Cassettes: love’em or hate’em, they refuse to go away. In fact, the humble cassette has recently made a comeback of sorts. Indie bands have rediscovered the format, and cassette labels have sprung up in genres as diverse as punk, metal and experimental.
Hot on the heels of Record Store Day, a group of tape-deck devotees came up with the idea of Cassette Store Day. The first CSD in 2013 was a resounding success, and this year it’s back, bigger and better, on September 27, organized in the UK by Suplex Cassettes and in the US by Burger Records. Expect releases by bands known and lesser-known, and local CSD-related events all over the US, UK and other European countries.
We interviewed Matt Lewendon of London-based Suplex Cassettes.
1. What is Suplex Cassettes?
It’s just me, started in 2009, five years of fun putting out almost 30 releases, with four more on the way for this year’s CSD. Suplex was started because I was surrounded by friends making amazing music, which I wanted to document. It upset me that some of these short-lived bands would come and go, without leaving behind a physical stamp on the world to remember them. 99% of my releases are by bands I know personally or are friends of friends, which means hopefully they know I will do what I promise, and I know they are not some shady assholes hiding behind a soundcloud!
2. Could you tell us what CSD is, and how Suplex is involved?
CSD was an idea that started last year between Jen (Kissability), Steve (Sexbeat) and me. It was conceived by Steve after more than a few pints, as a fun and ridiculous concept. Jen and I thought it was a great idea. Before you knew it, the three of us were dealing with labels and shops from all over the globe, with bands like The Flaming Lips and Animal Collective. It became way bigger than we had expected and showed that a lot of people still love this little format that many people have written off.
3. What inspired you to start a cassette label?
I’m a huge fan of physical products, and have never found much satisfaction in having a hard drive full of MP3’s. I’ve always been a collector, a little obsessive maybe, and the tapes that shaped my musical upbringing stayed with me from house to house as I grew up. Mix tapes, recordings of friend’s records and home demos, in my pre-internet youth these were my access to new music. I’ve run multiple labels over the years and been in bands that have kicked out a number of releases, and knew how costly it was to release a 7″, where you might only sell 100 copies instead of 500-1000. Tapes are perfect for small runs, for weird releases that might not be worth doing on 12″, and I love the affordability. Albums are regularly £20 on vinyl, while a tape can be as little as £4-6!
4. Any CSD releases you’re especially looking forward to?
The NehruvIanDoom album on Lex, as I’m a huge fan of anything MF Doom touches and his JJ Doom tape last year was awesome. Also a reissue of The Obsessed which I’m dying to get my hands on. I have 4 releases this year and I’m beyond excited to be able to release tapes for The UV race, The Homosexuals, Warmhammer, Keel Her and Fair Ohs. Big line up.
5. Artists find it increasingly difficult to get fans to actually pay for their music. Do you see a niche in cassette releases as part of a trend towards unique, physical objects, like vinyl?
I think cassettes have always had their place across the wilderness years since high street retailers stopped stocking them. The need for cassettes in the Top 40 disappeared but they were still really relevant and vital in lots of underground scenes, besides being a novelty. Yes, they are cute and pretty durable and sound great. Lots of people buy vinyl and don’t actually play it, but want a beautiful physical product for their money, and maybe the download code is enough. That’s probably true for some cassette buyers, but I’m just happy that people want to buy products that support the bands and label and shops out there.
6. From the rather unique vantage point of a cassette label, how do you see the future of the music business?
No clue. The concept of buying downloads to me is alien, so the future of music is not my strong point. I don’t think cassette sales will ever challenge vinyl, CD’s or downloads, nor should they. I think cassettes have a place in my and in many others’ lives. I hope that shops will grow their selection of tapes and audiences will see tapes as a valid format, and maybe tape players will be made available again? Regardless of format, I just hope people see the value in having a local record shop and continue to buy stuff by bands. Let’s be honest, a wall of vinyl/tapes/CDs looks better than a hard drive. Much harder to lose as well!