Running between ’05 and ’08, Shackleton and Appleblim’s now defunct Skull Disco imprint was responsible for producing some of the most strikingly unique club music of recent times. A properly thought out endeavour, what sticks in the memory about Skull Disco – besides the groundbreaking music – is the intricate and morbid sleeve art on every release. With a beguiling blend of finely detailed exotic imagery and heavy metal referencing death symbols, each sleeve was a fully realised visualisation of the music contained on each record.
The close relationship between music and artwork found in the Skull Disco discography makes sense when considering the artist involved was none other than Zeke Clough, a friend of Shackleton’s from their school days in the sleepy post-industrial town of Nelson, Lancashire. Continuing to collaborate with Shackleton as well as The Bug and more recently with Kris Wadsworth and Ekoplekz for Planet Mu, whilst also working independently, Clough’s drawings are rich in a black as night sense of humour that befits his Northern upbringing, and has made him popular with record buyers and zine lovers alike. Trying to find out what motivates such a thoroughly pleasant man to create such exquisitely nightmarish drawings, Hyponik spoke to him to discuss his musical and artistic inspirations.
Being inspired by Savage Pencil
“It was just from record covers. Me and Sam (Shackleton), he’s about a year younger than me, but we both grew up in Nelson and seeing Savage Pencil‘s work on record was really exciting at the time, because his style was so original and so unique and it looked so impressive. I think a lot of us around that time were really impressed by him. He did quite a few things didn’t he? The Big Black one (the cover for the ‘Headache’ EP ), we all hyped that record. It just looked so striking on the cover with that image. There was a few others; the Angel Dust one, the Biker Movies soundtrack one – which I remember just being quite puzzled why. It had his artwork but looked like he’d taken stills from a film and blown them up. So you had all the weird kind of video textures in the background, with his really crisp line work over the top. That was really interesting because I’d never seen anything quite like that before… and then later on getting into comics, I used to read ‘Weirdo’, the comic edited by Robert Crumb, in there they’d often have Savage Pencil stuff. It just looked weird, I’d never seen anything like it, it looked like he’d done it in about 5 minutes but it looked great.”
Is he attracted to ‘spontaneous’ art?
“Yeah well I was talking to my girlfriend about this the other day, and a lot of the work that I like now is art that looks like its been done very quickly. There’s this Japanese artist called King Terry, he’s party of that Heta-Uma, that ‘bad, but good’, its like ‘ugly art’ but I really like the fact that he’s sat down and done it there and then, he hasn’t considered it for ages and spent hours and hours on it.
I don’t want to denigrate from artists who do spend a lot of time on work and do something more polished and slick, I’ve been through periods myself when I was younger when I used to do that myself and spend a lot of time on a page, but the art that tends to get me going these days is art that tends to look as if its been done very quickly but with a lot of skill.”
“In my teens I just wanted anything fast, I just wanted to listen to fast, fast music. I had such a lot of energy. I was really, really into The Dead Kennedys and the satire of it and the messages in it. I thought the messages were great, they were just making fun of everything, but with quite a good message behind it; you know just support your friends and you don’t have to buy in to certain things. That mixed with the speed of it, I loved, I really really enjoyed it.”
“With The Cramps I remember seeing the cover to the ‘Rockin n Reelin in Auckland, New Zealand’ live, like semi bootleg thing that they did and it just looked like the most exciting thing I’d seen – ever. There’s this bloke rolling around in his underpants with this Rock and Roll band behind him. Then when I heard it I was like ‘Woah!’. I still love The Cramps, its like kind of escapism to this fantasy world that they conjure up. I love Poison Ivy’s guitar playing a lot, obviously she’s been influenced by Link Wray and loads of other people, but she brings her own thing to it. So yeah, The Cramps were a big, big thing.”
Were his tastes influenced by teenage rebellion?
“With The Cramps, they are provocative and things, but mainly there’s that real kind of excitement behind it. You can tell that their really getting into it. I don’t really know quite how to put it in into words, but if you listen to The Stooges or someone like that there’s that manic energy and the fact they provoke people is kind of beside the point, they’re just that into it.
I mean some of the things I’ve done in the past have I guess been to provoke people and or to get some kind of reaction, but its mostly just a reaction against and a frustration against the tedium of every day life.”
His interest in electronic music
“I never really used to go to clubs or anything like that. I liked quite abstract electronic music. When Sam got in touch with me, it was quite a new thing to find about his music. The kind of electronic music I was listening to was just kind of abstract stuff, like buffered out beats. I really like stuff from the 50’s like the ‘Forbidden Planet’ soundtrack, there’s quite a lot of them that have come out in recent years. They had these crazy old machines like Oscillators, I like all that kind of stuff really”.
“The thing about Throbbing Gristle again is when we all grew up in Nelson, Throbbing Gristle was just something everybody listened to. I hadn’t listened to them for a long time and then I listened back to them recently and I could hear the humour in it, that twisted kind of black humour. They’re dealing with subjects so dark, you know it could be the Moors Murders or something like that, but they’re doing it with that twisted thing that just seems to capture quite the feeling of what it was like to grow up in a small industrial town.
Nelson, where we grew up, was an industrial town that had gone down hill, everybody worked in factories, there was mills everywhere. Anybody who had any kind of ideas of trying to do anything you just didn’t do things like that, so yeah it was great to hear Throbbing Gristle.”
Working with The Bug (Kevin Martin)
“I think Kevin Martin saw the Skull Disco stuff, had a chat with Sam (Shackleton) and got my contact details off him. We did the ‘Acid Ragga’ 7” in 2012 and then he got in touch with me again last year to do the ‘Filthy’ EP. It seemed to get along quite well. It was just trying to find a style, because I’ve had to vary the styles I use with different people. It took a little while to find that really dirty, kind of fucked up, futuristic style. Once I’ve found the right frame of mind and way of working its fine.”
Late 19th and early 20th century inspirations
“There’s a lot of artists that I like around I suppose the late 1800s and start of the 1900s. Like Aubrey Beardsley, he did a lot of things, and Arthur Rackham. There’s an Irish artist I like called Harry Clark, he did like stained glass windows and stuff but he also did these illustrations that are very baroque and everything is very detailed. It looks like mush but then you get into it and see its very detailed. And then later on, I find I say Robert Crumb a lot, which is understandable, but there’s this artist called Basil Wolverton, who’s known as the inventor of the ‘Spaghetti and Meatball’ style of art. He just did veins and tendrils and all the kind of stuff.”