As with vinyl culture, cassettes never really went away. They just served certain micro-scenes a bit more efficiently. Nationally, cassette culture has been on an upswing for a few years, as CDs become increasingly inconvenient/obsolete, and the analog heads respond to the digital glut.
Tapes used to be Morse code within certain scenes, a secret message you could hold in your hand, the artwork and music personalized to the listener. That tactile experience is what many still seek out — there was always something exciting about opening a new cassette and smelling it — but now that culture is being helped along by the Internet.
Locally, Dallas Distortion Music, Pour Le Corps and Lo-Life Recordings have all made cassettes their main medium, either out of practicality, cost efficiency or the desire for aesthetic cohesion. North Texas labels Handmade Birds and Out-of-Body Records have also started specializing in tapes. DJ Sober even has a Tumblr devoted exclusively to cassettes he finds.
Dallas Distortion Music has been talking with California punk cassette label Burger Records about collaborating, recently released San Antonio band the Rich Hands on cassette, sold out the first run of red Blackstone Rangers Into the Sea cassettes, and plan on releasing albums from Zhora and Cutter in the future. I asked DDM's Matt Vickers why they've chosen tape.
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"Dallas Distortion Music has been releasing cassettes not only for the low cost, efficiency in production and transparency between the manufacturer and those wanting to put out a release," he says. "But many of the labels we listen to, and the means by which they made their products affordable while maintaining a genuine sense of artistry, provide a tangible product with an air of nostalgia, personality and a do-it-yourself mentality.
"Cassette culture is pretty prevalent with the labels in which we draw our inspiration. There's the intimacy of making mixtapes, compilations or limited runs of certain releases, and the sense of releasing something we can give our friends, while knowing full well many of these releases have a hard time moving units."
For Pour Le Corps, practicality and nostalgia come into play as well, but their releases are more bound to an aesthetic. Co-owners Marjorie Owens and Sean French do all the artwork themselves, so the covers have a common theme and style. They've also paired up with an out- of-state label, L.A.'s Complicated Dance Steps, to help with distribution, and are looking to release tapes from CHUDS, Diamond Age and Ethereal & the Queer Show. Says Owens:
"Sean and I gravitated toward tapes because you could do limited releases of 100 to 200 for a reasonable cost. We found this company that kept up with technology for tape duplication, so they sound great, too. As soon as we got our first batch of Eyes, Wings and Many Other Things cassette tapes, we got in [singer] Colin Arnold's car, which has a tape player, and drove around giving it our first listen. Knowing not everyone has a tape player or wants to get one, we also give free digital downloads with the purchase, but personally, we like people to be able to have something physical they can put their hands on and look at as well."