UTG INTERVIEW: Callum Browne (Little League Records) & Syd Kemp Talk Cassettes


While the recent resurgence of vinyl has led to the widespread visibility of records and their days of celebration–even outside of independent music circles–another medium for listening to music that was thought to be a thing of the past is creeping its way back into the hearts and minds of music fans.

The medium being referred to is, of course, the cassette. Rather than write a think piece on the importance of its revival within lesser known scenes in honor of International Cassette Store Day, though, we instead sat down with Little League Records owner Callum Browne and one of his label’s many exciting artists, Syd Kemp, to discuss their outlook and expertise on the return of the tape.

First off, how were your International Cassette Store Days? Any exciting forms of celebration? Did you snag any exclusives?

Callum Browne: Hey! My Cassette Store Day was pretty good! I purchased some of my friend’s music on tape. Unfortunately I had no local stores participating. If I did though I would’ve definitely gotten a J Dilla tape and some of the Burger Records stuff.

Syd Kemp: I was supposed to do a show in a small café in London but I had to cancel due to illness. My Cassette Store Day didn’t turn out as I expected but I’m really happy we sold out in most of the shops that bought our tape!

Callum, when you founded Little League Records, did you anticipate cassettes to be one of your main forms of physical releases?

CB: I had thought about it for sure, as the time started to come when there was a demand for physical copies, but truth be told, in the start all I had on my mind was helping my friend’s music get heard. What I liked initially, and still do like, is the fact that a tape is very personal. You make it, you dub it yourself, you cut out the j-card, you assemble it and then you send it. With other mediums you get that, but not to the same level. Cassettes tend to suit a lot of our releases too, dealing in the kind of stuff we do. We’ve seemed to gain a bit of a following due to our spray-painted designs and more unusual projects.

Why do you think there’s been resurgence in the popularity of cassettes, specifically within the independent music scene?

CB: I feel like cassettes always had a following, but with particularly the new wave of labels popping up internationally, there’s been a bit more supply and demand. CDs seem to be selling less and people want something that they can buy cheaply, some way to support a band or a label, and cassettes seem great. For musicians and labels who release their own stuff it’s great, because you have complete creative control and the initial investment is minimal in comparison to vinyl or good quality CDs.

SK: As Callum pointed out, the cassette is really cheap and there is absolutely no risk to waste a great deal of money in a release, which is not the case at all on the other supports. I love vinyl, I really do, but it’s just impossible for a small band to even think about breaking even. It’s the best way nowadays to bring something physical to your audience, and as a band, it makes a huge difference to be able to sell something to people. There is also something different about tapes, a way to compress the sounds that offers a different approach to some artists. Some artists are more suited for cassette than others, like some sound better than others on vinyl. I also noticed that there are more bands recording on cassette recorders like Ariel Pink or Daniel Johnston used to do, and it makes more sense for them to be released on tape.

How would you describe the importance of cassettes in 2014 for Little League and Syd Kemp respectively?

CB: To me, cassettes are one of the most immediate and personal ways of sharing physical media. They’re important as they give an artist or label of any position a feasible way to release and share their music, without the pressures of cost or management and intensive preparation for stuff like vinyl. They also make the listener sit fully (unless they’re good with rewinding and fast forwarding!) through full albums and really immerse themselves in an album unlike any other media, which is quite nice in the modern age.

SK: I second everything Callum just said, and I’ll highlight his point about “forcing” to respect the album as one piece rather than a compilation of singles. It’s really sad to see so many people missing out the whole story cause they keep their iPods and phones on the shuffle mode.

Do you think tapes will take the vinyl route from recent years and become visible in pop culture again?

CB: For definite. I feel that already it’s starting to seep into pop culture moreso each year. With the advent of all of these labels releasing cassettes and especially with Cassette Store Day’s debut last year, cassettes are definitely coming into the public eye. With releases from people like The Flaming Lips, Madvillain and Karen O, people are definitely taking notice and larger labels and artists are definitely seeing the effects and reception that cassette tapes can receive! It wouldn’t surprise me if larger chains and even shops like Urban Outfitters and Best Buy in the US and shops like HMV and Tower Records in other parts of the world will start having a small selection of tapes in years to come.

SK: All I wish for is for the music to be shared, as much as possible, mostly for free; and if tapes help people to buy and listen to music more, just like vinyl did in the last few years, so be it!

Any recommendations for those who want to begin purchasing tapes but don’t know where to start?

CB: Definitely explore cassette collectors groups on Facebook, the R/CassetteCulture board on Reddit and sites like Tabsout. Search for the kind of stuff you’re into and you’ll eventually find it on cassette! Definitely the front page of Bandcamp, too, is perfect for keeping up with new releases and what’s selling at the moment. For older tapes, thrift and charity stores are your friends.

SK: I’d say buy the tapes from the new bands, because that’s the best way to support them. Also it’ll be the beginning of a great collection, with tapes that are usually produced in a very limited quantity. After a few years you’ll be the proud owner of some really rare and intimate records.

What cassette releases do you have planned for the rest of 2014?

CB: Myself and Syd have a very special release planned that I think a lot of people will enjoy. Other than that we have releases planned for artists such as English musician James Carroll; he’s doing some rather interesting fusions of ’90s emo and prog-rock stylings. We’ll then be releasing a tape from Japanese fuzz-kids Boys Age–a brand new album from them. Also stuff from artists like Tire Fire, Hollow Tide, Suzaku Avenue and more.

Interview conducted by Michael Giegerich (Follow him on Twitter)

Mike Giegerich

Mike Giegerich is a freelance journalist with an affinity for the hip-hop scene. His top-five favorite records of all time are Future's last five releases. Feel free to blow up his mentions on Twitter.
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