Sam Valenti

Sam Valenti is founder of the record label Ghostly International. Since its inception in 1999, the imprint has been an influential force not only in electronic music but also visual culture and collaborations. Inspired by the iconic labels like Factory Records and James Lavelle’s Mo’Wax, Valenti has put together a cohesive world view that manifests itself in many forms. Notably recent albums from Michigan based artist Matthew Dear, as well as the art of Chinese-Canadian Artist Sougwen Chung.

Sam Valenti IV is the founder and leader of Ghostly International, a collective that has grown from a boutique music label known for its experimental-pop and techno acumen to an internationally recognized platform for the work of the world’s best visual artists, designers, technologists, and musicians. Ghostly functions as a cultural curator of events, art, clothing, merchandise, technology, products and as always, music.

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FF caught up with Valenti to talk about what he has learned over the years, and what 2019 holds in store.

What have you learned when building a record label?

A record label, to me, is a space to exhibit, not unlike a gallery. There should be a voice, but you should also be willing to upend expectations to keep your patrons awake. I’ve learned a little about the balance of new vs. classic in my 20 years at Ghostly. We look to many sources for inspiration. It’s tempting to want to model yourself after the labels of the past, but things have changed so much that the lessons don’t hold, so you have to look to other industries. I find Glossier and Supreme both very interesting.

How has Ghostly moved into something beyond just something that releases music?

The approach has always been to treat all forms of art on the same level. Our first online shop in 2000 had handmade greeting cards and architectural vases from friends of ours, so the instinct has been to create context around a variety of different mediums and ideas. From there it has just been finding like-minded people to collaborate with. Our shop sells everything from art prints, to bags, to outerwear, and of course, records. We try to treat every release with the same reverence as an album from an artist we love.

How do you select collaborators?

Obviously you’re looking for values and an insistence on quality but it’s also that x factor, just a good feeling that together you’re more than just two companies. When we partnered with Warby Parker, it came on the back of a chance meeting where one of the co-founders and I spoke at the same event. We had a chance to hear each other’s backstory and I think that helped set the stage for the three collaborations that followed.

What goes into a great collaboration?

The best I’ve seen have a mix of utility, scarcity, and originality. We all crave new ideas and we love to see people having fun together, so a collaboration needs to feel like both parties are having a good time and stretching themselves. Our collaboration with Analogue, an elevated Nintendo console, was a partnership with a company devoted to giving retro video games a contemporary platform was a good example where it was very organic and the product was something new to our audience.

What are you proud of from the history of the label?

I’m proud that we’ve continued to try new things and push ourselves out of our comfort zone in terms of style of music and diversity of offerings. There’s a willingness to be wrong that I don’t want us to lose. This goes for our relationship with artists too, you have to give them room to grow and help their fans keep up. We like when our artists evolve and change.

Where do you go for inspiration and what have you been reading viewing that other people would be into?

It’s cliché but I get inspiration from the street, watching people and what they do and wear. I like to go to physical stores and learn a lot from the people who work there. I record shop in every city I’m in and frequent the NYC shops like Two Bridges Music Arts who are acting as taste engines for their clientele. As far as reading, I’m liking this texture app which gives access to hundreds of publications, it’s like a private newsstand.

What should we listen to in 2019?

New York electronic music is in a re-emerging moment. Artists like Anthony Naples, DJ Python, Beta Librae, Logan Takahashi, AceMo, Huerco S, Heathered Pearls, Raja, etc. are finding space between genres that are aimed for the dancefloor but are rhythmically and melodically interesting. That and the music of Curtis Mayfield.

What visual artists are you inspired by?

I try to hit Chelsea once a month to see what’s on, too much to keep up with. I’m excited to see what Snarkitetcture does in Hudson Yards at their Snark Park. Always love what DIA is doing and I’m optimistic about the MoMA expansion.