Vinyl isn't the only format making a comeback. The '80s birthed DIY "cassette culture" (Sub Pop and K Records began as humble tape labels) and, recently, cassettes have re-emerged. Early tapers once read zines like Sound Choice and Electronic Cottage. Now info comes from blogs like Foxy Digitalis, Anti-Gravity Bunny and Cassette Gods.
Pittsburgh contributes to the cassette trend with two entries: Greg Langel's As Above So Below and Ryan Emmett's Dynamo Sound Collective.
Emmett, who records and tours as ambient-droner Hunted Creatures, started Dynamo in 2003 "out of a need to release my own stuff, but the label provided a unifying logo to release friends, too." He was motivated by the Midwestern cassette scene, especially American Tapes and Hanson, run by Aaron Dilloway and John Olson of Detroit noise kings Wolf Eyes, with whom he did some tape-trading.
"I was into punk, and that whole scene came from a punk aesthetic. Later on, I got into minimalist composers and European noise."
Lately, he's released runs of 25 to 50 tapes for locals such as Tusk Lord and Forest Dweller. The best place to buy a Dynamo Sound tape is at a show, but he's made them available at Paul's CDs.
Obsessed with music since junior high, Greg Langel moved to Pittsburgh in 1996 and joined a band called The Failures. He launched As Above So Below last year with a Chicago friend after hearing blog tunes by a mysterious man called Rangers. "He was based in Texas, and I didn't know anything about him, but I liked it so much I started the label to release his music."
Langel knew about Hair Police, Wolf Eyes and the L.A.-based Not Not Fun label. He ordered from Glasgow's Volcanic Tongue catalog, run by David Keenan of U.K. mag The Wire. "They kept listing all these amazing tape releases, and I thought, 'Hey, I can do this, it's affordable.'"
In addition to Rangers (now sold out), As Above's roster includes editions of 150 by Chicago space-rocker Plastic Crimewave (banjo ragas) and East Coast sound artist Doug Mesner. Although one must search a bit harder these days to find a cassette player, Langel praises the medium. "I never stopped buying tapes even when I got a CD-burner -- I must have thousands of them. They have more value than a CD-R, and aren't as expensive as vinyl. You can order custom tape stock to control their length, and making your own artwork is easy and so feasible," he says. "It's a fun format."