The past wasn’t better.
I promise. Maybe you had fewer obligations. Maybe your world seemed smaller. Maybe you had a better sense of True North. But you were wracked with the same self-doubt that plagues you today, it just had a smaller vocabulary. No, the past was not better, but our appreciation of the moment may have been better. Less noise, less immediate judgment. But you are obligated to look back occasionally, if only to touch the songs and stories that shook you once, and know that that wonder is possible again, in you and others. In revisiting these projects and other aspects of my youth, I might’ve longed for the naïveté or the wonder, but you have to fight the urge to wish to go back. The goal now is how to make things (moments, scenes, gestures, ideas) that evoke and utilize the aspects of today that are compelling but were closed before. The past seems better because we thought we had a clear monoculture to rail against. It’s a lot less clear now who we’re trying to be. The silt and sediment of culture portrays a marble texture, art & commerce in an inextricable Rocky Road. Perhaps the old ideals were just that: an easy dialectic, overground and underground. Now we have to work harder to forge a certain self, and we have to fortify it every day with our practice. We now share a rating scale with the whole world, everything in the sifter, but ultimately it is all personal and it’s still small. it has to be personal and small, or it won’t stick to ourselves.
I had a blast compiling our Ghostly Influences project. Thanks to all involved.
Contribution to the Monday Media Diet series on Why Is This Interesting
Photo: Dina Chang & Tim Saccenti, Setta Studio NYC
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a new father, and it is 5:17 AM. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, then lived in Ann Arbor in most of my 20’s, and apart from moments in LA, have lived in New York City since. I started Ghostly in 1999, which is a record label and also a platform/brand for visual artists, acting as a global collaboration network of designers, writers, photographers, and the like. Simply put, my colleagues and I help artists get their projects into the world. I collect physical music stuff (records, tapes, CDs, ephemera) and spend a lot of time at record and book stores, virtual and physical.
Describe your media diet.
I don’t have a digital routine and am pretty inconsistent in where I source things. I use social media and newsletters as my main news source and always have a lot of open browser tabs. Newsletters that come to mind are Ana Andjelic’s The Sociology of Business, Paul Munford’s Lean Luxe, and Perfectly Imperfect. I also see good retail as editorial, as it often acts without a recency bias which is important to me. Music retail emails like Boomkat and Bleep, and the newsletters and Instagrams of bookshops like Harper’s Books, Jeff Hirsch Books, and Karma Books are often how I discover artists and source gifts. I also lump “aesthetic Instagram” in this category and love the feeds of Alison Gingeras and Matthew Higgs and the basketball culture brand Franchise. We started Ghostly Moodboard as our addition to that party.
What’s the last great book you read?
Rachel Kushner’s The Hard Crowd (Essays 2000-2020) had some excellent stories. I’m a sucker for stories of the world that is slowly disappearing, in this case, a wild, wreckless way of life. True Believer: The Rise and Fall Of Stan Lee wasn’t great but it sets the record straight on a lot of historical comics stuff, or professes to. I’m a “pick up a book and turn to a page” person and can tell within 2 paragraphs if I’ll have a chance at finishing it. I’ll read 3 or 4 things at the same time and maybe only finish one.
What are you reading now?
Finishing up No One Is Talking About This. I love the poetic and surreal tone. Like DeLillo’s White Noise achieved in the 1980s, there seems to be a new language in the 10’s/20’s emerging across literature, film, and music; a clipped, hyperreal voice. The last 30 minutes of the film adaptation of Annihilation is one of those moments. Bizarre but strangely beautiful moments that could only be born of this moment.
What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?
My print strategy is to do a light read through a newspaper or magazine and rip out what I want to read. It’s a bit juvenile but helps me focus, though there’s often a ton of tear sheets next to my bed. I subscribe to the Sunday Times, FT weekend and New York Magazine. When I subscribed, I used to let too many New Yorkers pile up so I just buy one if I encounter them in the wild. If I pass a proper magazine shop I’ll flip through the usual fatbacks like 032c and Kaleidoscope, and if there’s more than 3 things I want to read, I’ll cop an issue. This feels like the height of luxury.
Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?
When Ghostly was first coming out, there was still space in print for music journalism beyond major interviews which really helped new artists and labels, but I think there’s an interesting wave with newsletters/substacks picking up on that impulse again. A lot of good writers are using the medium to go deeper into their interests. Todd L. Burns Music Journalism Insider is a great bird’s eye on the whole space. A few sites/stacks of note are Matthew Schnipper’s Deep Voices, Joshua Minsoo Kim’s Tone Glow, the often incendiary First Floor, and of course, Jeff Weiss’s Passion of the Weiss. On the same tip I’m loving the deeper dive music podcasts like Open Mike Eagle’s profound Hip-Hop interview project What Had Happened Was and Yasi Salek’s Bandsplain which unpacks classic bands through conversation with journalist superfans.
What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone?
The return of radio and always on music is great. NTS Radio is plenty famous, but will mention, as it’s sort of the standard bearer of the space. Ghostly has a monthly show on The Lot Radio which is run out of a little shed in Greenpoint. I’m also playing with Blast Radio as artist friends of mine are using. It’s sort of a “disappearing ink” system where artists can go live with a session or DJ mix and anyone can listen (and even tip) for 24 hours. It reminds me of the early days of SoundCloud when it was very personal.
Plane or train?
I don’t remember many flights, but I remember a lot of train trips. One major one was about 20 years ago when I took an Amtrak from Michigan to visit a friend in Kansas City (soundtracked by a yellow Sony Sports Discman playing Brian Eno and Sade) and the other was in Tokyo with WITI co-founder Colin Nagy, a bullet train to Karuizawa. But if I’m honest now I want the shortest trip, so flights are preferred.
What is one place everyone should visit?
Museums were the first thing that came to mind as they can seep you into a city’s sense of place. Memorable ones for me are Copenhagen’s Louisiana, and of course the NYC staples like the Whitney, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, and The Cranbrook Art Museum near Detroit.
Watching the Grammys earlier this year I found myself enjoying the “get to know” segments about the artists, they were done in an Olympics way, showing where people are from, etc. You can’t help but be enticed by the stories as we tend to lionize authenticity as a key virtue. Being relatable is good business. But what about the artists that aren’t relatable? The ones that are too wacky to trust entirely. Or the ones that need anonymity or distance to create. Some of the most incredible art is often made by those who push the ideas in their work or their personal narrative far away from themselves.
If you asked what the sound of my childhood is, it’s the sound of my grandmother’s portable radio. More specifically, the sound of Detroit Tigers baseball games broadcasting in the summers of my youth.
What I didn’t grasp at the time is what that particular silver rectangular Sony radio was doing. The physical aspect of being at the game, its sounds and smells in particular, were pushed through the channels with a patina of comforting AM static. A breeze and an airplane shadow on a humid, expansive Detroit day.
A child’s mind craves the pictures, the video. What these voices were portraying wasn’t news. It was about connecting you to a place, both imaginary and real. My Grandmother lived for these games, and the moment. I get it now.
The micro-gestures in the voice and the capacity for emotion. Memory. Somewhere, this is happening.
“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit—all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: So much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart.” – A Year With Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno, 1996
David Byrne proposes that music has always been created with the space or element of playback in mind. Namely the bigger the “room”, the more expansive the sound. Bach for the church, Adele for the earbuds.
When artists (or us) make things (pictures, paintings, writing, films) they can assume the size of the screen is actually as big as space itself. If not in content, at least in form.
The limitations of the apps and devices we use today are but a blip. Compression is the tape hiss or VHS tracking of our day, or what Brian Eno thinks are the kinds of defective charms we will miss from the previous era.
Simply put: Save your stems, your layers, your biggest lossless file.
These current considerations are technological shortcuts to reduce time/cost to transfer and ship. These aren’t reasons to limit our art.
The imperial phase of an artist is when they can seemingly do no wrong.
Whether it’s “10,000 hours” at work or just hitting the zeitgeist square on the nose, the assumption is the audience is fully invested in your success.
But what other worlds does this apply to? Sports is relatively easy. We call them dynasties and can chart their zenith based on dominance (I was lucky to grow up in suburban Detroit as a basketball fan). What about architecture as defined by buildings, Fashion defined by seasons, and of course filmmakers (Spike Lee 1989-1992).
The problem with imperial phases is that they seek perfection which isn’t in sync with the realities of art. They’re also obsessed with success, which in retrospect doesn’t only account for an artists’ best work (my favorite Lee film is from 1995). Some of the greatest talents of any industry don’t apply because they never stop being great (Rei Kawakubo springs to mind).
Am now curious how we can look at imperial phases in our own lives. Or perhaps better, jettison the concept completely in favor of the long but craggy trend line that is reality.
For a while I stopped DJing. No one cared, even me. There was always part of me that felt like I worked with so many great DJs that it wasn’t important for me to contribute. Also, for a while I wasn’t inspired by the music I was hearing.
I’ve been having way more fun DJing lately. Usually for radio or for friend’s parties but even in the club. I think that’s largely because of a perspective shift. Much like blogging i just look at DJing as simply organizing ideas.
It’s not that I’m a particularly great DJ or that I even love performing (I don’t). I shifted my energy away from thinking of it as an act of performance and pressure and have now found the act (including prep) to be a way to organize time and give focus to a big part of my unaccounted for life, listening to music. For someone who consumes a fair bit of music, it’s important to have a moment to collect and sift.
Have been talking a lot with friends about friction lately. Friction is the time spent waiting, the having to leave your house to do something, and the certain imperfections or inconveniences that the internet wants to scrub from our lives. Even social media is shorthand for “talk to people you like or admire without having to actually talk to them.”
But what about the good stuff? Going to a movie theatre is great if you are into that. Waiting outside in line for sneakers is a tribal gathering. Vinyl is slow to arrive, heavy, and sonically imperfect. These experiences are communal, rooted in discovery, and leave the element of chance in play. Frictionless extends to dating now, something I have experienced for the first time. This form of introduction with speed and volume is exciting, but I wonder what we’re jettisoning in the process.
This isn’t to say that the frictionless is not desired. It’s great for the banal transactional bits like paying for things, but I’m loyal to projects and businesses that invoke good friction along their journey.
One of our big goals for Ghostly this year was to find a way to engage youth with the experience and wisdom of our musical and visual artist roster. We put this in motion last month with our first Ghostly Knowledge Share at the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor.
Neutral Zone creates a positive space for Washtenaw County (where Ghostly started in Michigan back in 1999) teens to learn and develop key skills for their lives and future careers.
Ghostly artists Matthew Dear, Kllo, Mary Lattimore, Tadd Mullinix, Lord Raja, Starchild & The New Romantic, and Matthew Shlian Came together for a very special day and we hope to make this the first of many.
Big thank you to Doug Coombe who captured the day.