The Cassette Tape Is Alive and Well in Minneapolis

All hail cassette tapes, the durable rectangles of years past. While most people were transitioning from tapes to discs to digital media, a small subset of DIY musicians were still clinging tightly to the cassette tape. Minneapolis is home to a number of labels that focus almost exclusively on cassette releases, including MJ/MJ, No Problem Records, and Cat People.

Walker Neudorff, Colin Wilkinson, and Simon Brooks of local noise-rock group Tree Blood have just launched a new tape distro -- a hub for artists to sell their local releases -- called Milk Wax. Starting November 1, they will have several sections showcasing local, national, and international cassettes set up within Dead Media in Seward. 

Gimme Noise chatted with Neudorff and Wilkinson about cassette tape culture and the local cassette-loving community.

Gimme Noise: First off, can you tell me a little bit about Dead Media?

Joey Franklin: Johnny [Kass of Go Johnny Go records] is on the lease officially, but many people contribute rent and resources. The guy who does the books here also pays John, so in that sense, it's almost like a cooperative. I don't think even John would say he owns it. People pay him to be here.

It feels like there's a need for a space for all-ages shows where bands can play ... the truth is that once Milk Wax moves in on the First, it's going to be the only record store that's really run by people under 50. This is like a city where the record scene has been dominated by older men for a really long time, and there's all kinds of weird misogyny and creepy shit that goes on, so it's nice and refreshing to have a space run by people who aren't caught up in that scene and still talking about the Replacements and the '80s.

There are great house parties, but it would be nice if we could really be a safe gathering place where young bands are protected from creepy old men.

Neudorff: That's been one of the most exciting things for me about this -- just the opportunity to be a huge community resource.

Wilkinson: It feels like there isn't an outlet for [this].

Neudorff: if there are record stores that do [have tapes] they don't care. The artist has to be like, "Hey can you sell this?" and they'll be like, "Yeah, I guess I'll buy a tape or two off you and shove it in a corner."

Wilkinson: "It's not like a big seller here, so you know."

Before even opening up, we're trying to seek out bands in the scene and be like, "Let's buy your tapes, let's get them in, let's sell them."

Wilkinson: We want to show everybody that we actually care enough to go out and really look for our friends and really help them out.

Neudorff: More than just our friends -- it's the music that we care about that's being made around here.

Wilkinson: And across the country. I just made orders from Burger Records and Gnar Tapes and Rubber Brother. We're going to get a huge Night-People Records stash, which is really cool because no one really knows about them here.

Neudorff: He's from Iowa City, which is where I'm from. His name is Shawn Reed and he's been doing amazing stuff for all different bands. Night-People is probably one of the most eclectic labels that exists and he's a recent transplant to the Twin Cities. He's been here for close to a year now.

Wilkinson: None of his stuff is in stores.

A lot of big labels really look to these small tape labels as places to find what's coming out. [Night People] put out a Twerps tape before anyone ever heard of them and now they're huge. That's a part of that scene that we're trying to capture -- that exciting, burgeoning tape scene that I feel like isn't getting enough attention, particularly in this town.

Wilkinson: The interest is there, there's just no outlet. It's been an idea of ours for a while.

Gimme Noise: How did you end up combining forces with Dead Media?

Wilkinson: I worked with Johnny for a little bit for his label Go Johnny Go and he puts out a lot of old stuff and some newer stuff too. I did some artwork for these Minnesota rockabilly compilations that he put out for Cassette Store Day. I just helped him out here and there and we started talking about I told him about our idea. He told me about this place opening up and he said, "There might be a possibility of you guys moving in. Would you be into it?" We were planning on just doing online for a little bit before going head first, but we got the opportunity and we just [went for it.]

Cassette store day went way better than we anticipated. We knew there would be people showing up, but not like that. We had the store packed. They sold tons of vinyl and we sold tons of tapes.

Neudorff: It was the big test. It was only the second annual International Cassette Store Day and that was our way of saying we're a record store that has cassettes, and are people interested? People were walking in the door as soon as we opened.

Wilkinson: People were walking out with stacks. Like 20-tape stacks.

Gimme Noise: When do you think this cassette resurgence happened and why are cassettes valued right now?

Neudorff: Cassettes never really died, to be fair. They've always been there. They definitely dropped in popularity [with CDs] but in terms of doing demos and home recording, like tape machines, that's always been a constant thing. It's been building pretty steadily for the last decade. Particularly in the last six, seven years is when a lot of these big tape labels started going strong.

Gimme Noise: Is there something enticing about its physical form? Because I know burning CDs is also relatively cheap.

Wilkinson: It's really like the same price, maybe a couple cents more, but tapes last a lot longer. They don't feel disposable like CDs.

Neudorff: You can't have a loose CD floating around, but you can have a loose cassette floating around in your car and basically nothing will happen to it.

Franklin: And tape car culture is huge. Just to have tapes all over your car without having to worry about them getting scratched. They're cheap, they're smaller than CDs, and I think they look cooler.

Neudorff: It's more physical. It's more of something you can hold in your hand that feels like a piece of art, whereas a CD is just this paper-thin little thing.

Wilkinson: When's the last time you put a disc on? I don't know. I couldn't tell you.

Neudorff: CDs get so skipped over. Being able to skip over and bounce around, not really caring about your release and not having to care about your release... with a cassette, sure you can fast-forward and rewind, but it's not precise. To really enjoy a cassette, you just have to pop it in and let it go, which is I think an aspect of it that has been appealing to people that really care about music. It's not like, "Oh this is the single. I don't have to listen to the rest of the CD." It forces you to think of an album as an album. Music was getting away from that. It was just albums of singles. You have a good single and the rest is filler. [With tapes] you have to think of it as a complete work.

Wilkinson: I think it's great for new bands. It's something easy and fun to make together, to put something out. If you put out a tape, it shows the consumer that you put some work into it. It shows me, a buyer, that you actually care about your stuff.

Milk Wax's opening day will feature a BBQ, four-square, raffles, a tape sale happy hour, and in-store performances by Designer, Tree Blood, and Larry Wish. The event will take place from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, November 1, at Dead Media. An after show will follow at the Hexagon Bar with Frankie Teardrop, Animal Lover, and Waveless.


53 things you might not know about Prince
73 things you might not know about Bob Dylan
Top 10 sister acts of all time
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list