Double Plus Good: Cassette Culture Gets a Chicago Boost with Plustapes

It's official: Tape hiss is in.

But then, most cassette connoisseurs have been hip to this for years. Plustapes, a relatively new Chicago-based music label, is just one of a handful of groups that deal nearly solely in cassette tapes, hiss and all.

Grand Nutz (album art by Derek Erdman)

Just as vinyl collectors delight in the pops and snags of their chosen medium, cassette aficionados adore the hiss, the clunky chunk of starting and stopping a tape. As one of the two masterminds behind Plustapes, a fellow known simply as D, says that creating a CD label was never an option. "It just doesn't interest me. CDs are so disposable," he says. "There's something about making a tape that seems, I don't know, more magical: For us, having a tangible object that you have to make an effort to listen to — I mean, you still have to have a tape deck. Plus, people who collect tapes are really loyal and really voracious."

D, along with his partner in Plustapes, M, are both longtime figures in the local music scene, whether as sellers, creators, DJs, or just general gadabouts. While they share a love of cassette-tape culture and a rabid love of vinyl, the impetus behind their work was simply borne out of necessity. Originally, the duo planned on forming a vinyl label, but alas, it proved too costly. Creating a small-release series of cassettes by hand was cheaper, and, says D, allowed them to be more creatively involved in the process. The two work well together: D corrals the artwork and does layout, while M does all the distribution and dubbing. D likes the old archaic stuff found on little-known vinyl collections, and M brings the contemporary Chicago bands.

Since the label's inception in October 2008, there have been 11 releases, and they limit their tapes to a mere 100 copies per release. Among their previous tapes: Chris Connelly, a Disappears live show, Singapore groove via Travellers, and Dara Puspita, a '60s-era Indonesian garage girl group. While some bands do it for the for-fun aspect, there are others who see it as a way for their music to see the light of day again — the Chicago Thrash Ensemble reunited for their Plustape.

For D, it's all about music sharing and good ol' geekery. "When you get into the high end of record collecting, like, the really specific records, there's a very small, extremely loyal fan base. It's competitive, but if you find the guys who are kind of doing it for the right reasons — the ones who are hoarding and then disseminating it, sharing it with the world — that's inspiring."

Thanks to the Internet, professional connections, and word-of-mouth, stores and distros from both coasts are requesting as many Plustapes as they can. The 100-copy rule holds fast for now, serving as a lessened risk for both the label as well as the band, should they want to rerelease their work in the future. And with each tape running around a measly $5, it's easy to see where the series quickly sells out. "We're not doing this in small runs to be collector scum, but because it generates interest. It's quick, it's fun," says D.

The next Plustapes release is a five-song tape by low-key locals Mako Sica, the ambient and heavy-buzzing Noise Attic Session 2. According to D, the roster is already pleasantly full: Among them, look for Plustapes by The Shadow Drifter, aka James Pobiega, a many-aliased Chicago mainstay who also performs bluesy loner psychfolk as Little Howlin Wolf. Mako Sica is playing an in store at Permanent Records on March 14th. Upcoming artist The Shadow Drifter will be playing a tape release show on March 27th.

Interested in what the buzz (or tape hiss) is all about? Check with Reckless Records in Chicago and Aquarius Records in San Francisco for Plustapes in stock.

About the Author:

Kara is a Chicago transplant who escaped from the Rocky Mountain high that is Colorado, and before that, North Dakota. She currently works as an editor and writer of things both structurally and sonically sound. She enjoys reading obsessively, knitting, live music, and beating the holy hell out of other women (i.e. roller derby).

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