Thrill Jockey founder Bettina Richards on the label's 20th-anniversary party

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As Peter Margasak mentioned in yesterday's 12 O'Clock Track, local experimental label Thrill Jockey Records has been celebrating its 20th anniversary by hosting special shows across the country since September. The label announced the first handful of one-off blowouts back in July; though a Chicago date was missing from that list of events, there was no question about celebrating the imprint's anniversary in its hometown. "We were always going to do it in December, we were always going to do a party, and it was gonna be a free show, so we didn't need to announce it early" says founder Bettina Richards.

So the Thrill Jockey bash finally swings through town tonight, and it's all happening at the Empty Bottle; local heavyweights Tortoise and the Sea and Cake will perform with Man Forever (aka Oneida's Kid Million), and it is indeed free with an RSVP. While the lineup for the affair reads like a regular concert, Richards stresses that it's much more of a party. "We just want it to be fun," she says. "I mean, shows are fun too, but I don't want anybody sitting at a merch table that works here. I just wanted a free party for the hometown."

Some of what will actually happen at the party remains a mystery; Tortoise and the Sea and Cake will put on a couple special performances, and that's the only piece of information available about those sets. "They won't tell me what they're doing so I don't know what they're doing," Richards says. She does however have a better idea of what Kid Million has in store for his set. "Man Forever I know they are doing a bunch of songs which I hear might include some Mannheim Steamroller."

The secretive nature of the evening's events speaks to some of Thrill Jockey's founding principles; the industry has changed radically in the past 20 years, but Richards maintains that supporting her artists' vision remains fundamentally important. "We're beholden really only to the bands we work for in making sure our first priority is realizing their musical vision and promoting it as best we can," she says.

That mission statement dovetails with the vibe of tonight's event just as it does with the label's releases. A standout example of that is the newish Ganzfeld EP by recent Thrill Jockey signees Matmos, which the label released in the middle of its string of anniversary celebrations; inspired by the ESP test of the same name, The Ganzfeld EP comes in a variety of editions, some of which include custom goggles and a pair of Incase headphones.

"I just loved that they were inspired by that [the Ganzfeld experiment] and that they spent so much time executing it in such a clever way; we wanted to be able to try to at least have some versions of the record come with something that would allow people to do their own experiments," Richards says. "That meant headphones and eye coverings and the whole deal, and Matmos of course took it a step further and made these special certificates for people who bought it and signed them all and hand-numbered them all. It was pretty fun to work on."

The word "fun" comes up often during my conversation with Richards, and it's great to see that she's able to still find joy in her label during a time when many descriptions of the music industry at large are fraught with woe. Richards is looking to bring that amusement to tonight's party, as she'll be one of a handful of folks DJing the affair. Richards doesn't have a set playlist in mind, but she's got a general idea of the kinds of music she wants to play—it's just a matter of tracking everything down.

"I have to go through my records, which are really poorly organized [and] all over my house," Richards says. "I'm not gonna focus on Thrill Jockey or anything, just stuff that makes people dance."

If you want in on the fun be sure to get to the Bottle before doors open at 8 PM, as the party is likely to reach capacity early in the evening.

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