Welcome to The Tape Label Report, where we introduce you to five cassette-focused labels you should know about, and highlight key releases from each.
Cassette, Vinyl LP
In 2023, Butte, Montana label Anything Bagel put out Corey Gulkin’s grand synth-pop album Half Moon, Pompey’s collection of hushed twee folk songs ionlyfitinyourarms, and the alt-country-nodding Oregon III from Vista House. It’s a reflection of the omnivorous tastes of label founders Jon Cardiello and Sanders Smith. “In the beginning, it was really like, ‘Who are our friend’s bands that we’re really close with?’” says Cardiello. “Now, the submissions aren’t just from friends in Montana but from all over.”
The label’s first release was Placid Lake, the debut from Cardiello’s project Bombshell Nightlife. With its open-hearted songs, Placid Lake could act as Anything Bagel’s ur-text, centering the kind of indie pop that the label excels at, which encompasses everything from Joyer’s slowcore to the Panther Car’s reverbed, thumping indie rock. “We like that there’s now a huge range of what it sounds like,” says Smith. “Jon always takes the time to put together a sample mix […] I think it’s fun to listen to it all together too, there’s some type of thread that ties it all together.”
Though Cardiello and Smith are familiar with the cost-effective route of using a printer to make J-cards, they wanted to establish a more deliberate method for Anything Bagel. “A decision we made from the beginning was to put a lot of time and energy into screen printing our packaging for all of our cassette releases,” says Cardiello. “We thought that was just really neat to like really lean into tapes being these little physical art objects. Whether or not people even listen to them, it’s just a neat thing to hold and have and remember that album by, this little object.”
Release to Start With
Vinyl LP, Cassette
Will Kennedy fronts Philadelphia’s fuzzy, sweet slowcore project 22° Halo. Their 2021 album Garden Bed is one of the best sounding records on Anything Bagel, a lush and beautiful world of its own. Smith and Sanders are planning on repressing the record later this year. “It rocks but it’s also pretty mellow,” Sanders says—a good descriptor for all of the best Anything Bagel releases.
Industrial Coast is a fiercely independent, proudly Northern, and socially conscious noise and experimental label run by Steve Kirby out of Middlesbrough in the UK. His releases regularly raise money and awareness for people in dire situations. “Poverty, homelessness, human rights, domestic violence: I reckon that’s above politics, it’s just about trying to help people less fortunate than yourself,” says Kirby.
The label has carved its own path through a series of themed compilations. These include fundraisers such as Keep The Children Safe, Girls Invented Noise, and an homage to Nicolas Cage titled Wild At Heart & Weird On Top. Kirby explains, “It’s really just a response to whatever crisis is going on, and whatever idea is in my head at that time. I love Nic Cage. It’s as simple as that!” For Kirby, the benefits of tapes are “cost and immediacy. Your outlay is minimal, you can professionally dub as few as 20, you can start shipping to punters two weeks after you’ve paid for production.”
Whilst Industrial Coast isn’t aligned to a particular genre, there’s a certain unity in its diverse approaches, something Kirby classifies as “sound exploration.” Within that, you’ll find tapes by the likes of noise and experimental acts Black Leather Jesus, Smell & Quim, and Autoerotichrist adjacent to the work of conceptual artist Scott King, the industrial rhythms of God Is War, and Luke J Murray’s atmospheric dub electronics. On the Deconstructed//Reconstructed tape series, artists reimagine the back catalogues of legendary acts like Crass, Conflict, Extreme Noise Terror, Eyehategod, and Swell Maps; these tend to sell out quickly.
Middlesbrough itself looms large in Industrial Coast’s output. It’s splashed across the merchandise and is the setting for live cassettes by both Pale World and JT Whitfield, both the result of Steve’s recent foray into gig promotion, something he plans on expanding further in 2024.
Release to Start With
Evil Roger – Deconstructed//Reconstructed
Industrial Coast’s aesthetic and attitude is perhaps best exemplified by the Evil Roger – Deconstructed//Reconstructed compilation. The source material is a cassette apparently lost in the North West of England in 1981, then found nearly 40 years later in the North East. The cast of characters adding their distorted mutations to already harrowing power electronics is a roll call of longtime IC collaborators Stonecirclesampler, God Is War, Salford Electronics, TSM, as well as fellow sound artists Tim Gick and Nigel Ayers. The sounds themselves veer from spectral howls and demolished rhythms to blistering static and gain-cranked rants. It’s a potent invective on the decades-long, barely simmering rage of a neglected working class North.
Ian Rowley and Parker Thiessen are so terminally chill that they didn’t even realize their tape label was celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2024. Edmonton’s Pseudo Laboratories was first launched as an outlet for their own projects—Bong Sample’s fake film soundtracks; drone duo Private Investigators; goth-y, post-punk band Rhythm of Cruelty—before expanding to other underground artists from the Canadian prairies.
“The biggest thing that got us started was acquiring a tape duplicator from an A/V company,” says Thiessen. “Before that I was running a monthly experimental music night and netlabel called Ramshackle Day Parade. Anyone could release anything as long as it fit the right vibe. That wasn’t curated at all, so Pseudo Labs was a chance to do something focused.”
When he’s not busy with “bootgaze” band HOME FRONT, Rowley continues to crank out synth-punk scuzz as Boothman (based on his job as a parking lot attendant) and murky drones as Four Enclosed Walls. Thiessen has several aliases as well, including the dark ambient project KAUNSEL and his synth/violin duo Soft Ions. No matter what genres they’re capturing, the label heads share a love of lo-fi warble. “Cassettes definitely add a sound,” says Thiessen. “Releasing music on tape is almost like a remix. Sometimes you want it super crisp, and sometimes you want that hiss!”
Release to Start With
Canadian Prairie Underground Vol 1
For their 50th release, Pseudo Laboratories went for broke with the massive triple cassette compilation Canadian Prairie Underground. Spanning everything from Takleef Ensemble’s spiritual jazz to the mesmerizing electronic beatscapes of Saskatoon’s Wasted Cathedral, it features, in the label’s words, “artists from the wildly underrepresented space between Vancouver and Toronto known as The Prairies.”
As always, Canadian Prairie Underground is packed with regional jokes that only make sense if you live in Alberta, like the title’s acronym referencing greasy Calgary pie chain Canadian Pizza Unlimited. “Edmonton and the prairies aren’t a particularly cool place to be, so that allows for more exploration,” Rowley concludes. “Our friends around us are making awesome, weird music, and we get excited about showcasing that.”
True to the label’s name, Scavenger Sounds’s records are assembled from cultural detritus, from their liberal musical use of timeworn sample material to the recycled and spray-painted cassettes that house each release. The imprint is based in Pioche, Nevada: a small mining town best known for its notoriety as a nearly lawless community during the heyday of the Old West. What environment could be more suitable for cultivating a label so entrenched in the sounds of the past?
“There’s a lot of old abandoned mines, cars, and houses around. It’s not uncommon to go walking in the surrounding hills and find old gears, buttons, vacuum tubes which have gone to air,” says label founder George Jackson, whose desire to start Scavenger Sounds stemmed from an interest in Blogspot-era labels like Night-People and Sanity Muffin. “Obviously, the town isn’t really what it once was, and there’s only so much to do in the area. I’d say that this, coupled with hearing stories passed down to me from family members, definitely shaped how I view music.”
In 2019, Jackson launched a YouTube channel that archived various tapes and reel-to-reel recordings he’d find at local thrift stores, along with rips from his personal cassette collection. These uploads attracted a community of fellow tape enthusiasts, who began to send Jackson their own home recordings. Initially, this led Jackson to start a netlabel called Dusty Void Recordings, which released splits and compilations of music by the channel’s subscribers. By 2023, the group had grown enough that Jackson felt it was time to start pressing their work to tape. Thus Scavenger Sounds was born, starting with a collaboration between Hydroglyphs and Jackson’s own project Flowers Growing in Televisions.
“The whole thing is just about getting the music and overall artistic vision of the artists out there without trying too hard to be fancy or overly professional,” he says. “We’re all kinda suckers for outdated forms of communication and expression and there’s definitely an obsession with things that are damaged, broken, or just a little off.”
Release to Start With
The Folklore of Shapeshifting
I Remember Everything
I Remember Everything is a scrapbook of no-fi recordings and foraged samples pieced together by Guillermo Mauri, an Argentinian artist who shares Jackson’s fondness for collage. Scuzzy guitar noodling and muffled piano improvisations melt into snippets of overheard conversations and mangled tape hiss. The experience feels like scrolling deep into the recesses of your phone’s photo folder, calling forth foggy memories and faces you can barely recall.
“That tape is a really special one,” says Jackson. “I met Guillermo back in 2020 through having similar music taste. We were almost like pen pals for a time and used to trade songs and stories through email.”
In less than two years, Total Peace has emerged as one of hardcore punk’s most exciting and adventurous labels. Alec LoCurzio started the imprint as a tribute to Mal Williams, drummer in Perplex, which LoCurzio fronted as singer. After reissuing their cassette, LoCurzio was inspired to continue by an exciting new crop of bands from Total Peace’s home base in Phoenix, Arizona. “I think Phoenix punk gets overlooked,” he says. “No offense to anyone, but if Yellowcake opened for your band when you came through, you probably got upstaged.”
In addition to the apocalyptic Yellowcake, there’s the piercing guitar and brutal drumming of Sycophant, Repression’s pummeling thrash, and LoCurzio’s vicious Art. On the subject of art, LoCurzio creates most of Total Peace’s packaging “using a receipt printer, label makers, old magazines and my own drawings. I like Xeroxing in a single color.”
Although Total Peace is on the bleeding edge of modern hardcore, the label also specializes in electronic music of a strikingly high quality. In contrasting these styles, Total Peace recalls one of the region’s key exports of the previous generation, Ascetic House. LoCurzio acknowledges the influence. “They made a DIY tape label from our city the most talked about thing in underground music. I didn’t listen to much electronic music until I saw Container at an early Ascetic House gig.”
Total Peace carries the torch by highlighting Deadbeat Pleasure’s abstract techno alongside the steamroller D-beat of Los Angeles duo Silence. Extending this open door policy beyond its desert roots, Total Peace has partnered with a slew of intriguing artists from the international underground. One tape features an incendiary and anthemic live recording from Colombia’s Muro, while another finds Italy’s Eterno Ritorno unleashing its frustration like a whip, drawing blood with each crack.
Total Peace has a busy future planned, including more Yellowcake, a full-length from Hungary’s Norms, plus a collection of early work by lo-fi wizards the Sheaves, who number another of Total Peace’s electronic artists, Daniel Schurgin, among their ranks.
Release to Start With
From his base in Valencia, Spain, Julio Tornero presents his second effort for Total Peace. Focusing and refining the eclectic approach he took on Materia Hostil, Laboratorio Oculto improves on its predecessor. Taking advantage of the stereo spectrum, lush pads play hide-and-seek with ring modulated shimmer and flare, chasing each other across the soundfield like children at play. Despite the sleek architecture of these compositions, Tornero digs into the kind of ear-tickling hooks that elevate the best beat-oriented music. In fact, much of Laboratorio Oculto is reminiscent of Aphex Twin alter ego Polygon Window’s classic Surfing On Sine Waves.