I always imagine Stephen Bishop, who runs Opal Tapes, sitting in some room in northern England in front of a plethora of tape decks, dubbing hundreds of cassettes. I can almost hear the sound they make—the soft, constant hiss regularly broken by loud clicks. So many seminal releases came out first on Opal Tapes: I discovered Huerco S., Xosar, S Olbricht and Ketev here. You should also check out Mr. Bishop’s Basic House project, where he scuffs up post-industrial house blueprints with some proper harsh noise. While you’re at it, check out Drunk in Hell too, the band Bishop plays in when he’s not dubbing tapes. (Can we get a Drunk in Hell remix tape, please?)
This is a personal favorite. Tesla Tapes is operated by the ruthless minds behind the tribal/psych/drone/ machine that is Gnod. The collective hails from Islington Mill in Manchester and releases some of the most exciting experimental stuff at the moment, from disturbingly accurate renditions of working-class drug abuse by Michael O’Neill to RIPIT’s haunting and intense sound studies. All the Gnod side projects—Dwellings, Druss and Negra Branca—find a warm home here as well.
SNAKES ON A PLANE by DJ ShluchT
Bristol’s Zam Zam is a hub for everyone involved in super sick stuff at the moment, and offers a glimpse into the mind of an artist who also operates D.I.Y. Church. I’m especially into DJ Shlucht’s Snakes on a Plane, where ADHD sound collage meets cutting-edge internet memes. There is way more on Zam Zam than I can name drop here: Střed Světa, Anthroprophh or Mark Wagner. You name it, they got it!
After a phenomenal appearance at the Bangface Weekender, Chinstroke Records is set out to bring some fun back into the stuck-up contemporary electronic music scene. It’s run by DJ Detweiler, who’s most famous for inventing an EDM genre called “flutedrop.” DJ Dadmagnet and DJ BusReplacement Service are just a few of the amazing artists worth checking out.
With its airy design, Where to Now sports some of the best-looking tapes out there. But they also serve as high-quality vessels for current sounds from the likes of Lutto Lento, Wanda Group and Beatrice Dillon. The label’s upcoming releases include works by the godlike electronic artist Jesse Osborne-Lanthier, whose compositions confuse the boundaries of the art and music world, and Moon Wheel, a producer at the forefront of a new, smarter techno scene.
The first time I listened to 1991’s self-titled release on Astro Dynamics I was like, “This is it.” It’s rare to experience sound that captures a feeling, a time and a place so perfectly. If you had to sum up the 2013–2015 retro house/ vaporwave/hyper-nostalgic/hauntology scene with one release, 1991 would be it. Another act on Astro:Dynamics, Best Available Technology, draws heavily from the ’90s. Kevin Palmer found some of his earliest productions in his basement and is releasing them in a series called Excavated Tapes 1992–1999.
Callum Stephen Higgins’ label set out to catalog the “vast quantities of work coming out of Manchester’s noise scene.” That mission probably also determined the design of the tapes: just a simple serif font, and that’s it. Beautiful works have been released here, like John Powell-Jones’ “The Necromantic Bell of Giradius” or River Slaughter’s “Infallible Godhead.” Super limited quantities and a dedication to out-there sounds make this label integral to the UK’s tape scene. With the release of a four-kilogram block of concrete last year, it also managed to produce the heaviest tape collection of 2014. Congrats!
I’ve noticed a certain trend running through tape releases over the last few years—it’s almost like we are slowly getting over irony. I picked up on actual political activism, real feelings, real concern and a real No Bullshit attitude when listening to Communist Slow Jams by JPEGMAFIA. That release alone should get Memorials of Distinction into every top list there is.
Reject and Fade
This is really dark. Bleak as the ruins of a failed industrial site in northern England. The label is run by Michael Hann, an artist also known as Rejections or Marreck. Releases on this still-young label include works by rkss, one of the most talented upcoming producers at the moment. (Full disclosure: I’m about to release rkss on my own label, Noisekölln Tapes.)
The Quietus named Tombed Visions their tape label of the year in 2014. I don’t really have anything to add to that. Just check out some of their releases and bliss out to all the sheer beauty.