People Like Us celebrate record cover art in Prints of Darkness

The first time sound collagist Vicki Bennett played Edinburgh under her People Like Us alter ego, it was on the empty dance-floor of a cellar club in the city centre a decade ago, in front of a thin smattering of quietly curious punters and a pair of bemused bouncers.

The show was produced by promoters the House of Dubois, whose pioneering events – including Godspeed You Black Emperor’s UK live debut at Stills Gallery – pre-dated the swathes of experimental sonic activity that would follow a good two years later.

‘That was a gig from hell!’ Bennett remembers today as she prepares for Prints of Darkness, Edinburgh Printmakers’ homage to the visual excesses of album cover art in its most extravagantly fantastical extremes. ‘Like being buried underground then being asked to perform trying to get out.’

In the decade since, Bennett’s witty pop cultural mash-ups have been championed by the late John Peel and Radio 3, as well as London Musicians Collective-run station, Resonance FM. With a multitude of releases on vinyl, CD and cassette, Bennett’s work has appeared at Tate Modern, Sydney Opera House and Barcelona’s electronic music love-in, Sonar. Bennett was the first artist granted access to the BBC’s entire archive, and in 2007 had a retrospective at Newcastle’s much missed Bennett’s ongoing weekly podcasts for art radio station WFMU, ‘ Do or DIY’, meanwhile, are legend.

For Prints of Darkness Bennett created ‘This Is Light Music’, an elaborately packaged limited edition 12-inch picture disc with accompanying essays. While tapping into the nostalgic vogue for embracing arcane formats in the face of one-click programming Bennett’s blip-vert none-sequiters retain a sense of humour beyond the punning of the show’s title. Not for nothing are Chris Morris, Roger Whittaker and Radio 4’s bedtime shipping forecast theme ‘Sailing By’ referenced.

‘The perception of collage art has broadened and been made more mainstream through the mash-up movement,’ Bennett observes. ‘That wasn’t really about anyone doing anything that hadn’t been done before, but it did highlight that one can make something in a folk art kind of way, in the way that people did with early hip hop and scratching too.’

As well as Bennett, ‘Prints of Darkness’ features 11 Scottish-based artists with musical leanings, including former Fall guitarist Tommy Crooks (a member when the band famously imploded onstage in New York in 1998) and cartoonist Malcy Duff, who forms one half of hiss’n’miss sonic slapstick duo, Usurper. The likes of Duncan Marquiss, The Lonely Piper, Edward Summerton and the show’s co-curator Norman Shaw also keep Bennett company.

‘My work has broadened and matured as a result of meeting other artists and musicians working with collage,’ Bennett stresses. ‘Also my moving image work has transformed as a result of finding links to other movements such as futurism, cubism and vorticism. It’s the beginning of a whole new journey. It’s very accessible, and in this case in particular, people don’t have to know a thing about music or art to understand or be entertained. Prints of Darkness is about enlightenment – with emphasis on the “light”!’

Prints of Darkness, Edinburgh Printmakers, Sat 17 Jul–Sat 4 Sep.

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