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:

The joy of bargain diggin’

I have been a vinyl collector my whole life but the small flats in London with no storage space and the pain of having to carry around crates and crates full of heavy vinyl stopped me to keep expanding my collection.

Another issue for me is the price of vinyl: Spending around £100 just to get 10 fresh new tracks into my DJ bag when I spin just makes no sense, at least not to me. I rather burn CDs with some new bangers I purchased digitally for 99p a song or even downloaded for free from Soundcloud… sorry, purists!

I still have a passion for vinyl though! It’s actually very remarkable that vinyl, a very much antique analogue format, still flourishes amongst the digital revolution. I believe it’s the haptic quality, the great cover artwork and just the pure joy of holding your favorite track in your hand.

So although I rather buy digital music now, I do make the the odd exception and pay full price for a new slice of vinyl. Actually there are only three reasons I buy the odd full price vinyl record here and there:

1) It’s just too amazing

 via  Dj Food
via Dj Food

There is only so much temptation a man can withstand: Star Wars plus 7Inch plus Rave Beats plus an original vintage toy? All for £5? HELL YES! Balkan Recordings just killed it with this one!

2) Recordstore Day suckered me into it

Ahhh the day that appeals to the nerdy, hoard-y side of every Vinyl nerd: Must get the exclusive for the collection! Oh look it’s so special can’t miss out! OMG this looks like a star!!! With it’s high price points and limited pressings it aims straight at the wallet of middle aged collectors like me, d’oh!

3) It’s connected to UNKLE and Futura 2000

If there ever was a record label that made me catch the vinyl collecting bug it must have been MoWax and it’s artist in residency, Futura 2000. With it’s endless special editions, fold out covers, Japan exclusives and rare promos, MoWax made it’s releases insanely collectable. So whenever I see a MoWax record that I don’t own yet it itches me to get it.

Ok, let’s be honest. There is a fourth reason I still buy vinyl from time to time. The reason being when it’s dead cheap!


Music Exchange in Notting Hill was the first amazing bargain paradise with a basement with thousands of records for £0.50 or less I discovered after moving to London. The place was/is perfect for discovering cheap promos of your favorite label, a forgotten classic on 12″ or an overlooked gem. Nothing feels more satisfying than leaving a record store with a bag full of great music that cost you next to nothing! 

So when I saw that my local record store Love Vinyl had a 20p bargain basement I just had to get involved, being the vinyl cheapskate that I am. The joy bargain digging brings me by far excels buying a rare copy of an overpriced album on Records Store Day.

Because you can just enjoy yourself without the guilty conscience of spending too much money on things you don’t actually need. You can be experimental as it doesn’t matter if you purchase some duds and you can indulge by buying some records for the album cover alone!

It’s a bit like eating low fat Nutella if there were such a thing: All of the pleasure, none of the pain!

With me having had an amazing bargain run this month, I thought I’d share some of my finds for your viewing pleasure…

Category: Who cares about the music, great cover!

Never heard of that Madonna song but I am digging ( pun intended ) the Warhol-esque 7″ cover. Next: Lime green, Apple logo and some vintage printer styles on Ninja Tune, how can I not bag this.

Straight up 80ties rave amazingness next, gotta love that Benz star too: KRUSHing it. Last but not least: Force MD’s. Can we please bring back synchronized dressing? 

The one that got away: I still can’t believe I left this one in the shop…

Category: This actually might be good!

The name Spyder D rang a bell so I just went for it. Turns out the track samples Nu Shooz 1984 Hit “I can’t wait” and is a total oldskool HipHop party rocker!

Next, the XL sleeve and the artist name “Hardcore” gave me an instant Rave vibe and I do enjoy my vintage rave music so this one went into the bag. Another winner as it turned out indeed to be some good old rave tune in the tradition of early Prodigy. WIKKKIT!

Next up good old Tony Touch. The title had me loop “He is the greatest dancer” by Sister Sledge in my brain straight away. Turns out, that’s exactly the song Tony messed with so another party track for the DJ bag.

Last but not least a record I found at Oxfam, fam! Priced at £0.99 DEFINITELY upper price range but AV8 from New York are known for their party Hip Hop mashups. 

Championing the style long before Insane Bangers, Hot Cakes and other Party Breaks labels, they can be hit and miss but the 12″ turned out well with 6 playable tracks! Yes Yo!

Biggest surprise: Bob Sinclar! I loved his first album back in 1995 but he since walked the dark path of commercial house music and looks today like David Guettas evil twin brother after a night of shagging models in a New York penthouse. But the lovely lady on the cover, the retro vibe and the happy price of 20p convinced me to give it a shot. 

Truth be told, the original mix is horrible. Good I checked the flip as a dude called Tommy Musto Aquavela managed to craft a remix that is actually pretty damn enjoyable. Well done! 

Last but not least…

Category: This is a certified hit! Go on, judge me!

It’s always fun to find guilty pleasures and childhood hits on 7″, especially abandoned in the bargain bin! This is barely the tip of the iceberg of my finds, other highlights include “Working 9-5” by Dolly Parton and “Magic Fly” from Space… 

Standout find: This crappy plastic bag. When I asked for bargain records in my local record store in Dalston the record dealer fished out this scruffy looking bag of scruffy looking 7″ from a hook in the back room.

I walked away with 10 records costing me £2 total. Songs purchased: “In the ghetto” by Elvis, “It’s not unusual” by Tom Jones ( banger! ), “Downtown” by Petula Clark , “Da Ya Think I’m sexy” by The Rodster. Just to mention a few of the oldies but goldies acquired. Now all I need is a drunken house party with a record player and it’s ON!  

So as you see, there is no shame in the bargain digging game! By the way… did you know you can replace scruffy looking vintage sleeves quite easily? Me not either. Check this out…

Ok I am off to collect a free 7″ from my local pub which they placed next to the beer tabs for decoration.:  Jefferson Airplane “White Rabbit” with “Someone to love” on the flip. OH YES!


Music and Video Exchange | 38 Notting Hill Gate | Notting Hill

Love Vinyl | 5 Pearson St | Hoxton

Eldica Records | 8 Bradbury St | Dalston

Robert Del Naja: Massive Art Attack

Living in London might be expensive, dirty and stressful but you can’t complain about a lack of amazing artists exhibiting on your doorstep.

And nothing makes an middle-aged music lover happier then old favourites returning to form. Not only did Tricky bless a track on Massive Attack’s new “Ritual Spirit” EP with his raspy raps that were so sorely missed after his split with the band but Robert Del Naja went into the print studio of Steve Lazarides to create 6 limited hand-finished record sleeves for it’s vinyl release.

This reminded me that I never really had Robert Del Naja aka 3D down as one of the most important British Graffiti artists which he surely is. Not only did Banksy quote him as an inspiration but he was the first Graffiti writer in Bristol hitting walls as early as 1984, sometimes together with other legendary writers like Goldie. Oh, and he’s colourblind.

Let’s travel back to 1994. Although back then I was aware of their massive hit single “Unfinished Sympathy” the first Massive Attack album that really hit me was “Protection”. The whole Bristol scene really blew up at that time and Trip Hop raised it’s blunted head(z). 

The song “Sly” off “Protection” had the biggest impact one me with it’s John Barry-esque orchestration and Nicole going full on black Geisha. The video features a lot of inverted colour effects which now reminds me a lot of Del Naja’s later paintings.  

The other thing that stuck with me was the collaged cardboard record cover artwork with the weird bubble character and the knife and fork. It felt like Del Naja ripped apart the iconic “Blue Lines” cover to puzzle together the artwork of “Protection” with some added bits stuck on top. 

The artwork for singles “Protection” and especially “Karmacoma” showed off an additional side to Del Najas style: The manic free flowing child like scribbles and sketches channeling Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“Basquiat’s influence was big for me at this point. As well as magazine clippings I had unexpectedly seen his work in a gallery in Tokyo. He painted in a raw and confrontational way. He abused the canvas with chaotic composition and intense primary colours. It wasn’t just his imagery but the juxtaposed cultural references: media saturation, brand communication, power, poverty, African history, colonisation and exploitation. Everything was consumer labeled and the words seemed part-manifesto and part-hit list.” – via The Vinyl Factory

Parallel to Massive Attack another canvas appeared for Del Naja: The record covers of MoWax releases. I am ashamed to say that it never came to my mind that the artwork of seminal MoWax compilations “Headz” and “Headz 2a + b” were created by Del Naja. And I call myself a MoWax expert?

Original “Headz” painting from 1994

3D returned to MoWax again in 2003 for UNKLEs second album “Never Never Land”. Not only did he contribute vocals on track “Invasion” but his artwork sneaks onto the 12″ remix singles and the animated video by Shynola for lead single “Eye for an eye”.

Whilst he abstained from creating artwork for the Massive Attack albums “Mezzanine” and “100th Window”, James Lavelle encouraged him to pick up the paintbrush again to create paintings for his next UNKLE album “War Stories”. Del Naja actually credits Lavelle a lot for getting him back into art. When the band relaunched in 2007 with “War Stories”, showcasing a rockier sound and all new collaborators, Del Naja provided all the visual imagery. 

As with any project involving two perfectionists the “War Stories” vinyl release was more than lush, featuring a sturdy box holding quadruple vinyl and a 50 page booklet with Del Najas paintings.

Del Najas artwork featured heavily on T Shirts, Pins, Remix and Spin Off Albums until UNKLEs “War Story” phase ended with the release of “Where Did The Night Fall” in 2010 .

Artwork for “End Titles”. Image via Sam Freeman

Top left clockwise: “Hold my hand” single, “Restless” single, “End Titles… Redux” album, “War Stories” album

With the “War Stories” artwork behind him, 3D’s artistic vision focused on Massive Attack releases again. With publisher The Vinyl Factory providing the manufacturing the band released three highly limited EP’s in 2009, all featuring screenprinted artwork by 3D.  Sold out in minutes, this trilogy represents the rarest and most expensive pieces of the Massive Attack back catalogue.

Whilst the first EP “Splitting The Atom” still visually echoes UNKLE’s “War Stories”, the “Atlas Air EP” and the collaborative 12″ with Burial focuses on new, minstrel inspired imagery. 

The cover of the 5th Massive Attack album “Heligoland” takes this concept to the next iteration with a minstrel illustration beneath a grey rainbow. The Vinyl Factory again creates a special deluxe version with a triple gatefold sleeve featuring unique black-glitter coated cover artwork by Robert Del Naja, heavyweight vinyl, a CD with the album and an exclusive 28-page booklet, featuring new Robert Del Naja artwork and Massive Attack tour photography. 

“The minstrel on the front cover represents this tendency to recreate a fictional reality to replace real reality. That’s what’s happening now. You create these talent shows and these reality TV shows and you start to replace reality with reality, but the reality you’re looking at is actually manufactured.

The black and grey rainbow came about because I noticed that rainbows are popping up everywhere, all over people’s advertising. It felt that in the manual for the recession someone had gone: “Add colour to your advertising! If you can, add a rainbow! It’ll cheer everyone up and they’ll start spending their money again.” So that’s why I thought, “I’m gonna desaturate the rainbow and present it as it really is”. This rainbow is not going to make you happy. There is no pot of gold.” – via The Independent

I was lucky enough to get a deluxe version of this album and I can say: Not only is the music a return to form, but so is the artwork! 

2013 saw the arrival of the first big solo show of Del Najas paintings in London at Lazarides gallery in Soho. The show carried the title “Fire Sale” and it was it awesome seeing all of Del Naja’s art in one space, connecting all the visual dots.  

As a nice goodie they had leftover screen printed news print available to take away for free which was a nice touch.

Of cause you can’t do such an exhibition without launching a big art book as well… 3D and The Art of Massive Attack! As the book was produced by The Vinyl Factory you knew there’s gonna be a special edition coming as well: So to your left say hello to the the regular version, to the right marvel at the special edition worth £300, featuring extra etched vinyl, a signed print and much more. Drool here.

So what’s next in 2016? Well, another mad limited The Vinyl Factory EP release, another Lazarides supported show and more musical goodness from 3D and Daddy G. This time with added Tricky!

The collecting hustle never stops when you live in London!

Images via 3D’s Instagram

Personally, Massive Attack already released MY favorite collectors item in 1998: The “Singles 90/98” vinyl box set! Packing 11 x 12″inch vinyl featuring all the classic tracks in great remixes, the box itself is heat sensitive and each 12″ sleeve features artwork by 3D. Unfortunately only mass printed and not silk screened but you need to keep things affordable, right?

Ok so back to the beginning: Lazarides Editions, Robert Del Naja and the launch of the new Massive Attack EP, Ritual Spirit. What can I say, I had a great night! And one day I will be able to afford myself a proper 3D piece…

The exhibition runs from 3rd February 2016 to 5th March 2016

Tuesday–Saturday 11am–7pm. Admission is free

Lazarides Editions: 22 Upper Ground, London, SE1 9PD

Further reading:

The Guardian – Massive Attack’s art of darkness

Clash Magazine – Personality Clash: James Lavelle vs Robert Del Naja

Red Lines – 3D

The Independent – Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja’s massive attack on the art world

For eveything MoWax… ( thanks for the Headz 2 pic )

…oh and: Big shout out to my man MoMatt for providing “Fire Sale” snaps at the last minute!