Text: Daniel Cookney
Electronic dance music’s more anonymous output often finds its distribution via the non-descript white label 12”. Rubber stamped with the most basic of release info, meaning is routinely derived from what happens immediately after stylus touches vinyl. Somewhere within this – a process that involves the specialist retailer, faceless physical format and seemingly uncontrollable music – is a quality perhaps best described as “mystique”. Yet, while offering much more than the blankness of the white label, artist and designer David Bray has managed to encapsulate a similar aura within his imagery for the often elusive production unit known interchangeably as Various and Various Production.
Not so much signposting in a typical semiotic sense, Bray’s sometime deployment of the female form for Various appeared to characterise an exchange value system perhaps indebted to Renegade Soundwave. Here, women responded to (and seemingly corresponded with) bass. Whether it was the Beardsley-edged eroticism of his intricate drawings or the distressed glamour photography of more recent obscurities, he has depicted what might be some gritty underworld lurking deep beneath Jason Brooks’s glittering and vacuous Hed Kandi universe, while at the same time presenting an aesthetic triggered by the outfit’s compelling aural oddities; tracks that Bray, rather tellingly, quantifies as “dark, sinewy, beguiling and off-kilter”.
“We could have just sent them out as white labels,” Bray says while reflecting on his earliest sleeves. “But I used the chance to be purely selfish; to do something for me unhindered by the usual bullshits of commercial work.”
“I’m not big into that whole culture of wringing the life out of artists or musicians. I don’t care what they had for breakfast; what their favourite biscuit is…It really doesn’t matter who we are” – David Bray
Clearly fulfilling Bray’s own desires, the work has apparently represented a “freedom from ego”. From 2003, producers Adam Phillips and Ian Carter would refuse requests for interviews in favour of continuing their prophetic alignment of dubstep with vocals gleaned from pop, grime and folk. Bray, meanwhile, would “get delivery of a CD-R every now and again with versions/rough edits and working titles”. Essentially he was offered free reign: an opportunity he seized in order to add to the intrigue through a series of cryptic designs. The anonymity that was central to the project was also employed by the visual artist: early releases are credited to “Bonesy” whilst Bray has additionally utilised his “Falk Jensen” pseudonym.
“It was a way of fleeing the constraints of being pigeon-holed,” he explains. “You can be as many people as you want to be without confusing everyone.
“I’m not big into that whole culture of wringing the life out of artists or musicians. I don’t care what they had for breakfast; what their favourite biscuit is. I don’t want to know what equipment was used to make it, how long it took, what it meant to the producer. It really doesn’t matter who we are, where we were born, what our shoe size is and all those banalities that get muddled in.”
Impressively, that distance was maintained in 2006 when Various Production issued their ‘The World Is Gone’ long-player through XL Recordings. “Except in consideration of a barcode,” the Central St Martins graduate recounts, “nothing changed.”
“I hated it when a band/artist/label just shrunk a 12” sleeve to fit a jewel case.” – David Bray
“I wasn’t stuck with sticking some type over some band portrait. We still maintained the same dynamic of relationship – almost enthusiastic amateurism. There was a compact disc to consider for first time. But we wanted to use a different design to denote the different formats as I hated it when a band/artist/label just shrunk a 12” sleeve to fit a jewel case.”
Aside from other client work (that has notably included imagery for MTV, Harvey Nichols, H&M plus his screen print for Skull & Heart), Bray has been busy discussing how to further the Various Production collaboration and “present music and art in a more entwined format”. There is already an album’s worth of new material ready, and first glimpses of that ongoing collaboration has been courtesy of Various’s new digital label Version (with new track, Worse) and the upcoming ‘12seven/Key’ 12” (streamable below). However, this work also marks a departure gender-wise, with male forms figuring within what’s an intriguing fusion of historical portraiture and casual wear. Titled ‘Replica’, and also available as limited edition prints, Bray’s newest series, presented in the gallery below, recreates the artists he worshipped as a teenager (Picasso, Holman Hunt, Rossetti, Schiele, etc) in the clothing labels he coveted when growing up in suburban London. Yet despite the deviation, it’s still a display of Bray’s “complete autonomy”. Where, as he puts it: “all the mistakes and fuck-ups are mine and mine alone”.