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Interview: Kevin King, founder of Secret 7" on putting the fun into fundraising with a little help from his friends


Image credit: Secret 7”, exhibition at NOW Gallery, 14th October – 1st November 2020

Secret 7” is the much-loved anonymous charity record sleeve sale that invites world-leading artists to create one-of-a-kind sleeve art for tracks by iconic musicians. Launched in 2012 by Kevin King and Jordan Stokes, together the pair have commissioned nearly 5,000 unique vinyl pressings from the likes of Peter Blake, Anish Kapoor, Martin Parr and Jeremy Deller, and raised over £215,000 for charitable causes. We caught up with Kevin ahead of its return at Greenwich Peninsula’s NOW Gallery later this month.

Run-Riot: Secret 7” has run for 7 years — have the style of submissions changed much in that time? Have you seen trends come and go?
Kevin King:
Submissions have gotten better every year because the pool of people we invite gets bigger every year and the quality of the open submission gets better every year. There are more physical sleeves with every year, as people come to the show and see things made of different materials, and respond the following year with their own wild creations. Design themes come and go, and there are of course themes that are linked to the tracks. This year there are lots of fingernails and snakes as they’re linked to lyrics in the tracks.

RR: What’s been the weirdest material used on a sleeve?
Kevin:
I’m never really that keen on sleeves that have hair! We’ve had wigs and hair attached to sleeves in the past. We have a giant condom this year – the record is inside a 7” condom wrapper. I don’t know what else is in there but it feels like a giant condom inside. So that’ll be a nice surprise for the buyer.

RR: How many times have you said, 'this is the final time I'm doing this'? Is this really the final year?
Kevin:
Usually at this point in the project I always say that I’ll never do it again! We’ve always wanted to get to seven, that’s been our ultimate goal as there’s a symmetry to that and a love of the number within the project. Secret 7” has always been run by myself and Jordan, who’s been based in Australia since 2013. In the early days I’d be at the office all day, on weekends, at night, roping in friends to help. The project has grown so much but the team has stayed the same throughout. We both have young families now, so our responsibilities have changed – we can’t go all out on the project like we used to. Ultimately all good things must come to an end, but I don’t rule out that we’ll do something along similar lines in the future, perhaps just changing up the rigid concept we’ve had in place since 2012.


Image credit: Secret 7”, exhibition at NOW Gallery, 14th October – 1st November 2020

RR: You’ve had some all-star contributors over the years, including some famously elusive artists such as Ai Weiwei and Yoko Ono. What’s your secret in getting artists on board?
Kevin:
There isn’t really a method to getting elusive artists on board. It’s different with each artist. With Ai Weiwei, that came about because Elton John dedicated a gig to him in China which was quite controversial, and that year he was one of our tracks. So when I saw him do that gig, I asked Elton’s management if they’d introduce us, which they did. It’s all about finding a way in to ask. Often that might not be through their represented galleries, it could be through a friend who might know them. Gilbert and George were through a friend of a friend, who helped them with design work. Often, it’s through unconventional channels and I’ll try anything. I’ve posted invites to addresses I’ve found on Companies House, although I don’t think I’ve ever managed to get a sleeve that way! And it’s about persistence. I’ve asked Lubaina Himid a number of times this year, but it wasn’t until the show got postponed and I asked her a third time that she came back saying that would come on board. So it’s also a bit of luck and being in the right place and the right time.

RR: Artists like Stanley Donwood, Gavin Turk and Pete Fowler design sleeves for Secret 7” time and time again (notably Pete has designed a sleeve every year) Why do you think artists enjoy being part of the project?
Kevin:
First and foremost, there’s a good cause behind it. Also coming back to the point about being a small team, it makes it very personal. It’s me asking every year, I don’t pass it on to an assistant, so there’s a lot of warmth. People like Pete, Gavin and Stanley can tell when something’s done with heart and good intention.

RR: What have been the most memorable moments over the last seven years?
Kevin:
I think the sales will always be super memorable for me, given that a lot of the project happens online and it’s only really at that point, when queues gather, that you can share a sense of achievement about what you’ve created. The fact that people are willing to queue up for 52 hours is amazing, and you get to meet the fans of bands and artists and really be part of the fandoms. In 2014, I went to take a press shot of Jake & Dinos Chapman the first year they contributed. Only when we arrived did we learn that Dinos actually lived in Los Angeles and wasn’t there. So I sat in as him, hiding my face with a blank sleeve. It was only once we got the pictures back, we realised there were lots of child mannequins with genitalia on them in the background, so we couldn’t use them anyway. There’s lots of funny behind the scenes stories like that for when we eventually compile a book!


Image credit: Secret 7”, exhibition at NOW Gallery, 14th October – 1st November 2020

RR: Who are you excited about having involved this year?
Kevin:
It’s really nice to have new faces like Lubaina Himid and Tacita Dean. Of course, it’s nice to have new headliners, but equally it’s nice to have old favourites like Stanley Donwood come back after a hiatus. I worked really hard to get lots of new artists to the project this final year, artists like Helen Beard, Jadé Fadojutimi, Michel Gondry, Gregor Hildebrandt, Daisy Parris and Jimmy Turrell.

RR: This year you've produced a Secret 7” podcast. Tell us a bit more about that.
Kevin:
That came about with NOW Gallery’s support in lockdown as a way to use the time to make something that we wouldn’t usually have the time to create. We worked with Spiritland Productions to talk to seven of our contributors from over the years to talk about music and art very broadly. That ranged from talking to StormStudios and Kate Moross about creating for music campaigns, to talking to set designer Shona Heath about being involved on shoots with Bjork and Harry Styles. Worth a listen for clues, Gavin Turk talked a lot about his sleeve in this year’s show!

RR: Why have you decided to support Help Refugees this year?
Kevin:
I think they’re a really inspirational charity, having started from a hashtag and a call to action on Twitter, to become one of the biggest charities in that area in just a few years. We tend to sit down with a few charities before we kickstart the project and just get a feeling for who we want to work with. Supporting the refugee crisis has always been vital, but with current events it’s a particularly timely and urgent cause right now.

RR: What are you going to do with all your spare time now?! What's next for you and Jordan?
Kevin:
Jordan and I run a company together called Goodness that has the mission to harness the power of creativity to make positive impact, so we’ll be continuing work on that and looking to create more projects like Secret 7”.

RR: What is Planar 1/1 and how has that evolved?
Kevin:
In 2016 we asked Thierry Noir to create a set of seven turntables for the show which we auctioned off to make more money for our cause. That evolved in 2018 into Planar 1/1 when we asked 10 different artists to create a turntable each, including Gavin Turk, Jeremy Deller and Jean Julien. This year Planar 1/1 will have its own proper show at NOW Gallery immediately after Secret 7” (launching 4th November). We’ve got 15 artists who have created a unique turntable including Rana Begum, Sir Paul Smith, Pure Evil and Alison Goldfrapp. Those will be auctioned online via The Auction Collective on 12th November.

RR: What legacy will Secret 7” leave behind?
Kevin:
I’d like it to inspire others to take the initiative to do similar projects that puts the fun in fundraising.

Secret 7” will take place at NOW Gallery, Greenwich Peninsula SE10, from 14th October – 1st November 2020. The exhibition is free to attend, booking is essential secret-7.com   


Image credit: Secret 7”, exhibition at NOW Gallery, 14th October – 1st November 2020


Image credit: Secret 7”, exhibition at NOW Gallery, 14th October – 1st November 2020


Image credit: Secret 7”, exhibition at NOW Gallery, 14th October – 1st November 2020

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