Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Artist Mark Sikora & Defecation band.

Question: Mark Sikora & Defecation.

Whatever happened to Mark Sikora? (The artist behind F.E.T.O.'s stunning cover). I believe he did flyer work as well (I know of one gig Ripcord played that had his artwork on it). Oliver/Cluster Bomb Unit told me he "thought" he was writing for a German music mag...but this was nearly 10 years ago. What were the dimensions for the origial artwork for F.E.T.O, as well as Skinny's art for Mentally Murdered. Why did Skinny take over the art reigns? What were each artist payed, and do they see royalties still...especially F.E.T.O. since it's never really gone out of press.

And speaking of Sikora again...he did the Defecation LP cover. Why didn't Earache release Defecation? And don't talk shit like you usually do Dig, saying it was "2nd tier" etc...give us a concrete answer! From: Noizepug73@aol.com

Answer: Mark Sikora-wow, that's a name from the distant past, I guess he has a certain level of fame from drawing the Napalm Death FETO cover- but he did the Unseen Terror album cover for Earache before that one.From memory, he was just a German dude who used to send us art drawings and sketches, he must have done some flyers for the early grind bands I guess, so he got on our radar, and got to make 2 album covers for Earache.

I think he worked on early Nuclear Blast album covers too- like the Japanese HC comp Farewell to Arms (pictured).We liked him because he was conscientious, and was professional enough so that he could work to a delivery deadline, which was unheard of at that time for illustrators/artists, this was the punk/HC scene remember!

His style was a wholesale rip-off of Jeff Walkers now-legendary, highly detailed, political pen & ink 'dots style' which he used for Napalms debut album "Scum" and some Carcass shirts and flyers. To be honest, that was Mark's main appeal-sure, he could do regular colour paintings as he did for Unseen terror - but he was mainly hired because Jeff Walker wouldn't or couldn't do another Napalm Death Lp cover, I assume because he was saving his art skills for Carcass' benefit, not Napalms. The level of competition and rivalry between Carcass and the rest of the UK grindcore/ death-metal bands is rarely if ever mentioned in the retrospective books on the subject, but was definately real, and unspoken.

Mark was paid probably a few hundred pounds on a flat fee basis for the ownership of the art.Actual royalties for cover artists are rare, lets not forget that no big thing was expected for FETO at the time of its release, its only in hindsight that it achieved any sort of legendary status.The size of Mark's FETO art was 12inches square exactly, Jeff Walkers original for Scum was probably twice or three times that size, hence much more detailed.I think Jeff has pics of himself with the original Scum drawing online somewhere, he still owns the original of that.

Mark Sikora was quite opinionated about music, I recall he came to visit our office in Nottingham - this was a year or two after we stopped using him, and we pretty much had a stand up argument about the Death Metal direction of Earache's bands, he was totally opposed to this DM trend and tried to persuade me to stick to his beloved political HC punk output, which was his favourite style. I guess he failed on that one.

Heres a rare pic from back in the day - 2 famous grind/death metal artists in the Earache offices.L-->R Mark Sikora, Dan Seagrave, Johnny Violent (Ultraviolence), Peter Lee (Earache)

Hence it was really no suprise to me that he moved into music journalism, he wrote for Zap mag and then Spex- which is a huge selling German music mag, covering arty indie music and leftfield/ambient dance, it could be likened to NME. Mark was young, always highly artistic, maybe you could say even slightly eccentric. When he visited Earache, he certainly did not dress like a metal or punk dude- I vividly recall he had a long colourful knitted scarf and some kinda knitted beanie hat-nothing wrong with that, I only mention it to show how much of an non-metal or punk character he was.There is a pic of him somewhere, with me in Earache's office, I'll post it here when I find it.

In later years Mark worked for the VIVA2 music Tv channel in Germany, akin to MTV2, and has made a few video clips for bands as a video director (see below).I know he is really into films, it would not surprise me if he directed a feature film anytime soon.

After Jeff and after Mark- the hunt was on for a new Napalm Death artist. The band needed a suitable artist who could draw in that now trademark Napalm style, originated by Jeff (who in turn took it from G Vaucher of Crass)-namely, political b/w dotty/illustration style.Skinny was the artist for the Mentally Murdered EP- I think he was a contact of Mick's, I think from Birmingham area, the actual original art for Mentally Murdered is in full colour for the 12inch and CD but was released on 7inch in black n white.We never used him again as Napalm eventually settled on Mid from Deviated instinct for art on later releases.

The follow up Napalm Death album -Harmony Corruption and Suffer the Children EP were both designed by a local Nottingham artist- his name escapes me right now- he also laid out the back and inside of Entombed's Left Hand Path debut for us-its his hand print on the inner bag. We needed someone reliable as Earache was making serious plans for its releases by that stage, trying to chart them in the charts meant we had to up our game considerably and big money was at stake. Flakey artists who did not deliver on time were the biggest pain. We found this guy simply by visiting the local Nottingham art group and hiring the youngest guy, but he was not a metal or punk fan. At least he could deliver art on a semi-professional timely basis so it saved us a lot of headaches.Looking back his art is not the most recognisable of all the Napalm eras.

As for DEFECATION- the truth is, it was a half-serious/ half-scam 'project' designed to get money from Markus Staiger of Nuclear Blast who was in the early days of setting up his label back then.Nowadays of course his label is a global powerhouse of metal on a massive scale, but back then Earache was the one making the sales breakthrough with the grindcore scene exploding everywhere.Nuclear were quickly in the market for grindcore bands, signing Righteous Pigs and Benediction- both tips from Mick Harris, Earache had already passed on both acts.We also passed on Master who Nuclear signed later on also, because of the success of Defecation.

The early pioneering grindcore scenesters were very few in number, it was maybe 25 people, tops- Mick Harris was the undoubted prime mover of both Napalm Death and arguably of the global scene aswell.He was in contact with nearly everyone else interested in the scene, including Mitch Harris in Las Vegas of Righteous Pigs.If you look closely at the Grindcrusher tour footage of Napalm Death Rock City 1989, you'll see Mitch at the side of the amps, watching. He would eventually join Napalm on second guitar a year or so later to beef up the sound.

Mick told me that he had the idea of specifically making a project band for Nuclear Blast,because Nuclear would pay him a lot of money for it, and it would involve Mitch who was then based in Las Vegas -and it would be a Master-sounding clone band.We had already passed on Master as I just didn't rate them, too mid-paced, too boring for my tastes, I was into hyper speed grind, so this project didn't appeal to me on a lot of levels.Napalm death was the number one priority so it was strictly a non active band, and I figured that if another label was to give Mick a whole load of money for equipment etc, that was OK by me, as it saved me doing it!

It turns out that Mick turned the screws on Nuclear,asking for more and more money, which to their credit, they did not flinch, I assume because they were desperate to gain a recording with Mick Harris on it, at any cost.Mick asked for and got whole new sets of equipment, flights to record the album in Vegas, a session which was shelved.Then a whole new second recording session with Mitch flying to UK was set up, and Mick eventually recorded at Birdsong, and delivered Purity Dilution.Undoubtedly it was a lot of hassle for Nuclear, but the LP became the biggest selling title during Nuclear's early years.

I recall Mick giving me an advance listen and i was shocked at the power of it, and was immediately gutted because it could so easily have been an Earache release, maybe it should have been, but Earache had limited funds so had to them invest wisely, and whims and projects were not really top of my agenda, as I had genuine, touring career-minded bands queuing up to go in the studio.

Looking back it is susprising that none of the Napalm death dudes ever made a Swans style project back in the day, I guess they could'nt get a label suckered into that one.

Midnight Black Earth- by Mark Sikora


Eric Syre said...

While you're on the artists topic...

I always wondered why artists, often highly responsible for the 'visual' success or demise of an album back in the 80/90s, never managed to get royalties matching those of the musicians or producers involved in the recording cased underneat their artwork.

Many bands gained a lot of recognition and exposure with their album sleeves and, unless I missed something, I've never seen an artist getting paid on similar terms like all the other people involved in the production of an album.

Why is it so, you think? Are artists just too concerned about their art and too little by the money? What are the rates of artists working for labels these days?

I used to do artwork for bands such as Darkthrone and Deinonychus and got nothing from them in exchange (it was the deal anyway, I did it to help out only). Both Peaceville and Moonfog never cared to send my anything but a free copy of the CD and the LP. It was ok by me but is it always like that for everyone unless you're a big name in the cover art field?

Maybe my comment could become a question to answer on your Blog, after all...

Anonymous said...

It's all about the contract, I think, Eric. If you don't like the proposal, then don't sign it; easy as that.

Anyway, thanks for a beautiful and informative blog post!