10 Favourites – Tape Labels You Better Should Know

Hurrah! The cassette tape is turning 50 and though that’s really old, or sort of anyway, the tape is alive and kicking it big style.
Hurrah! The cassette tape is turning 50 and though that’s really old, or sort of anyway, the tape is alive and kicking it big style. Considering all the love out there for the tape it seems crazy that in 2011 the Oxford English Dictionary wanted to remove the word »cassette tape« from its Concise version – besides, it’s a lifestyle and not just a word, really. Apart from the obvious technological advances that the tape once stood for and the power it had to define the portable music market in the eighties the tape also gave not so wealthy underground artists and musically inclined teenagers the chance to easily, cheaply and long lastingly record their stuff just like MySpace was to do two decades later. Tapes gave youngsters a way to express themselves and share this expression democratically.

So, with the internet and computers allowing you to record, spread and download music in about two seconds for free the use and distribution of tapes is more telling than ever of the current state of music and its fans. A cry for artistic control and expression, taking the time to record and consume and the longing for a memory-provoking artifact to physically hold in one’s hand is being expressed and several labels are listening and responding. In this article ten labels are introduced who are

»Just like printed magazines and fanzines have their readers touch and smell the paper as they read, soaking in the words and pictures thirstily yet with care the tape has the power the slow down the relentless speed of the music industry or of culture in general.«

united by a fetish for tapes though the reason for their passion do differ. Julian Flemming of Enconore enjoys the different kind of reception the tape creates: »It has the effect of paying more attention to the actual recording. There’s no way to skip a track, usually you listen to the whole work.« while Philip Marshal, founder of Tapeworm Records, goes as far as declaring that the tape is the King of Formats: »Sonically underrated with its own warmth and personality, perfectly shaped … in an age of hot-and-cold running music bloody everywhere, with tunes available to cherry pick, with long-form music listened to as a sequence becoming a memory, we like how the format enforces an artists’ wishes on the listener.«

Just like printed magazines and fanzines have their readers touch and smell the paper as they read, soaking in the words and pictures thirstily yet with care the tape has the power the slow down the relentless speed of the music industry or of culture in general. The tape covers that are hand-drawn, xeroxed or collaged by the artists or labels themselves, can be taken from their plastic sleeve and studied carefully while the tape in the tape deck leisurely runs its course from start to finish – skipping tracks isn’t just a click of a button here. Besides being cheap to produce the tape gives artists ultimate production freedom from dubbing to final assembly while still being super quick to produce. Shawn Reed of the label Night People reckons: »Tapes are quick and quite immediate compared to vinyl which usually has months of lag time from recording date due to the process taking longer,« so it is no surprise that these labels keep busting out spools full of stuff that they love and want to share. The tape represents and presents freedom, individuality and a collectable item … the tape boom is on!

Based in Oberlin, Ohio Hanson Records and founded in Brighton, Michigan and run by the musician Aaron Dilloway their first release was of Dilloway’s band »Galen« in 1994 and the band Wolf Eyes, which Dilloway was a part of, released their recording, a cassette, on the label in 1997. The label is a way for the noise musician Dilloway to play around and experiment. Tape releases include crowd noise recordings and a subliminal DJ set where Dilloway played the same song for 45 minutes to disorientate the crowd.

Founded in Vermont in 2008 NNA releases vinyl and tapes with a focus on experimental electronic music and on artists who have expertly skills in working with analog materials and effects. One artist NNA releases is Howard Stelzer because »…he goes deeper into the exploration of the physical mechanics and inner workings of the cassettes and players themselves amplifying them in order to let the “instrument” become part of the music.« Another artist represented is Belarisk who »…paints with sound in the full spectrum of grey; forging overdriven frenetic malfunction with spacious, tonal glory.« Might one of NNA’s »Ns« stand for »nerdy«?

More than just a label Minimal Wave is the result of phenomenal musical archeological work. Veronica Vasicka excavated a lost sub-genre that emerged from the brief post punk in the late 70s comprised of minimal synth music, New Wave, coldwave and electropop. »Generally, the musicians were influenced by avant-garde movements such as futurism and constructivism as well as by the literature of science fiction and existentialism,« Vasicka explains. She releases and re-issues her findings on her 2005 founded label Minimal Wave, which is also the term now used to describe the music genre she unearthed.

Markus Radermacher and Julian Flemming are the heart and brains behind the German label founded in 2008. What started out as a way to release their own sound experiments, free-spirited and experimental music and has turned into a label that also publishes a zine and screenprints. Julian explains their love for tapes as having to do with »…the act of putting a cassette into a tape-deck evoking a different kind of reception. It has the effect of paying more attention.« They release whatever feels right while maintaining a focus on experimental music and » all kinds of incarnations in noise«.

»It’s about drums, samples and swing…reflective lyrics and bodiless battle raps on top of beats. Not more and not less,« – the Mainz based label Sichtexot is for beat lovers and nerds formed by a group of friends. »We care about the person behind the artists. We’ve known each other for ages and then over time Eloquent, The Beep, Obba Supa and Figub Brazlevic joined us,« explains Anton Pfurtscheller, one of the guys behind the label. It’s important to them that the artists stands out and that they physically release their albums as they find Cds and digital releases uninteresting.

Founded in 2009 in London and now also based in Berlin the label hardly accepts demos choosing to curate heavily so that the exciting restrictions of tapes can be thoroughly explored. »Stefan Goldmann produced a cassette designed to be played on an auto-reverse deck where one side beat-matches the other if you eject and turn over and Achim Mohné created sounds by deconstructing tapes and the players themselves,« explains the founder Philip Marshal. The art work is always black and white: simple, effective and affordable.

Started in 2004 the band Racoo-oo-oon wanted a way to release their and their friends’ material. Now Shawn Reed, a member of the band that has since split, has taken over the label and does most of the artwork himself. »I use the Xerox machine, collect images and work them into collages with drawings and take them back to the Xerox machine. The artists can have a say in my design but overall it’s just me creating and them being into it.« The releases are the result of Reed’s intuition for sniffing out new bands and of his friendships to musicians.

Simone Trabucchi is not just the Italian musician Dracula Lewis but also the founder of the tape producing label Hundebiss. When he started the label four years ago it was a way for Trabucchi to release his own stuff and a way for him to pay tribute to the medium that allowed him to discover music as a teenager. Now he releases the music of experimental sound artists Aaron Dilloway and Francesco Cavaliere on tapes that are enveloped in intricately designed, hand cut and folded Origami sleeves.

Leaving Records is based in LA founded by musician Matthew David McQueen and graphic designer Jesse Moretti in 2008. Moretti is the visual director. She silk screen prints the art work herself. McQueen is the musical curator and gives a platform to undiscovered talent – something he came across a lot through his job at the internet radio station dublab. »Tapes are affordable, conceptual, DIY, aesthetic and experimental,« is how McQueen describes his choice to go old school. The label sounds like LA and the artists must have »…honest expression and being a freak helps too.«

Eggy is a record label and cassette tape distributor located in Portland, Orego founded in 2008. Raf Spielman does not only run Eggy Records and Distribution but also releases his own music and does some of the art work like Orca Team’s black and white mirrored portrait of a pixie-haired girl. The tapes are rather experimental like Paul Ballance’s tape »World Wide Gas«, which Spielman describes as: »an A side of five short songs, which hint at the distopian, sci-fi vision of Baronic Wall but largely reveal more domestic fascinations, and the B-side is a long collage piece incorporating field recordings and songs.«