As they roll closer to two full decades of releasing music, Ghostly International’s momentum and consistency remain something extraordinary. Though the label has expanded massively since it was founded by Sam Valenti IV in 1999, in some ways, very little has changed. Valenti began the label with Matthew Dear after the pair met at a party, shortly after Valenti had moved to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan. It was initially conceived as a small open-ended project; there was no huge mission statement, just a platform to sell music alongside clothing and a magazine—they’ve since expanded into art prints and rather nice stationery. The label consciously evaded genre, with “avant-pop” the closest Valenti will come to an umbrella term. But from the beginning, there were elements that would recur again and again throughout the catalog: hip-hop rooted in Detroit’s own abstract-meets-street sounds epitomized by J Dilla; timeless electro/techno/disco for the dancefloor; and an indie rock sense of introspection and songcraft.
Now, Valenti suggests, it feels a bit like the world has caught up with them. “[Being] fluid in genre and style…has naturally dovetailed with the movement of culture in general. There is an everything-is-everything approach to music and art now which is exciting.” He’s unfazed by the rise of mega-spectacle EDM in the interim, though it has dramatically changed the landscape for electronic music in the USA. “When we started,” he says, “the world of electronic was very much isolated from the rest of independent music, at least in a live setting in America. That has sort of bled together. People don’t think of genre as much as they used to, which is great by me. I think we’ll always be something other than what’s happening on the main stage, which is an OK place to be.”
There’s continuity, too, in the label’s core musicians. Dear, who made Ghostly’s first 12-inch, continues to record for them, as do many early mainstays like Tadd Mullinix (aka Charles Manier, Dabrye, James T. Cotton) and Todd Osborn, from Ann Arbor and Detroit respectively. Valenti doesn’t like to romanticize the continuity, though. “The idea that a label is a family is a nice concept,” he says, “but a bit of a conceit. I think the glue is in a common ideology and sharing of sound and approach. This year will see music from artists such as Mary Lattimore, Starchild & The New Romantic, and Dabrye which, taken together, represent a wide array of music. It isn’t about trying to have different genres, it’s more a development of our own tastes over time.”
As the following releases show, all from within the last year or so, that expansion has born many fruit. But for all their diversity, they fit together beautifully; Valenti’s “avant-pop” vision seems clearer than ever.
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