The Wild Detectives is hidden near Zang and 8th in Oak Cliff, and has been opened for the better part of a year. The burnt-orange house converted into a cozy bookstore serves espresso, local beer and has hundreds of those antique objects with paper pages called books. They even have a small vinyl selection, hold poetry readings and feature live music. It's anything but a conventional bookstore.
Now general manager Carlos Guajardo has yet another plan for his store. He's teamed up with Vice Palace owner Art Peña with the aim of establishing Wild Detectives as the go-to spot for cassette tapes. Yes, the very same plastic-shelled objects used to make mixtapes all the way back in those sepia-toned days known as the '90s.
Even amidst the recent resurgence of vinyl among music heads, the plan raises an obvious question: Why would a bookstore ever want to start selling cassette tapes in 2015? It's dead technology, and hardly practical since most people don't even own a tape deck. For one, they are fairly inexpensive to manufacture, which also means cheap to purchase. The tape shop within Wild Detectives has been dubbed Wild Tapes and charges a mere $6 per cassette.
Peña in particular harbors a deep passion for the cassette tape form, considering it an under-appreciated musical form. There's an obvious degree of nostalgia behind it, as well: He was first exposed to it as an 11-year-old who found an abandoned N.W.A. cassette on the side of the road. He's always been drawn to the indestructible nature of the object as well. "It could rain on a tape. All you have to do is let it dry and it will still play," he says.
He may not be the only one to feel that way, either, as cassettes have started to catch on in certain music circles. "There has been and is obviously a thriving subculture of cassette enthusiasts that enjoy supporting bands, and also take pleasure in tapes as objects," explains Peña. You might even be surprised to find out that an increase in tape sales has spawned a National Cassette Store Day, and that popular bands like the Flaming Lips and Deerhunter are putting out tape releases to this day.
"People are starting to fetishize over tapes the same way they did with vinyl," adds Guajardo. And unlike Good Records, whose meagre selection of tapes is focused on a more national level, Wild Detectives will keep things exclusively local. "We want to have the largest selection of tapes in Dallas focusing on local labels and musicians," explains Peña. He sees this collaboration as a rare opportunity for cassette enthusiasts to purchase tapes outside of live shows and online orders, which are often the only avenues to find them these days.
Peña will curate the music selection and make sure that the style of music available at the shop will keep in theme with his Vice Palace shows. He will initially carry about 30 to 40 cassettes of dark synth, indie and metal music, and feature local labels like Pour Le Corps and Dallas Distortion Music. "This will be the Holy Grail of Pour Le Corps tapes," Peña enthuses. "It's mind-blowing to think about walking into a store, buying a T2 or Def Rain tape, and walking out."
Aesthetically, tapes make sense for the bookstore. They look like scaled-down books, and are a physical offering in an increasingly digital world. "It's a tangible and direct connection to the performer," says Guajardo. But the partners will also have to be selective with their tape offering, and creatively utilize the available space in the tiny bookstore for their display. "You can tell we don't have a lot of room. Even our book selection is very thinned-down," says Guajardo.
Most importantly, Peña believes Wild Tapes will be a good way to expose music to Wild Detectives customers, and to put a little money in the musician's pocket. He wants to support a scene that's bred acts like Cutter and Vulgar Fashion while it's still thriving. "This is going to be all over before we realize it, and I just want to support the tenacity of this community," say Peña. For both partners, the tape is only as important as the music that's on it.
While Wild Detectives may be another destination for tape collectors, Peña is always open to more ideas that embrace the local music scene. "I like the idea of the dude down the street dubbing over old En Vogue tapes and hand-scrawling his name on the cassette," says Peña. While the main focus is on local labels, he also invites musicians to sell their self-released tapes at his shop. And even if you lack the equipment to play them on but want to show support, labels like Pour Le Corps always include a digital download with each cassette. As for the future, that's up in the air for Peña and Guajardo, who also hope to have tape release parties and even their own split-cassette release at some point. In the meantime, Wild Tapes will launch its first tape listening party on Friday, February 27 with George Quartz handling DJing Duties.
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