Invisible City is the Toronto based vinyl obscurists, headed up by Gary Abugan (above) who runs it as a label (Invisible City Editions), a record shop and also plays out as Invisible City Sound System. Esoteric yes, but with an appreciation of what emotionally connects to listeners and dancers. With the same approach, Gary has picked out six favourite record sleeves and talked to us a bit about his approach to the visual side of music.
Listen to his favourite tracks off each record in the below playlist and catch Gary in London for Earthly Measures on 18th Aug, alongside Carrot Green and John Gómez.
What was the first record you bought or listened to because of its record sleeve? What was special about it?
Scientist V Prince Jammy – Big Showdown
I used to listen to the Toronto/Hamilton underground radio all the time as a kid. There would always be a crazy mix of rap, wave, house rave, punk, disco, island and experimental sounds on the late night shows (Malick X, Deadly Headly, Dj Dogwhistle, Brave New Waves). I’d go to record stores with no money and look at all the sleeves and try match names I heard on the radio to LP covers. One of my best friends, Shamps, and I would tape songs off the radio and listen to it in my parent’s car. I remember an older DJ named Gord High (that was his real name!) picked up a copy of Big Showdown and said buy this. I loved the cover, the concept and the music on it. 11/10!
How important a role do record sleeves play when you’re buying records?
I think most people who dig and collect records can say that they’ve been burned by the most intriguing covers and shocked by the worst looking ones. These days I listen to as many things I can, especially anything that I haven’t seen before regardless of what It looks like. There’s definitely a few clues to look for.
How have you approached the artwork for your own releases? Any key principals or things you’ve kept in mind?
I’m not a fan of replicant reissues, so I try to stray away from duplicating the past. That’s just me, I know other labels do replicas or they will make all their releases look the same for branding purposes or speed. Maybe I should switch over so I can do 10 to 100 releases a year! I try to make each record different, referencing an aspect of how it sounds. It’s definitely the longest and hardest part of making a record for me, all the designers I’ve worked with will tell you how crazy I drive them. It’s why our output is slower than some other reissue labels. I definitely love most of what we’ve done but we’ve done, but there are some cringe-worthy ones too.
Invisible City Editions’ Favourite Record Sleeves
Shadow – Enchanted LP [Crossroads Records, 1995]
This is an example of a horrible looking record that would get overlooked. It has a song called ‘Donkey Days’ that I love. Shadow told me he had a vision of a donkey carved out by clouds in the sky and decided to make music. He grew up on the island of Tobago and lived on a farm. We traded funny stubborn donkey stories from my days of being on the rice farms of Ilocos with my family. Get well soon Shadow!
Il Vulcani – Music For All Occasions LP [White Label, date unknown]
I always look for the word “adapted” or covers of popular songs. This strange privately pressed LP was made by a tile company here in Toronto that gave out this complimentary record to customers. I talked to the band manager and he said the band did lots of weddings, birthdays and baptisms. It has a great AOR sounding cover of the Whispers Loft classic “The Beat Goes On”. More often than not these records turn out to be schlager, so this was a lucky find.
Divine – Twistin The Night Away EP [Proto, 1985]
I love trashy covers. We used to sneak into to this nightclub all the time called Duckies when we were 12/13 and they would always play this italo electro song by Divine called ‘Native Love (Step By Step)’. We all identified with John Waters growing up in Hamilton. On his most recent visit to Toronto, he compared Baltimore to Hamilton. It’s definitely surreal, outlandish and raunchy like Divine.
Bobby Caldwell – What You Won’t Do For LP [Clouds, 1978]
I recently started a sunset section for my collection. This cover is so clichéd and the title song is so desperate, even his friends wonder what is wrong with them for being so in love. I remember this song from my mom driving me to school and listening to AM radio, we were always late and she was always hectic, but this and Blondie would always make my brother and I stare out the window with wonder. I like all versions of this song (I just heard a cover of it on a Thrasher skateboarding video). You might know the Michael Boothman version out on IC, we recently edited a documentary of Michael Boothman from the time period where he made his island soul/Moog cover. More on this soon!
Desmond “Fingers” Coke – Let’s Chase The Sun LP [Satelitte Entertainments, 1989]
I like amateurish, private-pressed covers. The perspective on here would make anyone want to buy this or listen to it. I found this at a strip mall selling records near John Gomez’ place in Peckham Rye years ago. It’s done its rounds and is quite pricey now. It’s got a lo-fi synth-soul touch to it, check ‘Automatically You and Me’ or ‘Mesmerize a Friend’. I love that M1 and DX21! I had no idea Desmond played with the On-U crew.
Jeff Majors – For Us All (Yoka Boka) LP [Glass Wing, 1986]
The insatiably curious Tako Reyenga played this for me many years ago. He has arguably got one of the best collections I’ve ever seen and heard. Jeff Majors is from DC and is a jazz harpist who trained under Alice Coltrane and played with Brother Ah. He made this inspired afro spiritual jazz hard record with his wife at the time some synths and a LinnDrum. The results are as stunning and meditative as this cover. This is our next release out soon in the fall. I’ve had the hardest time with this cover because I love the original so much!
Catch Gary in London for Earthly Measures on 18th Aug, alongside Carrot Green and John Gómez.