Thursday, 3 August 2017

Bad Apples: Eight // Nine

Part five of a series of posts reflecting on almost a decade of DIY culture - focusing this time on compilation tapes and recycled releases. For an introduction to this series, click here.


2008: Whilst we’re talking about being wary of technology – I made a comp CD for myself today. What a shitty experience that was, shuffling around MP3s on the PC so that I could burn them to CD so that I could play it on my stereo upstairs. Yeah, the end was the same, but the process was sterile and dull. Not like making a mix tape, where you get to listen to the songs as you record them so that you know everything’s in the right order and just generally kick back for two hours, drink tea and listen to music you dig with no interruptions. Sometimes having fun with the means is as important as getting the right thing in the end. Do things the hard way once in a while.

2017: I still entirely agree with this post, but my own commitment to making tapes has fully waned. Part of this is due to practicalities. Realistically, how portable is an audio tape? I don’t have a Walkman anymore and what car can play a sweet mix tape on your 2017 summer road trip? Worse, if you make a tape for someone as a surprise present, what’s to say they can even play it? It’s the biggest elephant in the room that although tapes are cool, they’re also a weird retro flyer that comes when you buy a MP3 download code. Worse still, I found myself with so many bangers only available as MP3’s that I ended up burning play lists to CD-R then taping from the CD-R, which is just peak-nonsense.

But... I’m of a generation for whom a lot of the albums that got me into punk and hardcore came to my attention via tapes made by older mates and I can remember desperately taking a Gorilla Biscuits / CIV / Better Than A Thousand tape apart with a tiny screw driver to save the mangled mess inside. I’ve also a genuine appreciation for the format that goes beyond nostalgia. The limitations of an audio tape are also its strengths; how many times did a song that sucked on first listen worm its way into your brain because fasting forward through it was a pain in the arse? And even the warping, the stretched tape, the sound of decay is kind of nice if you think about it. That’s not poor quality; at its best, that’s the sound of how much you’ve enjoyed listening to it, of how much that music means to you.  

I’m not sure there’s a meaningful way to replicate that fragility. It must be possible to create files that decay, MP3’s where each play triggers a further process of descending into some sort of pre-programmed warping or white-noise. But what’s the point? Am I really arguing that a format that doesn’t corrode with each play should fabricate this out of some sort of romantic notion that the things I really like should turn to shit? I suspect I’d just keep master files anyhow and continually make new versions each time the ones on my player started to sound like arse.

I do sometimes find myself making 45 minute MP3s though, cutting and pasting songs from a play list in Audacity to make files that replicate C90’s. On my cheap player, fast forwarding within a file is about as much fun as it was on the Walkman I took on family holidays, so putting everything together in a MP3 that replicates the side of a mix tape also recreates that enforced listening experience. But it’s an unsatisfying way to ensure a new song sandwiched between two bangers ends up a firm favourite.  


2008: Whilst we’re talking about tapes I’ve noticed that since people other than me still care about them, wouldn’t it be cool to do a limited run of tapes to go with your CD release? I’ve not tried them but a few kids on Collective Zine have mentioned Tapeline as a good place to get custom audio tapes. I read in a zine as well about people reusing old VHS tapes and dubbing live band footage or art projects on them. If you go charity shopping, getting a stash should be dirt cheap. Tape over the pushed out tabs and you’re set.

2010: We did this with the LIKE GRENADES EP (2017: Note - ripping off our friends in WHOLE IN THE HEAD) – it was pretty boring dubbing them all but it was quite cool to see a pile of 60 recycled tapes, all with download codes and all unique because I’d left the original recording on the other side- there was a ANT & DEC split tape, for example.

2017: I’ve already written about the tape labels as a life line for broke punks elsewhere on this blog. Around the same time as I was thinking about that earlier post though, the band I play in discussed releasing our own tape.

Following on from the success of In On A Secret - where live recordings of the bands that played the show were released as an online album - and ripping off an earlier 7 inch called ‘Same Shit Different Day’, the plan was pretty simple: record a small number of bands in the same studio on the same day and release the outcome as a compilation tape.

Alan from Hackjob put together the original compilation and explains the idea we were planning to brazenly steal:

For me punk is all about involvement. Right from the very beginning, gathering like-minded folks together has been a massive part of what gives punk its power and its longevity – see The Roxy, Dial House, The 121 Club etc for shining examples.

I wanted to do something similar on a small scale with ‘Same Shit, Different Day’. I thought it would be fun to create a snapshot of South Coast (roughly) bands at an instant in time, and recording everyone in the same place, on the same day, seemed like the best way of achieving it. The 6 bands on the 7” are very different musically so it was also a great way of demonstrating a cohesive scene – no egos, no fathing around, just get in there and blast it out. I was really pleased with the result...


The plan was pretty simple. But like pretty simple plans conceived by punks the world over, our tape compilation never got off the ground.

Of course, it’s impossible to say if the reality of putting out a tape would have been as easy we thought. But we’d gotten as far as costing the release with help from our friends who run Cult Culture and Circle House Records, and got the hypothetical tape down to about £1.10 a unit. This was 99 pre-dubbed compilations, each with a card sleeve, an A5 insert, a label maker strip for the cover, tape stickers stamped with a star to show side A and 19 minutes of the best music that never even got properly discussed...  

Cost per unit (99 units)
A5 tape insert (b/w copying at the library like a proper punk rocker, 2 to an A4 sheet)
5p (10p an A4 b/w copy)
2p (£1.50 a pack)
7p (£6.31)

(You can have this one for free).


Incidentally, there was a predictable ending to recording over pre-dubbed tapes. I eventually accumulated a shoe box full of cassette singles that I’d periodically picked up whilst charity shopping. This treasure trove of ancient, shitty music sat quietly rotting in the background through a couple of abortive bands until eventually the moment came to tape over them. I passed them to our bassist to do the dubbing duties and it turned out that every one was warped to fuck. Every last tape. And that was that.   


Jump to fragment (links added as fragments are posted): Intro // One // Two // Three // Four // Five // Six // Seven // Eight // Nine // Ten // Eleven // Twelve // Thirteen // Fourteen // Fifteen // Sixteen // Seventeen