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Spools Out With Tristan Bath: Cassette Store Day Special
Tristan Bath , September 26th, 2014 09:13

Tristan Bath celebrates international Cassette Store Day with the emphasis on the word "international"...

Photograph courtesy of Majeed Babar

This Saturday, international Cassette Store Day is upon us. The day's events look to be (at least by the noble standards of the cassette tape community), truly immense. Record shops in Copenhagen, Teramo, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Stockholm, Athens, Thessaloniki, Paris, London, Reading, Redditch, Leamington Spa, and even more exotic places are due to go off like a proverbial bomb with chatter, live music, cassette-only DJ sets and above all, the loving of tapes. This writer will be making the inevitable weekend trip up to East London for the day, hopefully slipping unnoticed through the bearded crowd for a spot of craft beer and in-store gigs. Along with the official celebrations, there's dozens of special releases for the day, many of which are listed on the official CSD page. Special cassette editions of albums from the likes of These New Puritans, Courtney Barnett, Peter Broderick, Ash and John Grant are among the higher profile musicians getting involved, but the real gems lie - as always with the cassette tape underground - deep in the abyss of unknown artists and micro-labels.

To that effect, two compilations of music from even further off the radar are among this month's current releases. Federally Administered Tribal Folk And Pathan Pop from Peshawar To Kabul and Winebox Press' Sayat Nova Project release of music from the Caucasus mountains are among the finest compilations of the year thus far. Federally Administered Tribal Folk in particular unearths music from an area where the cheap, resilient cassette tape has long survived - not as a novel retro relic, or some throwback to dying tangible physical music forms, but simply because of its sheer ability to diminish those increasingly complex barriers between musician and listener so often complicated by the powers that be.

There's a list of official Cassette Store Day releases here


there's a list of official Cassette Store Day events here.

Various Artists - Federally Administered Tribal Folk And Pathan Pop From Peshawar To Kabul (Pirate Modernity)

Bringing together music on tape originating from the unstable regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pirate Modernity is a brand new project put together by Pakistani musicians Abeera Arif-Bashir and Tahir Al-Quddus, and English journalist, Timothy P.A. Cooper. Having united over tape music they'd stumbled across in the region, the trio explain how they "became fascinated by the labyrinthine media markets of the Rainbow centre in Karachi and Nistrabad in Peshawar, and started to build a substantial collection of cassettes from Peshawar". The music itself is a raw, energetic and lo-fi update of tribal folk forms from the region, filled with the sort of frontier creativity that's been recently well documented in music from MENA countries further west from the Indian subcontinent, and incorporating whatever bits of modern music tech these musicians have available to them - be it the bash of digital dhol drums in the Farzana's qawwali-like rhythm on the opening 'Satr Kai Rava Rai Wa Khmar Woray' or singer Nazia Iqbal's extensive use of slippery cybernetic auto-tune.

The unstable situation in Pakistan's northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is rife with cultural complexity. The people in the region share much of their culture - the Pashto language, the pre-Islamic Pashtunwali way of life - with fellow Pashtun people over the border in Afghanistan, while still remaining staunchly committed to their own unique local traditions. As documented on this extraordinary tape, many of the musicians remain unafraid to decry the Taliban and their ensuing extreme conservatism that has in recent years all but destroyed the region's rich variety of cultural identities, and rendered music very often an outright, and harshly punished taboo. The Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, essentially ousting legions of producers, composers and musicians from Afghanistan entirely, and since the subsequent US-led incursion into Afghanistan, many fleeing Taliban have crossed the border, becoming increasingly influential in the FATA, and once again tearing apart music culture. "Why is this nation caught in this state?" mourns Abdulla Muqarui amid an ocean of plucked strings and synths on the compilation's final track. "Where every man has his pockets cut."

Attacks on music shops, kidnappings, enforced religion and horrific murders have dogged musicians in the region in recent years. Nazia Iqbal - a famed Pashto singer whose 13-minute epic 'Jirga Tapey Misrey' takes up half of side one - retired from singing in 2012 after purportedly receiving threats that her children would be kidnapped should she keep performing. On the sublime track she sings with an absolutely ferocious passion throughout, playing the lead in a tale of an impassioned engagement between a young girl and her beloved. The accompaniment loops and repeats several times over relentless hand percussion, entrancingly returning to the same harmonium and strings refrain, all the while Iqbal intoning beautifully. She's every bit the rival of Pakistan's most famous musical export - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - and her decision to retire is a real loss.

There's blinding moments aplenty throughout Federally Administered Tribal Folk And Pathan Pop From Peshawar To Kabul, including some face melting string shredding on Feroz Kondozi's solo acoustic 'Qantaki', and the wonderfully jaunty MIDI backing that approaches near-dancehall rhythms via Tajiky Gulchin Nazneen. If there need be any evidence that music is as vital and powerful today than it's ever been, spreading hope in the face of adversity, this tape is it.

There is no specific charity for 'musicians in need', so all profits from the tape will go to Afghanaid.

Check the still embryonic Pirate Modernity page for updates as they come.

These New Puritans - Expanded (Live at the Barbican) (Infectious Music)

There's a rehearsal studio in Bethnal Green in London I sometimes frequent (I play bass in a band), and the owner inadvertently divulged that These New Puritans had used the same space for lots of pre-Field Of Reeds rehearsal. "They were called The New Puritans or something," he said. "They'd like, just sit upstairs for hours just like banging on bins and tin cans and stuff like that. Weird shit, man." This guy's a real old school London muso - shredding guitar in bluesy rock bands by night. That the rather less-than-normal musical leanings of Field Of Reeds didn't compute alongside the usual droves of heavy rocking youngsters that fill out the space night after night hardly came as a surprise. Such noble beginnings for what would become Field Of Reeds is pretty extraordinary.

Far from the claustrophobia of London's long-suffering rehearsal spaces, TNP's already grand opus of an album was staged with an expanded 35-piece orchestral ensemble at the Barbican centre. Everything about the gig cries grandeur (admittedly except the perhaps the music, which is often too introspective to be thought of as indicative of grandeur), and thus, this Cassette Store Day release of the thing on tiny plastic tape almost comes across as patently ironic.

For all its rich musical genius, Field of Reeds was nothing if not a tremendous achievement in perfectionist studio production. The album was broad and deep, often overflowing with dozens of sounds at once, and with all the plentiful colours to be found therein still somehow discernible from one another. Recording a live gig invariably changes things though, most of all the engineer's ability to control the sound. Some tiny amount of ambient noise from the room, including applause and pinches of extra reverb, have been mixed in to Expanded, while some of the sheer warm closeness of the instruments on the album has been sacrificed for the benefit of the audience. Even so, the opening notes of 'Spiral' are perhaps even more compelling than they were on the record; audibly dominating the space inside the cavernous Barbican. 'Nothing Else' is notably elaborated too, here retitled 'Nothing Else But This', and prefixed by an extended intro of droning, wordless, basso profundo singing (later used again on the title track). Jack Barnett & Elisa Rodrigues are on pretty amazing form considering the complexity of the pieces they face singing live, delivering as one would expect, performances touched by organic imperfections (in comparison to their in-studio takes). The entire affair closes with excellent run throughs of 'expanded' versions of 'Three Thousand' and 'We Want War' from Hidden, You couldn't really describe the results as being raw, but the sheer liveness, and intensity inherent in having so many people participate in something so unsettlingly unique, most definitely comes across on tape. Ensemble music of this emotional potency only comes along once in a generation.

Lorelle Meets the Obsolete - Live in London (Sonic Cathedral)

This Mexican duo have deservedly risen amongst the overencumbered international psychedelic rock scene. Having put out impeccably made albums of studio recordings, this tape rightly gives us at home a chance to check out the live experience. Recorded at The Dalston Victoria in April of this year, Live In London captures the titular duo, along with drummer Dario Lucchesi and bassist Fernando Nuti, running through a stellar 45 minute set, which wholly attests to why reports of Lorelle Meets the Obsolete's seductive and brilliant live shows abound. Material from the fantastic recent Chambers album bulks out the gig with catchy tunes and high-energy hooks, with The Obsolete (aka Alberto González) unleashing some careening spaceward takes on the band's catalogue of riffs. An especially rocket fuelled instrumental on 'What's Holding You' unexpectedly morphs into a mutant re-reading of Syd Barrett's 'Golden Hair', with Lorelle intoning Barrett's words with befittingly menacing madness. 'Taken' brings the tape to a killer climax, stretching out for twelve minutes, wandering from the tune's ponderous main theme into fuzzed out expansive walls of noisy repetitious jamming. Spot on!

Babe Rainbow - Music For 1 Piano, 2 Pianos And More Pianos (1080p)

Having graduated from two EPs of largely generic post-dubstep beats on Warp, Vancouverite Cameron Reed, aka Babe Rainbow, is already trying to shed the skin of a skilled but unextraordinary producer amongst many. He's played the in the backing band for PBR&B naked emperor How To Dress Well, which we can now infer as being responsible for Reed's rediscovery of the noble piano. This cassette store day tape out on 1080p sees Babe Rainbow multi tracking sacrilegiously cheap sounding MIDI pianos in twelve thematic meditations. On 'Car Ambient #3' a stereo delay effect is applied to a simple arpeggio loop, while Reed lays down basic melodies on top of each other, ultimately interweaving a rich tapestry of digital notes that flow like rain drops all around. The advantage of MIDI is of course the breadth of even the most basic audio effects available to the musician, and Reed fiddles with slow attack, mutating the familiar piano sound at times into something wholly alien. More traditional pieces such as 'Nova Scotian (Sketch)' undoubtedly venture into territory akin to a childlike take on the likes of Nils Frahm, but the best moments are when Babe Rainbow layers multiple tracks of looped melodies and bouncy delay effects into something like an amateurish homemade take on Reichian minimalism. Returning to the most basic building blocks of piano and melody, and eschewing all desire to sound slick, Babe Rainbow's actually come up with something pretty interesting with this tape. At times it's could even be beautiful, as long as you avert your gaze from Reed's troubling pink face on the hip-as-shit, Tim and Eric album cover that is.

Marreck - Thirteen Losses (Bomb Shop)

Following on from his recent Mechanism tape on Tesla Tapes, Reject and Fade boss Michael Hann has put out this fantastic trancey noise-fest on Bomb Shop. The Teeside master of musical static has swapped the underlying tone of malevolence heard on his last release as Marreck for something far more bacchanal. Not that it's going to be filling out many dancefloors anytime soon, but the pounding submersible beats at the heart of 'Beautiful K' or the wobbly bass line around which closer 'False Martyr' takes shape, both retain semblances of crazed club music. Pulsating noises shimmer throughout, while phasing effects are put to dizzying effect across the record too, squeezing the hints of rhythm and melody to their furthest possible psychedelic point. The four lengthy offerings don't really let-up, ostensibly starting off harsh and getting harsher towards a noisy crescendo each time. Halfway through the eleven minute colossus of pulsating noise, 'Black Water', I begin to feel almost physically sick, hypnotised and dizzy - but such is the weighty power of Thirteen Losses. The package comes with an accompanying booklet of murky, pixellated stills from Marreck's live show, which along with the HEAVY storm of monstrous recurrent electronics on the magnetic tape, serves to cement a real brutalist truth: that helplessness amidst such unassailable, repetitive power can feel pretty ecstatic for the submissive listener. This one's definitely essential for noise heads - although be advised it's not to be listened to while operating heavy machinery or driving on public roads. The thing should come with a fucking health warning!

Sayet Nova Project - Kazbek: Field Recordings from the Caucasus 2012-2014 (Winebox Press)

For those who missed it, the Mountains of Tongues compilation released earlier this year was a true eye opener for anybody with even the slightest interest in the music of Europe and Asia. It demonstrated the region's unique position as a crossroads between East and West, as a home for dozens of barely understood musics, and above all as a hermetically sealed time capsule. This box set of four beautifully presented tapes from Jon Collin's phenomenal Winebox Press, manages somehow to improve upon what seemed like a flawless collection. Arriving, as with all Winebox Press tapes, in a handmade wooden box, crafted from found material, the four tapes are bound in card, each on printed with a sort of assigned genus for the music therein. 'Ensemble' says the first, pertaining to the breathtaking performances of songs by dramatic clashings of animated vocalists with mountain folk musicians mostly from Georgia, along with more contemplative ceremonial rhythmic workouts from instrumental folk bands and climaxing with a heartbreaking ballad-like song originating from Abkhazia. The tape labelled only as 'Vocal' is perhaps the most revealing, with a cast of dozens delivering complex close harmonies in a variety of dialects from Turkey to Azerbaijan, bringing to mind almost every vocal folk form on the planet from Tibetan chanting, to the bizarre overtones of Sardinian Cantu a tenore, to Alan Lomax's Library of Congress up-close-and-personal field recordings of folk, blues and country from the first half of the 20th century. The 'Wind And Reeds' tape introduces the most alien sounds, opening to the bizarre duck calls of the May 2 Wrestling festival in Zinobiani, Georgia, before rolling in pounding drums over which an inescapably Arabic-sounding screeching wind instrument gyrates. It's like Brötzmann and Bennink jamming with an Irish bodhrán. The breadth of sounds on this disc is naturally the widest, including pensive accordion melodies, outright dissonant hurdy-gurdy drones, and wandering solo pipers bringing to mind the much further east likes of Japanese shakuhachi. Finally, the 'Instrumental Strings' tape is home to some of the dreamiest music, with an Azerbaijani musician laying down rich sounds akin to Indian classical modes, and Georgian dulcimerist Abbas Zafar Mohammadi closing out side one with watery raindrops of notes from his hammered strings.

The entirety of the 'Instrumental Strings' tape's second side though, is devoted to one single twenty-minute performance of the lethargic, near-idle noodling of Amirani Nekerauli from Zemo Alvani, Georgia. Snatches of the same theme consistently arise throughout, although he often pauses for applause and conversation with a small gathered audience. It's not really even a performance, or some deep meditation - it's just a continuation of life, and another reason to keep breathing. For the musicians in the Caucasus captured on these recordings - which despite sounding so primordial were made as recently as this year, music simply works in a different way, comprising not the colour of life, but the actual fabric of it. The earthy handmade wooden packaging, and accompanying snapshots - including a one of men gathered on horseback, right next to the word "Field recordings from the Caucasus 2012-2014" compound to the feeling that this self-proclaimed "bootleg companion piece" to Mountains Of Tongues is in fact the very physical embodiment of another time and place, and perhaps the most brilliant package of the entire year.

Order Kazbek direct from Winebox Press, or get more information on the Sayat Nova Project, by visiting

D. Tiffany - Smudge EP (CACAO)

The colourful, mysterious UK-based Cacao label has already put out three tapes of muted, oddball synthetics, each of which is definitely worth checking out, but their latest offering sees the label hitting its stride with the more potent psychedelic deep house of Canadian producer, D. Tiffany. She's already put out a cassette on 1080p earlier this year, but the Smudge EP (which at six tracks in 35 minutes easily fills a void the size of an album) solidifies the producer's selectively lo-fi aesthetic. Like the murky urban bedroom dystopia of Actress' Ghettoville, the tracks unfold as if being heard second or third hand, touched by the clammy room in which they were made. Unlike Actress though, the 4/4/ house beats persist throughout. 'Charmed' goes a step even more retro punctuating its beat with ancient "whoo" and "yeah" sound effects from an old keyboard before integrating jazzy synth chords. 'Smudge' remains joyfully static, trapped in a very short labeit pounding loop and sounding so carelessly recorded as to almost get swallowed up into the innards of the room it was made in. On the surface, Smudge is a pretty standard set of lo-fi house tracks, yet with deep listening the framing device of murky production pulls the listener in to D. Tiffany's macabre future world, where blown out speakers constantly play long-forgotten tapes of ancient raves.

Paro - They Want Your Heart / In Naples (Kitchen Leg Records)

This Berlin-based band add a kind of freak-out approach to their post-punk skeleton, sounding at times like a more open-ended Sonic Youth. Paro follow on nicely from where South London's Housewives' frankly brilliant debut tape on Faux Discx left us earlier this year: hungry for forward-thinking, punk-energized, and above all slyly clever guitar music. The group comprises a Canadian, an Irishman, an Italian and an American (lending credence to the myth that there aren't actually any Germans left in Berlin), occasionally supplementing their rock quartet instrumentation with the odd touch of violin and lo-fi studio trickery. 'They Want Your Heart' kicks off the side one with crashing waves of chords before switching to yelps, blast beats and discordant organ stabs. 'Paro Knows You' features stellar beatmaking from American percussionist and painter, Oliver Rivera-Drew, adopting the metronomic tick-tock of his homeland's motorik heritage, while his bandmates make sounds like they're pulling apart their axes. The quartet of expats only tentatively play up to their discernibly British and American post punk and no wave influences, making consistent unexpected turns, as on 'Pig Star', which descends from angry percussive guitar punk into amorphous dissonance. Side two takes things a step further with one single 19-minute blowout - 'In Naples' - a sort of post-punk version of a sidelong Acid Mothers Temple jam, replete with twittering synthetic sound effects, warped voices and off-kilter guitar scraping. Vocals hover about, reverbed into the distance, and the jam pendulums between urgently paced riffing and outright psychedelic collage. As with the rest of the tape, it's all massively entertaining, really bursting with energy and ideas, and all done with no small amount of good humour.