INTERVIEW: Northern Tape Series | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

Artwork by Kate Bradley

Alongside fanzines, tapes have played a seminal role in the lives of countless 1980s and 1990s musical subcultures and their fans (from riot grrrl to hip-hop). The small objects could be easily duplicated, pirated and gleefully exchanged through the postal network, which is why in today’s modern world the cassette revival may appear a rather perplexing phenomenon. Why are people still drawn to this quaintly unpractical format when songs now effortlessly travel at the speed of light?

Steven Chell, the founder of local cassette label Northern Tape, remembers the thrill he felt handling musical objects as a teenager: “I remember bunking off school to go and buy a new CD, having to run to the shop to get batteries, and taking a whole weekend to make a mixtape for a mate.” What Steven treasured most was the feeling of proximity – the definite impression of being closer to the music and to others – which came with listening to physical formats. This romantic attachment has partly vanished with practices of digital listening and file-sharing; in some ways, the limitless ocean of sound has made us bored, detached and slightly callous. There is simply too much, so where do we begin?

Making and listening to actual objects may be a way of recreating a more navigable musical world, and of restoring a tangible link between lonely, drifting musicians

Making and listening to actual objects may be a way of recreating a more navigable musical world, and of restoring a tangible link between lonely, drifting musicians. With Northern Tape, Steven hopes to bring together artists – and especially electronic bedroom producers – from across the North East. Steven has found inspiration from tapes released by guitar pedal manufacturer based in Oklahoma called Old Blood Noise and Berlin-based ambient label Seil Records. “They’re both really community-focused,” he enthuses. Local electronic label Kaneda Records were also a precious partner throughout, and together they have been involved in running the annual Northern Electric Festival in the Ouseburn Valley. “The idea behind NEF is to give local producers an audience and a means of meeting peers, and helping them move out of the bedroom.”

Northern Tape plans on releasing a new cassette every three months. Their debut release is a split; each side featuring a collaboration between local electronic producers. Side A consists of tracks by John Dole and Axuta (aka Sandy Quigley/Xaatu), who met at a Kaneda Records Night, while Side B features Neocia and Spell Token. The two also play together in the band Shamu (their debut album, incidentally self-released on cassette, came out in 2020 and a new EP is coming soon). Kate Bradley (Kosmosis), a student of Fine Art at Newcastle University, drew the artwork: the naive, balloon-like shapes remind me of the movement of waves, clouds and planets.

Despite its romance with the material world, Steven explains that he has met many like-minded people on the internet (notably via Instagram) and the tapes will be chiefly distributed through Bandcamp. I can’t help wondering to what distant shores these dainty vessels will travel. And, for those who may not own a cassette player, the postman will deliver the tape along with a download code.

Northern Tape releases a split release featuring John Dole/Axuta and Neocia/Spell Token on 2nd July

Like this story? Share it!

Subscribe to our mailout