This past weekend, a young Dallas impresario played a major role in the second annual National Cassette Store Day. It might have slipped by you, as it did me. But Evan Henry, founder of Dallas Distortion Music, was totally dialed in
In fact, Henry's DDM label was one of a very small number of outlets across the country for Morbidly Upbeat, a special Cassette Store Day release by Randy Randall, guitarist of the experimental punk band No Age. It's something that DDM was able to score this relatively exclusive release. But what is even more amazing is that Henry founded DDM back in 2011. Living in Greenville, Texas. When he was in 9th grade.
It all started when Henry and friends caught a show at Sons of Hermann that had No Age on the ticket. Blown away by the energy of the band, Henry struck up a conversation with Randall between sets at the show. Seeing his passion for the music, Randall encouraged Henry to jump in the game. The encounter left a massive impression on Henry.
"Within a month I formed DDM as a kind of web-based 'zine, writing about bands and music I loved", explains Henry. He formed a No Age-style band with a friend, and started looking for ways to put out music.
He kept in touch with Randall, and the mentoring relationship has been mutually beneficial in surprising ways. Contacted in Los Angeles, Randall was quick with the compliments. "Evan is awesome", Randall confirms. "Honestly, I'm inspired by his energy and commitment, and I'm stoked he asked me to put a cassette out."
Admittedly, the choice of cassette seems dubious. In the cassette's glory days of the 1980s, the long-play capacity and durability established the cassette as vinyl's first formidable competitor. And of course spawned the mix tape. Sony's Walkman, boom boxes and car stereos made the cassette ubiquitous. But CDs, followed by digital music, saw cassettes and cassette players kicked to the same curb (or resale shops) as vinyl and turntables.
But for the DIY ethos, the cassette makes sense where it often counts most: cost. With an investment of less than $100, "I can make the cassettes in my bedroom, print off the cover art at Office Depot and off they go to the post office", explains Henry.
These days, Henry is getting orders from near and far. "I get about half my orders from California, a bunch from Texas, and an increasing number from Europe", he explains. "You'd think at some point the Japanese are bound to channel their obsessive passion back into cassette. Then, look out!"
What's on the roadmap for Henry? Well, there is the whole school thing: He moved to Dallas and started as a freshman at Brookhaven this fall. He worries about spreading himself too thin and getting behind in his studies. So he's tapping the brakes on DDM a bit. "I have some releases timed for Christmas and the spring is going to be very solid," he says.
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While he loves some of the stuff coming from the West coast, his focus is mostly on the Dallas and Denton music scene. Upcoming releases look to include exclusives and splits with bands including Prism Cloud, Blackstone Rangers, Bad Beats, Mink Coats and Dripping Wet. He's also finding his way into promoting shows for the music he loves. "We had a meeting the other day, and I am hopefully going to be booking a showcase for 35 Denton," he reports.
Now a grizzled 18 years old, does Henry feel validated? "This is my life now, and I feel like I have had some degree of success, so I'm not too worried about what I'm doing," he admits. One gets a sense there has not been a lot of internal dialogue investing in DDM for Henry since that 2011 No Age show. No weighing the pros and cons of whether cassette tapes make sense. It's what his capabilities -- be they based on finance, age or location -- permit, and the only direction is straight forward.
No Age provided that initial spark, and as evidenced by the Cassette Store Day single, Randall continues to encourage and support Henry. Randall declares, "It's exciting to see someone just attack stuff with a reasonable expectation and realize their goals," he says. "I don't get the sense that he is trying to 'make it' or get rich. He just does it cause he loves it."
As Randall sees it, those are the same types of ideals that drove him to his work with No Age. "Evan is an inspiration to me to keep following the passion that first got me started," he says.