Now that every mom, dad, uncle and aunt has finished expressing shock that “they still make vinyls,” the cassette has become the latest outdated music format to make a comeback. And while they’re certainly a novelty item, they’re arguably the most accessible medium for up-and-coming acts. Pressing vinyl is expensive, and thanks to the 180-gram Call of Duty soundtracks that clutter the twice-annual Record Store Days, plants are backed up for miles. Cassettes are cheap, fun, and fairly easy to manufacture.
It’s a fact that Richard MacFarlane knows well — with the 1080p Collection, he’s created a tiny tape empire, celebrating the best of outsider electronic music with a constant stream of releases.
That said, the Vancouver-based cassette curator understands the public’s confusion at cassettes’ meteoric rise. “It’s understandable that people view cassettes as something really antiquated because they are uncommon, but for many underground music cultures they have been a cheap alternative, easy-to-ship physical means for releasing music for a long time now,” he says. “The only thing that is really annoying in my situation is that people do not take cassette releases as serious ‘full albums’ and thus not gaining as many full reviews. People often just refer to them as EPs and its just like, its 60 minutes of music!”
Certainly, the releases of 1080p demand to be taken seriously. Though quantity is undeniably a factor (by year’s end, 1080p will have released 27 tapes in 2014), they’re all thoughtfully considered and carefully packaged. “The main common interests I wanted to explore were that of hybridity in genre, or sounds that explore a number of stylistic tropes of electronic music,” MacFarlane says of his label. “I wanted to capture some sort of casual experimentation that can be kind of wonky and lighthearted as a means for expressing very real, sincere, post-ironic emotions.”
According to MacFarlane, he didn’t even release all that many tapes this year. “I didn’t look at it as ‘so many’ releases,” he says, adding that other tape and digital labels are even more prolific. Instead, 1080p’s expanded naturally due to the quality of the material. “At the start of the year I decided to try and keep a very steady, reliable, and frequent release schedule,” MacFarlane says, “but I ended up finding way more stuff than I could even fit in, which is why during certain months I did a release every week, so that it wouldn’t cause the schedule to build up and give too much of a delay from a release being ready to it actually coming out. An incredible amount of stuff came my way this year, recommendations from friends, Soundcloud finds, linking up with IRL friends, so it was really hard to fit it all in.”
Of course, that sheer volume of releases brought a fair share of difficulties. “Keeping on top of orders has been overwhelming for sure, but mostly keeping ahead of releases in terms of promoting them and being able to give each one specific PR attention is a challenge because the release date is often not that far away from the actual finished parts getting to me,” McFarlane explains. “I definitely put a lot of time into it this year at times when I probably should have been focusing on other things (school), but it has been extremely enjoyable to work on this year.”
Next year will see 1080p continue to expand, with a plan to drop a new release every two weeks. MacFarlane also says he plans to release a few 12-inches through the label as well. Through it all, he’ll continue to uncover more of 1080p’s distinct sound. “I like labels that have diversity within a broader curatorial idea, so I tried to do that with 1080p; hopefully it comes across to others and not just to my ears, some kind of scruffy euphoria or something.”
It’s hardly fair to try and pick the best releases from 1080p in 2014. After all, the label’s multiple releases were carefully chosen, and each bear a remarkable amount of quality. Still, for the sake of simplicity, we’ve chosen seven releases that work as a primer into the wild world of 1080p.
Much Less Normal
Vancouver’s Leon Campbell offered an incredible grab-bag of lush, experimental dance music on his Much Less Normal album. A true sleeper hit, the release offered warm ambient tones and vintage techno, all displayed without irony. Though the tape quickly sold out, Edinburgh imprint Firecracker Recordings is treating it to a vinyl reissue early next year.
Look, anyone who names their album Ass Cop is a winner in our books (and bonus points for Bart Simpson’s 3D rendered winky in this video), but Beat Detectives are much more than their audaciously juvenile aesthetic choices. Musically, the Minneapolis trio offered some untouchable wackiness on their 1080p release. As the label put it, “their latest party tape of loose and disorienting house and heavy bubblegum beats turns up the amateur bombast even further than usual.”
Vancouver’s Evelyn Mason and Olvia Meek make music as Evy Jane and Regular Fantasy, respectively, but they joined forces as Bobo Eyes to release Midnight Pearl. The nine-track LP offers plenty of melancholy late-night synth-pop tracks in a similar vein of early Chromatics or Nite Jewel. That said, it’s hardly a ripoff, as these two know how to create romantic pop jams with simple Casio work and thumping, budget disco beats.
Wallet & Cellphone
Fresh off production for the likes of Le1f and Mykki Blanco, Gobby turned out Wallet & Cellphone, one of the year’s most fascinating and bizarre beat tapes. The label likens its outsider status to both Black Dice and Avalanches, adding that it lives in the “sweet spot in between the hypothesized club/anti-club binary.” Still, words can hardly do this release justice — a beautiful mess of thumping bass, bizarre samples and timeless melodies, it’s endlessly interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
Hazy atmospherics and glitching synths drive OOBE’s Digitalisea, which pairs deep digital soundscapes with the occasional four-on-the-floor beats. The Turin-based producer born Yari Malaspina took us on an incredible journey here. Imagine Windows ’95 ate your Fennesz CD.
Allegra Bin 1
Lest you think 1080p is all about a specific sound or aesthetic, Los Angeles producer Angel 1 took things deep into the future with Allegra Bin 1. Decidedly high fidelity, the seven-song release is built on bizarre vocal cut-ups, knocking bass and otherworldly synths. It’s just one of many singular sonic zones that the label guided us through in 2014.
This one’s not technically out until Christmas Day but, having heard it, we can promise it’ll be worth unwrapping and listening to with the family around the yule log. Following his 2013 opus Japanese Tendencies, Vancouver’s pre-eminent post-swag rapper has evolved his sound and switched his focus to the Pacific Northwest. The result is another impeccable collection of forward-thinking compositions that offer heady concepts and killer punchlines.