Since its establishment 40 years ago, record label 4AD has long carved a unique musical niche, bringing post punk, dream pop and electronica to the masses, and providing a home for artists such as Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies and Throwing Muses, and more recently Grimes, The National and Future Islands.

But while the label became famous for its experimental musical leanings, it was perhaps designer Vaughan Oliver, who passed away earlier this week, that gave 4AD its visual identity, as the designer for some of the most iconic record sleeves in modern pop.

As part of design studios 23 Envelope and v23, Oliver’s work with 4AD commenced with 1981’s Mesh & Lace by Modern English, and continued right up to the Pixies’ latest release Beneath the Eyrie, released last year.

“Record cover design is still fundamental; there are still lots of people who want to do it,” Oliver told O Magazine a few years back. “The cover, even if it has no physical presence, is another music tool. That’s why there are still covers today that are very… true.

Any cover capturing and expressing the state of mind of the music it represents is true.”

Here’s an interview with Vaughan Oliver from 1989, in which the Durham-born designer explains the inspiration behind his work.


Commenting on his passing, 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell wrote earlier this week, “It is rare to think of someone in one’s life and know that with absolute certainty that the course of both our lives were irrevocably changed for the better as a result.

The results, the fruit, is available for all to see.. in pictures at least.”

909originals has put together a Spotify playlist featuring some of the artists Vaughan Oliver has loaned his design skills to over the years, mainly for 4AD but also for labels including Sire, Virgin and TVT.

RIP Vaughan Oliver, 12 September 1957 – 29 December 2019.

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