Release Date: Jan 20, 2015
Record label: Forced Exposure
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
When Erol Alkan signs someone on the basis of a single track, it’s worth sitting up and taking notice. So, when Alkan did just that to London’s Ghost Culture, the music press and house fans everywhere pricked up their ears. Alkan described hearing “How” and thinking “this is what The Strokes would have sounded like, had they been produced by Delia Derbyshire” (Derbyshire being the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s genius-in-residence who was responsible for creating the Doctor Who theme).
Erol Alkan's Phantasy label continued to work both the indie and the odd side of the dance music spectrum with the release of Ghost Culture's self-titled debut, a diverse set of electro, synth pop, and IDM that travels the sullen spaceways while keeping the listener comfortable. That comfort isn't a crass kind of cozy as the brittle beats propelling highlight "Guidecca" suggest that it's the '80s again and the stern dance genre of EBM is just about to break out of Belgium, while "Lucky" comes with the same kind of synth pop bounce as the debut album by Depeche Mode. Still, it's obvious from the off-kilter bits and other ticks that microhouse and glitch music have already happened.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Ghost Culture's 2013 single 'Mouth' seemed to appear from nowhere, but its starry slice of synth pop, flecked with misty-eyed melancholia, made a solid impression. Confusingly, B-side 'Red Smoke' was the kind of deep house that could easily nestle into a set from the likes of Maya Jane Coles - and appropriately found its way onto a Fabric Live release from Phantasy label owner Erol Alkan.
There’s a glossy quality to this debut from London-based electronics whiz James Greenwood: every track has been polished to such a high lustre, and the 24-year-old’s softly-spoken vocals are delivered with such composure, that a little bit of messiness here and there wouldn’t go amiss. The pleasure, and it’s considerable, is in the detail. Greenwood has woven an intricate tapestry of bleeps, acid squelches and melancholy synths, but he’s hidden the threads: tracks such as Lucky are more layered and complex than they initially appear.
To get a label known for mostly releasing singles and 12-inch records to offer to release a full-length, you must have done something to make them sit up and take notice. Phantasy Sound (active since 2007) has released both records by Connan Mockasin and Daniel Avery's Drone Logic debut LP. They waited four years to release a full-length record; to put that in perspective, Ghost Culture was signed off the back of a stream of his debut track last year.
Throughout his debut LP, Ghost Culture keeps his cool. The London-based producer — who goes only by his stage name — looses a whole vault of pristine booby traps for his vocals to explore: glossy beats, daring melodies, and throbs of warm analog bass. His songs take root in the deep electronic underground of the late 20th century, but he’s not shy about nodding to the mainstream pop that ultimately gobbled those roots up.
Over the past couple of years, Erol Alkan has built up a diverse but cohesive roster for his Phantasy label. Most of his artists have one foot on the dancefloor and one foot elsewhere—the indie scene, the modular synth builders' club, the clouds—which is a pretty good approximation of the style of DJing that Alkan has practiced since the days of Trash, his fondly remembered club night from back in the days of electroclash. At one end of the spectrum there's Tom Rowlands, of the Chemical Brothers, who offered up a pair of noise-besotted throwback acid-house tracks for the label; at the other end, Brazil's Babe, Terror, whose fuzzy layers of looped vocals sound like doo-wop from a world spun off its axis.
James Greenwood is one of Phantasy Sound's newer signings, but he's closely tied to two of the UK label's biggest stars: Erol Alkan helped him craft his debut album as Ghost Culture, and he collaborated with Daniel Avery on that producer's 2013 album, Drone Logic. Avery's textured throb and Alkan's crossover flair both resonate on Ghost Culture, channeled through Greenwood's reedy voice and synth-pop sensibilities. Every snare hit, writhing bassline and dose of reverb feels purposeful.
Ghost Culture - or to give him his birth name, James Greenwood - has been knocking about for a couple of years with a handful of singles, gradually encouraging waifs and strays like a Pied Piper parpling a mawonng wheeze from some long cherished vintage equipment; and now it's 2015 he's serving notice of his bid for immortality. Ghost Culture excels in atmosphere and layering, rather than heading direct for the doof. That's not to say there's nothing to dance to; it's like some sumptuous buffet of electronic wonder - minimalist techno, kraut, ambient house, full on electro.