A Journal Of The Dark Arts
It’s been 11 years since Ghost Box first unleashed their wave of British TV-worshipping, Victorian electronica, with its distinctive eye-catching Penguin op art Julian House graphic design. Ghost Box hit at just the right time, catching the eye, ear, and fascination of music critic Simon Reynolds, who would use the label as a cornerstone in defining an emerging trend he and Mark Fisher would dub “hauntology“.
Hauntology is, simply put, “the past inside the present”. The aesthetic movement involved retro-worshipping pastiche, nostalgia, memory, and childhood dreamstates, in one confusing kaleidoscopic tilt-o-whirl. Ghost Box’s creators goal, with the label, was to reference a very particular period of British culture, from roughly 1960 to 1970. Jim Jupp & Julian House were calling upon a kind of folk memory of a particular age bracket of Britons, creating a mythical town square where likeminded freakniks could gather on gush over title sequences and vintage gear.
Hauntology perhaps raised more ire than any other internet-fueled genre, with many journalists finding it pretentious, with its Marxist underpinnings and Critical Theory lexicon. Perhaps even worse, some find hauntology to be “nostalgic”, examples of a decadent society. There’s nothing left to do, man, nothing left to say. Nothing can be seen that isn’t shown.
It is, perhaps, to Ghost Box’s credit, and telling of the state of our current that Ghost Box are here to herald their 10th anniversary (in typical atemporal fashion, in their 11th year). Because Ghost Box had their finger on the trigger of a number of societal ailments, and possible cures – most notably, the death of the music industry and of creativity.
Because, you see, hauntology references the past inside the present. It references the media we see and watch and share and remember, and re-creates those sensations in uncanny new shapes. It’s a bricolage from the yellowed shards of yesterday, spun into funky tinsels of tinny beats and far-out organs, modern day head records, for heads and by heads.
Ghost Box sallied around the decline in physical sales by first, having something unique to say and, two, creating attractive, cohesive, well-designed artifacts that begged to be owned and collected. You could call it fetishism, sure, but GB’s efforts have always smacked of labor and love. These loonies were clearly passionate about their ideals.
Ghost Box also address – but not headlong, never headlong – the idea of creativity in the age of mechanical reproduction. Their music is an uncanny reproduction of half-remembered themesongs you can’t even find listings of, funky beaatnik percussion records, early synth library academic LPs. It was clearly the work of fanatical collectors and obsessors. They just happened to be really into the groovy, spooky, weird, wooly, wild (and yet very proper) 60s/70s Britannia. With Ghost Box’s two flagship bands, The Focus Group and The Advisory Circle, Jupp & House seemed to determined to see how far they could push the electric harpsichord and junkshop drum machines.
The whole affair could’ve gotten dusty. Ghost Box always had a very peculiar British politeness about them. It’s dance party music for drawing rooms. The Focus Group and The Advisory Circle seemed to reference Hammer House Of Horror period pieces and moody Play For Today dramas. The subconscious of the ’60s and ’70s yields all manner of delirious delights, but it has not exactly been underexplored.
Things really got interesting when Ghost Box brought Pye Corner Audio into the Parrish. The Head Technician brings with him a driving, propulsive motorik synth groove, that is equal parts Lucio Fulci and Detroit Techno Militia. All of a sudden, the town square opened up into glistening neon shadowed alleyways, peopled with grimy sub-humans and radioactive spirits.
Ghost Box were not stuck in the past, fixed in their ways. They were merely drawing out the spirits of things they appreciated and found interesting. It was a malleable concept – an invisible cohesive vibe, if you will.
In A Moment is a chance to here all of those vibes, strung together in one glorious through-mixed whole. It’s all here – the logotones, (of course), the brittle zombified Victorian dance music, the outer space odysseys, the artificial theme songs. What is most striking about In A Moment is how you can transport from 1869 to 2333, in the blink of an eyelash.
Ghost Box’s pillars – The Focus Group, The Advisory Circle, and Belbury Poly – make up the bulk of the collection, but it’s also a great chance to hear a lot of under-spun nuggets. There’s several outings from the limited vinyl Study Series. There’s the wheezing harmonium exotica of Roj. There’s the Quatermass-referencing Mount Vernon Arts Lab, featuring the stunning Drew McDowall, sometimes of Coil. There’s the ghostly folk of Hintermass, and the spectral pop of the exquisite John Foxx/Belbury Poly collab. “Almost there”. And the radiophonic spacerock of The Soundcarriers. Styles blend into and out of one another, like watching cracked public access television (or random archive.org links, choose your era), in a sleepy haze.
Hearing it now, all together, it’s apparent more than ever how much care and craft goes into these recordings. Each element – from the hissing jiffypop drum machines, to the polished electric pianos that practically place you inside an all-white mod pad – is so carefully placed, so deliberate. And yet, they are not afraid to get really, truly weird and crazy. It’s just a very considered craziness.
For 11 years, Ghost Box have acted as lightbearers, offering us a way through the rubble. They ask only that you find what you love and do it the best, to the best of yr ability, and then times 1000. From the strong design to the lush, crisp production of their rather unconventional and non-commercial music, they’ve always just gone for it, loved it.
Here’s the point where i stop being an objective journalist for a moment. This group of human beings, timelords, witches, and vampires has effected my life, personally, more than just about any other, since the turn of the century. I heard Belbury Poly, in passing, and it caught my ear. What the hell is going on? I heard they were referencing old, surreal British TV, which I’ve always had a soft spot for.
I started as a trainspotter, looking for samples and playing “spot the reference”. Where did these blokes get their ideas? It must be stated, for all talk of British culture and appreciation here at FP, i’m from the suburbs of Midwest America. Never been to England (although I am of that descent, so i am told).
I am, like probably a lot of you who’ve found yr way here, a semi-frustrated horror, fantasy, sci-fi music fan, drudging my way through the 2000s. Yes, we had more music than we knew what to do with, with the explosion of high-speed internet, but it seemed endless and daunting. We felt burned out, lost, unsure of where to go.
As a horror fan, especially, i felt the font of blood had been sucked dry. I just wasn’t seeing or hearing anything that interesting, and i was beginning to despiar, watching Halloween for the 19th time. With Ghost Box, here there were suddenly references to creepy children’s PSAs, made-for-TV folk horrors, Hammer Horror episodes and Dr. Who and the Radiophonic Library and library records and Play For Today and Charlotte Sometimes. Suddenly, my world exploded with odd, obscure, dry, surreal, mind-melting, cheap, endearing British psychodramas, which i am still exploring to this day.
A lot of the worlds explored by Ghost Box are the terrain we mainly explore at Forestpunk. This is life after time, with time as a flat circle as Russ Cole puts it. Late ’60s meet late 1800s meet someone’s dream of the future from sometime in the past.
Worlds within worlds. Worlds running into worlds, colliding.
The areas we will continue to explore, many introduced or furthered by Ghost Box, will be horror, fantasy, occultism, sci-fi as reflected through the various arts. There will be a bias towards darker, edgier, and more experimental works, just cuz that’s what we’re into, and will certainly not stop there. We are tracing the various threads of a dozen or so different genres or aesthetic, throughout history. There is an interest in futurism, as well as the paranormal. All of this building towards a conclusion of learning how to thrive in the post-modern anti-gravity well.
And we have Ghost Box to thank for it!
If you’ve been looking to fill in some holes in yr GB collection, or if you’re just looking to have it all in one place, in one attractive and cohesive mix, either way, this is essential.
What’re some of yr favorite Ghost Box tracks? First memories? Weird, half-remembered British (or otherwise) creepy children’s program? How have Ghost Box effected yr personal creativity? What are yr thoughts on hauntology, as it exists (or doesn’t exist) today? Let us know in the comments!
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