Strictly Kev has ridden on both sides of the creative fence – starting as a designer for Ninja Tune in the early ’90s, he DJed for years with the members of Coldcut for the DJ Food project before becoming the current sole banner-carrier. On top of working on the next DJ Food album, his Raiding the 20th Century, a masterfully complex 40-minute composition charting the history of the cut-up movement, became an instant classic in ’04, setting the samplers’ standard.

As far as you remember, what was the first thing about hip hop culture that caught your attention?

Graffiti was the first thing that caught me. I saw an article in a magazine about Henry Chalfont and Martha Cooper’s Subway Art with a picture of the Seen and PJay whole car with the duck characters, and that really hit me immediately. It took me a while to find the book, but I quickly found every record sleeve with a piece on it and started writing straightaway.

How was your first experience spinning out at a bar or club?

My first experience spinning outside of friends’ parties was on a wet Wednesday evening somewhere in southeast England [I forget exactly where]. It was at the height of rave culture at the end of the ’80s, but me and my mates were playing mainly hip hop. I don’t think it was too memorable…

You have a degree in graphic design. Which came first, the interest in music or art?

I think I was drawing first, at about the age of five, and always loved art at school. I got into music at about 10 – the usual pop stuff.

How do they relate to each other now?

Music has always been an inspiration, but other sleeve design spurs me on, as well as comics, photography, architecture, and typography. I approach my image-making the same way I do my music, taking samples of obscure imagery and twisting it into new shapes.

What is the favorite sleeve you’ve done yourself?

My favorite, if pushed, is probably one of the recent Amon Tobin sleeves: Out From Out Where, Remixes & Collaborations, or Splinter Cell.

Who’s done the past DJ Food sleeves?

I’ve done all the DJ Food sleeves since 1995, and before that, for the generic Jazz Breaks LPs, it was a guy called Jim who used to work for the Benetton magazine. With DJ Food you have a very unique opportunity for a DJ, being both the current sole musician, as well as a designer for Ninja Tune.

Do you have complete creative control over the project?

In a word, yes.

Do you have a lot of friends who are artists or designers now?

Yeah, I suppose I do.

What do you do when you get together?

When we meet up we generally play catch up – the usual “what have you been working on?” – and talk shop. There are so many amazing artists and designers out there now, and it’s really easy to make connections via the Internet.

Do you have a favorite artist, someone who inspires your music, or your musical choices, or even who you’d love to collaborate with?

That’s a bit like asking me my favorite record. I’ve collaborated with quite a few of my favorites, graffiti artists like Delta, She 1, and Darco, but I love Andy Votel’s hand-drawn work, Trevor Jackson’s graphics, and Terry Gilliam’s animations. Musically I love Eno, Kraftwerk, Brian Wilson, and Foetus, but I get inspired by those DJs that dig a little bit deeper, like Jonny Trunk, people who find and reissue fantastic music from the past.

Do you have a favorite record sleeve, or a favorite artist that does record art?

Anyone from the aforementioned Andy Votel, Ehquestionmark, and Trevor Jackson to the classic Reid Miles, Charles E. Murphy, Vaughn Oliver, Designers Republic, Russell Mills, Julian House, Build, and many more.

What makes a good sleeve?

Striking design that’s recogniable at any size and from any distance. Originality, personality, and special inks or packaging are always welcome.

Which other DJs do you admire?

The ones who dig, as I said before, and uncover as much old music as new. Technically I would have to say DJs like Kid Koala, Cut Chemist, and Craze are favorites. They’re all musical DJs who can play a wide spectrum of music and rock a party as well as amaze with their skills.

What is it that makes a DJ "good"?

A good DJ, in my opinion, is someone who can select great tunes at the right moment and put them together in a unique, seamless way, a mix of the technical and the cerebral.

You’ve traveled a lot for music. What do you think is the most creative, live city right now? What’s the best city to spin?

It’s difficult to say. I can get away with a lot more in London than anywhere else. There are cultural references in the UK that can be exploited that just wouldn’t be understood elsewhere. Saying that, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouverare always good cities to play because the Canadians seem to be totally on the English wavelength.

What do you think makes a nice set?

Well, the obvious double entendre springs to mind, but to me "a nice set" would have to include tracks I love, mixed up in a new interesting way, tracks I don’t know that blow my mind, and tracks I thought I hated that are presented in such a way as to make them appealing.

What’s your signature dance move? Don’t be shy.

The Disc Jockey Nod.

Strictly Kev