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[Editor’s note – this article was originally published at http://www.unrecorded.mu/features/cassette-club-june-edition. It has been republished here with permission of the author.]
How do you bring a subculture off of the Internet and into real life? That’s the question that gave birth to this year’s first annual Austin Cassette Fest. Since starting a record label last August, cassettes have taken over my life – and living room. Starting Graveyard Orbit was based out of this love I still have for all the little indie labels that meticulously curated my adolescence. I was always interested in cassettes, but never really considered them a viable medium for starting a record label. After all, the convention is that cassettes are outdated, obsolete – for people who got stuck somewhere between 8 tracks and CDs, or else for, well – hipsters.
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But when I decided I was going to start a record label, I began to think, “Why not tapes?” They’re inexpensive, easy to customize, and you can do everything yourself (DIY4LYFE). And as I thought about it, the idea grew into something much larger. I always loved producing, designing, and packaging my own music, so why not do that for others? Why not start an actual record label and utilize tapes as the ideal medium? As a kid I was fascinated by the packaging of cassettes – I loved opening up the inserts and admiring the album art and liner notes. There’s no denying cassettes have this special aesthetic that you just don’t get with CDs – that’s why there’s so much kitschy merchandise and clothing that’s branded with a cassette tape.
With my own Graveyard Orbit releases I put a lot of time and consideration into the album art, inserts, and overall look and feel, building on that timeless aesthetic and getting to pay homage to all the little labels and cassettes I used to love as a kid. When you are able to go from designing the layout, to dubbing the tape, to seeing all the components come together to form the album, you begin to fall in love with the medium and its creative potential.
As I dug deeper into cassettes and Graveyard Orbit, I discovered a whole subculture with the same obsessive appreciation. I wasn’t the lone weirdo making tapes in his bedroom and selling them on Bandcamp – turned out there were TONS of small, independent labels doing the same thing. It was amazing to discover just how much music was actually being released on cassette.
Unlike the major financial investment that is vinyl, you could take a chance on some obscure music and release it to cassette with little out of your own pocket. This opened up the field to genres upon sub-genres of new music and bands to discover. I was so thrilled to find such a community of like-minded, passionate people, yet I couldn’t find this community almost anywhere outside of online spaces. It felt like online dating with no hopes of ever spooning. Which sucks because spooning is fun – just like tapes!
I really wanted to bring this community offline but worried that online forums and groups wouldn’t necessarily translate into real life communities, or even real life interactions. All the same, I wanted to try! I wanted to be able to hang out with these people “IRL,” talk about their releases, and get to know everyone who was producing these amazing releases.
After a failed attempt at tabling at a local record convention, I began to consider starting my own “record convention,” but on a much smaller scale – and exclusively with cassettes. I had no idea where to begin planning an event – after all, I made tapes, not parties – so after pitching the idea around to a few people, I finally recruited Gillian (owner of Sound Dessert) to help plan the event and Mass Gallery (a local, cooperatively run art space) to host it. Gillian and I met every week for three months, meticulously planning, obtaining sponsors, drinking beer, booking bands, and planning both the day and evening festivities. I don’t think I slept more than five hours a night during the planning of Cassette Fest.
At first it was awkward advertising an event that celebrated labels and musicians still making and distributing cassettes. To a lot of people, celebrating a “dead format” like tapes was like digging up a corpse and trying to throw it a surprise party. Hilariously pointless. But it wasn’t just about the tapes; it was about the passion around curating and creating music in its physical form again. It was about the community that was popping up online, and bringing that into the public eye. And with every label, band, and sponsorship confirmation we received, I grew more excited. People were interested in this community! I always knew it, but it was seeing all of this support and excitement rolling in that really solidified it for me.
All of our planning finally paid off May 17th as I watched Mass Gallery fill up with people throughout the day. People of all ages were buying from the 10+ labels we had tabled, drinking booze and water from all our sponsors and enjoying the sounds of Grace London, BLSHS, Pope, Man of the Down, and Artificial Earth Machine. We even had a strictly cassette DJ set from The Vegetable Kingdom, which was fascinating. I was running around the entire time, but it didn’t escape me that I was surrounded by like-minded strangers, all of them passionate about tapes, music, art, design, DIY, all of it – and how amazing this was.
After the day party was over, we moved the event to Cheer Up Charlie’s for the official after-party, where Basketball Shorts, Chipper Jones, and The Vegetable Kingdom closed out our evening of fun. I, of course, used this opportunity to celebrate the success of Austin Cassette Fest. It was here that many of my friends and participating labels asked me about next year. I honestly wasn’t sure if the festival would be an annual occurrence, but due to the encouragement of the community, and all the “fuck yeahs” from patrons, I can definitely say that we will be seeing you next year.
While planning Austin Cassette Fest I discovered several new labels putting out some really great music. I would highly recommend checking out Accrue Cassettes as well as two brand new labels, Wabi Sabi and Wood Between Worlds. We also made a cassette compilation featuring a band from all of the participating labels, as well as some of the bands that played live at Cassette Fest.
For more information on all the labels that participated at this year’s Austin Cassette Fest, please visit www.austincassettefest.com.
Photographs courtesy of Breezy Ritter Photography and Radio Fonix Apparel.