Listening to a Ghost Box release is like stepping into a forgotten world, alien yet familiar to our own. It’s a place where the future has intruded on the past and both have learned to co-exist in harmony, yet a haunting sense of isolation permeates the air. It’s a land where folklore and history intersect with science fiction, and the fields are littered with lost relics waiting to be unearthed. The music evokes nostalgia for pop culture relegated to history, as well as memories of times in our own lives. This is music for reflection and daydreaming; remembering old stories and creating new ones in our heads.
Founded in 2004 by Jim Jupp and Julian House, Ghost Box describes themselves as “a record label for a group of artists exploring the misremembered musical history of a parallel world. A world of TV soundtracks, vintage electronics, folk song, psychedelia, ghostly pop, supernatural stories, and folklore.’’ (Ghost Box website). It’s a strange amalgamation of influences, but they complement each other extremely well – and when you hear their releases it all starts to make perfect sense.
That said, while the Ghost Box artists do share similar sensibilities, they all manage to be distinct from their peers. Whether it’s the melancholic pop of The Pattern Forms, the experimental folk of Hintermass, or the psychedelic electronics of The Focus Group, the label is made up of an assortment of artists who embellish ethos which celebrates eclecticism and disregard for convention. It’s weird, it’s wonderful and it works magnificently.
Recently, Diabolique had the opportunity to sit down with Jim Jupp to discuss the imaginative concept behind the label, along with some of his influences from history, folklore and pop culture that inspired the creation of Ghost Box in the first place.
Diabolique: How did Ghost Box come about?
Jupp: It started back in 2004 as a way for Julian House and me to put our own music and ideas together on a website and maybe sell a few home pressed CDRs along the way. Design and continuity were always going to be a really important aspect, I’m not sure if we even thought of this as a record label to start with it was more of a portal into our own parallel world of sounds and images. Our musical projects were a little different but through a long friendship, we shared similar musical and cultural reference points which we wanted the label to encapsulate.
Diabolique: Your releases are often described as being akin to stepping into another world or period of time. However, your catalogue is still quite eclectic. What are the label’s ethos and what do you look for in an artist?
Jupp: Our roster is fairly small and we’ve only ever wanted to work with artists that we feel completely get what the label is about. Our artists are all interested in re-imagining music from particular periods of the past, not trying to re-create it though. There’s a shared interest in creating an imaginary history of music that’s somehow familiar but never existed. Together with this, there’s also an element of experimenting with styles and sounds from slightly different periods that could never have co-existed. The Ghost Box world exists in a kind of all-at-once moment spanning the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties.
With this vague idea in mind, we’ve been able to assemble an increasingly eclectic roster, that has expanded out from our original experimental electronic projects to take in elements of folk, pop, dance, psychedelia and soundtrack music. The most important thing is that we have a feeling that a new piece of work is not only music we like but is a good fit for the fictional world that’s built up around the label.
Diabolique: Another trait I’ve noticed among your artists is the combination of traditional styles of music – like folk – with electronic sounds. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that works out rather brilliantly. This melding of past and present has been prominent in science fiction. Is that genre an inspiration for you?
Jupp: Very much so, particularly the idea of the cosmic impinging on the mundane, that’s common to a lot of British Science Fiction and Supernatural fiction. In Nigel Kneale’s screenplays or John Wyndham’s fiction weird or otherworldly events will start to unfold in familiar parochial settings – little villages or old universities. It was a trope that Brian Aldiss called the “Cosy Catastrophe”. It can be seen in cold war era sci-fi films like The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) and has always been there (and sometimes still is) in Dr. Who when supernatural or cosmic forces are thwarted on the village green.
Another influence on the Ghost Box aesthetic is the similar idea common in British science fiction where ancient or supernatural forces come into conflict with the scientific or modern. Nigel Kneale, of course, is the master of this. I guess it’s similar to the way our artists tend to juxtapose folk with electronics or pop music with the avant-garde.
Diabolique: Can you tell us more about your interest in history, ghost stories, and folklore?
Jupp: Growing up together Julian and I loved weird supernatural or “cosmic” fiction by authors like Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, and Algernon Blackwood. Particularly their use of occult references (real, imagined or mixed) and historical landscapes to conjure the horror of ancient things, remote in time but threatening just below the surface of everyday reality. That idea of dreaming up plausible parallel worlds always appealed to us.
Also influential was our memory of the preoccupation with the supernatural and the occult in TV and films in the late sixties and seventies – when trick photography, strange editing, and odd techniques like “day for night” lighting were the best special effects. The very lo-fi nature of that stuff actually added to the eeriness of things. It’s a whole world of strange visual textures that’s lost in the digital age. Also, gone of course if the way, for us at least, that this stuff was mostly half-remembered. This notion of faulty memory, often weirder than the reality, that’s vanished with the internet age is something we’re also keen to capture.
These interests were re-kindled for Julian and me around the turn of the century when we both discovered folk music for the first time, and we began to see how tradition, history, landscape and the supernatural could be interesting subject matter for own electronic musical projects. Marrying this to our love of early electronic music, library music, and film & TV soundtracks was the key to creating a kind of parallel world setting where we liked to imply our records were actually made.
Diabolique: The label also conjures up memories of older TV soundtracks. Are there any shows with music you’re particularly fond of?
Jupp: Well the obvious thing is anything soundtracked by the BBC Radiophonic workshop during their golden age from the mid-sixties to mid-seventies. But often more mysterious than this and more evocative for me at least is the library music that was all over kids’ TV and schools and colleges programmes in the seventies. Tunes instantly familiar but often hard to pinpoint for people of a certain age – from the likes of Simon Park, Alan Hawkshaw & Francis Monkman.
Generally, it’s often the small bits of incidental music that come to mind rather than the big catchy signature tunes. Like the strange bits of OST and library music used in The Prisoner (1967-68) or The Avengers (1961-1969), for example. Perhaps a weird bassoon solo while John Steed creeps into a sinister country mansion – that’s the stuff that excites us.
There’s also wonderful textures in some old TV music that are more powerful and dreamlike than any modern soundtrack. Like the sound of Vernon Elliot’s music for Oliver Postgate’s children’s’ programmes, or the fuzzy electronic warmth of Miller and Schill’s music for the Moomins (1977-1982) for example. It’s the lo-fi recordings and slightly wonky improv nature of some of those recordings that make them so evocative.
Diabolique: Can you tell us how you came up with the label name?
Jupp: Not only did it strike us as a simple and powerful phrase – we also liked it as a perfect description of television. Especially early on when we were mainly concerned with capturing something of our own faulty memories of TV from our childhood. There’s phrase we’ve often quoted on some of our cover art and print work for exhibitions: “The television picture is a manmade ghost.” This was from TC Lethbridge, the archaeologist and paranormal investigator who tried to come up with a scientific rationale for hauntings.
Diabolique: What would you say are good introductory albums for new listeners seeking out Ghost Box releases?
Jupp: The best way in would be our compilation album In a Moment… Ghost Box which we put together to mark the label’s 10th-anniversary last year. We tried to cover the full range of the label’s output and capture the mood of the whole collective effort. Since then our output has diversified even more and we released what could definitely be called a “pop” album by The Pattern Forms (members of indie band Friendly Fires and our own The Advisory Circle.) And we’re currently trying to broaden out our very British vibe by working with German artist ToiToiToi and Portuguese band Beautify Junkyards. Hopefully though as our output gets more varied everything still relates back to the original idea of music that sounds like it comes from the misremembered past of a parallel world.
Diabolique: Outside of your label, who are some of your all-time favourite musical artists?
Jupp: Speaking only for myself and not Julian my label co-founder (who veers more to psychedelia than me) and in no particular order or style I’d list… Cluster, Harmonia, Caravan, Can, Alan Hawkshaw, Shirley Collins, The Incredible String Band, John Foxx, Ron Grainer, John Baker, Broadcast, Stereolab, Chicory Tip, Kevin Ayres, Basil Kirchin, Bill Nelson, The Free Design, Ennio Morricone, The United States of America, Mort Garson, Tangerine Dream…. And others.
Diabolique: Lastly, can you tell us about any upcoming releases we should be on the lookout for?
Jupp: Next release on Ghost Box is the new album by Berlin-based artist ToiToiToi due out on 12th May. After that in June, we’ve got a new album by my label partner, Julian House under his Focus Group moniker. Then in early autumn there’s an LP by The Belbury Circle, which is a collaborative project between me and Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle (the first artist we added to our roster back in 2005) and we’re very excited to have a hero of ours, John Foxx, appearing on a couple of the tracks.