Tenth anniversary double album from nostalgic sci-fi label
Trying to definitively pin down the output of Ghost Box, the esoteric, retro-futuristic electronic music imprint started by Jim Jupp and Julian House back in 2004, is not easy. Jupp has described each Ghost Box release as a “missive from a parallel world”, and recently defined its ethos as “a small group of like-minded artists, creating music that sounds like it came from an imaginary past”. But rather than pure re-enactment, he says, it’s “more to do with playing around with a whole set of influences from an era – say 1965 to 1985 – then recombining them to create something contemporary, yet naggingly familiar”.
And yet, how do you even begin to understand the music of a label whose essence is based on a half-remembered, half-imagined world that doesn’t exist, except in the minds of its founders? This 10th anniversary compilation, featuring 31 remastered tracks considered by Jupp and House to be the highlights of the label’s output so far (the pair record as Belbury Poly and The Focus Group respectively, by the way), offers some in-roads.
These woozy, atmospheric curios, almost supernatural in feel, are like the soundtrack to a fragmented, surreal dream from your childhood – especially if you were a child of the 60s or 70s. Taking inspiration from the regional telly idents you used to get back in the day, the terrifying public information films that popped up without warning during daytime advert breaks, B-movie horror flicks, and the strange interlude music counting down to those supposedly educational programmes you watched while bunking off school, Ghost Box artists make music that is quintessentially English, full of sci-fi affectation, faded nostalgia, and a chilling sense of déjà vu.
Veering from the gentle, Neu!-like motorik pop of The Advisory Circle and the melancholic ennui of John Foxx & The Belbury Circle to the witching hour textures of Pye Corner Audio, and even the infectiously fuzzy beatnik groove of The Soundcarriers’ ‘Boiling Point’, it makes for a vivid trip. Burbling analogue synths are gilded by elements of musique concrète, folky prog, dark psych, kosmische and old library music, with touchstones ranging from Jean Michel Jarre to Wendy Carlos, John Barry to Basil Kirchin, and other notable points in between.
As always, it’s about the whole aesthetic package – both the album’s lavish physical CD and vinyl formats have been overseen by designer Julian House, proving yet another example of the label’s eye-catching, retro-influenced graphic design. So while Ghost Box sets about reinventing the past – in some respects at least – it might seem to be pandering to those of a certain age, more likely to appreciate its obscure cultural references, made-up or otherwise. But there’s more than enough interesting hauntological weirdness and “out there” ideas in these potent, strangely alluring temporal delusions to extend beyond the label’s cultish appeal, and attract curious newcomers to its wonderfully quixotic, visionary canon.