Cassette revival: Dash of flame Dormagen – Tape only

How the renaissance of cassettes as sound carriers came about. A search for clues between the ESA space agency and DIY home recording.

The artist's original cassette

Listen, be amazed, be in a good mood: the cassette single by the ingenious artist alias "Stichflamme Dormagen" Photo: Superpolar Taips

Those declared dead live longer. Almost unnoticed by the mainstream, an extremely busy music scene has emerged in recent years that uses an ancient medium: we are not talking about the rampant vinyl boom, but about the compact cassette (CC, or MC for music cassette) and their disciples: so far a niche that remains unmolested by larger market activities and cheap investor spirit.

While more or less conclusive reasons can be given for the revival of the vinyl record - warm sound, shape and packaging predestined for collector's item et cetera - the cassette with its excess plastic and crunchy cases does not necessarily impose itself as a fetish. You also have to wind around in these sound carriers, you can't head for specific pieces, the tape is pulled in, sometimes "eaten", wears out over time and sounds thinner.

Nevertheless, there is not only a lively scene in this country that swears by the magnetic tape in the PET case. When and why people showed their fondness for the cassette again is a matter of great debate: the Berlin label Mansions & Millions is very prominent in the local music scene, and in 2020 it even won the Indie Award from the Association of Independent Music Entrepreneurs (VUT). .

Nu New Age aesthetic

Since the start in 2015, Neukölln has always relied on cassettes. That's where you'll find pop from acts like Andreya Casablanca (of duo Gurr) and new-age aesthetic enigma The Zenmenn. In addition to formal and aesthetic reasons - retro look, mixtape reminiscences, eighties revival - in any case there are also monetary reasons for turning to the supposed dinosaur medium.

superpolar Taips:; also available by post or on site at A-Musik in Cologne

In contrast to vinyl, the production of tapes is cheap and can be realized quickly. When in doubt, all you need is a copier: double cassette deck with recording function plus a few blanks. The rebirth of the cassette also bears special flowers: even the seemingly unwieldy Cassingle has reincarnated. Not a whole album, but comparable to the maxi CD or the 7 inch vinyl, two to four tracks are hidden here on both sides of a cassette - no more, no less.

In September 2020, a label was founded in Cologne that specializes in the release of cassingles: Superpolar Taïps. The founder and boss of the mini shop is Marco Trovatello and no stranger to those in the know. In his main job he is responsible for communication and external representation at the European Space Agency ESA. Away from the cosmic realms, Trovatello has become a working net music activist since the mid-noughties.

shrinking market

When the music Internet had just lost its innocence in the form of Napster and Pirate Bay at the beginning of the noughties and the "thieves of the net" were made the scapegoats of the shrinking music market, resistance arose in the underground. A few thousand musicians from all over the world came together here and tried to rethink the “business” and the art form as well as its distribution.

The (inter)net should not be interpreted as hostile to art, but as emancipatory - democratization of means. The possibilities of the WWW were not demonized, but affirmed: From then on, music was placed in the Orkus free of charge under so-called Creative Commons licenses. Only duplication was restricted, private enjoyment was more than welcome.

At that time, experimental and niche fuzzies came together first and foremost, with Trovatello in the middle: “Back then, I ran a classic net label myself with Frank Christian Stoffel called 'The Little Green Cube'. With CC licenses, as open as possible, digital only.” Net music culture died a slow death as a result.

Monetizable on the web

Work for God's wages could not be converted into hard cash; global distribution was excellent, but the centers were so widely scattered that touring was impossible. Streaming companies such as Spotify and Apple Music pushed their way onto the market, as did the distribution platform Bandcamp. Music was now more readily available and, on a very small scale, finally monetizable on the web.

Consequently, the market for recorded music grew; among them the tape. Musicians: Inside just released cassettes and sent them out into the wide world. There was postage and even a few euros on top of that. The cassette, with its low production costs (it costs between 50 cents and two euros to produce) and the possibility of duplicating it yourself at home, lent itself to such fun.

Trovatello has been fascinated by the medium: “I found it interesting that this scene and the medium of the cassette were mostly underexposed in Germany, apart from the artist Harald 'Sack' Ziegler. Although it actually embodies exactly the idea of ​​'underground music' as I understood it.” That Harald “Sack” Ziegler has been the conscience of Cologne's underground for 40 years and also releases music on the Superpolar Taïps label.

Dissident magnetic tapes

Ziegler took his first steps in the early eighties. At that time, both in the FRG and in the GDR, more and more bands turned to the cassette as a medium. Several superbly put together compilations have recently been released here; worthy of mention are "magnetic tape – Experimental Electronics Underground GDR 1984-1989” and “Electronic Cassette Music Düsseldorf 1982-1989”.

While the second coupling gains its relevance from the focus on the Rhenish industrial and post-punk scene, "Magnetband" can tell the story of semi-illegal, dissident music in the former GDR in an exemplary manner. Bands like them could be simple, fast, dirty and away from the state apparatus Inc. violin (from today's Chemnitz) spread their music.

This twofold disparate role played by the cassette in the German music scene was then the main driving force behind the founding of Superpolar Taïps. In addition to network music acquaintances from all over the world, the focus is on the German underground scene. The names of the artists are therefore only known to insiders, they all have a special shine: Whettman Chelmets (roaring guitar electro noise) meets moduS ponY (sorted in the vicinity of Mouse on Mars a).

Dash flame Dormagen is also extremely interesting. Trovatello is silent about who or what is behind it – as is the case with other acts on his label, who prefer to remain anonymous.

The jet of flame in the Bayer chemical park town of Dormagen is still ablaze: "Your opinion is important to us" is a two-minute tour de force that alternates between punk, animal collective demo and tribalistic ritual. It goes without saying that this sounds crude, even slightly insane; some moves on the limit of audibility. But the label and its Cassingle format are intended for such experiments.

The fact that complete albums are now being released – also on MC – doesn't change that. The collected works of the duo Klaus C. Niebuhr & Wilfried Schmitz from the years 2002 to 2004, not quite seriously released as "The Greatest Hits", provide a wonderful acoustic insight into a time when, apart from the Berlin indie mainstream, everywhere in the BRD formed strange little cells that realized idiosyncratic, ingenious home recording music.

If you still have a functioning tape deck at home, you should give the old plastic quirk a chance in good time. Unexpectedly good music could otherwise remain hidden.

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