The c-cassette is a format us born in the seventies or eighties had in our Walkmans and our double-deck Ghettoblasters, while the adults had the vinyls, mostly. Then came the CD, and at one point the tapes were tossed out. Some clever ones actually saved their tapes which are now considered to be highly valuable. The cassette, unlike the MiniDisc, has made a comeback, in the undergrounds of many music genres from Hip Hop to Electronic music to of course Punk and Metal. Mikko, the man behind the label and distro Cursed Tapes, specialising in Ambient and Harsh Electronics, sheds some light unto this culture, as well as his activities in making zines the old way; by print.
Greetings Mikko, how are things in Northern Finland?
Greetings. It’s getting pretty dark, gloomy and cold here, which means it’s the perfect time to drown oneself in dark atmospheric music.
When was the first time you came attracted to the format of cassette? Were there still old tapes lying around your home as a kid, and did you perhaps listen to these mysterious artifacts?
My parents and siblings had some tapes laying around, mostly some Eurotrance, Pop, Schlager, Popular Rock and humour stuff – and a dubbed tape with some The Smurf-songs! I was really into those. The first time I got around to listening to a CD I had problems making it stop at a certain track, like you can do with tapes. Luckily someone told me that it just plain can’t be done because the tracks can be skipped, hah.
However, I think my fascination with tapes started through purchasing black metal-demos, which eventually lead to buying more and more tapes and noticing the format’s positive qualities. I got into vinyl because I had to buy an album that wasn’t available in any other format, which obviously led to deeper interest, fasciation and admiration of the format later on. This might’ve been a partial reason for me initially buying some tapes, too.
When do you think did the cassette make it’s definite return to the world of underground music? Did it happen slowly or was there for example a certain year people started to release and buy a lot of tapes?
I have no idea, really. Communication between the individuals who operate within the music scene(s) is so much easier these days than it used to be, which means that no matter what someone does, it’ll soon start looking like a trend because the flood of information distorts one’s vision. Think about something like Occult Rock, or HNW (Harsh Noise Wall) or the mass of “Sunlight-studio”-style death metal; it all seems like a huge trend, or at least did a while ago. Despite it seeming like a big thing, I doubt one needs many fingers to go through all the biggest and best bands, or those who stick around for more than a couple of years and make more than two gigs and demo-releases. I think the same applies to tapes; although they seem like a big thing, I’m not sure if they really are. Lots of labels (even some bigger ones) make tape-pressings, but I doubt they sell big amounts – partial reason being that the cost/profit-ratio of (professionally manufactured) tapes is perhaps the worst of all the music formats, unless you have invested in good-quality gear which allows you to DIY, the dubbing and printing.
I don’t think tapes really went away, people just eventually got fed up with their CDr’s breaking down without warning which prompted them to return to using/listening/releasing tapes. If you want to release a demo that you can sell cheaply and with minimal risk, CDr’s and tapes are pretty much your only option. I’m not sure if it’s the possibility of CDr’s lifespan being way too short or the format’s history of being mostly seen as a shittily executed slab for rubbish demo material, but the format doesn’t really have a lot of respect at the moment. They’re seen as the lazy alternative, whereas tapes take more effort and know-how.
Of course there’s the whole “scene-hopping” and “hip(ster)” aspect of them, as they seem cool and vintage to people who weren’t previously familiar with the format, and they think the possible wobbles, hissing etc. is a great thing because… Well, no matter. Stuff like that tends to fade away relatively fast, though. I’m tempted to mention mainstream Rock/Metal in this context, heh… Taming down a phenomenon to make it appeal to more people and all that.
VHS seems to enjoy a small comeback to appreciation too, to some (read: rather tiny) extent.
How do you see the cassette selling compared to Vinyl or CD? Sometimes it feels like labels might actually be selling more tapes than CD’s?
Again, I think this is a matter of the flood of information and what is considered “cool” in any scene at the given time. At the moment, I think it’s more appropriate and cool to brag about buying some überkvlt obscure demo-tape or some fancy limited double-LP box set (signed and with a bonus cum rag from the artist, obviously) than to simply say “I bought this killer CD which is not a limited edition or anything, but the music rules.” I’ve noticed many labels advertising stuff that hasn’t even been released yet, using words like “ultra-limited” and “obscure” to attract a crowd. Personally, I feel it’s a bit silly to advertise something as the best thing ever, and then making just a 100pcs pressing of it even if there’d clearly be demand for more, just to create some sort of a “cult” status or illusion of fame. I might be an idealist, but if you release something that you see as superior and that has demand, perhaps you might want to keep it available for more than a week.
The “rise of tapes” is partially related to collector mentality, wanting to feel special and/or simply wanting to feel priviledged and excited over hearing something that not a lot of others haven’t heard… Or to have something you can get big bucks for after selling it on Ebay or Discogs. I think tape releases tend to be published in way smaller editions than CDs, so it might appear that they sell more because there’s just less of them, which means that they’re gone quicker.
I think tape sales benefit from their generally low prices, and that they’re relatively cheap when it comes to postage costs – especially compared to vinyl. It’s a relatively cheap way to get to know bands, and it still has the whole visual and physical etc. experience there that browsing stuff on youtube lacks. I’m not sure if tape trading is more or less common these days than it’s with CDs, but I’d assume it’s one more thing that works in favour of tapes over vinyl.
Your label specialises mostly in Ambient and Noise music. When did you became fascinated with genres like these? Were you already into Electronic music growing up as a teenager?
In my youth (say, up to 12-13 years old perhaps?) I was mostly listening to what my siblings listened to, meaning Eurotrance, Schlager, Popular Punk Rock and the like. “Easy listening”-music in general. Then I was introduced to various kinds of metal music by friends, with bands like Slipknot, Ajattara, System Of A Down, Finntroll, Impaled Nazarene, Deicide, Marduk, Gloomy Grim, (The True) Mayhem… The list goes on. Back then none of my friends had no idea about the chaotic web people refer to as genres, so all of those bands were labeled under the same title: Hevi. It was a simpler time at the countryside for sure, hah!
I think I got into ambient through black metal and ethnic music, in addition to obvious aid of video game music and movie soundtracks. When I moved away from home when I was 16 I had plenty of time to look into all sorts of music online (this was 9 years ago, so the internet was already a big and common thing, although not as blown-out as today), and it didn’t take long until I started to look into more “weird” and experimental forms of music than the metal I was mostly listening to. I started a digital dark ambient-project around 17-18 to aid me in coping with some things I was going through and to express myself, which helped/made me push deeper.
Then, in 2009 (when I was 18-19), me and a friend started the webzine Damned By Light which covered all sorts of music in the form of reviews and interviews. The promos I received and the friends I made during those five years the webzine was active certainly helped me to dig deeper into the realms of music, both experimental and other sorts.
Noise, Harsh Noise, Musique concrete and Power Electronics are something I’ve been looking into more and more during the past few years. The freedom of expression and strong minds (with a strong vision) of those circles is simply astounding at it greatly speaks to me. I guess the “extremity” of Noise spoke to me when I was younger, and to a certain extent it still does, but it goes much deeper than that… but those things are complicated to explain, aside of “well, I think this is some great noise,” heh. At best, it holds purifying and enlightening qualities for me.
Of course there are other things, such as a certain outcast-mentality and things related to religion and ideologies that have affected this “journey,” but I think my answers are too long as it is so let’s not go there, heh!
You also like other styles of music such as Black Metal and Punk. How would you compare these more organic music forms and their scenes (the people involved in them) to the Electronic scenes, are there many similarities or are they fundamentally quite different?
That is a big and complicated question. Naturally, with these forms of music being more easily accessible these days than ever, there are a lot of people involved in the scenes who don’t uphold their general traditions nor live their mindsets nor ideologies in any way (Christian Black Metal bands being a nasty example), so speaking of any scene as a whole doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s also a partial reason for the blending of these genres, such as the whole “Blackened Crust”-thing which appeared to be hip a while ago, same as “Black Noise.”
Gigs tend to be more advertised today thanks to social medias, so nowadays there’s a bigger chance of someone walking to a noise-gig than earlier; you don’t have to be “in the circles” anymore to end up at those. Seeing metalheads at a noise gig or punks at a black metal gig is pretty usual.
I think that the more “extreme” forms of music attract “extreme” minds and thoughts, so in a sense there are some similarities behind the approaches of these genres you mentioned – and at least punk and black metal most often are viewed as music with a default ideologic charge. One could also say that these bands’ and their followers’ ideologies tend to manifest in other ways than just listening/playing music, too? Things get opposed, crushed and burned, and occasionally someone bleeds. I guess you could count that as a similarity.
You are also making a fanzine called Sairaus the old school way, by hand. Back in the nineties this was the only way to work, but on this age of e-magazines, do you see a raising demand for the printed material?
Well, the zine’s layout is done on a computer, so it’s not that oldschool I guess? The pages are copied on black-and-white and I staple the zines together by hand though, so I guess that’s something, hah!
There are a lot of digital magazines, blogs and whatnot, but too many of them tend to be either way too low-quality and un-dedicated, or simply around for just a while after they’re deleted from existence. There have been a lot of instances when I’ve wanted to read an online interview, only to find out that it’s gone because the blog/webzine has been deleted. Paper zines offer something that you know will stay around, and something you can easily return to later on.
Naturally, it’s also more appealing to those who prefer the physical format over digital mp3-albums and so on, too. They’re a more holistic and visual experience, at least if they’re done by dedicated people.
Where do you get the ideas for the material in your zines, and the stuff you put out with your label? Do people contact you or vice versa?
Sometimes people contact me, and sometimes I contact them – and sometimes things happen and sometimes they don’t, heh. It varies a lot.
Music is a passion and a way of life for me, so the ideas come naturally: they represent my interests and my way of doing things. In general, if I contact a band about doing a manifest or an interview for the zine, it means that I’d like to know more about them, and they represent something that is worth more attention in my opinion. Of course, I tend to assume these bands have more to say and offer than just “I am a guitarist, so I play the guitar,” heh.
As for the label, I tend to release music that I respect, can relate to in one way or another, and see as something worth promoting and releasing under the banner of Cursed Tapes. It must be something that intriques me, and something that I’d obviously buy myself if someone else released it. Of course things like “will this fit to my idea what CT is about” and “can I find the proper audience for this” need to be considered, along with coming up with a proper dubbing amount that isn’t too small or large. I prefer to keep the tapes available, so if something sells out and the band agrees, a second pressing is most likely planned. At the moment I’m waiting for one re-press to arrive from the dubbing plant, and another tape should be repressed later on… but nothing is set in stone yet.
The Petrichor-album was published on CD (co-released with the band) because I felt that it wouldn’t sound right on tape. I’ve been planning on releasing one more CD from one noise-project, but that’s something that won’t likely happen anytime soon. However, tapes are obviously the label’s main focus.
In short, this is what I want to do, and something that I feel is important to me.
Being highly interested in music, do you have any musical projects yourself?
I am involved in some projects, both by myself and as collaborations, but it’s all very small-scale.
Thank you for this interview! What are your plans for the future of your label and your zine?
Thank you for your interest! Sairaus #3 is nearly complete, and hopefully out next month. We’ll see. I’m waiting for two tapes from the dubbing plant at the moment (one re-press and one new Drone/Industrial-EP), and two more releases are almost ready to be dubbed. I’ve been slowly planning on compiling a second compilation tape too, but we’ll see what happens.