Medicom. The Original Fake line felt decidedly less cartoony and more upmarket compared to the designs he did for BAPE. Architects Wonderwall created the impressive yet understated looking store and I am still annoyed about the small Japanese sizing of the goods! Most of his later toys were released via Original Fake as well and queues used to form around his impressive Tokyo store on the regular. In 2013 KAWS pulled the plug on this business venture to concentrate more on his art hustle and less on the fashion retail side of things. I am sure though that he learned as lot about crafting his brand from this venture.

His final season can still be viewed here…

  via Wonderwall
via Wonderwall

Pharrell – Back to the USA

  via Upscalehype
via Upscalehype

As much as Pharrell caught the BAPE bug from Nigo, he caught his KAWS obsession as well. This early picture of Skateboard P rocking a diamond encrusted pendant based on a KAWS Blitz toy shows how hard Pharrell was riding on the KAWS fan train. I feel Pharrell can be credited for bringing KAWS back to the US alongside fellow NIGO bro Kanye West after he reached cult status with devoted collectors in Asia.

Pharrells public endorsement put KAWS back on the radar of a more mainstream western audience. Creating Kanye West’s “808 and Heartbreak” album cover art was just another step winning America over. He should go on creating massive sculptures for the MTV Music Awards and Marcy’s Day Parade…

Art Hustle – Rubbing shoulders with the fine art world

KAWS learned a lot about collaborating with the right people during the early days in Japan. He proceeded to hand pick his art collabos to not over saturate the market and work with credible artists that would add an extra dimension to his art. People like Pushead, Hajime Sayorama, Yue Minjun and Robert Lazzarini gave his companion extra flavour and elevated his toy to sculpture status. And that Murakami became a big fan too might not surprise anybody…

Blowing up dolls

Talking about sculptures: Blowing up his companion character to insane heights started very modestly in 2007 with taking the 1000% size concept of Medicom toys to the next level: The 4ft Companion was born!

Sizes grew with time and impressive sculptures were created for exhibitions in Malaga, Switzerland and Hong Kong to name a view. KAWS cartoonish style gives his massive sculptures a very surreal edge and allowed him to break into the art world. 

British KAWS lovers are fortunate to be able to see his Companions until June 2016 in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Read my write up of the YSP exhibition here! 

Selling out… by selling out

KAWS is great at keeping prices for his art high but offering accompanying merchandise that’s still desirable but affordable to the masses as well. As original art sells in the upper ten thousands middleweight collectors can still buy a pieces of KAWS via his limited print editions which are not cheap but the closest a normal person can get to owning some KAWS artwork. When it comes to the masses KAWS follows the same approach of high fashion houses like Chanel or LV: You might not be able to afford a handbag but you can still pick up a low cost item to feel part of the gang!

 via The AlleyGallery
via The AlleyGallery

Some merch from the YSP shop… not a piece of art put a piece of KAWS nevertheless…

XX for the masses: KAWS x UNIQLO

Now here we are, at the dawn of the next step of KAWS pushing his creations to become household names! Whilst other artists might be called “Sell Outs” for collaborating with a company doing mass produced fashion, this collaboration just feels natural. Especially with Nigo being the current creative director of UT at Uniqlo! Personally I am excited and already picked my favorite pieces.

The toy nerds won! Next KAWS might give a space shuttle his trademark teeth and crossed out eyes as the sky apparently is not the limited to a business savvy pop artists like Brian Donnelly!