Art Sleeves is not a definitive guide to the ‘best’ album covers throughout music history, and its creator will be the first to tell you that.
Rather, DB Burkeman’s 216-page book, published last month by Rizzoli, is his own curation of ‘beautiful, powerful and obscure,’ record covers that span every genre from New Wave to emo, pop and punk, over the past four decades. An early pioneer of rave culture in the US, Burkeman began his career in music DJ’ing ‘posh’ London clubs before finding his groove in the jungle/drum and bass scene. A move to New York in the late 80s saw him throwing club nights in New York’s heyday, releasing mixes, and eventually moving into the publishing business, all the while adding to his ever-expanding record collection (which now counts itself in the thousands).
Art Sleeves is a testament to Burkeman’s lifelong obsession with music, but first and foremost, an ode to the artists and designers who created album covers that are as good as treasured pieces of art. And while the usual suspects are there (what would record art be without Joy Division and Peter Saville, or Radiohead and Stanley Donwood?), it’s Burkeman’s knack for crate-digging obscure and truly one of a kind records that makes Art Sleeves a worthy addition to your book collection. From acquiring one of Martin Creed’s 500 handpainted sleeves for musician Rita Ackermann’s When Sunny Expands, to even just discovering the existence of a one-of-one 12” Radiohead record (location unknown, leads appreciated) made from an etched zinc plate, Burkeman’s dedication to shining a light on some of music’s lesser-known gems is splashed all over the pages of his book. Before you go and grab a copy, scroll on for a chat with the man himself.
Hey DB! What kinds of records were you spinning when you first starting out DJ’ing?
I started my DJ life having to play top 40 in a posh club, but would try to slip something I considered cool into the mix. Once I started to become known, I focused on House and Techno and finally became known in the U.S. as being partly responsible for bringing Jungle to America.
One of the questions you ask the artists and designers in Art Sleeves is whether they ever bought a record simply because it looked cool, which is something you admit to doing when you were younger. So, I’ve got to ask: what’s a record you absolutely love the sleeve of but aren’t too fussed with the actual music?
Grateful Dead records 😉
This book is a real mix of iconic covers and more unknown covers that deserve to be celebrated. What’s one of the lesser-known record covers that you loved being able to share with people through this book?
All of the records that Tauba Auerbach or Barry McGee have done sleeves for, but there are so many others too.
You mention Barney Bubbles as being a design hero of yours. What resonates with you so much about his work?
He was an incredible designer and always able to give the music the perfect visual. I also love that I never knew all these records I grew up with were by him, because he went uncredited. I didn’t find out till I read Paul Gorman’s fantastic book, Reasons To Be Cheerful.
Culling the records down for Art Sleeves must have been torture, and many favourites you weren’t able to include because of licensing. But was there a particular artist or record that was on your ultimate wishlist that made it in?
It was torture trying to decide who made the cut and who actually got cut, I think the count is close to 1000. It did help that we were only showing 40 years, 1980-2020.
Do you have any idea of how many records are in your personal collection?
Hmmm… around 4000, and I’ve pared down two or three times since the 90s.