Careers in the Creative Industries: Oli Bentley

By Kath Hartley


UPDATE 09 Jan 2018 – Split came third overall out of the 50 album covers nominated - huge congratulations to them on a fantastic concept and design!

Oli Bentley is a Leeds College of Music Jazz alumni, who following graduation in 2011, began to carve out a career in the design world. He set up Split Design in 2007 and specialises in music clients – working with artists from Leaf Label and Edition Records. Oli still finds time to play sax with Napoleon IIIrd, "making lots of multiphonic noise to blend with guitar pedals." The band's latest record The Great Lake was released earlier this year.

Split are nominated in Art Vinyl’s ‘Best 50 album covers of 2017’ for their work on Vessels’ The Great Distraction and winners will be announced in January.  

Taking a slight side-step from our Careers In Music series, here Oli talks about his career in the creative industries, blending talents in music and design, and how it feels to be nominated for a ‘Best album cover’ award…

How easy did you find it to make the transition from studying jazz to becoming a designer?

I’d always existed between the two worlds really, or at least whilst studying at LCoM. After leaving school, I did a two-year HND in Design but instead of topping up to a degree, I decided to study a degree in Jazz instead.

I decided to start doing a bit of freelance work in design whilst studying at LCoM, and over those three years I built up a very small bedroom business - basically whilst I had a student loan and didn’t have the pressure of needing to support myself. 

How does having a background in music help with your design work, and has it helped you carve out a niche with your clients?

In a way, one of the best things I did for my design was study music. Being able to work closely with musicians and having an understanding of what they’re trying to say musically really helps when translating it into something visual. 

At Split, our aim is to get an artist’s music to the sets of ears listening for it, not just anyone and everyone – so being able to understand the music is important for sure. 

As well as working with Vessels, which other music clients have you worked with?

We work with Leeds-based Leaf label, who are one of my favourite labels. I’ve been able to work on covers for the likes of Matthew Bourne, Melt Yourself Down and the Comet is Coming. We also designed their 20th anniversary box set, which was a real honour.  

We just did Edition Records’ rebrand - and I’m not just saying this because they are lecturers at LCoM – but I’m really excited about the forthcoming Nightports release (a project of Adam Martin, feat. Matthew Bourne). It’s a record that sits between instrumental improv and electronic music that I was looking for but couldn’t find – I’m giddy for it to be released!

What’s the story behind the Vessels cover?

Vessels moved from being a post rock band to a live techno band – although the sheer power of the five of them in a room is way more impactful than one guy on a laptop. This is where the idea of using lasers to make a sculpture came in. We used the thin lines to create crisp, rhythmic patterns, suspending them in space.

Lasers also worked with the band’s analogue synths – both of which share the same place in our collective imagination. Both were developed in the early 60’s; both will always be wrapped up in the folklore of sci-fi; both have been ever-present on the club scene; and both retain their connotations with ‘the future’, despite being non-digital technology well over half a century old.

In the end we used 25 very powerful lasers to suspend the designs in a haze-filled room at The Hepworth gallery in Wakefield, that we then shot for the album cover and singles, before getting the band involved in a series of press shots with them in and among the beams of light to tie the whole campaign together. 

It was honestly one of the most stressful projects I’ve ever done – I was well out of my comfort zone and what I knew was possible technically and creatively. Plus, you only have to start reading about detached retinas and how much heat these things can generate when focused to start losing sleep… so, err, don’t try it at home kids! 

What would it mean to you to win the award?

It would mean a lot. Aside from it being a huge boost for both Split and for Vessels, this was a bit of a special design for us. The band completely trusted us to take them on this ride, so it’d be a cool way to pay back their faith in us.  

Vote for Split's design of Vessels' The Great Distraction to win Art Vinyl's Best 50 Album Covers of 2017! 

By Kath Hartley

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