Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hit rewind

Labels and musicians are going back to the '80s as cassette culture makes an unexpected comeback

  • Print

With the demise of the compact disc, some people might be surprised by the emergence of an old music format making a comeback: the cassette.

A growing number of bands and consumers are hitting rewind on the rectangular 9 x 5.5-centimetre plastic tapes mainly associated with the 1980s, when they were the portable music method that filled the gap between 8-track tapes and compact discs.

In Winnipeg there are more than half a dozen labels specializing in releasing cassettes, and an increasing number of bands are releasing music on vinyl, cassette and digitally, bypassing CDs altogether.

Winnipeg power metal band Evil Survives has released two albums on vinyl and cassette, selling out a manufactured run of 100 copies each of Metal Vengeance and Powerkiller on tape.

"Cassettes are my favourite format; even though I love vinyl, I'll take cassettes over them. I have a select set of records, but a couple of stacks of tapes as tall as I am," says Evil Survives guitarist Charlie Justice, 28, who is also involved with War on Music, a workers-owned music store collective on Albert Street.

The shop has been selling cassettes since its inception in 2007, but over the past year tape sales have soared at the store with customers ranging in age from teenagers to people in their late 30s and early 40s who still own tape players and Walkmans.

"We can't keep them on our shelves. We're always in short supply," Justice says. "I get them on eBay and they go so fast I can't keep them in stock. I'm always salvaging for cassettes."

One of the store's suppliers is Chris Jacques, a 39-year-old Winnipegger who performs as noise metal artist White Dog and runs two cassette-only labels: Prairie Fire Tapes and Dub Ditch Picnic.

Prairie Fire Tapes, co-owned by Cole Peters (who has his own cassette-only side label, Stasis), mainly focuses on releasing noise, drone and avant-metal artists, while Dub Ditch Picnic puts out anything Jacques enjoys, from metal to garage rock to punk.

The partners formed Prairie Fire Tapes when they decided to put out a split cassette instead of a CD.

"It's raw. We're not putting together music that's super polished," Jacques says. "I worked in record stores when CDs were coming out -- they were meant for jazz dudes and Dark Side of the Moon. Cassettes are for the people.

"If I have an idea, I'm going to record it and it's going to be done. No sitting around and waiting. With everything else you have to have cash or someone backing you; with tapes, this is out of my brain, onto tape and into your hands."

Since the labels' inception in January 2010, Prairie Fire Tapes and Dub Ditch Picnic have released 40 cassettes by artists from across North America. Jacques duplicates tapes in his basement on a professional high-speed duplicator he purchased used from a church that recorded sermons and sent them to shut-ins.

"In the time I have a cup of coffee I can have 50 tapes done," he says.

They ship tapes across the continent and count Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore as a customer. Moore is a noted cassette fan who edited a book on the skilful practice of making mix tapes -- Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture -- and has released cassettes with his band and by other artists on his Ecstatic Peace record label. Groups such as Pearl Jam, Deerhunter and Dirty Projectors are still releasing tapes, and Beck told music website Pitchfork he was recording a cassette-only track-by-track version of Sonic Youth's 1986 album EVOL for inclusion in a Sonic Youth box set.

Still, the official sales numbers for cassettes are minuscule at retail outlets, with Nielsen SoundScan reporting U.S. sales of 34,000 in 2009. Cassette fans were dealt a blow last year when Sony announced it was discontinuing its iconic Walkman, the world's first mass-produced portable music player, which made its debut in 1979.

Some people were simply surprised to hear the Walkman was still being made.

SoundScan numbers don't mean a thing to Jacques and other micro-label owners, since they sell most of their product at live shows or online through mail order without a bar code ever being scanned.

 

"It's not like sending out LPs that are going to cost 13 bucks to send somewhere; for a couple of bucks I can send tapes into the States," says Jacques, who begins hosting Dub Ditch Picnic Radio at the University of Manitoba campus station, 101.5 UMFM, on Tuesdays from 1 to 3 a.m., featuring a playlist that will include a healthy selection of tapes.

Over at University of Winnipeg campus station 95.9 CKUW, Scott Turner has been hosting Sell-Out Sounds on Fridays from 2 to 3:30 p.m. for a year. He and co-host Kevin Strang play a large selection of tapes, continuing the tradition started by all-cassette show CT Scans, which Sell-Out Sounds replaced.

"The coolest thing about tapes to me is they stick around: they are durable. I have every single tape I've ever got and they all still work," says Turner, 27, whose first cassette was Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction.

Turner owns an iPod and a Walkman, but enjoys the richer sound quality of tapes more than the compressed quality of an MP3.

He is also a big fan of the mix tape -- he still owns all the compilations he has made or that have been given to him over the years, while he doesn't have any mix CDs.

Anyone who knows the difference between a Maxell XLII 90 and a TDK D60 knows what he means.

"Dragging and dropping songs onto a CD isn't the same as sitting in front of your stereo with a pen and paper, figuring out the times to fit on a side so there isn't any blank space," he says. "I think there's a humanity missing from the digital world."

Plus, when you have an album on cassette, you tend to listen to the whole side before flipping it over and listening to the entire other side. In the digital world it's all about the singles, which aren't as important to non-mainstream artists in the punk, metal, hip-hop, indie-rock and noise-rock world.

"There's something about getting to know an album inside out," Turner says. "I think an album represents a statement in time from that artist."

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Press play

A list of Winnipeg labels releasing music on cassette.

Prairie Fire Tapes

Noise, drone, metal, experimental

prairiefiretapes.com

Dub Ditch Picnic

Punk, rock, no wave, Krautrock, drone, dub, psych

dubditchpicnicrecords.blogspot.com

Stasis

Noise, drone, static, experimental

colepeters.com

Midori Records

Noise, experimental, tape loops, no wave, drone, industrial

midorirecords.net

War on Music

Specializes in vinyl, but released the two Evil Survives cassettes

waronmusic.com

Hume Invasion

Punk

mysterypunk.com

Peace and Quiet Recordings

Punk, hardcore, black metal, power electronics

peaceandquietrecordingco.tumblr.com/main

Don't Fear the Night

Cassettes Grindcore, punk

myspace.com/dftntapes

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2011 0

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Your cheapskate questions

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two baby tigers were unveiled at the Assiniboine Park Zoo this morning, October 3rd, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS BUSINESS - cow on farm owned by cattle farmer Lloyd Buchanan near Argyle Wednesday afternoon -see Larry Kusch's story  January 04/2006

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think the Jets' three pre-season losses in a row are a sign of things to come?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google