053 - Michael Cina

Part of the joy of this project has been finding an additional avenue to create and share my own artwork, designing with varying degrees of dedication, all but a few of the 50 plus mix artworks to date. One of my biggest influences since I began working in visual arts has been the work of the fantastic Minnesota based visual artist Michael Cina. A man who dedicates a huge portion of his creativity towards creating beautiful visual accompaniments to musical projects. 

Like many, I came to Cina’s distinguished work through Ghostly International, the record label for whom he has collaborated with for nearly two decades. Working with the US imprint, famed for it's visual identity, Michael’s art & design has adorned record covers by the likes of Matthew Dear, Shigeto, Fort Romeau, Avalon Emerson, Lusine, Gold Panda, Jacaszek and many others. He’s proven incredibly resilient to the changing nature of music, art and technology, evolving his own work and helping to forge the visual identity of a successful record label. Whilst this is only one part of his creative output (Michael has also worked extensively in video, branding and web design) it is this work that has has the biggest impact on me.

A few years back I reached out to Michael and he was kind enough to offer me some incredibly useful advice. In these brief but informative exchanges I learnt that he has an expansive personal record collection and a history of playing records for people - so I was thrilled when he agreed to throw together something for us.

Though his career playing records was largely built around the dancefloor, Michael has a very eclectic collection and if you’re looking for proof then look no further than his Métron mix. Here he treats us to a beautifully soothing sonic waltz encompassing weirdo ambient jazz, new age, tropical folk & experimental synth-pop, featuring records spanning half a century and from artists all over the globe.

It’s easy to see the passion and understanding Michael has for music, and the part that this has played in his ability to forge a long and successful career designing for the music industry. Long may this prolific run continue.

I spoke to Michael about his musical background, how he got into DJing and how he's evolved his work over the past few decades. You can read the full interview below the Cina inspired artwork below.

When did you start collecting records and how long was it before you started playing them out?
I started collecting at the tender age of 8 years old. I bought M's "Pop Muzik" and moved into the wonderful world of disco. In high school I would sneak into some clubs and became friends with the DJ's who took me under their wing and showed me how to mix. I wrote a paper on DJing in 1989 and fell in love with house (classic and acid) music but it was hard to find out more information on this kind of music where I lived.

I became friends with some DJ's in college and they showed me the ropes. They were amazing. My first real steady gig was at a college bar where I would force my tastes on the crowd. I worked my way up to being a prominent DJ in Dallas in the early 90's. Deep house was my thing. Still love it.

Can you tell us a bit about this mix?
I am into a lot of different kinds of music. I love ambient and experimental electronic stuff and saw that your last mix was something like that so I grabbed a lot of stuff in that genre and hit record. I feel that when I plan a mix, I never finish it. You have to know yourself!

Did you ever make music yourself?
Yeah, I used to make a lot of music in the late 90's and early 2000's I found some of those tracks yesterday. It was fun to hear some of them again but I have no recollection of making them. I do so much work, it's hard to keep track of things. Maybe I will in another life but don't see it happening again in this one.

As somebody who makes a living (barely) working in a similar sphere as yourself, I’m intrigued as to what led you into the realm of designing for musical projects?
Music and design are a couple of my biggest passions in life so it only makes sense. You also get a tad more freedom, depending on the musician. I like being pushed into new areas.

I’ve always looked at your work and the longevity which you’ve achieved with enormous respect. You’ve worked with Ghostly for such a long time now and you’ve managed to keep working through a period of enormous cultural and technological changes. How do you think you’ve kept your work relevant and progressive?
I rarely look back on the past, only when I have to. I try and keep myself engaged in interesting topics and ideas and I live in the world I create. I make work that I feel is relevant to the project and true to how I want to say it. I do so much work that people never see. I just finished doing some data visualization for one of the leading AI companies through an agency bc they got stuck on how to represent the infinite. I work a lot on custom typefaces and fonts and paint when I can. I don't care about being relevant but I do care about being progressive in my work.

Accusations of plagiarism seem to be becoming increasingly common in the industry. I’ve had accusations levelled at myself which have given me considerable pause. I wonder what you, as somebody who has worked before and after the rise of the internet and social media, thought about homogeneity in the creative output - and public accusations of plagiarism that keep cropping up. Have you encountered, or pursued claims yourself?
I think plagiarism has been around forever (it doesn't make it right) and it's true that the internet has done some homogenizing. It's a intense conversation but it all comes down to intent. There are a lot of people who consistently rip my older work off almost to the pixel and are more popular than I am. I make  honest work that I often don't get credit for and I am at peace with that. I have been through a lot. Success comes with a lot of scars when you make your own path. I take the high road on these issues.

Do you have any exciting new projects coming up for 2018 that you’d like to share?
I have a lot of ideas that I want to do but I also need to be realistic. I have been considering doing a small type foundry, I really need to redo my websites so bad and put work up there. I keep trying to narrow down the work I do but I keep growing and getting great jobs that push me in other areas. I love it.

Finally can you recommend a couple of lesser known records you love that readers should dig up?Man. Where do you begin?Kettenkarussell - Insecurity GuardGreat range.
Charles Manier — Just-World BelieversTadd Mullinix is a genius.
2017 records, etc. Hasn't been sorted or anything, raw data.https://open.spotify.com/user/freshlymade/playlist/3vWhLBiw3oxRHmbDvmbFIE?si=TkoFCmxyRDSYrc3FUfrpdQ

Words, images & interview by Jack Hardwicke.
Métron Records 2018. Hampshire, UK.