After extensively covering prominent tape scenes in the Western world, we’ve decided it’s time to explore its eastern fringes. To glean an expert’s insight into Eastern Europe’s cassette scene, I contacted Slovakian native Lucia Udvardyova, who investigated the area’s compelling electronic musicians in her now-defunct Eastern Haze column for Electronic Beats. She continued the project with the her blog, Eastern Daze, and cultivated hands-on experience in the field through her work with one of my favorite cassette imprints, Baba Vanga. For further research, I had a quick chat with David Šmitmajer, founder of a small tape production company in the Czech Republic called Headless Duplicated Tapes. With their help, I’ve crafted the most comprehensive list of 10 Eastern European cassette labels that I know of.
Hungarian label Farbwechsel is a good starting point if you’re interested in Eastern Europe’s underground scene. Its roster includes Lobster Theremin alumni like S Olbricht, Imre Kiss and Route 8 as well as a ton of little-known local acts. It’s definitely one of the best tape labels I came across in my studies.
Polish imprint Sangoplasmo has been a bit quiet over the last year. Label manager Lubomir Grzelak was busy with his side project, Lutto Lento, crafting an amazing Boiler Room set and making a cassette that arrived on UK label Where to Now?. After shooting him a concerned Facebook message, I can officially announce that the label is not dead. In fact, he says that it’ll wake from a deep sleep in the coming months.
Wordless Songs By The Electric Fire by Wilhelm Bras
Mik Musik is one of Poland’s longest-running DIY Labels, if not the longest. Wojciech Kucharczyk launched the project in 1994 with some cassettes, and to today it churns out “records of every kind books, exhibitions, talks, lectures, demonstrations, solo, in groups, at a distance, on-site at meadow, in the mud, in the palace” [sic]. My personal favorites from the roster are RSS B0YS (whom Lucia interviewed for us a few months ago) and exciting Polish producer Wilhelm Bras.
I’ve listened countless times to the Wake up in Bits tape by Foundling, a beautiful and haunting collage of found sounds, lush beats and small sonic artefacts. It came courtesy of Slovakia’s Proto Sites label, which just released an S Olbricht 12” on vinyl. Hopefully more music will come soon on any format.
This Bratislava-based outpost is run by Jonáš Gruska and focuses on experimental electronics and field recordings. Gruska also runs the local ZVŮK festival, which from the looks of it will return to the Slovakian capital this September.
Bukko is a super exciting new label from Brno in the Czech Republic that showcases screeching and distorted dance music for pre-apocalyptic parties. Harrowing sounds for harrowing times—count me in! They apparently also just released a floppy disk.
Klangundkrach (stylized as KLaNGundKRaCH) is a noise/DIY tape label from the Czech Republic that brought us the wonderful Sister/Body, Czech experimental duo No Pavarotti and many more. I’m totally into their latest release from Mooncup Accident.
Lucia’s aforementioned label Baba Vanga was (we’re assuming) named after a blind Bulgarian mystic. The compelling name fits for an outpost responsible for a catalog of compelling and obscure music, my favorite of which is a tape from Superskin titled Decent. The Vanga crew followed it up with groundbreaking records from the likes of Ratkiller, CVN and Střed Světa.
According to Lucia, Trash Can Dance is “total DIY spirit.” She goes on to say that the label is “run by this guy who releases Estonian music and duplicates at home and sells very cheaply,” which sounds pretty cool to me. Ranon’s release Africa Edits sounds like a very weird interpretation of The Lion King soundtrack run through some post-Soviet tourism ad. This is the kind of vaporwave I can get behind.
If you love the physicality of tapes, this is the one label you can’t miss. Serbian/Belgium outpost No Basement creates art objects, as every cassette tape comes in a unique and quite weird packaging. I’d recommend you check out Posset, Fleshtone Aura and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson to get an idea about its eclectic output.
Cover photo via Baba Vanga’s Facebook.
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.
We kicked off our new column on various cities’ cassette label scenes with the birthplace of tapes: Germany. The subject of our second installment, the United States of America, is a whole different beast. Thanks to a few blogs and podcasts dedicated to the medium, like the Tabs Out show, the tape scene never went extinct in the States, especially in noise and punk circles. Some labels press as many as 300,000 cassettes, quantities that German counterparts can’t compete with. In America tape labels might outnumber the variety of weed strains—and as this Tape Label or Weed Strain? quiz illustrates, they have similar monikers—so we decided to pluck representatives from a variety of genres rather than providing a comprehensive guide to every imprint.
Beer on the Rug
Beer on the Rug eventually invented vaporwave—just ask EB contributor Adam Harper, who wrote an infamous microgenre report about the scene a few years ago. Those were the old days (you know, like, around 2012) when the Internet was still naive. Although we can’t 100% confirm that Beer on the Rug is definitely American because they don’t list a hometown on social media, this article calls them Midwestern so we’re going with that.
The releases from Vermont’s NNA Tapes are simply beautiful and no frills.
Not Not Fun
Not Not Fun, a relative of the house-oriented 100% Silk label, is kinda famous on the scale of cassette-only labels. They’ve pressed tapes since 2004 and recently started to releases some 12″s, but they’re still a mainstay in the tape underground. NNF’s 300th cassette was pretty much the hit of the decade: Profligate’s “We’re Desperate,” which is an amalgam of Belgian New Beat with a fair amount of distortion.
Indie Major Burger Records is something like the Sub Pop of the tape revival, as it takes in a sonic zeitgeist and chops it up into disgestible plastic artefacts. The main label has released music from contemporary rock greats like Ty Segall as well as a litany of smaller bands. Meanwhile, its sublabel Wiener “allows any band to have their tape mastered, pressed, packaged, and promoted through Burger, but without the Burger label. This is our go-to Tape Label of the moment.
Although Dominick Fernow’s Hospital isn’t a straight-up tape label, it’s cassette game is very strong. You can find virtually any Fernow alias (Prurient, Vatican Shadow, etc) that has released music in tape form on Hospital.
Gnar Tapes seems to come straight out of the hipster-lampooning TV show Portlandia (and also physically from Portland). It has a DIY ethos and flowery artwork, which means they bring the dream of the ’90s to your car stereo.
Crash Symbols’ calling cards are top-notch graphic design and sleek sounds. Most of the releases from the West Virginia label would probably work better as digital files, but the tape hiss adds a nice and welcome lo-fi touch.
Like Hospital, Ascetic House deals in the darker sides of DIY—a post-punk approach meets droned-out distortion and heavy feedback loops.
Detroit’s darkest imprint gathers a collection of strange and enigmatic noise sounds that range from industrial techno to post punk and synth pop. Each release feels equally weird and obscure.
ATFA is probably America’s most famous tape label. New Yorker Brian Shimkovitz has scored tons of press and a Boiler Room set from his years spent digging for rare gems from across the African continent. Many thinkpieces and interviews on the blog/tape label/vinyl outpost have touched on the potential political controversies to do with Shimkovitz’s Awesome Tapes, but the music itself is unambiguously interesting.
The cassette has played a significant role in international music and culture since Germans invented the means to mass produce them in the 1960s. Although tape manufacturing scaled back as other mediums rose to prominence, the cassette has remained an integral medium, especially for independent artists and especially in Germany, where a scene of cassette-only record labels has blossomed. Michael Aniser, founder of the Berlin-based radio show, party series, tape imprint, and “anti-curatorial” music kulturhaus Noisekolln, compiled a short summary of some of the country’s most exciting tape outposts and artists.
Sameheads is the current hotspot for Neukolln art types. It’s a bar, night-club, artist collective and studio space that local musicians like Bintus of the hard techno crew Power Vacuum call home. Part of its popularity derives from its prime location in Berlin’s trend capital, Richardstraße. After years of throwing parties in underground locations around the city, Sameheads decided to mark their vibrant and volatile endeavors with physical mementoes distributed by their own in-house label. Its inaugural release comes courtesy of Andy Votel and, according to label head Nathan Dukes, there are a lot more on the way.
Mansions & Millions honchoAnton Teichmann told me he chose to release cassettes because he likes dubbing an outdated medium with new content. CDs are pretty much irrelevant and vinyl is too complicated to produce, so his label aims to capture the leftfield post-indie scene of the Berlin-Montreal axis (yep, that’s a thing) on cassette. The first offerings come from dream rap outfit Magic Island and weirdo-pop artist Antoine 93.
If you like super faded drones and chill experimental stuff, or if you occasionally burn some incenses next to your Juno 60, then SicSic might have just the soundtrack for you, friend. With a catalog that’s cranked out over 70 releases, the Frankfurt-based label has shaped the magnetic German underground for quite some time. Check out the Alpár/S Olbricht split as a starting point into its world.
Tapes are not just a cheap means of production; they’re beautiful works of art! Well, some of them are, like every release from Camp Magnetics. The boutique label’s carefully crafted packaging recalls the golden days of Cologne minimal house and techno. Erdbeerschnitzel, Popnoname and the label owners themselves helmed its first releases.
Grafiti Tapes is “a new concept” from Berlin’s Klasse Recordings crew that’s “primarily concerned with the real deal underground vandalisms” by combining street art and heavy beats. The first cassette came from Stilleben boss and wacked-out electro stalwart Luke Eargoggle, but I’m especially into the second release, which features Swedish spraypainter NUG, my favorite street artist ever.
Although Mannequin Records doesn’t release cassettes, but its work is integral to the tape scene. As the label head, Alessandro Adriani has unearthed many forgotten Italian New Wave and minimal gems, especially limited edition copies, demos and failed attempts to “make it” and brought them back to life via re-releases.
Breakcore fans worship at the alter of Berlin-via-Japan label Small But Hard. Releases from Scotch Bonnet (AKA DJ Scotch Egg) and Walter Gross push the limits of what you might perceive as “music.” You have been warned.
Elia Bulletti is probably the most DIY person I know, and I know a lot of DIY people. His label Das Andere Selbst evokes that vibe you get when you’re hanging out in the park with some artists and someone dabs a beat on a crate of beer while the fire crackles quietly, and then it starts to rain so you go into someone’s studio and listen to some hardcore beats.
Berlin has a lot of high-profile record stores, like Hardwax, Spacehall, the Record Loft, Bass Cadet, Audio In, Mitte Musik, and so on. Although Staalplat isn’t necessarily one of the most famous shops, there would be no European noise or experimental underground without it. If you ever wanted to know what’s going on with harsh noise at the moment, or if you thirst for some field recordings, then this is the place to look. In the early days, when the retailer was based in the Netherlands, they established a cassette label that went the way of the dodo as the medium disappeared. But, as curator Rinus van Alebeek wrote in this introductory post, “they are both back again.”
One of my favorite Berlin record stores, OYE, launched a ten-part tape series to “support the Cassette Tape as a great medium for Music still in 2015” [sic] and give its knowledgeable employees a platform to showcase their favorite records. Each tape is limited to 30 copies, and if you collect them all, the pictures on the jewel cases make a picture, which is pretty cute.