Autumn 2021

Cool lists for dark days

Lockdown FM – Broadcasting in a Pandemic

Edited by Paul Bradshaw. Design and art direction by Hugh Miller. worldwidefm.ochre store, £40

Gilles Peterson is known for his unfeasibly large record collection and an unstoppable enthusiasm for Black music. The pandemic forced radical changes to the DJ’s schedule, but he continued broadcasting from his North London basement studio.

The core of Gilles Peterson’s Lockdown FM – Broadcasting in a Pandemic is a series of 80 playlists, coolly typeset by designer Hugh Miller in Monument Grotesk. It is also an illustrated diary, starting with parties and trips abroad and ending in June 2020, peppered with fabulous spreads of album sleeves from Peterson’s hoard. There are articles and short tributes in the fizzy style of editor Paul Bradshaw’s legendary Straight No Chaser magazine, plus art and heartfelt concrete poetry.

The mood is upbeat, as befits the content, with chirpy DJ-speak (‘tuneage’, ‘bizznizz’) but the book acquires gravitas as the pandemic grows. The first Covid-linked deaths are those of Afro-Jazz pioneer Manu Dibango, jazz pianist Mike Longo, both in their 80s, and 59-year-old trumpeter Wallace Roney in March. A ‘Covid-19 bulletin’ in the corner of the Roney obit notes that worldwide coronavirus cases have passed one million. April follows with the deaths of Lee Konitz, Tony Allen and more. In May there is Ty (aka Ben Chijioke, b. 1972), ‘the first of our generation to die from Covid-19’. The list of ‘those who left us’ is heartbreaking.

On a happier note, there are eloquent tributes to the living and the (equally inspirational) long gone, such as Mary Lou Williams (below). If you enjoy the music Peterson programmes, his playlists are a goldmine, as eclectic as the unholy jumble of typography, lettering and stickers on his LPs and white labels.

Spread from Gilles Peterson – Lockdown FM – Broadcasting in a Pandemic celebrating jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams. Album covers feature ‘Women encircled by the flight of a bird’ by Joan Miro (left), and a drawing by illustrator David Stone Martin (right).

Gilles Peterson – Lockdown FM – Broadcasting in a Pandemic

Every few pages there’s a big image by photographer Dobie, who captures the uncanny atmosphere of the times. As the news of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a US cop filters through, the mood deepens, and an essay by Peterson’s former Talkin’ Loud colleague Paul Martin states that ‘Race is a social construct, a WHITE problem’.

Ultimately, the way the book celebrates music – most of it Black or of Black origin – with exuberance and seriousness, is a quiet triumph for designer Miller, who juggles the disparate elements with a mix of cool boldness and sharp restraint.

Cover of Gilles Peterson – Lockdown FM – Broadcasting in a Pandemic, 2021. Designed by Hugh Miller.

Gilles Peterson – Lockdown FM – Broadcasting in a Pandemic

John L. Walters, editor of Eye, London

First published in Eye no. 102 vol. 26, 2021

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.