Meet Kevin Foakes, aka Strictly Kev, aka DJ Food, aka Openmind. The man has been around for a few minutes now… he has called the esteemed Ninja Tune imprint home since 1994. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 11 years since the last DJ Food album, Kaleidoscope. It has and Strictly Kev is back with The Search Engine via Ninja Tune on January 23rd. He’s teaming up with an interesting cast of collaborators too: the one and only Matt Johnson (The The), J.G. Thirlwell (Foetus) Natural Self (Nathaniel Pearn), DK (Solid Steel) and 2econd Class Citizen. You can preview (and pre order) the album on the Ninja Tune site here. Well worth your time. The cover of “Giant” by The The (complete with a Matt Johnson vocal reprise) is pretty damn sweet. If you’re in London there’s a launch party at the London Planetarium in Greenwich on Jan 19th (bummer if you don’t have tickets—it’s already sold out). Wish we were going to be there. He’ll be debuting a special version of the album and an AV show in their dome theatre. Then on Jan 26th there’ll be an exhibition going on for three weeks at the Pure Evil Gallery in Shoreditch featuring artwork and photography from the album, plus special vinyl pieces and an installation. Which makes perfect since given the fact that when Foakes is asked what he does for a living he usually says, “designer.” We’ll let him explain it.
“If I tell them I’m a DJ they’ll just think ‘oh yeah, right, my brother’s a DJ too.’ If they say ‘oh really, where do you play?’ I’ll tell them a bit more and they usually react by saying something like, ‘oh, you’re a REAL DJ?.’ I make music too under the name DJ Food and, if they’ve heard the name, they might say something like, ‘ah, but isn’t DJ Food several people?’ ‘Yes, it used to be,’ I’ll counter, ‘but now it’s just me. People used to think it was singular, we told everyone it wasn’t, then the others all left so now it’s just me’—‘ah,’ they’ll say. ‘But you said you were a designer, yes?’ ‘Indeed, I design for Ninja Tune, have since 1994 and have done many a sleeve, logo, flyer, T-shirt and book for them. And despite the name DJ Food, my cooking skills are limited at best.’”
DJ Food “Prey” feat. J.G. Thirlwell
How would you describe your sound to a deaf person?
Magpie Music, I take things from all different places, both musically and aurally, and build something of my own with it.
What was your favorite toy as a child and when/why did you stop playing with it?
Probably a set of pens or pencils, I used to draw all the time, if not that then Lego or a Micronauts Microtron robot.
Any colorful incidents involving a fan
Nothing actually springs to mind, which is odd, I’m sure I’ll remember something later on. Any fans I do have are very cool, people come and say hi, thank you for the performance or what have you. I was once given a little Gundam toy in Japan, which I’ve still got, and a girl in Istanbul gave me a very nice little tea saucer (no cup though). I keep the best notes I get given at gigs, good and bad, to put on my website too.
Favor us with a moment in life that changed the course of, or defined, your aesthetic philosophy.
Summer 1984—“The summer of Frankie” as some call it given that the group Frankie Goes To Hollywood were no.1 for nine weeks in a row and everyone was wearing Frankie Say… T-shirts. I was completely in awe of everything surrounding the group and their label ZTT—the sleeve design unconsciously influenced me typographically, the music production and endless stream of remixes were the most exciting thing I’d ever heard. The whole package was faultless, including the video and it was a perfect example of all the elements coming together to form something bigger than a simple song in the charts, there were ideas there, it wasn’t just pop gloss, and I hoovered it up. Whilst on holiday, buying the latest 12” remix and picking through bootleg Frankie Say T-shirts in a market I saw a piece in a magazine about a new book called Subway Art and the image of a giant Seen/P Jay burner on the side of a train set a bomb off in my head. That in turn led me to hip-hop a year later, a music I’d previously dismissed as a fad I couldn’t understand a year before, this helped put it in context.
Your creative arc. Alpha to omega, go.
There’s really no typical arc, music can take years or days depending on the ingredients. Designs can take months or hours depending on the involvement of the client and the size of the project. The thinking usually revolves around concepts; the more literal ones get jettisoned quickly and replaced by the something more lateral. If I get stuck on something I find a break to make some tea or heed the call of nature can make the pieces all fall into place as you’re taken out of the moment but the brain is still working.
The one constant is the computer at the heart of it all and a decent Internet connection for research, inspiration and eventual sending of the files. I work from my own home studio and typically do a number of different things every day, usually different from the day before, until something in the “to do” list gets scrubbed off only to be replaced by more.
The movement from CD to MP3 was a big paradigm shift in the music biz. Crystal ball time. What will be the next big shake up? How are you going to come out on top?
As a sleeve designer I’m sure that the move away from physical to digital in terms of artwork and content will be far more widespread within the next few years. The record sleeve will still exist but a whole generation will have grown up without it and the need for content to add to the experience will be there at their fingertips. Instead of skinning up on a record sleeve they’ll be skinning up on their iPad whilst browsing the lyrics of the new album they’ve downloaded. They’ll probably also be watching the band’s latest video, reading their constantly updated blog and tour schedule as well as browsing reams of resizable art that comes with it. I’m definitely going to be on that boat when it comes in.
Do you think there are any commonly held societal beliefs that are false?
Whilst I wouldn’t want to preach that religion is bad and I understand that people have a right to believe whatever they want to get them through life I don’t think that those beliefs should be forced upon others or people made to suffer because they don’t feel the same way. The belief in a centuries old system of principles and an invisible “God” is the excuse for far too many ills in this world, both at home and abroad, in the household or on a battlefield. It hasn’t exactly answered your question but it’s the best I can think of.
Kraftwerk Kover Kollection Volume 5 (download here)
Thank you for your time and thoughts. BTW, readers… Kevin Foakes is also a notorious collector (not a “hoarder” though) of anything from records, comics and toy robots to original art, vintage children’s books and items with interesting packaging. Here a photograph of some of the stuff he collects in his London home.