Let Them Eat Chaos follows the lives of seven residents on a single street in south London. Tempest’s lyrics are graphic and loaded with social commentary – she paints a vivid picture of people drinking in pubs and clubs, or holed up in houses with broken blinds and tattered carpets, but she also tackles climate change, Brexit, police brutality, oil spills, riots, gentrification and terrorism. Her seven residents are a microcosm of society and all its current ills.
The album’s cover features a striking photomontage by political artist Peter Kennard. A NASA image of the earth – viewed from Apollo8 – is juxtaposed with a picture of a devastating oil spill, thick smoke rising upwards into the sky. Kennard has also created images for the gatefold artwork: one shows a pig tucking into a decadent feast and another shows pennies scattered on a dinner plate, with a hand clutching a knife and fork above it.
The artwork was designed by Harris Elliott, a creative director, stylist and curator based in London. Elliott was introduced to Tempest in 2014 after she visited Return of the Rudeboy – an exhibition he had curated with photographer Dean Chalkley. He also created visuals for her performance at a Converse music event and was her stylist for the 2014 Mercury Prize awards.
The starting point for the artwork was Atomic Cake, a horrifying black-and-white image of two generals standing in front of a cake shaped like the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Elliott says Tempest felt the image conveyed the idea of chaos and pure evil. It was this image that prompted him to contact Kennard, famed for his powerful and direct black-and-white anti-war images and political art.
“Peter’s work has always been about social commentary … not just anti war imagery,” says Elliott. “His photomontages, many of which were created a few decades ago, are still as relevant today as when they were created and really speak about our times – they’re so graphic and in your face. Kate’s lyrics are also very graphic and detailed – when you hear the music you get really vivid images of the characters and stories she’s telling,” he continues. “To me, it made complete sense that two people who inspire me with an anti-establishment and socio-political stance and with such a strong visual language – (visual or verbal) – should collaborate.”
The cover image is a symbolic representation of the album’s key themes and its evocative title. Kennard says he wanted to avoid creating anything too literal: “The way Kate writes creates a picture in your mind of those people, who they are and how they’re living. I didn’t want to ruin that by making an image of it,” he says. He also wanted to convey, in a single image, how Tempest’s work goes from “micro to macro” – focusing on a handful of characters while also reflecting on the state of society as a whole.”
The project is Kennard’s first collaboration with a musician on an album cover, though he has worked with a poet before (the late Peter Reading). “I’ve always been inspired by poetry,” he adds. “For me it goes back to the sixties – to Alan Ginsberg and Adrian Mitchell, when poetry had a public place,” he says. “There haven’t been a lot of poets since who’ve had a public voice in that way … a lot of poetry is much more inward.”
Spoken word art and performance poetry is a fairly niche genre but Tempest has helped bring it into the mainstream. This was also something that Kennard says inspired him about Tempest’s work: both he and Tempest are concerned with making politically charged art that speaks to the masses, not just a select few.
“There’s been quite a lot of artists now working in the political space, but a lot of it is so layered that it only gets through to people who know about art,” he says. “I’ve always believed that if you really want to make work that’s going to affect people … then you should consciously make work that uses images that people can connect with.”
Kennard created the cover image by hand, allowing him to create imperfect joins between the two images. He often works in Photoshop and does most of his picture research online, but says: “There is a crudity you get cutting with a scalpel that you just can’t get with Photoshop…. A lot of my montage work is quite crude and I don’t want to create a very smooth image. I like the idea that you can show breaks and cuts and the imprecision of it.”
For the vinyl edition of the album, Elliott has created eight advent calendar-style doors. There is one for each person represented on the album and each one folds back to reveal lyrics from a different track, with an image inspired by that character’s identity. The eighth image is a mirror, inviting listeners to stare back at themselves. Elliott says it represents the idea of complicity and the fact that we are all responsible for the current state of the world, something Tempest explores in the album’s final track.
He also created a series of animations for a BBC2 programme in which Tempest performed the album live and visuals for forthcoming live shows. “We used Peter’s images as a base for [the performance on BBC2] and filmed more content which looks deeper at some of the characters within the album … it was great to be able to animate his work and give it another dimension,” Elliott explains.
When working with Tempest, Elliott says he was given complete creative control. “There’s a constant dialogue between us … but she allows you to get on and do whatever she trusted you to do and work to the best of your creative abilities,” he adds.
It’s a record he has been proud to work on – “I feel it’s an important album for the times we’re living in, post Brexit and with everything that’s going on globally and in the US,” he adds. “I’m really proud to be able to work on an album that’s speaking about our times.”