Cassette Culture @ Chud Records Leeds
When considering the rise of Spotify and the more recent reveal of Apple Music, some may find it hard to believe that there’s a certain breed of music fan who would enthusiastically jump at the chance to get their new releases on cassette wherever possible.
On one hand, it may seem a restrictive and limited way to collect music in 2015. However, on the other, these cassette collectors would tell you that releasing music on a “dead” format is keeping alive one of the most personal aspects of music which is in danger of slipping away at an alarming rate; the physical copy. To celebrate it being Cassette Store Day over the weekend, we chatted with Sean McMahon of local label, CHUD Records and Lee Rickard of California’s Burger Records, to find out why there are bands and labels that still have a passion for those bits of spool-filled plastic.
Every music fan has fond memories of buying their early tapes, CDs or vinyl and spending hours poring over the lyric book, picking through the internal artwork and displaying it proudly on the shelf. It is this love for the physical format which Sean thinks tapes help to tap into;
“The most important thing for us (CHUD Records) when we started out was giving people a physical product so I guess from our perspective, tapes are very convenient, because they’re so cheap to make! We still believe people like to have physical things to take home from gigs or buy online alongside digital files so I think we give them the best of both worlds.”
This sentiment seems to be mirror in California, however, why pick tape over the increasingly popular choice of vinyl? Lee explained what made them decided to use tape to test the waters with new bands: “Our favourite part about the business is simply turning people on to new music and hopefully their new favourite artist. I’d have to argue against that sentiment regarding cassette tapes being inconvenient. Tapes are cheaper to make and sell. There’s less risk when trying out new bands. You might not experiment so much with a $20 LP sticker price, but that could be four new tapes instead.”
Tapes may still seem like a niche idea but releasing on cassette helped get Burger Records to the present day, owning their own store and working with the likes Dave Grohl;
“Our band, Thee Make Out Party! released our debut LP through Recess and our CD through Teenacide, but we wanted to cover all the bases including cassette so we did and started Burger Records. There were no hesitations, whatsoever. Record manufacturing is inconvenient and way more expensive. Tapes are affordable to almost anyone. With tapes, if you have a couple of hundred bucks you’re in business.”
Back in Leeds, CHUD records are in a much younger state than Burger Records, but the desire to release on tape and reach even more people is the same: “I think we would love to have CHUD grow to one day be at least part of our income, but at the moment that’s not really a concern. Right now we just want to continue promoting the music we enjoy and helping bands to reach a wider audience.”
So part of the lure of tapes for start-up labels is the relatively low risk costs to start-ups however, just because the costs may be low compared to other physical formats, it doesn’t mean that the labels behind them can’t think big.
Sean at described an early achievement which stemmed from “fanboying” at a festival; “We released Enjoy’s last album Punk Planet earlier this year which was pretty crazy considering we’d only been a label for about six months at the time. We’d seen him play with The Garden at Beacons, which was easily one of the best shows we’ve ever seen, so got in touch after in the hope he’d like to work with us. We didn’t really expect him to get back, but he did within the hour and we got to release the album. We met up with him again when he was Leeds and he was really happy with the tapes so we were both pretty chuffed.”
And Lee’s favourite moment? “As far as doing something neato, a few years ago we did a boxed set for Detroits’ The Go (which has previously featured Jack White). It was five tapes with a big booklet and fun stuff inside. It captured every unreleased recording of theirs from their inception in mid 90s to present and there was tons of great music, mostly unheard of ’til then! That was super special for us. The Go were one of the greatest American rock bands ever. Probably the best of my generation.
So cassette offers an affordable format for start-ups but more importantly for the buyer these formats also retain the physical aspect of music that should be experienced by every young music fan. In an age when you can get whatever you want in the time it takes you to type a band name, physical releases are keeping the living, breathing creation of music alive.
Even the “older” generation (This concerns you mid-20s onwards, I’d say) may need an occasional reminder that holding a record or a tape is infinitely more immersive than ploughing through an endless stream of mp3s. Lee elaborated on this;” I love Rock ‘n’ Roll history and read trashy rock bios all the time, so I was very aware of groups wanting creative control and ownership of their art. It goes on and on. It’s a natural evolution. When our band ceased, that’s when we stated investing into our own community and the Rock ‘n’ Roll underground of friends of ours just by acting locally and thinking globally; that, and all of our crazy perma-teenage energy, pumping through our veins. Enthusiasm and love are very contagious, thank goodness!”
You can really find the flesh and blood of a band or artist when experiencing it through a physical release and the lasting defiance of vinyl in the face of the digital age proves that desire is still as prominent as ever but are tapes too far gone to ever make a bigger splash than digital files again? For me the answer is probably, but releasing music on tape and vinyl seems to be a defiant way of retaining the freedom of making music a more involving and organic experience. Sean from CHUD agreed; “I think digital music is really here to stay, but as long as there is a market for physical music, cassettes will have a place.” With Lee adding: “I dunno if it will ever be mainstream again with all he big dogs of the industry making tapes full time but they’re at least open to test the waters again, which is crazy. Who knows what they will come up with next, but as a music fanatic or just a casual enthusiast you want to hear new music, always and forever.”
You may no longer have that ugly tape player in your living room and your Walkman may have long-since been tossed out, but a day like Cassette Store Day might be a good time to connect with a side of collecting and experiencing music that you could have lost touch with.
Words by Luke Griffin