Jordan Stokes & Kevin King setting up at Somerset House this week: Photo by Emli Bendixen
Secret 7, the annual project that brings music and art together for a good cause, is back and bigger than ever at their impressive new home at Somerset House. We were lucky enough to get a sneak preview and sat down to chat with founders Kevin and Jordan earlier on this week.
As well as giving us the awesome opportunity this year to buy unique one off record sleeves designed by the likes of Peter Blake, David Shrigley, Yoko Ono, Paul Smith, Martin Parr, Julian Opie and some seriously talented emerging designers, they have also arranged recording sessions complete with musical instruments, and the opportunity to walk away with our very own recording on a seven inch vinyl, as part of The Public Records sessions. What is not to love about that.
They collaborated with Monotype this year too and created some seriously covetable prints from Erik Spiekermann, Craig Ward, Felix Pfaffli, Spin, Bread Collective and Counter Press who all created typographical prints based on this year's selected seven tracks.
Monotype x Secret 7: Erik Spiekermann: Dead Flowers
Monotype x Secret 7: Bread Collective: Sledgehammer
The Monotype x Secret 7:Counter Press: Go
And if that wasn't enough they have organised a series of talks throughout the show from Pete Paphides, discussing the nature of collecting records, Tomato unpacking the process behind their projects, It's Nice That coming down with Hanna Hanra from Beat Magazine and Grafik Magazine bringing with them Malcolm Garrett, Pete Fowler and Chrissie MacDonald. And tons more. This year the massively deserving Nordoff Robbins are on the recieving end of all the proceeds from this brilliant show.
Sitting along the river, with photographer Emli Bendixen taking photos, we chatted about the beginnings of Secret 7, seizing opportunities, the art of badgering people, trying to curate seven hundred sleeves, their infamous spreadsheet of doom, blind ambition and why they just want to bring goodness to the world.
Secret 7: Photo by Emli Bendixen
Secret 7: Sleeve 111
You started Secret 7 back in 2012. What were you both doing before and how did Secret 7 get started ?
Kevin: I was working at Universal music in the research and insight team and I was brought in to a meeting to help raise money for their chosen charity that year. I guess I seized that opportunity and came back with this idea for Secret 7. Jordan was based at an agency called Music which Universal worked with on the Brit Awards so I was introduced to Jordan and it kind of went from there really.
Jordan: Kevin travelled up to manchester and needed help launching Secret 7 but instead of us just getting on board to just do some design work on it we just starting working together on it from there.
Kevin King: Photo by Emli Bendixen
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Secret 7: Sleeve 440
What do you think your biggest challenge is working on a project of this size ?
Jordan: Time. We don’t really have it. We haven’t really changed the format since we started. We launch in January every year and all of a sudden it just picks up momentum and we have to deal with the amount of time we’ve got left until the exhibition opens in April.
Kevin: When you say that out loud it sounds mad that we do what we do in that time frame, especially with Jordan on the other side of the world doing a full time job. Time is definitely a challenge and distance too. Skype is great but its not the same.
Jordan: We thought it would work to our advantage at the beginning didn't we ! with me being in Australia.
Kevin: Well you sold it in as a good idea ! 'I’m a day ahead' you said !
Photo by Emli Bendixen
Secret 7: Sleeve 164
Photo by Emli Bendixen
So at the beginning then how did you convince the musicians to get on board ?
Kevin: I guess working at Universal has helped a lot and I guess this being a charitable cause helped a a lot too. So in the first year The Cure agreed to do it. The charity that year was Teenage Cancer Trust and The Cure really support Teenage Cancer Trust and I guess just working at a record label I knew the right people to ask and there started my skill in badgering people to do things for me. That is my skill now.
I really liked it when Robert Smith submitted his own artwork for The Cure song Friday I’m In Love. What has been your favourite musician created artwork ?
Kevin: I did really like Robert Smith artwork too. Orlando from The Maccabees has submitted one. He has done one with Matt who is working with them at the minute so that is a really nice collaboration.
Jordan: Orlando did another one in the first year don’t you remember and he had stamped all over the inserts. We even had Pixie Lott kiss the envelope of the invite.
Kevin: That’s at home. That’s at home in my box of oddities.
Jordan: We had a few of celebrities for a while actually, Lauren Laverne did one and Nicolas Hoult too.
Did Lauren Laverne submit an artwork then ? That is very cool !
Jordan: In the first year yes. She did a nice collaboration with Jamie McKelvie. Laura Marling was another one, that was nice. A lot of the time a musician will use a photo. I guess that is a nice way to contribute that isn’t a painting.
Photo by Emli Bendixen
You are in an amazing new space this year at Somerset House which is very exciting and to mark the occasion you have also programmed some extra special events. For me one of the most exciting things this year is that I can record myself and walk away with a 7” single . Can you tell me a bit more about that ?
Kevin: I guess this is another idea that we wanted to explore. I saw a guy who set up a company called One Cut Vinyl so I called him and asked him a load of questions. You can send him one recording and he cuts it to a record and sends it back to you. We thought that would be awesome to make one of a kind records in the show. We don’t know what’s going to happen !.
Are you guys going to do a recording ? I feel you have to. It's like PJ Harvey, she did something really similar here at Somerset House, recording an album live.
Kevin: Its funny a few things have happened since we started to set this years events up, like PJ Harvey here at Somerset House recording live, we were kind of doing something similar but she got there first. Well we are doing the playschool version.
But arguably more endearing !
Jordan: Yeah we have already had a few people say they are coming in with their kids. I think it is going to be a lot more public and playful and fun and we will have instruments in the room. So we are encouraging musical performances and spoken word. You can kind of do whatever you want in there, it is going to be a bit of a weird experiment. We don’t really know what is going to happen actually.
So what was the first record you ever owned ?
Kevin: Mine was East 17 Walthamstow.
Jordan: Mine was Oasis What’s The Story Morning Glory. But that sounds like I was trying to be cool.
Kevin: I stole my dads vinyl when I went to university. Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson was the record I loved the most. It had this poster of the artwork too. I remember putting it on my wall at uni and telling everyone it was my dad for some reason. It was so weird because he was in his dressing gown so I was like ‘yeah that’s my dad'. No one believed me.
Is there anyone out there in the art world that you would absolutely love to have in next years show ?
Kevin: For me probably Martin Creed. I tried, but my skills have not worked on that one. And Grayson Perry. He said no this year. It’s the first time I had found the right way in. He is making a pot I could tell from instagram so I think maybe he was too busy making a big pot.
Jordan: I think designers wise I get excited about a lot of the smaller names. But I would still love somebody like Damien Hirst to do one because it would just be so celebrity it would almost be pretty funny.
Kevin: I mean if we got Grayson Perry and Damien Hirst then we would start running out of options. We could retire really, we would be pretty much done.
So how do you see secret 7 evolving ?
Kevin: We are always trying to make it the best thing it possibly can be. I think that is part of the new events this year, we don’t want to keep doing just the exhibition which is why its great to have the new Monotype collaboration and prints this year and throwing in the charity box and The Public Records and the talks. I guess we would really like to polish that up and we would like to explore different things in different countries.
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This year you guys had more than 4000 submissions. How on earth do you curate the show ? What process do you go through ?
Kevin: It changes every year. This year Jordan was working with a team in Australia on the website as that made a bit more sense, at the same time we were also trying to do a weekly judging session so we would pull out the ones that caught our eye and then at the end of the eight weeks we printed all the ones that we had put aside. But we were saying earlier people start sharing things on twitter and we are like 'Ooooh that’s good, why is that not in our show’.
Jordan: It is a really hard job to do and we usually have a week to go through about 4000 artworks. I guess we should give ourselves more time but we like to keep the momentum going launching in January with the exhibition in April, which we starting doing to coincide with Record Store Day. The curation bit is a bit mental, it just sort of comes together, it is not an exact science.
Kevin: When I invite people to contribute I like to give them the choice of what track they’d like to work on, so they can take their pick. And I am spread sheeting it in the SPREAD SHEET OF DOOM in the back ground. And trying to keep a handle on it.
Jordan: I am not allowed to look at the spread sheet of doom. So when I am shortlisting people that I have seen that I want to include that is the only time I check the spread sheet of doom because I am a designer and visually minded and when I see that spread sheet I just panic.
Kevin: I am just worried he is going to press delete.
Jordan: I deleted it for you.
Kevin: Do not touch that spread sheet.
Jordan: Its gone now.
How did you pick this years tracks ?
Kevin: So I guess that we are always looking for a good mix of stuff, we always want something great, so this year that was The Rolling Stones or The Beatles for me. So I am shortlisting a few different types of music for a few different things. Its also depends what is in release cycle for some musicians. So The Rolling Stones have some plans in the pipe line so they were open to it this year.
Jordan: We have a hit list every year, same as we do for the artists, so there will be a certain number of people we will aim to get and we go after them and then try to keep a mixture as they are confirming.
Kevin: I guess it depends on some other factors too like in the second year we were raising money for Art Against Knives and we wanted to involve the young people they support. So we got Nas and Public Enemy, a deliberate choice because we wanted them to feel like this is a project they cared about.
Do you struggle to keep the artworks under wraps before the show ?
Kevin: This year has been really good actually but last year there were a couple of people who would share not just once, and I would ask them to take it down, but twice, three times. My phone would buzz at like eleven at night and it was #secret 7, someone on twitter going 'here’s my secret artwork'.
We also have people asking us to reveal the artists during the exhibition. People literally come to the exhibition and find out who knows the answers and then follow us around the entire show going ‘Is this one a Martin Parr ?' and then they watch my face for a response.
Jordan: The reason for me not knowing a lot of them now is in the first year I was going around like shouting at the top of my voice ‘Oh my god I cant believe that is so and so’.
Kevin: Jordan’s not good with secrets !!.
Jordan: I get way too excited about it.
How did you choose this year charity ?
Kevin: I actually asked people on twitter if there were any charities we should meet and talk to and I was aware of Nordoff Robbins already. We sat down and they showed me their work and they were really lovely. Its nice to support things and we like the smaller charities because we like to involve them as much as possible.
When we worked with Art Against Knives we got all the young people involved so they sold t shirts that they had made. One guy had helped Jordan with some graphic design and then got a job at Universal off the back of that. Its more work for sure but we don’t really want to just hand money over to a charity, that not really why we are doing it, as much as possible we want to feel like we are doing it with a charity.
Can you tell me about Goodness which you formed last year ?
Kevin: So when I left Universal I left in the knowledge that I had some work lined up with Secret 7 and Universal supporting that so setting up Goodness was almost like a company for us. I think myself and Jordan like doing stuff for good causes so we thought lets try to do more stuff for good causes which is why it has the name Goodness.
Jordan: It was also because it had an available twitter handle !
It’s a sign of the times isn’t it when you check if the handle is available before you name your company !
Kevin: Yes totally ! I guess Goodness means having an agency/studio for us and the other people we are working with and meeting through Secret 7. At Christmas I worked on a rebrand for a men’s fashion label with another designer and that went through Goodness. But we are still trying to develop what that is I guess. A lot of companies are coming to us now. We have chats with various brands, they are coming to us because of Secret 7, it’s a bit like the model of It’s Nice That and Gourmand magazine where you have something and people come to you because of that and you do other work off it. It might end up being more commercially minded.
Jordan: I guess in our heads we will never be doing a big massive campaign though. It won't ever be that standard design or advertising campaign or big agency work. Its not what either of us want to do with Goodness.
Secret 7's Heaviest Sleeve: Photo by Emli Bendixen
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What advice would you give to anyone trying to get a great idea like yours off the ground ?
Kevin: I think there is something in the way secret 7 is genuine, its just me and Jordan behind it and I think that people who understand that like to contribute, help or support us where they can. Even I joke about how when I first met James from Monotype I didn’t really know what Monotype was because I am not the designer. I was kind of honest with him and said ‘I don’t really know what you do, I went on your website and I saw you were partnering with events like ours’.
So I think it is that kind of honesty behind the two of us that kind of makes things come off, not all the time, but people seem to respond to that. And I am really proud of what we have done with Monotype now. I know a few typeface names and a few typeface designers and we have made some really nice posters that I want in my house.
Jordan: I just think we worked at it, we were quite lucky we got on and worked together so well. A lot of it is luck and hard work. I mean we are not out for anything with this either, we are just doing it because we like it and it is for a good cause. I think sometimes things that on the face of it seem quite good actually have a lot of bureaucracy behind it, but there isn’t enough of us to be bureaucratic.
Kevin: And I think for me I didn’t really feel I had accomplished anything in my role and it was having that desire to really do something good. We would kind of talk about having this blind ambition at the beginning, wanting to do something and not really knowing how to do it. I guess that worked in our favour as if we had known all the work and effort involved, all the emails and all of that side of things we would probably not have even done it.
So luck, hard work, honesty and a bit of naivety basically get you through it ?!
Kevin: Yes ! Naivety ! definitely and its still going strong.
Jordan: Keep it naive !
Secret 7: Sleeve 198
Monotype x Secret 7: Felix Pfaffli: Born Slippy
Monotype x Secret 7: Craig Ward: Reflections
Monotype x Secret 7: Peter Bankov: Let Forever Be