Posted by: periodistalibre | September 6, 2013

Tapes and Tapes: Cassette Store Day Plays On a Niche Audio Trend Manifesting Locally

(Originally posted here at

The rattling of plastic cassettes sounds like nostalgia in the age of MP3s and vinyl, but a subculture of tape fans are curating a kitschy renaissance of the DIY music medium.

Case in point: the second annual, and first international, incarnation of Cassette Store Day is set for this Saturday. Meanwhile, Madison musicians and record stores are reviving tapes for the love of music.ssance of the DIY music medium.

For the better-known Record Store Day in April, some shops open their doors early to a troop of loyal customers queued to snag rare vinyl and celebratory deals. Cassette Store Day may be a slightly different story. Coordinators in London call it “a celebration of a physical product that is accessible, fun, cheap and still going strong in the turbulent current musical climate.”

Around the globe, bands are releasing albums on cassette for the event, including Animal Collective, Volcano Choir, the Flaming Lips, Fucked Up, At the Drive-In, Los Campesinos!, Guided by Voices, Haim, Suicidal Tendencies, and Gold Panda.

There’s been a resurgence of cassette releases in the last six to seven years, according to Dave Zero, owner of Mad City Music Exchange. Recent small-scale tape releases emphasize the physicality of music.

“Indie labels that release cassettes are the labels that simply love the album in a tangible form,” Zero said. “No one plans on making big money from releasing and selling cassettes.”

The audiophile underground kept cassettes from going by the wayside as CDs gave way to MP3s and vinyl re-emerged.

“Bands never stopped releasing tapes, the general public just turned their back on it,” says Bobby Hussy, half of the Madison-based psychedelic punk duo The Hussy and guitarist for Fire Retarded. Fire Retarded has one tape to its credit and The Hussy’s fifth cassette release, on Italian label Welcome in the Shit Records, is due out soon.

Hussy co-founded Kind Turkey Records in 2010. The label produces only cassettes and 7-inch records. Every Kind Turkey release is hand-numbered and a small portion of each release is a special version, including hand-painted tapes.

Producing cassettes is a labor of love that creates an intimate tie between the label, the band and the buyer, Hussy says.

“Every copy is slightly different,” he said. “The limited-edition aspect, in a way, creates demand. People want something that’s limited, something that will go out of print, something that in a few months or a year will be sold out and unavailable.”

The subculture of cassette promoters and purveyors is a unique group that relishes the singularity of its music medium of choice.

“Some people take their mass of cassettes as a measure of identity, dedication, and knowledge,” said Mikel Dimmick, who plays harmonium, gongs, bowls, and bells in the experimental Madison outfit Spiral Joy Band. “Cassettes are usually pretty obscure releases, so they speak to a certain knowledge base.”

Spiral Joy Band’s fourth cassette, 13 Moons of Doom: Birth of the Water Dragons, on the Houston, TX Dusty Grass Imprint, is due out this month.

Fans are drawn to cassettes as a cheap, easy way to support bands.

“You might go to a show and not be able to pick up an LP, but you can afford the tape and it easily fits in your back pocket,” Hussy said. “The biggest advantage is the cost; you can take a chance on an unknown band with a cassette because it’s so cheap to make. That’s really important for independent bands.”

The versatility of cassettes attracts to bands as a simple way to record, reproduce, and distribute their own music.

“You can make a very professional tape and sell it for only $5 or $6,” said Vincent Presley, a local musician who plays guitar and sings in rock act Zebras. Presley also plays drums and synths in gothic doom group Those Poor Bastards. Both bands stock their merch tables with cassettes. “The garage rock and noise scenes sell tapes like crazy,” he said.

The popularity of tapes is flourishing in a niche market because of this hands-on aesthetic.

“Cassettes were the MP3s of their day. Cassettes were the medium of the people,” said Stephen Baraboo, guitarist in Madison post-punk prog act Control. “The role of the cassette could replace the role of the 7-inch. You can’t make your own vinyl.”

Control emphasized forming a connection with their music through a tangible element like a tape. The band put out three cassette EPs on Madison’s Science of Sound records from late 2011 through 2012. The collection was brought together on full-length vinyl release in March.

Many bands opt to include a download card along with cassettes, like those that typically accompany new vinyl. Even fans without tape decks can own a physical representation of the band, often including art and lyrics, along with a digital copy of their music.

“No one is going to have a sentimental attachment to a song that they’ve only listened to on their laptop,” Baraboo said. “When it’s a physical object, you have to interact with it.”

Along with the debatable quality of audio tapes versus other media, cassette lovers admit that that their romance with lo-fi is a bit tongue-in-cheek.

“I think the idea of Cassette Day is pretty comical myself, but sure I’ll be a part of it since I am in fact releasing tapes and not just to be kitschy,” Hussy said.

Zero said cassette labels “most importantly, have sense of humor about it all.”

Madison tape lovers can hit up local vendors for Cassette Store Day events. MadCity Music Exchange is having a buy one, get one free sale on all used cassettes, with limited-edition and new cassettes for sale and drawings for new tapes and store gift certificates. Strictly Discs will have approximately 700 cassettes for sale at 25 percent off on Cassette Store Day. Sugar Shack always carries a few thousand cassettes sold as buy one, get one half-price.


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