UAL Professor of Interactive Digital Arts
As half of the band Lemon Jelly, Fred Deakin has been nominated for Mercury and Brit awards, sold half a million albums, headlined stages at almost every major UK music festival from Glastonbury and Bestival, to the Big Chill, and T in the Park, and made three acclaimed albums. He was co-founder and director of ground-breaking London design agency Airside, which won and was nominated for two BAFTAs, nine D&ADs, four Design Week Awards including Best In Show, a Webby and more. The Gestalten book Airside By Airside tells the agency’s story. Fred has given talks at the Design Museum, the Barbican, RCA, LCC, Design Indaba and Pictoplasma among others, and performed at TED, run workshops at the V&A, judged the British Animation Awards and delivered a lecture tour in Indonesia with the British Councilas well as contributing to the Gowers Review white paper on the UK’s creative economy. He currently runs the collaborative organisation Fred & Company which specialises in interactive art projects.
Who or what first inspired you to follow your chosen career?
My career has been quite a weird beast. I would say it started when I first discovered my local record store. There were a few good ones in London, this was in the 80s and there was Rough Trade, Small Wonder, and this one called Honky Tonk. I went in and saw all the walls covered with record sleeves and a couple of cool kids behind the counter and I knew I wanted to be part of it. Whether it was the sleeves, or the posters or the music, I didn’t know, but I went there everyday after school annoying them, only buying a record every fortnight or something, but I just wanted to be there and be part of that world.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m continuing to work on Modual project that we’ve just completed, I want to find new ways to take that forward. The pilot was a great success so I want to build on that. I’m currently trying to get an animated music film in development. And I’ve got a few art projects going on, I’m on the shortlist for Bristol’s Playable City award, I’m one of eight on the shortlist and my concept is turning corners of Bristol into interactive art pieces. It’s called Transportals. If it doesn’t happen in Bristol I’ll do it in another city.
Tell us more about your role as a Chair at UAL
When I went into the interview I said what I wanted to do was create a series of immersive workshops for students to collaborate, and I wanted them to have a strong digital element because I feel that’s what’s missing at the moment and I have a strong interest in that area. I’ve taught visual design for 20 years and even with running our design studio I felt v much like that had an educational element. I’m really proud of some of the people who’ve worked with us and interned with us that have taken some of lessons from Airside and incorporated them into their practice and gone to great things. What I really want to do is empower young people to turn their talents into a career that is my personal mission as a chair.
Do you think University of the Arts London has an important role to play in Britain’s cultural life?
Yes, in a short answer. Given it’s most of London’s art schools put together and the British art school experience is unique. I did two degrees, for the first one I was up in Edinburgh and my girlfriend was in London at CSM and I could see at the time that she was having a unique educational experience at art school which was very different from mine at University. I think with art schools it’s about teaching that creative spark which makes the difference, and UAL does it very well. UAL can undoubtedly claim the most excellence in that. I’m really passionate about arts and the British art school experience – I think they’re the reason we still rule the world creatively, we’re still cutting edge because of our art schools. We must keep nurturing the maverick spirit of art schools, that’s UAL’s role.
What are you most passionate about?
Coming together to make magic – creative magic gets me excited in both my in professional life and my personal life. I like that communal experience, and the more I think about my career and life I realize that it’s the moments when we transcend ourselves that we find that magic and it’s nearly always communal creative or cultural experiences – like gigs or at museums – where you share that moment together. I like the internet and cinema and all those things, but there’s something about when people really embrace an experience together, it’s like electricity – you know when it happens.
Which work do you wish you had created?
There’s lots of work I admire. I’m a big fan of Tom Purvis’s work. His transport poster designs were the inspiration for my graphic style. His whole body of work is amazing. There’s a series of six posters series with different scenes – the beach, walking in the countryside and so on – and they all have the same colour palette and I realized that if you put them all next to each other they all form one continuous fresco. And these were all done pre computers. When I saw that I thought bloody hell mate, you nailed that one!
Where is your favourite London haunt?
Hampstead Heath. It’s always been a touchstone for me. I grew up in Kentish Town – or K Town as I gather it’s now called – and when I was a kid I played football on the Heath, when I was a teenager I got wasted there in the middle of the night, now I go to the mens’ pond to swim when it’s hot. Whether it’s Hampstead Heath, or Richmond or Kew, London’s green spaces are what keeps the city sane.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m watching Game of Thrones at the moment, does that count as a guitty pleasure? I’m watching it with my son and we’re bonding over lots of nudity and violence – it’s a unique way to bond!
Name a favourite book, song or film
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K Dick. He’s my favourite author, I wrote my dissertation on him. This is his last book, but it’s not as well known. I won’t say too much, but it’s totally mind-blowing and amazing.
I usually say Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – that’s definitely one of my favourites.
That’s an evil question. I’m trying to remember a song I was playing on the ukelele with my wife and it was really lovely… Okay well for today I will go for Hobo’s Lullaby by Woody Gutherie.
What is your signature dish?
Kedgree. My mum taught me how to make it, it’s remarkably easy but it looks complicated. And you can have it for breakfast or dinner – in fact you can eat if for any meal!
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
Basically, in a nutshell, do it yourself. Don’t wait around for someone else to give you permission. That idea is what’s served me all my life. I you think you have an idea, go out and create that idea yourself with your friends and your peers, rather than waiting for someone to employ you to do it. You can make it happen yourself.
Read previous UAL Edit interviews
Find out more about UAL’s Chairs
Sign up to receive UAL Edit