"If I hadn’t ended up in Leicester I doubt I’d be doing most of the things I’m doing now"
What do you do?
Until recently I was mostly known for my involvement with live comedy as a graphic designer, reviewer, promoter and festival judge. At the moment I’m also becoming known as an electronic musician, having released my first album in May 2021.
How did you get to where you are?
I originally wanted to be a journalist, but my degree left me pretty disillusioned about journalism as career, and by the time I graduated all I wanted to do was make music. I quickly realised this was not a viable career either, and did a succession of terrible agency jobs, before ending up as a proof reader for Auto Trader magazine. That was amazingly, soul-crushingly boring, so when it was quiet at work I’d go and sit with the Photo Editors and Advert Designers, and try to learn to do what they did. From there I worked as a designer for several newspaper/magazine groups, ending up as a Senior Designer for the company that owns the Leicester Mercury.
Whilst there, I started writing reviews of comedy shows for the paper, and became their representative on the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year judging panel (the first year I did it, our winner was an unknown teacher doing stand-up in his spare time, pretty sure his name was Romesh something…)
I started a live comedy blog, where I would review comedy shows and do ticket offers/features etc. That’s what got me involved with the local comedy scene, and before long I was a core member of the Leicester Fridge collective and designing posters for people’s shows alongside working part time at the Mercury.
I managed to pick up a couple of Best Poster awards at festivals, and after my work on cult phenomenon ‘The Elvis Dead’ was seen in all the national newspapers and comedy websites, I soon found I had enough clients to quit the day job and go full-time freelance. These days my client list includes several touring agencies, regular TV comics and Edinburgh award winners, a couple of TV channels and even a Britain’s Got Talent winner!
But like everyone with a career that relies on live events, all of my work suddenly disappeared when the first lockdown started in March 2020. So, to keep creatively busy and fend off the lockdown blues, I started writing music again (something I hadn’t done seriously since the early 2000s when I’d become distracted by graphic design). I dug out some ancient music software, made a few silly mashups, then some more serious IDM-type stuff and sent a few tracks to people whom I thought might enjoy them.
After Alex Scoppie started regularly playing my tracks on his Leicester Community Radio show, I thought I should probably try and release something, so I set about putting together an EP, which soon became an album, which I called ‘Part Idiot’ (fun fact - it was originally going to be called ‘Idiac Rises From the Ashes of 2020 (Like a Phoenix with a Muthaflippin’ Jetpack)’, but, well, that’s just stupid).
Intending to self-release, I sent it to a few folks to see what they thought of it, and one of those people (Rich Wilkes aka Myoptik), liked it so much that he asked if he could release it on his record label (Pingdiscs). As far as I was concerned, that was my teenage dreams fulfilled - I had released an album on a proper record label, job done!
But it turns out that was just the start of a brand new journey… since its release in May 2021, the album has been surprisingly well-received by the electronic music community, to the point where it’s still clinging onto a place in the top ten albums of the year on ‘The World’s Greatest Electronic Music Albums’ (TWGEEMA) website. It’s also getting some recognition outside the electronic world, having just been shortlisted for The Neutron Prize, which is ‘God Is In The TV’ zine’s answer to The Mercury Prize. As a result, I’ve been asked to do several remixes, soundtrack a podcast, create some radio idents, and had several more tracks released on compilations. By far the most surreal thing that’s happened though, is getting to appear on an album of R.E.M. covers, which was heavily promoted by the band’s official social media channels to their 4 million followers. It got even crazier when they posted actual quotes about the album by Michael Stipe, Bill Berry and Peter Buck themselves! As a result, the album was the biggest selling UK album on Bandcamp for quite a sustained period, and at one point it was definitely in the top 3 for the whole of Bandcamp worldwide…
It seems utterly ridiculous (not to mention horribly braggy) typing those words. I’m mostly bemused by it all if I’m honest. A few short months ago I couldn’t possibly have imagined any of this happening, so it’s all been quite surreal and exciting really… and I’m still very much at the start of this journey, so I can’t wait to find out where it all leads!
Why do you love what you do?
I have to do creative things that hold my attention and excite me, otherwise I lose focus, get fidgety and eventually frustration sets in. I used to get super grumpy after a while in all my office-based jobs, because the lack of variety and super-rigid routines really didn’t suit me. Also, my ideas were often considered too silly for the corporate world.
Working for yourself, though, is perfect - you can work when you want and take a break when you want. If inspiration strikes, you can jump on it straight away - last night I couldn’t sleep, so I got up at 1am and worked til 4, doing a little Photoshop job and then starting work on a new track.
I love design in general because it’s such an imprecise science. What works perfectly for one project won’t work at all for another, so it keeps you sharp and stops you getting too lazy or complacent. Designing for comedy shows is particularly rewarding. Firstly because I love the experience of live comedy, so I’m always excited about the project, but also because every job is so wildly different. One day you’re parodying a horror film poster or perfume ad, the next you’re world-building for a dystopian sci-fi show, creating fake websites, newspapers, company branding etc. Comedians are the best clients too, because the focus is always on making people laugh, so the sillier and more ‘out there’ my ideas are, the more the client tends to love them. They also quite often let me write bits of funny copy as part of my designs, so that’s enough to satisfy the part of me that’s always wanted to be a comedy writer!
When it comes to making music, it’s wonderful to be just creating for the sake of creating, without any specific brief to work to, or any client’s wishes to consider. You just pop on your headphones, start with a totally blank slate and just slip into a bit of trance where you’re not really thinking at all. You’re totally immersed in the track you’re creating, just channelling all the music you’ve ever heard and shaping it gradually into something new. Then you emerge several hours later as if waking up from a dream, having created this little sonic journey but not really knowing at all where it all came from! Getting back into that was a massive mood-booster during that long Leicester lockdown.
If I hadn’t ended up in Leicester I doubt I’d be doing most of the things I’m doing now. Leicester Comedy Festival, the Leicester Mercury, Pingdiscs, LCR, Leicester Fridge… pretty much everything pivotal to my journey is Leicester-based. As a city it’s big enough and diverse enough to have lots of interesting stuff going on, but it’s small enough that it’s really easy to get involved in any particular cultural scene, because if you’re out chatting to people a lot then you probably already know a bunch of people in that scene. Also, you can get anywhere in Leicester in ten minutes on a bike, which is really handy for getting to lots of venues in one night!
The comedy scene has been particularly rewarding to be a part of, because you meet such unusual characters who are always willing to totally embrace and run with the silliest ideas, just for the love of being daft. It was always great bringing them all together for our Leicester Fridge events during the annual festival. That’s why no matter how busy I get, I still try to make time to design for the local acts and promoters… after all they’re what got me here in the first place!
Design-wise, things are starting to pick up again now that venues have re-opened and festivals are going ahead. So the tricky part now is finding a balance between keeping up with my design jobs and trying to write new music. I’ve been talking to a few labels about putting out new releases, so definitely need to devote a decent chunk of time to writing those!
I should probably try to promote the first album a bit more as well, so that will inevitably involve playing live at some point and maybe pestering more publications for coverage!
(The album’s available at idiac.bandcamp.com by the way, and all proceeds go to Macmillan Cancer Support).
My main recommendation is to just get out and about and see as much stuff as possible. Live entertainment took such a battering during lockdown that it really needs your support to get back on its feet.
So go and see gigs at The Musician, The Shed, The Sound House, Firebug etc. Go see comedy shows and follow your local comedy promoters CCCP (TripleCeePee), Comedy & Cocktails, Jokes On Us, Proper Funny, Tickled Pink etc… and show some support for Leicester’s newest venue, The Big Difference!
Also, if you’re into electronic music, join the TWGEEMA group on Facebook for loads of recommendations by avid record collectors and producers. There’s tons of great new stuff coming out every month on labels like Pingdiscs, Touched Music, Mighty Force, L50, Pulse State, Glawiio, Section27, Xephem, Dyadik, etc…
Facebook: Idiac, Peril Design, Leicester Fridge