Glitching out with Gaijin

Frank Pomes |

Today's music scene is rampant with talented producers and musicians, it seems like there’s more new music now than ever. The influx of so many different visionaries had created a breeding ground of all sorts of evolving sub-genres and sonic aesthetics, it's an incredible thing to witness. Alongside the continuous development of musical content comes the equally important genesis and expansion of visual art, which we are proud to showcase here at Rendah Mag.

James 'Gaijin' Cooklin’s glitch art aesthetic emerges from the distorted edges of London’s cutting drum and bass scene.  With each image created he hones his ability to weave and manipulate pixelated fragments and textures into vibrant digital realities, reflecting and expressing the seismic soundscapes which inspire them.

We’re very grateful for the time and content Gaijin has given us, and hope you enjoy a deep dive into the mind and art of this prolific creator.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?  How old are you, where are you from?  Do you go to school at all at the moment?

Yeah, so I’ve recently just turned 25, from the UK and am currently living just outside London with my girlfriend!  Graduated from Uni a couple years ago.

Cool!  Did you focus on art at all in uni or were you studying something else?

I actually studied Geography which was very far from what I’ve ended up doing now, however, there was a lot of colouring involved haha!

Wow, that is a bit different, that does sound fun though.  What were your original intentions with that if you don’t mind my asking?

So I came out of school with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I was older, had always been a fan of Geography at school, predominantly in the Physical aspect, so yeah pretty much picked it because it was my least hated subject!

However, the degree was super painful and I knew it wasn't the career path for me!

It's all a learning experience.  All sorts of things can inspire and fuel art, maybe geography serves your work in some roundabout way.

Exactly man.  I am quite passionate about the environment, did a mini project for WWF raising money for some environmental issues a while back!  I think the fusion of my art style with environmental issues is a cool project, it highlights the issues whilst also making it into something unique!

Did you make art during uni or in your younger days?

I've always been quite creative, used to dabble in making youtube videos and some speed arts when I was younger, messed around at school making bits and bobs for friends as well.

Mostly digital/computer-based stuff even then?  What do you do now for a career?  I see you are open to commissions and have obviously done some freelance work, is art your main gig or is it a side project kind of thing?

Yeah mainly in the digital realm, used to do some drawings a while back, however, I'm much more comfortable in the digital medium! That way you can erase any mistakes very easily as well haha!  I was actually supposed to go travelling to Japan in summer 2020, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. That’s when I started to seriously pick up digital art design and reached out to a load of producers and creatives who I thought I could make some nice material for. I’m just freelancing at the moment, always looking for new clients and expanding my network!

Nowadays I use Photoshop & After Effects predominantly, with a combination of software used to create that pixel sorted effect you see in many of my pieces. I’m a big fan of overlaying many textures to add depth and realism to my recent work. Have got quite a complex workflow now that involves adding layers upon layers, whilst processing pieces many times to achieve the final outcome.

During these earlier days were there any artists or forms of artwork that you found inspiring?  Can you tell me about how you connected to that scene and why it resonates with you/inspires your art?

Yeah so the first form of artwork that caught my eye was the early bits done for Overview Music, especially the Rizzle - Placid EP and Skylark - Shinku EP.  I love the Overview aesthetic.  Found out later they were done by Matt (@TheRealMuseum) and I stumbled across this group called @GlitchArtistsCollective that he was a part of. There were many helpful people in there, however, a guy called Kurtis Peskleway really helped me navigate around the different techniques and processes that Glitch Art involves.

I've been a fan of Drum & Bass for about a decade now, I got into it at university and have been producing on and off for a while, dabbling in Ableton and FL studio. I love the energy of the scene and the multitude of sub-genres allowing such variety in styles. I'm very passionate about the genre, specifically regarding the new wave of production that has recently come to fruition. It's been really driving me to create pieces for these talented artists, and feels nice to give back to a community I’ve loved being a part of for so long. I also listen to a lot of hip hop and more chilled pieces of house and lo-fi!

Lately, it has been quite hard to find the time for music production, however, I do have a little remix in the works for an upcoming label called Stellar Audio!

Eyy that’s sick.  We featured that Rizzle x Nami 'Mistress' release in our first issue which was also done by TheRealMusueum, love their work!  Can you tell me more about this Glitch Artists Collective?  Is it an online group or community of artists you hang out with?

Glitch Artists Collective is a community of people creating and exploring the different techniques used for "glitching" images and videos. It's a really sick community as people are constantly revealing new and innovative techniques. The reason why it resonates with me deeply, because it is quite an underground and niche sector of artwork creation, quite similar in a way to how drum and bass is in the music world!  Glitch definitely does fit the drum and bass aesthetic well!  However, I do have a commission coming up for an alternative rock band and it would be sick to branch out to other genres as well, I’m all for it!

Made me immensely happy to see that you did some work on the Skylark - Vordt cover.  I love the subtle textures on that cover.  The slightly glitchy distortion gives it some character, but at the same time, it looks clean and sleek -  Very nicely done. Can you tell me how you connected with overview and Peter and how you got involved in that one?

Yeah, so I had just started getting involved in the glitch world and had posted a few of my earlier pieces into the Glitch Artists Collective (GAC) Facebook group. Pete is part of it as well, and had clocked a couple of my pieces about. He messaged me one day saying that Matt was busy and needed some help on the Skylark release - I've never flown out of bed faster in my life and instantly hopped on the PC to help out! Skylark loves the clean, almost Vogue-like aesthetic so I contributed to just getting a bit of tasteful glitching done on the cover art. Have been in contact with Pete since and would love to do some future pieces with the label as they really envelop that pixel-sorted vibe!

How'd you connect with Ewan Bristow and Hurleybird?  How was working with them? Did they give you any ideas or suggestions regarding the artwork?  Was the title 'Seraphim' already in place as a title and did you draw inspiration from that?

I first came across Ewan in the IMANU discord! I think his tune with Hydrae, - Sterile, first caught my eye and I saw it got a Vision Radio premiere! Ewan also was always giving me great feedback on the pieces that I posted in the graphics section of the discord, from time to time. He sent me a load of his forthcoming tunes and we eventually settled on Seraphim for me to do the art for!

Ewan gave me complete artistic freedom for the piece. I typically always try to link the artwork in some way to the title as I think it glues the whole release together. So I started looking up inspiration material and found this really cool illustration of a multi-winged being to work from. As the word 'Seraphim' derives from some sort of celestial, godlike winged being I thought this would be a good starting point to work from!

I really love how you used a centralized figure for this one, it stands out from your other work a bit but also a lot of the textural patterns and variants throughout the piece (looking at how it blends in some parts) really speaks to your whole style

I typically start with colour correcting and adjusting the fundamentals of the starting piece. Then I usually apply some pixel-sorted variations to the piece, from which I’ll extract different intricacies from a selection of eye-catching exports. A lot of my process involves happy accidents, whereby a certain combination of texture layering will lead to a certain vibe or theme, from which I’ll then pursue. Sometimes if I’m lacking a little bit of inspiration, I’ll throw the artwork into Audacity, which is crazy because you can actually distort and manipulate a photo within audio processing software! It's one of the many techniques I discovered from GAC, and is wicked because you can even use 3rd party plugins like Izotope's Trash 2 to distort images. I conducted a small experimentation project last year where I went through all the different presets within Trash 2, studying which elements did what to a certain image. From there I culminated a small folder of my favourite presets that I use on images to see if something inspirational comes from it! I used this technique predominantly in one of my older pieces, “Trapped In The Mind” to create the different subtle distortions. After the distortions are finalised, I'll then layer up more textures from packs I've purchased, and also from Unsplash to add more depth to the piece.

So do you mean here that you'll grab specific areas of the piece where the variant is cool and continue to use that?

Yeah exactly man! You can pixel sort at different angles, so if a horizontal variation looks cool I'll mask the selection I like and add it to the starting piece. Then also vertical variations and sometimes diagonal ones are also layered into the piece as well!

It just goes to show you the kind of stuff you can do with digital art that's nearly impossible with traditional mediums, don't you think?

Endless different techniques man, people are still finding new ones to this day! Super exciting stuff!

Have you ever messed about with any animations?  What about those bits with the Circumference piece?

Yeah, I've experimented with the motion graphics in Aftereffects! My style at the moment is keyframing pixel sorting to align with the music it's representing, it is quite a long process because you have to do it manually, but some of the outcomes from it have been really cool. I've recently just bought a new PC and I'm super keen to get into the 3D world as there are limitless things you can achieve in that dimension!

Is on the list of many things I'll be working on this year.  Mainly just experimenting with Blender for the time being and testing the capabilities of the new rig!  As I progress I'm sure new software will appear to me on the way!

Dope!  Along with animation are there any other things you're hoping to explore with an upgraded PC. Are there any other software you're curious about think you may try to learn in the future?

Mainly just experimenting with Blender for the time being and testing the capabilities of the new rig!  As I progress I'm sure new software will appear to me on the way!

Beautiful man, I can’t wait to see what you create as you explore the possibilities this new rig will provide.

I appreciate you taking the time to chat today.  As we wrap this interview up I’d like to ask you what artists are currently inspiring you?  Are there any artists we should be made aware of to keep an eye on?

I'm really inspired by the detail-oriented artists at the moment, who combine a main centre graphic with lots of icons and details made in illustrator. Examples would be _bau.tig, iamcvrsd and ghost___hardware! Also on the 3D design side, thisisasmu and edgar.gfx are putting out some super dope work at the moment!

Hell yeah man, those folks are putting out some incredible work. Super inspiring stuff for real, I love seeing these sorts of graphics paired up with so much cool music these days.  Any projects of your own you’d like to let us know about?

The thing I'm most excited about is a large NFT project that I only came up with a week ago! Can't reveal too much at the moment as it's super early days, but it will be released as a collection and hopefully involve some prestigious music producers within it as well, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the future!

On the music side, I gotta big up Expedite Records, Niallo and my brother KTRL who has some insane music that will hopefully be released at some point soon!