Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sleeveface: Celebrating The Flipside of Vinyl's Other Artform

I just found out about a rather fun and alternative use for vinyl records - Sleeveface. Apparently, it originated in Cardiff when some DJs started playing around with their records. They then developed a Web site,, and global interest ensued. Sleeveface is officially defined as: "one or more persons obscuring or augmenting any part of their body or bodies with record sleeve(s) causing an illusion." Of course, this stipulation limits your sleeve choices to ones that incorporate body parts (human or not), but thanks to people's creativity, the choices seem limitless.

I took note of this particular contemporary artform because it celebrates and contemporizes an artform that seems to have been lost in many respects. I love vinyl records for several reasons, including the warmer sound of the music, but one of the big reasons for loving vinyl is the sleeve. Yes, CDs include album art along with the liner notes, but the sheer scale of vinyl album art makes it feel more like proper art - the size allowed for and encouraged more attention to detail. You could frame a vinyl sleeve, but not a CD liner. You also don't hear about publicity-stunt-turned-collectibles like the first pressing of Damned, Damned, Damned on Stiff Records with CDs.

I would argue that nowadays album art has become either pedestrian/commercial and/or non-existent, especially with the introduction of MP3s. I'm not Luddite enough to think vinyl is the be all and end all of music because I find MP3s hugely useful (I would never have access to a lot of the music I've discovered and/or obtained via MP3, and being able to carry around 1000 songs in my pocket has been terribly convenient). However, if I could afford it, I would try to double up all the CDs I own with their vinyl counterparts. When I can, I still buy vinyl singles. There are still bands and artists out there who put some thought into their album art, but generally, it seems record labels choose what they see fit.

If you live in or near London, or intend to be in the area in June, you can attend a Sleeveface party at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on June 5. The admission cost is only five pounds and it sounds like a lot of fun - I would go if I were there. Apparently the last party, which took place last month "saw mass-Sleevefacing, the likes of which have never been seen before, projections of impromptu sleevefaces, a whole heap of partying and dancing and even ended up with two sleeves, meeting for the first time and going home together." Who would want to miss out on that?

I'm Gonna DJ - R.E.M.

Good Old Vinyl - Jim Noir