Operating just outside of techno's American birthplace, Ann Arbor, Michigan's Ghostly International has become a label whose releases people obsessively follow and collect. Marked by distinctive graphics and quirkily cute ads and merchandise, Ghostly cut through the visual humdrum of electronic music's status quo to stake out unique ground in its five-year history. It's cause for celebration.

Though it only scratches the surface of the company's deep roster, the Seattle bill of the Ghostly Art and Artifice tour exemplifies the label's diversity and excellence. Lusine (Seattle's Jeff McIlwain) is a deft manipulator of many modes (shape-shifting IDM, melodic techno, microfunk, and pastel-shaded ambience), as his forthcoming Ghostly album, Serial Hodgepodge, proves. Midwest Product's knowing melodic jouissance tips a Korg toward New Order and peddles suburban electro-funk beats that eat Trans Am's exhaust. Dabrye (versatile Tadd Mullinix) brings an orchestral sweep and crisply lush tunefulness to the glitch-hop arena, giving Prefuse 73 a run for his Akai MPC. Matthew Dear--creator of microhouse-pop classic Leave Luck to Heaven and new gem Backstroke--is one of the few Americans challenging the Germans and Canadians for experimental-techno supremacy, with productions that rock dance floors and stoke libidos. Finally, whippersnapper SV4 (Ghostly boss Sam Valenti IV) spins hiphop, disco, techno, house, and IDM. We'll see if his deck skills match his business acumen.

In Ghostly's five years, it's built a global fan base and garnered respect from the world's top DJs. I asked Valenti to outline the key to the label's success.

"I believe that there is a voice and an approach that the label embodies to the way we do things that is understandable at both the physical and psychological level," he says via e-mail. "I like to believe we are consistent. I think we would be more successful if we were associated with one scene or sound, but I wouldn't feel that excited about the label, 'cause there isn't a superior genre for me."

Given that Ghostly is too eclectic to have a signature sound, does Valenti see a unifying thread in every Ghostly release?

"It's that humanity, that melodic and personal feel. Nothing we do feels alien, it is all on human scale. I like the idea of otherworldly things, but the releases all have that vitality and are part of the human experience: dancing, love, triumph, despair. Music about music is boring to me, and only interesting in circles of diehards."

What strategies guide Ghostly now? Does Valenti see the label changing?

"The goal is to remain on the edge, furthering our relationship to the world in a way that makes it feel even more indelible. I want to keep pulling people into the Ghostly fabric and philosophy. Our fan base is not fixed; one segment doesn't make or break us. It's the outliers and people you wouldn't be able to pick out in a lineup that are our fans. I hope we keep releasing accessible but earnest electronic-tinged music that helps to elevate the art form of electronic music in this country." DAVE SEGAL

With live visuals by Tracer. Tues July 27 at Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St, 324-8000, 9 pm-2 am, 21+, $10 adv. Show benefits the Decibel Festival (www.dbfestival.com).

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