October 2, 2015

Backstage at Elephant and Castle’s industrial Corsica Studios, James Greenwood- Ghost Culture, as he makes himself known- is showing us his new jacket.

‘I’m completely in love with it,’ he says, admiring the rows of orange-dipped feathers that cover the upper half of his body. ‘It was my landlord’s idea. She’s an amazing stylist, and I was thinking about stage costumes. She just said one day, what about feathers? And I said,’ -He pauses, with the air of somebody stepping into a brave new feather-wearing season of life- ‘…Yeah..?’

And so it is that the electronic musician who started out as a strictly-behind-the-scenes studio engineer finds himself morphing into a pop star. It’s a new thing; when Greenwood’s first single ‘Mouth’ was released to rave reviews, the man behind the music remained something of an enigma. He didn’t play live, he hadn’t given interviews, and the only available shots of him were deliberately obscured. Now, he seems ready to offer the world a show that harks back to the golden age of the musician-as-performance-artist. ‘I’m obsessed with David Bowie,’ he says- an indication, perhaps, of the direction he is moving in.

‘The visual part of the show is very important. Not in a vain way, just in an interesting way. It’s got to be interesting to watch as well as listen to,’ James explains. ‘I’ve got these lights that I’ve programmed myself. It started out as four lamps that were just in my bedroom. I adapted them so that I could dim them up and down using a computer so with the set, they make different patterns. Tonight I’ve got eight. They’re sort of industrial, to match the venue. ’

When he takes to the stage later that evening, the huge lights flicker and jolt behind him as if under some poltergeist’s spell, the backlighting casting him into this shadowy, feathery figure. He holds the audience captive. The venue, nestled into an archway just south of the river Thames, seems made for Ghost Culture’s music. The Victorian brickwork ceiling cocoons the audience, giving the show a sense of brooding, of being swallowed up by something, like the swampy bass lines that underpin James’ deep vocals. ‘I had the idea to play here when I saw Matthew Dear play here two years ago,’ he says, before the show. ‘Ever since I saw that show, I thought, I’ve got to do it.’

It’s clear from the gig that he’s destined for bigger stages, and it will be interesting to see how the live show adapts to haunt bigger spaces and larger crowds. He admires performers that have nurtured a sense of discomfort in their live appearances. ‘I saw David Byrne recently, in a play, and he’s just got such a thing about him,’ James says. ‘He’ll come on stage really awkward and then just open up. I love to see that in someone who’s been doing it for so long.’

There’s a sense of these influences that runs through Ghost Culture- but James is keen to make his own thing. ‘I don’t want to be someone else.’ He says, ‘I don’t want to take too much from anyone. I see a lot of great players and they’re playing like their idols, but they’re not playing like themselves. You can tell that they’ve listened to X,Y, Z and they play like that, and they’re always going to write music like that.’

It’s this strain of individualism that has pushed his sounds in exciting new directions, drawing him to obscure equipment and techniques. The vocals for his self-titled debut album, which was released last January, were recorded through a microphone salvaged from a tank. ‘More than anything,’ he says, ‘my inspiration is getting satisfaction out of music. It might be just twisting something on the synth and this mad sound comes out, and you go, ‘Oh’…that’s it. That’s scratching the itch.’