Collaboration can be complicated; it’s why bands change line-ups or break up, why artists so often work solo. But when a partnership is right, it can propel both parties toward unexpected innovation. Visual artist Nini Sum, the co-founder of longstanding Shanghai art collective IdleBeats, has worked with Shanghai producer Faded Ghost (also known as vocalist ChaCha) for years, creating covers for her albums and posters for her shows.
They partner so well that when Faded Ghost was in the process of completing her debut full-length, Moon Mad, a concept album five years in the making, they decided to take their collaboration to the next level: instead of just designing the album’s cover (though she also did that), Sum agreed to create a piece of art for each of the record’s 11 songs, and release them together as a zine.
“We were just talking about the project, and she asked me if I could do a cover for her,” says Sum. “I was like, okay, but I really like your album. Why don’t we do something even cooler than that?”
Moon Mad Zine
Faded Ghost composed Moon Mad, a complex album about religion, nature and the effect of the moon on human behavior, using sound samples she recorded herself during years of travel, which she blended with her vocalizations and beats both organic and electronic. The multicultural, largely Muslim populations of Southeast Asia had an especially big impact on the album’s themes and sounds. Sum joined Faded Ghost on a trip to Malaysia and has been interested in creating art on a similar theme.
“These regions are very special because it’s a very mixed culture, with all kinds of religions and people from different cultural backgrounds living together,” says Sum. “And this had a very strong impact on me and also on [Faded Ghost]. So the zine is about a spiritual world where you can just free your imagination, free the boundary between race, people and culture, and all mix together.”
Zine printing at Pausebread Press
With these themes in mind, Sum created 11 surreal collages composed of photos she took in her travels blended with online images, a similar process to what Faded Ghost used when composing her songs. While Sum took Faded Ghost’s music as inspiration for the artwork, Faded Ghost in turn looked to Sum’s collages when deciding on names for some of her songs.
“I think it went both ways,” Sum says. “Sometimes I heard some things in her music that were not really her intention, but she also got inspired by the artwork. It’s a really nice way of working together."
Sum used riso-printing from Pausebread Press instead of a digital printer to create the zines, which give them a warm, organic feel. Each one comes with a download code for Moon Mad. She hopes the zine will serve as a similar role as a CD booklet once did, an object to touch, flip through and connect with, imbuing the digital release of the album with a human element.
"You still need the warmth of the artwork."
This changing role of physical art is something that Sum mulls over often while running IdleBeats, which just opened a new store inside Uptown Records’ Pingwu location called The GIF Shop. It sells zines and screenprints even as digital and new media art continues to gain popularity.
Artwork for the track 'The Tide'
“When we are doing our artwork [at IdleBeats], people are raising the question: is now more of a digital era? A lot of people are doing virtual artwork, while you guys are doing these handmade things,” she says “My opinion is always that people’s need for the digital world and the digital look is going up, but people’s need of a physical touch, a physical thing, is also going up. You still need the warmth of the artwork.”