When the City of Dallas decided to green light a grant for a cassette tape label, they probably got more than they bargained for. 2015 ain't exactly peak time for cassette tapes, but when Vice Palace's Arthur Peña put in his proposal he planned to go all out. This weekend the pieces of his grand plan come together, a plan that includes everything from live band collaborations to a crucifixion. (All, of course, in the name of art.)
On Saturday, July 25, at Aqua Lab Sound Recording, four acts will perform and the sessions will be used to produce two tapes: Pearl Earl will split with Abacaba and Orgullo Primitivo will be paired with Filth. Then two more tapes will be recorded a week later on August 1: Party Static (fresh off a 10-date Southeast tour) with Street Arabs and Slimy Member with Teen Slut. When they're finished, each limited-run cassette will be an elaborate work of art done in the roving DIY venue's now-signature vein of psychedelia.
Peña met Matt Powers and Josh White, who operate Aqua Lab, a studio focused on helping local bands record with a modest budget, while he was in the process of applying for his grant. At the time, he was trying to decide if he would apply for his own paintings or a DIY cassette label to highlight Dallas-Fort Worth bands. Although he was leaning toward the former initially, he went with the cassette label and was later surprised to hear that it garnered the most interest out of all the proposals submitted.
Aqua Lab were mentioned as possible consultants in Peña's proposal, the three of them having agreed that it would be the perfect place to do the recordings. After getting the grant, he spoke with Powers and White and they suggested he record the bands live, so multiple bands could be recorded in one session. Not only did the idea fit with his mission to capture the energy of DFW music, but it would also be less of a hassle than trying to arrange sessions with each band for a series of EPs. It also made sense given that the project was born out of live performances at a roving venue; it will document the experience of seeing bands perform in a specific space, similar to being at a Vice Palace show.
When Peña hosted Vice Palace's one-year anniversary show back in April, he also met another important collaborator: Larry Carey. The two had been working together since last October, with Carey responsible for all of the the roving venue's creeped-out artwork, but the two had never met face to face.
“He’s really taken it up a notch,” says Peña. “I think at some point these posters will be as much a part of his body of work as his canvases.” Carey will also create the artwork for the cassettes' J-Cards, using much smaller canvases for these releases, which are expected to be available for purchase in the spring.
But Eye Tooth, a collective out of Ohio, will be hand-dipping the cassettes in paint, creating a unique pattern. “It makes each tape its own art object,” says Peña. Eye Tooth will also be dipping the cases themselves into this paint. Throw in Carey’s artwork, and these are going to be really psychedelic and funky. They probably won’t look like any other cassette tape in your collection — if you have a cassette tape collection.
Peña is intent on pushing past the idea that these are just cassette tapes. “That’s me trying to put the tapes in some sort of art context,” he says. Indeed, since the tapes are mostly handmade, they capture a sense of spontaneity not unlike the live music recorded on them.
Everything about Vice Palace Tapes is limited edition. They will only be able to fit 50 or 60 people into Aqua Lab (get there early…) and only 120 of each tape will be released at $5 each (bargain!) with no download codes. “I wanted to elevate this medium to something more than just a $5 foot long,” Peña says with a chuckle. These may be DIY tapes, but they are also art objects. These tapes are likely worth more than five bucks, but once again Peña's trying to walk a fine line.
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There is something different brewing for the third round of recordings on August 22: Dezi 5 will perform with Rat Rios at The Public Trust. The recording session will be transplanted from the recording studio to a gallery, with Dezi 5 adding an element of theater to the performance. He will start his set by taking on the persona of a person being “crucified” in a dance club, a very personal performance reflecting his concerns as a gay African American living in Texas.
The details of the crucifixion are still being fleshed out. But it was important to Peña that the performance be moved to a gallery: “It has to be not only accepted but discussed on an intellectual level, not just a level of showmanship. If it happened in a warehouse it would be a completely different show. It might be more dangerous, but it wouldn’t have the validity that the white walls of the gallery space offer.”
Peña sees Dezi 5’s performance as potentially indicative of Vice Palace's direction in year three, which he is already giving a lot of thought. After creating the roving venue in year one and now exploring the label concept in year two, he is looking at new ways to expand Vice Palace as a sanctuary for artistic and music freedom. “It’s going to be testing some waters,” Peña says.