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Work / Graphic Design

A chat with Kwes and his three-year-old niece Midi on the record sleeve they’ve made together

For Warp signing Kwes’ latest EP, Songs For Midi, the musician, songwriter and record producer has created an electronic ode to his family. Midi is Kwes’ three-year-old niece, and the six-song EP began just as she was born, building songs from their interactions, the sounds of her toys and his cousins old toys too. It was only apt then that Midi, and the whole family really, had a creative hand in its artwork too.

Midi’s creative flair, one that uses coloured pens in a brilliantly haphazard way, sits on the back of the record. Sprawling in pink, the shape was concepted from the idea of a rounded shape, “I want to do a big circle,” she proclaims in a video Kwes shows me of the moment the artwork was created. Since it’s been reproduced onto sleeve however, the musician’s family have noticed that if you turn it upside down it’s actually a giant heart. “The way she drew it, it was so short, I just love that,” Kwes tells It’s Nice That. “I think it was literally just this one, she didn’t do anymore after this, she became distracted. She’s really into the iPad so she went hunting for that.”

Sitting with Midi and Kwes, paper and pens in hand, she’s very quiet and a little shy about drawing for an audience. On what her favourite colour is Midi mumbles that “I like Pink. Um, some rainbows. Rainbow colours, rainbows!” Picking out her favourite parts of her design Midi points out that she likes “the blues on it, the black on it, and the pink on it.” Despite already having her artwork in Warp’s catalogue of iconically designed sleeves — the dream of many a designer — when we ask Midi if she likes drawing she admits: “I’d like to play some games on the phone.” Followed by asking if she prefers playing on the phone to drawing she hilariously says “Yeah. I’m done, zip it [the pencil case] up”.

On the front of the record is a drawing of Kwes’ which is sweetly similar in line-marks (both uncle and niece are fans of Posca pens) that are like tiny Joan Miró’s if the artist had used felt tips. The lettering on the record continues along the childhood focused art direction too, Kwes made an abstract typeface for it “with my less dominant hand to see it illegible”.

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Kwes: Songs for Midi

When making Songs for Midi over three years in between producing projects Kwes regularly works on with other artists (he’s a crazily busy guy), the musician says, “I was more just observing what Midi was doing, interacting with her and processing that, then composing. We’d just play with toys or it was just the conversations we would have, she was saying certain words for the first time. I remember when she learned to say Daddy but it seemed like she’d just realised how to say it and she was just saying it repeatedly, it was really cute.”

Considering childhood has been the musical and artistic inspiration for Songs For Midi, Kwes’ other family members, his cousins Zach and Connor, also got involved in the records campaign. Connor, who’s old toys feature on the record, stars in the video for Blox/Connor directed by 11-year-old Zach. “He was really up for it, super excited,” Kwes explains. “He made it in iMovie and I’ve never even used that before, he was showing me the tricks, it was a lot of fun.”

In terms of a brief the musician explains he just handed over the track and told him to “just have a listen to it the song and respond to it how you want to. At first he wasn’t too sure, he didn’t know what to make of it and then eventually as he was making the video and getting into it he was like ‘I really like this type of music, you should make more of it because it’s very different, the structure of it, and it’s all very free’.” Zach also noted the instrumental quality of the song too, commenting that there are “too many songs about love out at the moment, and it’s good that you’re making songs that are different”.

Connor on the other hand had the task of writing the press release. Written out in purple pencil and sent to all press, it automatically stands out in your inbox of usual designed press packs. “My big cousin Kwes is back with a new EP he did by himself called Songs for Midi,” he writes. “It’s about childhood discoveries. He’s recorded some of my toys and has also named a song after me. To me the EP sounds like bugs talking to each other or even aliens…The songs make me feel calm and happy. I’m excited for other people to hear it. Hope you enjoy, thanks for reading, Connor.”

Not gimmicky in the slightest, all of the bits and bobs that surround Songs For Midi’s release are just joyfully befitting. Kwes is modest about the idea, thanking Warp’s involvement and understanding saying, “I just fancied it, because of what the EP is, it would make more sense coming from someone younger.”

Looking to what he’ll do musically next, Kwes mentions the idea of having an exhibition of his own illustrations when his next album is released. Calling up on other family members is also in the pipeline too. After naming a song after his grandparents recently, “I’m thinking about getting them involved in the next record, as in actually making it,” he says. “Take some keyboards and let my Grandad play a few bits, see how he responds. He has dementia now and it can be hard to have a conversation. It’s widely discussed how music has an effect on Alzheimer sufferers, I’d love for him to be involved.”

Just as his cousin Connor points out, the delight in Kwes’ new EP is that it’s not directly writing about a family member, but just having them involved. It’s created a very advanced record with an equally imaginative creative campaign to go with it. We’re excited to see what Kwes, and his family, will do next.

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Kwes: Songs for Midi

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Kwes: Songs for Midi

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Kwes: Songs for Midi

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Kwes: Songs for Midi

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Kwes: Songs for Midi

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A self portrait drawn by Midi

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