Zines, Tapes & Freebies

I touched on some of the questions about which I am going to circuitously ramble today when I wrote about Thee Ludds and the tape label in Sheffield they’re working with called Tye Die Tapes. Specifically, I want to follow up a little on this paragraph, from the end of the post:

I am starting to see a lot of these garage bands gravitating towards labels who do a lot of tape releases, split releases, and stuff like that.  It’s usually small scale and DIY, and quite a few rack up a fair few releases in this manner before going anywhere near an album.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I am not entirely certain where albums even fit in this aesthetic, actually.

It’s been this way in the States for a while but, within the bounds of the kind of music I’m into at least, it certainly seems that at the moment a lot of young folk in garage bands are not focussing on finding someone to release their albums, nor just slapping stuff up on the post-MySpace digital ventures and hurling it blindly out into the void, as I have heard so many journalists and bloggers complain in the past.

It seems like increasingly they are forming loose-knit communities based around tapes, maybe the odd 7″ and, oddly enough, zines and releasing their music on free EPs, tapes and splits, be they vinyl or cassette.  In terms of resurrecting obsolete technology I find this kind of fascinating.  But I like it.

It seems like an odd combination of digital and analogue sensibilities, too, which I also like.  A lot of these labels are making rough DIY videos and using those and Bandcamp pages to get their music out to as wide an audience as possible.

They’re also recording a lot, which is an advantage of the digital era which I think is underappreciated. Recording is cheap and easy now – your songs can go from your living room to a fan in Kazakhstan in a couple of hours, and there is no real reason you need to have one, polished, definitive version of your songs anymore, an idea I think was unnecessarily reinforced when recording was expensive.

This was driven home to me during the PAWS Toad Session we recorded recently.  The band talked a lot about allowing their fans to actually be able to watch the evolution of a song, from rough demo, to lo-fi band version to something recorded in a professional studio.  In fact, they wondered why anyone would really care about a song without having some idea of where it had come from.

In fact, I think this is one of the reasons the passion for tapes has kicked off so much recently: they reacquaint people with the actual craft of making music.  The initial explosion of MySpace and digital music in general was amazing, but it swiftly resulted in there being this infinite miasma of music out there, which got so thick it started to make our heads spin.

The rise in vinyl purchases seemed to reinforce the idea that digital music simply didn’t do enough for a lot of committed music fans.  It was too plentiful, too nebulous, and too throwaway. They wanted something to ritualise their passion, and something which in some way symbolically represented it in the way an iTunes library never can.

Looking at these tapes and zine labels, I kind of get the impression that the same thing happened to a lot of musicians. Sure, they can record and release anything they want to now, but being in a band is a creative thing – it’s a craft – and that fact seemed to become increasingly lost in all the talk of viral marketing and Garage Band software. Besides, if you never actually do get signed, as most don’t, then having a website and some mp3s to show for all your blood, sweat and tears seems like a pretty poor return.

Looking at these tape labels, particularly those which include things like zines and, not infrequently self-designed t-shirts and dodgy homemade YouTube clips, they seem to be trying to reconnect with the actual craft of music.  The recording and re-recording of songs seems designed to emphasise just how much work making a really good song can be – it’s not just about a mic, a MacBook and a MySpace page.

Vinyl is too expensive for some, but what’s the point in firing another anonymous mp3 out there into the void?  If you’ve worked that hard on something, you need to show your work some respect, find some way of embodying what it means to you before you can really expect other people to allow it to mean something to them.

So these DIY musicians are sitting there dubbing their own tapes, one at a time, they are using photocopiers, glue and scissors to do their own design work and they are creating objects of care and of craft.

So you could say that they are simply rejecting the digital world in order to reacquaint themselves with a past (which is often wildly romanticised and in some cases they are too young to remember anyway) when music is supposed to have meant something more, and that’s fine, but I think it’s a little simplistic.  This music is going on Bandcamp, the videos are being shared on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, so they are still embracing many elements of the digital world. It’s not a Luddite movement.

In fact it seems to embrace the best of what the right combination of forward facing and backward facing technology can do for you these days.

And, if you want to explore some of these labels, here are a few I have been getting into recently:
Sways Records (Salford)
Comfortable on a Tightrope (Manchester)
Tye Die Tapes (Sheffield)
Gnar Tapes (Portland)
Night People (Iowa City)
Gerry Loves Records (Edinburgh)
Cath Records (Glasgow, but very new and yet to have any actual releases, I think)

And a couple recommended to me on Twitter:
Auris Apothecary
Scotch Tapes
Secret Furry Hole
Analog Edition
The Tapeworm
Loud and Quiet Cassettes
Tired Tapes

More: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,