Great Moments in Consumer Packaging
How a dance music series created superstar DJs and the communities that bonded over them
Consumer packaging and community building matter to any brand, the more ambitious the more critical — that’s obvious. But what about the rare brand whose consumer packaging actually creates community, and vice versa? Sounds like the perfect symbiotic relationship, particularly at the dawn of web3.
There are a handful of these unicorns, cycling apparel label Rapha springs to mind (please sound off in the comments below if you can think of others). But perhaps the most fun example concerns the little-known story of Global Underground, a UK-based dance music label whose late 90s/early aughts mix CDs gave rise to the culture of superstar DJs and the community of clubbers who celebrated them. Founded by photographer Andy Horsfield, GU’s premise was simple: take a mysterious DJ out of the shadowy club, book them to play an exotic locale, and put their name and face on the sun-kissed box cover of the mix encapsulating the gig. Voila! A rockstar for the new millennium.
The concept was sound, the hypnotic mixes often sublime, yet GU’s appeal went far beyond such a one-dimensional value prop. In addition to the music, it was the packaging itself that inspired such fandom. There was the double disc format, sometimes in a long, rectangular limited edition case (with CDs side-by-side rather than stacked). There were the photos: of the DJ, of the club, the surrounding cityscapes and geography, and of course the revelers on hand. And then you had the evocative linear notes, robust as a magazine feature and always written by the late Dom Phillips, at the time editor of dance music bible Mixmag. Each of Dom’s exuberantly crafted sentences spilled forth to create a gonzo-style travelogue transporting you to a place and time — Sasha in Ibiza, Danny Tenaglia in Athens, John Digweed in Hong Kong. By buying the latest GU release, you could somehow own the ephemeral experience, even if you had never been present for it in the first place.
"Global Underground didn’t just sell mix CDs," says Colin James Nagy, an LA-based media strategist and co-pilot of the excellent Substack Why Is This Interesting. "They sold a glamorous life on the road floating from BA first class cabin, to festival, to after party, record box in tow. GU came after electronic music was cross pollinating across borders but also, importantly, before the easyjet techno tourism scene. It turned the presenting DJs into global icons but also heroed the local scenes and sounds of a place. It was polished and sexy."
The heyday of the mix CD is long gone, given way to Spotify and Soundcloud and sets on the Boiler Room. But the digital nature of these platforms means we lose the physical form factor, and with it the ability to encapsulate an entire scene, culture, and community. Join us below as we take a trip back through Global Underground’s greatest consumer packaging hits.
"It's a tantalizing phuture-phunk, weaving sunny dreams with an exclusive sci-fi symphony. You don't need to hear the jets in here, Sasha is playing his own... " — Dom Phillips
“The ‘wanderlust’ lifestyle of DJ culture found a smooth landing with the GU series, which made you feel like you were somewhere and properly experiencing the music even if not at all. It was a great way to frame these DJs and give them context. I wish the roster was more diverse and have aged more gracefully but the best of them are really strong. It's a time capsule of a certain kind of techno optimism that is fun to revisit and get lost in. “
Sam Valenti IV, founder of Ghostly International
“Narrow-eyed acid nastiness scowling over rib-shaking levels of Jamaican bass. Icy space riffs echoing over steel toe-cap beats. Warren’s muscle-clad grooves slam into their targets with the kind of surgical accuracy NATO can only dream of.”
— Dom Phillips
"It's a wild and bumpy road of mucky house, robot funk and the Devil's trance, and Digweed's tight, confident control never lets up as he pulls off dangerous track combinations with a rally driver's cool." — Dom Phillips
Blackbird Labs, Inc.
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