Home > Collecting, Graphics & Illustration, Music, Things I Like... > Vaughan Oliver & 23 Envelope

Vaughan Oliver & 23 Envelope

When I went to university in the mid eighties, a whole world of new stuff opened up for me in terms of design and music. New people meant new recommendations and things to discover, and one of the first things that I got into in a big way was the 4AD label, home to such bands as The Cocteau Twins, Colourbox, Pixies, Throwing Muses, The Pale Saints & Dead Can Dance.

Almost as important to me as the music, was the packaging. Between 1983 and 1988, almost every record sleeve, booklet and all associated advertising  material was produced exclusively by Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson under the name 23 Envelope.

Grierson generally took the photos which Oliver then used as a starting point for creating beautiful, atmospheric and enigmatic images using a combination of fonts, filters and other effects (and all in pre-digital age please note…).

And these images seemed to so brilliantly reflect the music within, whether it was dark washes of atmospheric sound, noisy jagged guitars or just plain weird..

It won’t be a surprise to anyone reading this blog, to learn that I initially hoped to collect everything the label put out… however I only ended up with about 15 albums and associated singles before my grant money ran out… (records were a lot more expensive in those days), but looking at them again now for this post, I am still hugely impressed by what Vaughan Oliver achieved, which in my opinion was nothing less than a revolution in graphic design.

Some of it may look a little dated now, but the quality of workmanship and the scope of ideas can be in little doubt. I have a number of sleeves for instance that have artwork printed on the inside of the cardboard cover.. way over the top, no one could see it all properly unless you took it all apart…

But that’s what I like about it, much like Airside in more recent times (post to follow shortly) the overall concept and execution was seemingly more important than the cost of getting it made.

Sadly much of this approach has been lost with MP3’s and downloads, which I think is a bit of a shame for todays music collectors.

There’s some more of Vaughan Olivers work on the wonderful Hardformat site here…

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