Okay, let’s try to put aside any hipster jokes for a moment. Maybe it’s a sign of the times that cassette tapes are becoming a scene for beautiful ambient and experimental music. It’s gotten to the point that you might find yourself paying to have a tape shipped to you, even if only to thank an artist for a download code.

Here are a couple of mixes that might just hook you on the medium all over again.

First , there’s Hainbach, whose YouTube channel full of live experiments and mixes is one of my favorite video subscriptions at the moment.

This mix unapologetically employs the aesthetics of lo-fi tape, and then mangles a bit more – with loops, with a delay, and with Koma Elektronik’s Field Kit instrument.

And that says something about what tape is – it’s not just a physical delivery mechanism, but a statement of aesthetics. The truth is, when tapes were new we had the opposite, glass-is-half-full approach. We were constantly worrying about degradation of sound and stressing over dirt and wear. It’s not just nostalgia that motivates the lo-fi approach; it’s hindsight. Now we can hear those sounds as independent from the medium, because we’ve heard the content (in digital) independently, too. And we also have easy access to techniques via the Internet that used to be the domain of a few specialists.

Anyway, you can also ignore the previous paragraph’s rambling and just listen to this great music:

A grungy, half-speed lofi mix I made in one take with two cassette recorders, the Koma Electronics Fieldkit and a delay. Among tape loops from me I mangle tapes by these fantastic artists:

Bus Gas – Live on Leave Us
r beny – Full Blossom of the Evening
Interlaken – Versaux
Benjamin Flesser – Funktionen
Me, Claudius – Reasons for Balloons
Billy Gomberg – Transitions
Item Caligo – Rest in Oblivion
Hainbach – Cello Pattern
Hainbach – The Evening Hopefuls

That Interlaken release is really beautiful:

Cassettes are becoming a magnet for dark aesthetics and underground sounds, a new experiment in rarity and a rebellion against music’s recent disposable tendencies.

The Abyssal podcast takes this on with a deep dive into Night Gaunt Recordings out of Los Angeles. The medium’s aesthetic matches the sounds.

It’s not just obscure sounds here, either, with the likes of Helena Hauff and Silent Servant.

We proudly present you L.A.’s finest Do It Yourself cassette label called Night Gaunt Recordings. Night Gaunt Recordings is run by Ori and Chloe, both based in L.A.
Together they try to push a specific sound which is focused on experimental electronics. They had several releases with artists such as, Lower Tar, Worker/Parasite, J. de Sosa and many more. Their latest winter batch release with Adios Mundo Cruel (Pablo Dodero Carrillo’s moniker) with the title “Sombra de Cadenas, Cadena de Sombras” and Luiso Ponce with the title “Ultimo” has more EBM influences compared with some other releases. Those two releases contains strong, low and distorted synths. The first track on the tape by Adios Mundo Cruel called “Amensalismo” brings a trippy vibe with it which will make u move, a strong ebm loop strictly for the dancefloors!

Please enjoy this perfect compilation with tracks from their own releases including the Amensalismo track from their latest winter batch. and of course their most favourite records.

Visit their Bandcamp and make sure you cop one of their tapes.

Scott Walker- See You Don’t Bump His Head (4AD)
Adios Mundo Cruel- Amensalismo (Night Gaunt Recordings)
Silent Servant- Speed and Violence (Cititrax)
Vapauteen- Weld (L.I.E.S.)
The Chicago Shags- Streetgang
Sean Pierce- Battery (Clan Destine Records)
Worker/Parasite- Vermin (Night Gaunt Recordings)
Helena Hauff- Rupture (Solar One Music)
Oil Thief – Acquiesce (Chondritic Sound)
ADMX-71 – Disentangle Me (L.I.E.S.)
J. De Sosa- Lined, Separated and Marked (Night Gaunt Recordings)
A Thunder Orchestra – Shall I Do It? [Mick Wills Reconstruction #2] (Bio Rhythm)
Speaking Parts – Uninvinted Guest (No-Tech)
TV.OUT – Untitled (Parallax)
Vainio / Väisänen / Vega – Incredible Criminals (Blast First)
Pod Blotz – Flesh and Knives (Nostilevo)

LA’s darkness often has to be imagined; Berlin has the weather for it much of the year. AMOK Tapes, the cassette imprint from aforementioned Koma Elektronik, fits in perfectly with that manufacturer’s new Field Kit hardware – and has some terrific releases, to boot. Their newest compilation is a who’s who of the Berlin-centered electronic underground at the moment, a reasonable field guide to that scene.

Out today physically and digitally: over one hour’s worth of mutant industrial and techno by friends, allies and strangers to AMOK Tapes. C71 cassettes are professionally duplicated and vacuum-sealed with download code included.
Preview: https://goo.gl/VEw6zm
Purchase: https://goo.gl/FDqTw3
A1. Cryptic Mantra – Less Is For Losers
A2. Alexey Volkov – Sadist GmbH
A3. Drvg Cvltvre – Devils With Dead Eyes And Shark Smiles
A4. Vittorio Di Mango – Dream
A5. 3.14 – Stomach
A6. tot – Smile And Distrust
B1. Human Performance Lab – Realms
B2. BLUSH_RESPONSE vs. Bakunin Commando – Neon Blood Goddess
B3. Unhuman – Nezilla
B4. Ontal – Expanding Symmetry
B5. Verset Zero – Baal

There are many ways in which it matters that these are on tapes. There’s also some part of me that says it doesn’t matter. If we have to put tape on a Zip drive, then gaffer tape that Zip drive and a USB adapter to a brick, then write a set of riddles for finding the brick – for great music, at this point, it may be worth it.

  • Stephen

    <3 tapes. I started putting some artists I liked out on limited runs and it's become a really fulfilling creative outlet – cowtonguetaco.com

  • bo

    Here is the link to one of the beautiful ambient tapes, Hainbach used in his mix. ‘Versaux’ by Interlaken. http://seilrecords.bandcamp.com/album/versaux

  • Chis T.

    “Okay, let’s try to put aside any hipster jokes for a moment.” The problem is, it’s not a joke. We’re in an unsettling transitional period for culture and technology and a lot of people are finding comfort in empty gestures, like wanking around with cassette tapes. It’s exasperating.

    • Gatsby’sPool

      Do you sincerely find it exasperating that people are interested in producing physical objects? Are you upset that people still make books, zines, etc? Paintings? Where do you draw the line? What exactly bothers you so much?

      • Elekb

        Personally, I find it great that people are making physical artistic items, as long as it’s quality work. The whole vinyl scene, for instance, makes sense because vinyl records are durable, have good audio quality with a particular warm sound, and they can be beautiful and visually appealing items.

        Tapes, on the hand, are not as visually appealing, their lifespan as storage and music listening media is short, and the audio quality is absolutely terrible. The only reason to go back to distributing music on tapes is to use them some sort of as ironic hipster retro marketing statement.

        Sorry, hipster “joke”. Couldn’t resist.

        • Gatsby’sPool

          I can understand your misgivings, but tapes are incredibly cheap, easy to produce DIY, and for certain genres of music, audio quality isn’t a concern, so I disagree that people are only releasing music on them ironically. I should also mention that I’m not a tape collector or tape label owner defending the medium from wounded pride. I don’t actually own a single tape.

    • DPrty

      Stop playing with those antique’s you couldn’t possibly make any good music with them!!

    • Oh come on. The above is perfectly beautiful, and a perfectly valid use of equipment. I’d say it’s kneejerk responses like this that are more exasperating.

  • Graham Metcalfe

    I do find it ironic that we are listening to compressed digital audio to appreciate the “beauty” of tape. I used tape throughout the late 70s and 80s. Sorry, never going back. I’ve had my time manually splicing, eq-ing and re-incoding to squeeze out better audio from tape. Not to mention storage and oxidation, de-lamination, tape head maintenance etc. It all pretty much sucks. I think that distro on tape and vinyl is a great promotional tool and a differentiator, but nobody is going to convince me that somehow music delivery on cassette tape is anything but a ridiculous compromise in audio quality.

    • Chris Bauld

      well said

    • If your main focus is on audio fidelity and “quality”, then you’re right, it doesn’t make sense. But there’s more to music than audio fidelity and quite frankly, I’m not sure if using that terminology in electronic music is even warranted given that the music is never really a recording of “real” sounds being reproduced. You seem to be approaching this from the impractical aspects of the format, which definitely are an issue but completely separate from the musical/sound argument.

      • Graham Metcalfe

        I agree that there is a certain aesthetic associated with tape. Certainly Michael Giaccino made a compelling argument when recording the horn parts for The Incredibles in terms of headroom and saturation. However, having worked with tape in the 70s and 80s (1/2″ 8-track Otari and various multi-track cassette and reel to reel machines) I have no desire to incorporate actual tape into my writing workflow.

        Bear in mind that even though I’ve worked with electronic instruments since the 70s, I’m an orchestral/acoustic guy at heart so, while I can understand the lo-fi aesthetic, it’s not where my head is at.

        I do however fully appreciate the warmer tone of tape and/or tape and tube emulation for effect on individual instruments and mastering, but again, most of the time I’m shooting for an unaffected tone for instruments. I know some producers have gone as far as going from in-the-box to tape during mastering which is an interesting approach, giving the warmth of actual tape and the flexibility of a DAW.

        I guess the only thing I really take umbrage with is the undertone that somehow tape is a “superior” experience. If that’s the aesthetic that’s appropriate for expressing a musical idea, that’s fine. But somehow pitching it as more “organic” or somehow a superior audio experience to other production/distribution methods is erroneous.

    • Elekb

      Completely agree with you, Graham.

      Fortunately I never had to use tape for music making – I started making music during the digital age, and jumped straight into DAWs for both recording my bands’ instruments and making electronic music. Over the years, I’ve met a few musicians and electroacoustic composers from the tape days (1970’s and 1980’s as well) and *all* of them echo your feelings. They don’t miss the process of making tape music at all, it was all just an unavoidable nuisance that had to be overcome to finish the work, and all of them moved on to DAWs of one sort or another.

      I used tape mostly for listening to music during my childhood and early
      teens, but then thankfully CD’s and minidisc came along, and later mp3 for
      portable music – a refreshing change.

      The “rebirth” of vinyl makes sense because it’s a more durable type of media, with particularly warm audio characteristics, and visual appeal. But I don’t understand why would anyone go back to tapes, because they are an inferior type of audio media in almost every way, when compared to vinyl, CDs, high quality mp3 files or even most streaming services.

      Having said all of this, some of the music in the AMOK tapes is quite interesting, particularly the more industrial sounds. Hope they release it in digital or other (better) physical formats as well.

      • Graham Metcalfe

        The other huge advantage with vinyl is that the packaging has ample room for beautiful artwork. I think that’s what I miss most about vinyl vs CD. I still have most of my vinyl albums from the 70s so I don’t have to miss it too much :). I love what musicians like Tycho are doing in terms of packaging and promotion with vinyl.

        • Yeah, and the disadvantage is, it’s often costing a label 1600-2000eur to do a single release, and you have to wait half a year.

          Vinyl is a game for the rich.

          • Graham Metcalfe

            Yeah it’s pretty expensive. It’s hard to judge ROI for record sales but I would think you would need to hit a price point of maybe $20 per album. At Diskmakers, which is probably not the cheapest way to go, it looks like about $1700 for 200 albums. When it gets like that, I think maybe I’d rather buy that Moog Sub37 or that D’Angelico EXL-1 Archtop instead :).

          • Elekb

            True, that is a big disadvantage. As much as I love vinyl as artistic / design objects, doing vinyl releases is horribly expensive.

            From a music fan’s point of view, buying vinyls is also pretty hard on your finances.

      • I think we’re conflating / misrepresenting some issues here.

        First, let’s be clear that these tapes releases tend to be digital masters released as cassettes. So it’s a novel playback mechanism, and I would say the desirable quality is the lo-fi aspect – which ought to be clear from the above.

        This has nothing to do with tape workflows. There, though, there are some people working with things like Yamaha and Tascam portable studios. I think some of those are still fine machines, and there’s something kind of fun about working with them. (Just got one cheap and I’m playing with it myself.)

        Now, the releases are still being shared on digital, too, so there’s no reason to fret over this.

        • Elekb

          Fair enough, Peter.

          Personally, I wouldn’t call lo-fi a “desirable” aspect of music production / distribution, but at that point, we’re getting into very subjective territory that touches on aesthetic choices, and there really is no point in pursuing that discussion, at least on this thread.

          Regarding workflows – as someone who has never been outside of the digital realm as far as music production / recording is concerned, I am genuinely curious as to why working with those Tascam and Yamaha portable studios is interesting for you. Maybe we can expect an article with your thoughts on the subject, when you have the time?

        • Graham Metcalfe

          I still have my Yamaha MT100 laying around in working order, but I haven’t used it in years. There is something to be said for creating artificial limitations to spur creative thought (i.e. using only a 4-track portastudio to create on). There’s a nice article in MusicTech about the production methods on Sgt Peppers which was limited to higher-end 4-track recording. Not much cross-talk/bleed-over on those bigger machines, unlike cassette 4-track.

    • Hello mates! Great topic. I myself have been recording for over 30 years. I currently have a healthy online digital catalogue/discography
      (Official)> http://www.uropatwin.com to which, most of it can be found/purchased at most online music retailers.
      The brunt of my catalogue is on analog tape. I’ve had a Tascam 244 4trk since it was new from way-back. The 244 was one of the first portable 4trks. There’s really nothing portable about it! It’s smaller than a 1/2trkRR but still weighs about the same! The 244 has all the monitoring, inserts, returns, etc. All portable 4trks to follow have the weight of a waffer like much of the outboard gear sold today. For the last couple years I’ve started the process of transferring some of my Analogue Masters to Digital.
      Tape. From Reel to Reel, 8-track, Cassette, (S)VHS, etc, has been a big part of my musical life & career. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/66e06e0dac856abfd96594e5e0b7f1e5e28c2432b86e64b1b3fcb2220ac46cd3.jpg

  • i have been doing things mostly digitally when it comes to single tracks, but when i put out my first EP i treated it more like a large chunk of music and recorded a lot of it to tape. by losing that immediacy of jumping around in the mix, i was able to reflect on the work as a whole in a very different way.

    wish i could get some reel-to-reels, but way outside my budget.
    i recently acquired some cassette duplicators though, can’t wait to take them for a spin (sorry)

  • kerm

    Peter, I just want to thank you for making me aware of all this great, interesting music.